Endurance Travel – Beating the Blockades

Well, I have just arrived in Sucre this morning. By all rights I should have still been in Tarija. The transit strikes were extended another 24hrs and there was supposed to be no exit from the city. But I found one.

It has been 28 hours of tough, sleepless, and sometimes entertaining travelling. It is not something that I would like to repeat very soon but I have arrived in spite of the transit strikes.

northern bus stop
Waiting at the Northern Bus Stop for a ride in anything heading north.

Finding Transport
Waking at 5am, I arrive at the bus terminal just after 6am. Everything should have been open, but I was surprised to discover many people there and the whole place locked up. I waited for a short while before asking somebody what was happening and they told me about the transport strike continuing another day.

Something in me clicked, and I decided that I would not sucumb to this event for another day. Hailing a cab, I asked to be taken to the airport. The planes were still flying… well, the one company that was left was still flying. The other one is still grounded. But after being dropped off, I discovered that I was alone. The place was deserted.

Not a car was in the parking lot and the whole building was virtually without lights (although that may have been the blackout now that I think about it). Inside I saw two cleaning ladies. They pointed me to the front door. When I entered, there were two people sleeping on some seats and nobody else.

Wandering over to the cleaning ladies, I discover that there are no morning flights. Everything starts to open at 2pm and then I would have to try and find a seat. With the other airline closed down, that would not be such an easy task. I wandered away thinking about it, but decided that I did not want to wait any longer and jumped into another taxi.

the road north
Looking longingly up the road out of the city heading north.

Meeting Friends
Fortunately there were taxis working today to help me get around. I would have been walking otherwise. I chatted with the taxi driver, telling him that I was heading north today regardless of the strikes and asked him to take me to the northern city limits where I could try and hitch a ride.

The taxi ended up dropping me off at the northern bus stop just before 6.30am, explaining that this was the best opportunity for me to find a ride north. It sounded fine to me. I placed my bags on the muddy ground and waited for a truck to come past.

Two other men were standing next to me, so I asked them what they were doing and where they were going. The gave me the names of two towns that I did not know and I feigned awareness of them, explaining that I was heading through that town too. You see, I was heading north, and they were heading north, so any town they were headed to must have been in my direction.

They then asked me where I was headed, and I told them Potosi. One of the men told me that he was waiting for a bus which should come along shortly and that this would take me a good part of the way there. That seemed great to me. At least I would be able to get out of Tarija.

The Blockades are Coming
As we waited together, this same man explained to me that if the bus came at all, and if it came soon we should be able to get outside of the city before all of the blockades were in place, stopping any further traffic from leaving the place. Most blockades, formed by parking a bus across the road, would be in place by 7am, so our time was fast running out.

A few minutes before 6am the bus arrived to some great sighs of relief. We quickly climbed aboard and found some seats. Suddenly there was a rush from everywhere as people standing around for other buses realised that this may be the only bus operating today. Within minutes our bus was completely filled to sardine point.

We waited like this as the driver started to load up the luggage that people had brought with them. Bags of vegetables and grain, luggage bags and other bits and pieces were added to the roof. Then a small truck drove up and unloaded even more bags, putting them onto the roof.

As people waited the tension grew stronger and stronger. Everybody knew that we may not even make it out of the city yet. Some people started yelling at the driver, “Come on! Let’s go!” But it did not change the situation and the bags and gear kept being loaded aboard.

It was 7.15am that we finally pulled out, the bus so full that people were still hanging out of the door as it shut. The old bus rattled down the asphalt road bouncing and vibrating like crazy, but nobody minded. We were at least moving now.

A few minutes down the road, and still inside the city limits, our driver pulls into a service station to fuel up. Tension builds again, but everybody knows that we need the fuel to make the journey so nobody says anything. The air is thick as we take off again, and remains that way for the next 10 minutes as we make our way to the city limits.

open roads
The open roads that we were all still so desperately wanting to see.

The City Limits
The limit of the city is located on a dirt road, hedged by thistle bushes that nobody would want to try and pass. A police stop with a gate ensures that no vehicle or driver leaves the city without the correct paperwork.

We turn off the sealed road onto the dirt road and rattle up past the thorn bushes. People are straining to see through the curtains and heads to look through the windscreen of the bus. Is there a blockade ahead? Are we going to make it? Have we tried all of this in vain?

As the last corner straightens out, we can all see ahead and suddenly the tension in the bus is released. An almost audible sigh of relief is heaved by virtually every person present. There are no buses blocking the road ahead. We have made it. We are free to continue our journey. We had beaten the blockades.