Doug McLean World Tour 1999-2000
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Sept 16-19, 2000:
Santa Cruz, Bolivia ...Robbers, police and immigration.
Current Date/Location: Sept. 26, 2000 in Sucre, Bolivia.
Current Itinerary: Well I was thinking about leaving Sucre and going to Potosi and Uyuni...but those roads seem to be blocked now...and there are now daily demonstrations in the main square in Sucre...we'll see. Looks more and more like the only working form of transportation around here is airplanes...did I mention that two German guys were going to fly out of here yesterday...their flight was cancelled...grimace. Keeping the faith in Sucre...smile.
September 16, 2000 (Saturday):
On the bus from Asuncion, Paraguay to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Around 1:45am (in the EARLY MORNING) we stopped at the last Paraguayan Immigration point for our exit stamps, although we were still 600km from the border...this was the last town of any size along the way. We all got off and shuffled past a lone figure who had just joined the bus at this point.
Well, I think I have mentioned it before, but I have some sort of strange ¨Spider Sense¨ or something that made me avoid Naples last year in Europe for some unknown reason...anyway, my Spider Sense went nuts as I was groggily standing in line waiting for my exit stamp. I thought that I didn't like the fact that I had left my small backpack (with my camera and wallet) in the bus with that guy. Hmmmm...so I thought and debated with myself for a minute and then stepped out of line and returned to the bus to retrieve my small backpack...just so I would feel better.
Well, when I arrived at the bus and stepped on, I saw that the guy was sitting in the last row of the bus...MY ROW! As soon as he saw me, he got up and moved two rows forward with some feeble excuse asking if this new seat was taken. I went to my small bag and found that the zippers were open! As you can imagine...I considered my options and then went something near to a controlled BERSERK!
First, I got myself between this guy and the exit...to get off the bus, he was going to have to go down the aisle...over me. Then, I waited until someone else came back onboard and then told them that I thought he was a robber and that they should get the police. The guy got up and started to be indignant, saying he was military and showing some sort of laminated military ID. I wasn't having any of that shit...all I knew was that my bags were open, my locks missing, and that he was the one who had done it! I had not evaluated my losses yet, but was sure not going to give him a chance to get off the bus or dispose of the evidence!
OK...so as things were heating up and people were coming back onboard, there were more and more people to block his way. I asked them to watch him and not let him off the bus while I checked my stuff. I found that I had actually been very lucky...I could not find anything that was missing... My locks were gone and the bag was open (not the state I left it in), but my wallet was there, my camera, and nothing seemed to be gone. I told the other passengers and the driver that nothing was missing ¨Gracias a dios¨, but that this guy had tried to rob me.
The robber, probably knowing that he didn't have anything on him to be found, at this point said that we should go to the police. Hmmm...I was pretty sure that they wouldn't find anything on him anyway, and that the police are often worse than crooks in South America...so I had a friendly German guy onboard watch my stuff as I quickly went and got my exit stamp. I got my flashlight and looked around and found one of my locks under the seat where the robber had moved to...hmmmm. Anyway, he went to the front of the bus to sit, and I sat at the back watching him, and the bus driver drove on. The driver left the lights on for the next two hours until we the robber reached his destination and got off. I felt much better at this point!
We stopped sometime around 7am-ish for some sandwiches that the bus company had brought for us. We stopped somewhere in the middle of the Chaco...truly in the middle of nowhere! It is sandy, powdery, abysmally (sp?) poor soil that is only good to sustain scrub brush, some birds, and some deer...hmmmm...it reminded me of some parts of South and West Texas...grimace. While eating, we also noticed that the bus was leaving a distinct line of liquid in the powdery excuse for a road that we were traveling on. It turned out that the bus was leaking gasoline at a distressing speed! (did I mention that we hadn't passed another car on this road all morning!!??) The driver and the assistant crawled under the bus with some sort of epoxy, a couple of rags, and seemed to fix the leak. They also added water to the leaking radiator...hmmmm...did I mention that this is not a very comforting thing to see in the middle of nowhere!
We continued on...questioning whether or not we had enough gas for the trip... The nice thing was that there was a large front drivers compartment and the bus driver didn't mind us passengers joining him up front to watch the road ahead roll under the wheels. I sat up there for quite a while...saw a deer at one point, lots of birds, a terrible and interesting land, and in the rear-view mirror...the huge clouds of dust that billowed up behind us as we passed over the fine powdery road.
We eventually crossed through the Paraguayan military check points and into Bolivia. Once in Bolivia, the roads improved immediately. Instead of driving on powdery dirt we were now on gravel roads...which doesn't seem like much of an improvement...but it was! I was somewhat concerned that the military checkpoints did not stamp our passports for entry into Bolivia...we were told they would be stamped later on in our journey.
