Endurance Travel – Making it to Carmargo

Leaving the City
Leaving the city entrance behind us we began our ascent up the first mountain. We had beaten the blockades and now had a free road ahead of us. Our climb soon gave us some spectacular views over the city and valley basin of Tarija below us. As usual these roads had a virtual precipice at the edge of them and our wheels often came precariously close, yet it seems to worry me less and less. There are still times when my heart skips a beat however.

breakfast stop
The bus stops in a small town for breakfast.

Before long we have entered into the clouds, and apart from an occasional break sufficient to see down into a local valley, there is nothing more than white that surrounds us. Looking forward through the windshield I wonder to myself how the driver can even see the road, but trust that he knows what he is doing and roll over to try and get some sleep after such an early start. A bout of the flu has left me feeling very drained and more tired than normal.

Over one hill and down the other side, up the next hill and back down again. Over another hill and ride along the ride for a while before descending yet again, twisting and turning as the road follows the contours of the hill. How many times we have climbed or descended I cannot count now, but as the hours wear on the only thing I know is that we are closer to our destination.

local lady
A local lady hangs around to watch us as we wait for our bus.

Breakfast Stop
Once again our bus begins another descent. Suddenly sunlight floods into the cabin area. We have broken out of the cloud. Below us appears a tiny little villiage, surrounded by myriads of low rock fences scattered amongst the rocky fields. Only ten minutes later we drive down along the flat road leading into the township. And stop.

This is our breakfast stop. I climb out and start looking for a toilet. Most of the country folk have already found their toilet as they stand to the side of the road and do their business into the nearby field. The stench of urine soon fills the air and carries over toward the bus and those nearby.

rock house
A rock house with a much more relaxed man coming out from behind.

A lady comes by selling hot empanadas from a big basket. Many of us buy them and enjoy the rich flavour. Others buy jelly or flan from another lady with a series of trays in her arms. The prices are very cheap at $1 Boliviano for each, and when it comes time to board the bus again, most people have had their fill of both.

Changes in People and Terrain
The journey continues without hassle as we slowly wind our way around the torturous roads making progress towards our final destination of Carmargo, a small town in the middle of the route to Potosí. The green grass and rock fences and houses of the valleys soon gives way to the cactus filled rocky desert slopes of the mountains that we ascend during our determined plod northward.

green valleys
The green valleys and rock fences that quickly transformed into rocky desert lands.

Mountain view into valley
From mountain top back down into the valley again.

An old lady has joined us just recently, taking her seat in the aisle of the bus with her daugther and grandson, who was my age. Her old worn face displayed the effects of continuous toil over the years, her eyes almost glazed over at times as she stared out the windows at the passing scenery from her lowered position. Not once did her old felt hat, that showed the same sort of aging as its owner, come off her thin wispy grey hair.

Old lady
The old lady stares wistfully out of the window.

After taking so many photographs in the view of the other people on the bus, I soon find that people everywhere are watching me as I take each photo, straining to see the photo on the LCD screen. The family seated next to me show the most interest. The kids look over frequently to watch me take the photos. Seeing their interest, I show them many of the photos that I take, and then take one of them too. This photo generates a buzz of interest amongst the family who are all smiles and pointing out each other in the shot.

Family on bus
The family included mum, who is sitting next to their father, but hidden in this photo.

Crafty Driver
Our journey continues onward, down into a valley and back up the mountain on the other side. Soon we are driving alongside and occasionally in a dried creekbed. Roadworks begin beside us that will accompany us for the rest of the journey, offering a much better roadway, but they often return us to the creekbed during their deviations. Suddenly, while in the middle of nowhere, our bus stops and shuts off the motor. It is ticket collection time. The driver had cunningly chosen a place where nobody can escape, and starts walking down the aisle charging us for our journey, as most people had not yet paid anything.

Bus parked for ticket charging
The bus parked while in the middle of nowhere, on the new roadworks.

We continue onward with everybody still aboard, until finally reaching the small township called El Puente (The Bridge), so named for an old bridge over the river and for the name of the company that is now established there. The man that had helped me so much in finding this bus and guiding me on how to continue onward to Potosí had reached his destination and disembarked. Our bus was still very full provoking our driver to not stop for four men waiting for a ride. They had walked toward the bus but saw the driver’s disposition and so stopped, standind in the middle of the road watching us disappear into the distance.

Ploughing Poor
One of the most startling things that I saw as we travelled through El Puente was people ploughing. Since arriving in South America I have seen ploughing done by tractor, by horse, by mule, and by hand – using hoes. This was different. When I first saw it, I assumed that it had been a rare moment, something unusual. But then I saw it again, and when commenting on it to some locals they did not see anything unusual about it, indicating that it is rather common. I am not sure that I will ever consider seeing a woman guiding a plough as common. Especially not when the horse had been replaced by two men straining at the front to pull the plough through the earth.

El Puente town
A restaurant in the township of El Puente.

Villa Abecia
As our journey continued along everybody was content that we would soon be arriving in our destination of Carmargo. This was to be delayed somewhat when our driver stopped the bus in the little township of Villa Abecia and announced that it was lunch time. Most people climbed off and over half of the bus wandered into the only restaurant in town that was offerring food. Instead of stopping there, I wandered over to another shop and ordered hamburgers. The only person in this shop, the service was excellent.

Villa Abecia
The township of Villa Abecia, our lunch stop.

This township had such an unusual feel to it. Filled with mostly old people, seated on the benches around the park, it felt somewhat like a retirement home. There was one young girl and a couple of other mothers, but that seemed to be the entire township. The Tarija power problem had also extended to here, leaving the people without refrigeration and resulting in a lot of spoiled foods. Most shops did not have anything to sell because of this, and any drink was at room temperature.

Carmargo at Last
After lunch, we all climbed aboard once again, and without any further incidents, arrived at our destination of Carmargo two hours later. The journey had taken considerably longer than most had expected, but then on a day when there should not have been any transport we were all very happy to have arrived.

People on the bus
People on the bus after eating lunch at Villa Abecia.

Blind man and wife
Our bus driver stopped to explain to this blind man and his wife that the strike was still happening today.

Man outside church
A roadworker supervising the road works in front of a church.

Old couple
An old couple seated outside their shop in Villa Abecia.

The ruins of old mud-brick houses beside the road were very common.

Full bus
The bus so full that people were pushed inside by the closing door.

Afternoon siesta
A man sleeping under the shadow of his house during the afternoon siesta.

Typical home
One of hundreds of typical country homes that we passed along the journey to Carmargo.