Saturday 07th November 2015 –
A few days after I split my foot open, I finally left Sucre. On the advice of those around, and a quick picture message to the parents, I did my best to stay off my feet for the next few days. Obviously though, this meant I wasn’t doing much of anything. Good job it was El Dia de Muertos for two days – the Bolivians weren’t doing much either – most of the town was closed.
Come Tuesday, I could walk once more, the wound now having dried. The only problem was that as the blister extended over the big toe I kept splitting the join in between foot and toe when I moved. Nevertheless, Will, Hailton and I made it to the independence palace for a final bit of culture. We took the Spanish tour, Will and I testing out the improvement from our Spanish lessons. The results weren’t great. Meanwhile, Hailton declared that the guide was speaking slowly. Right.
Despite banging on about it for over two weeks, and more besides, I never did make it to the dinosaur park.
I caught the bus to Santa Cruz that eve. Despite the relatively short estimated journey time – 15 to 20 hours – I opted for a cama bus as it was only 20 bolivianos more. That means the seats recline fully, not just a little bit like semi cama – my sole choice of bus travel so far. They also have more room. Total luxury. I wasn’t kidding myself in my expectations, I kind of expected it not to be cama, but I got myself all excited. Excited, and therefore disappointed when it wasn’t cama.
Not that I was the only one to be duped – several Bolivians protested very angrily at the obvious swindle that it definitely was. You can argue all you like that originally there was another bus, bus when both cama and semi cama passengers fit on the same bus, with their assigned seat numbers intact, you know you’ve been had. You can also argue all you like about a refund. They don’t exist in Bolivia.
Despite this setback, the bus wasn’t too bad, being much the same as my other bus rides after all. I arrived in Santa Cruz in good overall condition, if a little sweatier than in Sucre, and still suffering a case of spastic sole syndrome. The first person I really met there was Joel, a Newcastle supporting Middlesbrough native, for whom Santa Cruz was the first stop. Though he’d travelled to other places before, having done so alone I would have pegged myself as the more used to South American life, maybe streetwise if you like. No one would have by the time I left.
I ventured out in the afternoon, with the main objective of getting washing done; maybe a bit of sightseeing too. I shouldn’t have been so ambitious. The supermarket the girl in the hostel said did washing, didn’t. I asked. Nor were the able to point me in the direction of somewhere that did. On the way out however, I spotted two girls who looked like they were carrying bags of washing. To my poor eyesight, anyway. With the vaguest feeling I had seen them in the hostel that morning, I awkwardly introduced myself.
Good with faces (for once), bad with names (forever). The second part will probably get written on my tombstone. Christina and Katerina were indeed from my hostel and were indeed searching for a place to do their washing. They had already tried the place across the road with no luck. Combining forces, we trekked down the road on directions they’d been given, but again found nothing.
Things didn’t improve after asking more people either. People just didn’t seem to know where one existed. Eventually we happened across a lavanderia, only for them to say washing wouldn’t be ready till Saturday. It was Wednesday, and we would all be gone by then.
Apparently though, apparently there were lavanderias near the market. “Really? Where?” Christina and Katerina questioned disbelievingly, in their superior Spanish. On the map, the woman directed us to salvation.
It really had been so – a whole street worth of laundry places. Enough to make you question how on earth no one else directed us there. Our chores completed, and half the city explored, we set off for the main plaza, spending the rest of the afternoon getting food and eating ice cream.
I set off with Joel the next day for the botanical gardens, a trek across town and 40 minutes on the bus from Santa Cruz. After a few times checking with the driver that he knew where we wanted to stop, we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere. Ok, so the gardens were there, but not much else.
A bunch of Bolivian kids called us over as soon as we entered. I wasn’t sure if they were just heckling us at first, or maybe berating us for some wrongdoing, but it turned out they wanted to show us a hairy pig they were talking to. Lying on its back, accepting their scratching with glee, the pig was about as far from wild as could be. Still a funny fella though.
We soon got directed toward the crocodiles, or alligators – the kids weren’t sure which. As we walked along the banks of the pond they supposedly resided in, Joel promptly shit himself at every slight noise. Unfortunately, we saw no crocs, we had to settle for some rather aggressive looking signs. It’s worth mentioning that’s there’s a kids playground ten metres up the bank – even Bolivian safety regulations can’t be that lax, surely?
Other than that, and a line, wandering ostrich, there wasn’t too much on show. There was a mirador though, which we followed the path to with suspicion – it was a pretty flat area. It turned out to be a great wooden lookout post though – the view from certainly worth the effort getting up. Forest for miles around.
More awesome icecream followed, along with dinner with a few guys at the hostel. This is where it all started to go wrong. After a lot of effort with the menu, the waiter telling us we had to repick as they didn’t have something, my order arriving 15 minutes after the rest, and it arriving with 12 of the same pieces of chicken, as opposed to six each of two types, came the punch line. Half of it wasn’t cooked. In fact, it was raw, and I’d bitten through and swallowed half of the most obvious culprit. It was like the old joke about finding half a worm in your apple.
The waiter tried to argue it was one of twelve pieces, and offered some chips as compensation – not the answer I was looking for when I showed the food to him. I don’t like to complain about food in a restaurant, but wherever you are it should be cooked. Despite the waiter’s most ardent protestations, and getting his manager out to join the debate, I paid for my beer only when I left.
I was sure I was going to be disastrously I’ll afterward, so I opted to stay in Santa Cruz the next day to wait it out, having taken some probiotics suggested by my medically trained friend Christian. My next journey was to Paraguay, a supposedly horrendous 24+ hour bus across the Chaco – an inhospitable, barren wilderness. I really didn’t fancy getting sick there. The illness never arrived though.
Here is where the second, and rather larger of my mistakes occurred. After everyone arrived back in the hostel after a morning adventure, they jumped in the pool. To my dismay, my phone decided it was a good idea too – dragging me in with it. Totally not my fault whatsoever. Yeah…
I was brought out of my reverie of self stupidity with one last attempt at self distraction – what was to be a culmination of hard work and perseverance. Going to the cinema. Back in the jungle, Kristen had recommended that I read the Martian, and when the movie came out, book completed, I decided I wanted to see it. Originally I had though Sucre ideal, since I would be there a while, but devastatingly it turned out Sucre’s one cinema only showed it dubbed. Can you imagine Sean Bean dubbed in Spanish?
I had thought my hopes dashed when it stopped showing, but a look on the net suggested it existed still in Santa Cruz – with subtitles! Unfortunately, the cinema was on the other side of town, right on the outskirts. Hopes had faded once more, till I finally decided I was definitely going to go regardless of other attendance, and surprisingly, one, then another person declared an interest in the futuristic feature.
We were shocked on arrival to find a price tag of 100 bolivianos for the film – about £10 – but it was supposedly a VIP screening. I certainly couldn’t disagree. With reclining leather seats as good as any cama bus I’ve known, I watched in the fanciest cinema I have been to – in possibly Bolivia’s fanciest shopping centre. For a while, the phone didn’t matter – my dreams had come true.
I didn’t get sick, so I leave for Asunción, Paraguay tonight, hoping I won’t. Meanwhile, my phone sits in a bag of rice. Hopefully resurrection becomes a reality.