Amor Fati?

by Ekua on November 15, 2009 in Bolivia

August 12, 2009

As the bus drove away from Uyuni, I looked behind to watch the distance between me and the salt flat grow larger until it disappeared from view. I turned forward to an unknown adventure. I’d slept on my decision, and knew I’d made the right choice to leave the Salar de Uyuni tour behind. Independent travel should be just that—independent. People looked at me as though I’d left India without seeing the Taj Mahal. But feeling unchained from what I’d told myself and what others told me I had to do was extraordinarily freeing. I’d also found that I could bypass Potosi, another backpacker hot spot, and head straight to Sucre that day for 20 Bolivianos (about $2.75) more. It would be a long day of driving, but worth it to go directly where I wanted to go.

Bolivia - AltiplanoWe drove through miles of uninhabited Altiplano. Every so often, we passed through a tiny village or saw one in the distance. This journey was one of many on my trip that left me contemplating the complexities of fate. People born in those remote villages would most likely die there. They would probably spend their whole lives negotiating the harsh conditions of the cold and parched high altitude desert. And there I was, nose against the window, just passing through as I’ve done around the world.

We had two stops on the way to Potosi, one was planned and the other wasn’t. The planned one was at Bolivia’s version of a rest stop– a metal toilet with no seat, a kiosk selling nothing of nutritional value, and a “restaurant”. Besides the fact that it was housed in shacks, it wasn’t all that different from a rest stop here in the United States.

Barren desert gave way to beautiful rock formations and full rivers. We’d entered mining country. There were several detours on bumpy paths where men were working along the main road.

For almost the whole ride, our bus had been making sketchy sounds. The noise ceased, and we were brought to our second stop, the unplanned one. The driver tried to restart the bus as he’d done the entire trip, but this time, the bus was stopped for good. We all got off and the driver and co. quickly put large rocks behind the tires so the bus wouldn’t roll back down the hill we’d worked so hard to get up.

The driver and co. unsuccessfully tried to flag down buses that were driving by on a road below us. I was getting nervous about being stuck in Extremely High Altitude, Middle of Nowhere, Bolivia for a night. Finally, a fancy bus we’d seen at the rest stop climbed up the hill and parked behind us. It turned out that the problem was quite simple—we’d run out of gas.

Our drivers siphoned gas out of their tank to put in ours and voila! We were on our way again and very relieved. Once you’re outside of cities in Bolivia, gas stations are nonexistent. Whatever gas you need, you have to take with you. I think many drivers leave unprepared because they know they can borrow some from another driver if they need to. It’s infuriating that they’ll put a bus full of people in that position, but charming that they’re always willing to help each other out.

It turns out that we weren’t too far from Potosi when the bus broke down. We arrived in the early evening. A group of three French backpackers were the only other people on the bus heading on to Sucre as well. Everyone got off, and we stayed on to be driven to the Potosi bus station where we would catch another bus.

At the station, we wandered over to a Cholita selling delicious cheese empanadas. We were starving after a day without any real food. She insisted that we try some beverage in a pot. She scooped it out with a plastic cup and handed it over. I took a little sip to be polite, but wasn’t interested in chugging a mystery beverage when I had a few more hours of driving left.

It was a relief when we finally arrived in Sucre. The French trio invited me to stay at a hostel with them, so we caught a cab together to center of town. We found a hostel and settled in before heading to dinner. After our late meal, we called it a night. It had been a long day. But I felt happy in Sucre. Even in the dark, I sensed that I would love the energy of the city. I couldn’t wait to roam its cobblestoned streets the next day.

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