We stopped in the Bolivian town of Villa Montes around 2pm. We were told the bus was broken and needed fixing...not surprising. I ended up waiting with the German guy, Hans. The bus company ended up buying us tickets on a later bus to Santa Cruz that would leave at 8pm. So...here I am in Bolivia with absolutely no Bolivian currency on me. I was getting hungry so I went to talk to a lady selling drinks and empanadas to see if she would take my Paraguayan Guaranis instead of Bolivian Bolivianos...NO CHANCE. Hmmmm...trying to be the able negotiator that I think I am I doggedly tried to convince her that I would even give her a GREAT exchange rate...No dice. So here I am starving to death...with money in my pocket from the USA, Peru, Brazil, Paraguay, Canada, and Costa Rica...hungry. Well, I finally talked a couple of Bolivian girls on the bus to take my Paraguayan money (needless to say, I got scalped on the exchange rate...but what did I care...my 4 dollars of Paraguayan money is worthless in Bolivia if no one takes it, right?!).
8pm rolled around and our bus had not arrived...I saw another bus had arrived going to Santa Cruz...I talked to the driver about going on his bus...and for 10 Reals (Brazilian money) he let me onboard. I figured this was a good deal...half the price of a regular ticket...and if I have learned anything in Bolivia...TAKE THE BUS YOU SEE RATHER THAN WAITING FOR THE NEXT ONE THAT MAY NEVER COME! I was again on the move towards Santa Cruz.
The bus ride was uneventful, which is to say that we didn't stop at a Bolivian Passport point for my stamp...I knew this would come back to haunt me.
September 17, 2000 (Sunday):
Arrived in Santa Cruz about 6am. Got off the bus and started walking towards the center of town. I asked a lady where a cambio was to change money. She walked with me a block or two away from the terminal, but the office was closed (too early). Anyway, I thanked her for the help and continued to walk towards the center. A little ways down the road, a man started talking to me. He started saying something about a passport check and if I had gotten it at the bus station. I was thrown off by this because I knew I had not gotten any entry stamp, so I was a little worried. He was not in uniform but showed me his laminated plastic Policia Identification card. He also stopped a girl walking along the street and asked to see her papers...hmmmm...it turned out to be the same girl who had led me in this direction of the cambio.
He asked to see my passport, and I said OK but at the station...starting to feel ill at ease. He flagged down a taxi that was passing and said that he was police and wanted us to go to the station. The girl got in and I got in after her. The driver asked to check his identification and seemed satisfied and started driving. Well, we started going, but it was not in a straight line. In fact, I noticed that the driver was turning a little too much and didn't seem to have a direction in mind. The officer asked for the girls bag and looked through it...then asked for mine. At this point, I was pretty sure this was a scam. I refused him looking in my bag until we got to the station. He said that it would take a long time at the station, indicating it would be better to look here in the car. The car pulled over and I simply got out with my bags.
I told him that I would not let him search my bags. He stayed in the car and they drove off. I was pretty certain I had been lucky...it was too close for my liking. If I had put my big bag in the trunk of the car I would not have had the option to get out.
Relieved to be rid of that issue, I walked to Residencial Bolivar where Richard (who I had met in Asuncion) had said he was going to be. I rang the bell and after discussing things with the doorman, Richard heard my voice and came out of his room and waved me in.
I started to explain my morning to him and he had me read a notice on the wall in the room about someone posing as a police officer and using a white car to rob tourists. I had been soooooo close to being robbed...for the second time in two days!!!!
Needless to say, this affected me a little. I am not normally very prone to having people rob me...I take precautions and am generally fairly aware of things...but in just a day and a half I had TOO NARROWLY avoided being robbed twice. With my bag being opened and me getting in the wrong car, things could have been very different. I have never had anyone try force on me but robbers and pickpockets will are often very creative in how they want to separate you from your money...so just watch yourself when traveling.
It was great to be in a safe hotel after my experiences...and I want to recommend the Residencial Bolivar at Sucre #131 phone is 342500...it was $6 per night and was very pleasant, great location, and has a wonderful pet toucan (Simon) that lives freely in the middle courtyard. The owner is wonderful and knowledgeable. Breakfasts there are very good.
Richard and I hung out and met Daniel/Israel and the three of us headed to the city zoo as recommended by Lonely Planet. Hmmmm...it was an OK zoo, but the facilities for the animals were somewhat shabby and made you feel very sorry for the animals...not a great experience.
Back near the hotel we used the internet for 6 Bolivianos per hour (this is about $1 per hour...6.25 Bolivianos per dollar...Bolivia is cheap!!!). Plaza de 24 de Septiembre in the center is lovely by day or night. Of course the main cathedral is adjacent as is normal in South America, it is lovely. Sitting on the square Richard observed that the shoeshine boys were not necessarily shining shoes as much as trying to sell small amounts of cocaine...sad...but nevertheless very funny to see a couple of guys in thong sandals sit down and act like they are discussing getting a shoe shine...pretty obvious what was going on.
September 18, 2000 (Monday):
While relaxing at the hotel in hammocks and being serenaded by Simon the Toucan, I finished the book I was reading, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It is about black inequality and searching for identity in the 1950s. Here are some quotes:
¨All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naive. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man!¨
¨Son, if you don't become bitter, nothing can stop you from success. Remember that.¨
¨There's always an element of crime in freedom.¨
¨...sometimes the difference between individual and organized indignation is the difference between criminal and political action.¨
¨What am I, a man or a natural resource.¨ ... ¨They were very much the same, each attempting to force his picture of reality upon me and neither giving a hoot in hell for how things looked to me. I was simply a material, a natural resource to be used. I now recognized my invisibility. So I'd accept it, I'd explore it, rine and heart. I'd plunge into it with both feet and they'd gag.¨ ... ¨All right, I'd yea, yea and oui, oui and si, si and see, see them too; and I'd walk around in their guts with hobnailed boots.¨
Doug Comment - Hmmm...makes you wonder about the change from being hired by the Manpower office to now interviewing with Human Resources...yes, more PC but fairly sterile, cold, and dry. In retrospect, maybe it would have been better to change Manpower to PeoplePower...just my opinion.
¨Without the possibility of acting, all knowledge comes to one labeled as File and Forget.¨
I thought that Invisible Man was a good book, and certainly worth reading. Very thought provoking.
I traded my Gabriela book to Richard for High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. On the cover of this book is the following review which I now (after having read the book) believe is very apropos:
¨Brilliant...a very funny and concise explanation of why we men are as we are. If you are male, you should read it and them make your partner read it, so they will no longer hate you but pity you instead.¨ - Harry Enfield/Independent on Sunday
Smile...I was looking forward to reading this book.
Most of the day was spent reading/getting clothes washed/plaza watching/ changing money (NOTE: I have found it very handy to have a large number of $1 USD bills on hand...so I got 30 more today...just good to have)/went to the bus station and checked out busses to Sucre...which would leave tomorrow. Richard and I had dinner (big chicken dinner for less than $1USD...ahhh...does my cheap Scottish Heart good!). Bed.
September 19, 2000 (Tue):
I still needed to receive my Bolivian entry stamp in my passport...so I went to the Immigration office. I explained that bus had broken down and I told them that I had arrived late last night (a necessary fib)...they still wanted me to pay a fine. I sat in the office and continued to explain...I had an exit stamp from Paraguay for the 16th of Sept...today was the 19th...it was not a BIG delay! Hmmmm...I am not sure I was very persuasive...but they knew that I was determined and was ready to spend the day talking to them. The guy finally pulled a stamp out of his desk drawer and stamped my passport with a 30 day entry stamp and told me to get out...smile.
I used the internet, read some, and then went to the bus station to catch a bus to Sucre (overnight journey). Bought my ticket from the bus company for 70 Bolivianos (about $11USD) to go on the BUS CAMA (bigger, better seats) (NOTE: If I had bought it from many of the vendors on the street it would have been 80 Bolivianos...so you save money going direct to the company.)...I was a little annoyed to learn that the bus did not have a bathroom onboard...later I would realize that this was a VERY GOOD THING!
I met two Swedish girls who would also be on the bus (Tove and Helena). They were nice and we talked for awhile. Tove is a veterinarian who had worked for 2 months here in Bolivia...ugh, the stories that she told and the pictures she had almost made me want to become a vegetarian (which she is)...but my parents would disown me. Helena had just flown in from Sweden, and the two of them were now starting to backpack...this was really the first leg of their upcoming world trip.
We boarded the bus...but it was delayed for awhile. We were told that they were concerned that there might be blockades along the route...and they were waiting for more information. NOTE: We had known there was some sort of protest nearby and that the main road from Santa Cruz to ]Cochabamba but had been told it wasn't affecting the Santa Cruz to Sucre route. Anyway, about a half an hour later the bus started and we headed out of the city.
I finished my newly acquired book, High Fidelity, that evening while we were driving to Sucre...here are some of my favorite quotes:
¨Since I left home, all she's done is moan, worry, and send cuttings from the local newspaper describing the minor successes of old school friends. Is that good parenting? Not in my book. I want sympathy, understanding, advice and money, and not necessarily in that order.¨
¨I could see her losing interest in me, so I worked like mad to get that interest back, and when I got it back, I lost interest in her all over again. That sort of thing happens to me a lot, I find. I don't know how to sort it out.¨
¨My dad is a bit dim but something of a know-all, which is a pretty fatal combination.¨
¨I want him to be as happy as anybody has ever been. I want him to show the rest of us that it is possible to maintain a relationship and a large record collection simultaneously.¨
¨If she thinks that, then she's missing the Brazilian rainforest for the twigs. If I can't buy specially priced compilation albums for new girlfriends, then I might as well give up, because I'm not sure that I know how to do anything else.¨
¨I'm at a bit of a loss after Terminator 2. It's not six o'clock yet, and even though I've ploughed my way through three great crap videos and the best part of a six-pack, I still cannot shake the feeling that I'm not having much of a birthday.¨
¨Barry, you're over thirty years old. You owe it to yourself and to your friends and to your mum and dad not to sing in a group called Sonic Death Monkey.¨
Smile...that one made me think of my good friend Chris in Austin.
It was a very good book...pretty insightful on the inter workings of modern-day romance, despair, and that nebulous area of semi-adulthood before marriage. Anyway...after reading High Fidelity I was happy and sleepy. Tried to go to sleep on the rocking bus and figured I'd wake more or less somewhere near Sucre tomorrow morning...
....I was wrong.
Doug - The Texas Nomad