Endurance Travel – The Final Leg To Sucre

It is 7.45pm and I am on the bus and moving. It is all quite strange really. People without tickets were clamouring to get aboard as they closed the door and took off. They said that we were going to return to this plaza again but I am unconvinced, and very glad to be onboard.

bus office
The bus office just before we leave.

We reach the southern border of the town and stop. Now we are moving backwards. A youth relieving himself on the edge of the road realises his predicament and quickly disappears into the shadows. We turn around and head back toward the town again. This is really strange.

The Beginning
Watching all of this confusion as it started to happen, I was enjoying a coffee and a chat after dinner. At 7.30pm people started climbing aboard and we all agreed that this was unusual behaviour if the bus was due to depart at 8.30pm. Just to be sure, I finished my coffee and moved over to ask the driver about the departure time. He confirmed that it was an 8.30pm departure.

Suddenly another company worker came up to me and told me to board the bus. I questioned him, but he just repeated the command. “Get onboard!” It seemed a pretty urgent request so I tried to get onboard but could not get near the doorway for the mob of swarming people that were also trying to board at the same time.

Knowing that I was not going to get onboard by pushing, there had to be another way. An idea grabbed me. I pulled out and showed my ticket. This got me immediate attention and I was soon onboard. Suddenly behind me was a rush of tickets as everyone else with a legitimate seat also proved their claim to board.

Within a very short time the bus is completely filled but there remains dozens of people outside also trying to get a ride. Before long the crush will come, when many of those people fill up the aisle space that remains. But our bus had taken off…

Returning to the Plaza
After our short tour of the city our bus returns to the plaza where the caos ensues. Those onboard the bus tell me that I should have a blanket with me for when we are in Potosí, one of the highest cities in South America, but I don’t, hoping that the jumper I have with me is enough.

My intention initially was to stop in Potosí for one day to visit the place as a tourist. During my travels here in Bolivia I have not had too much time to visit other places, but because of the transit strikes, I decided to continue straight on to Sucre.

Soon the people are aboard the bus, filling it more full than I have ever seen a bus filled before. Mostly there was only standing room in the aisleway. Some mothers down the back had already taken up their sitting spaces and made room for their children too. The rest were crammed in, as one person kept repeating, like sardines.

Arguing Against The Mob
We have waited in this over-filled bus until the scheduled departure time of 8.30pm, relieved to finally see the driver climb aboard and fire up the engine. Then suddenly all is quiet again. The driver looks at all of the people desperate for a ride and states that he is going nowhere with so many people onboard.

They ask everybody in the aisle to get out. Many do, but the ladies so comfortable at the back refuse. An argument ensues. People on both sides are yelling, claiming their rights. The other passengers throw in a quip or comment here and there, but generally keep quiet, their faces showing their thoughts very clearly.

Reaching a stalemate where the bus driver refuses to leave until they get off, and they also refusing point blank to get off, I expected that we would be hanging around for a while. But after 15 minutes or so had passed, our driver finally relents and leaves them onboard the bus.

After this, the arguments start outside the bus where people believed that they had a right to travel on this bus and were trying to claim it. Many were refused and told that they would have to return at 2pm the next day to purchase a ticket. There were a lot of disappointed people that night.

Those that did get aboard were still far too many for the bus, and still only had standing room available to them for the long journey ahead. Most did not seem to mind as they had managed to finally get aboard this highly coveted bus.

The Police Test
We finally take off at 8.50pm but stop a couple of minutes later while still in the town. This was the police check where every vehicle needed to stop and be inspected for papers and illegal people.

Police stop
The police check that we had to get through before leaving the town.

When the police climbed aboard and saw the number of people crammed into the bus they stated categorically that everybody had to get off. At that moment the driver suddenly started petitioning for his passengers, falsely claiming that this lady was only going to the 2km mark, and that man was getting off at the farm next to hers.

Sensing that it was all a big lie, but also aware of the mess that he would be stepping into if he pursued his request for everybody to get off, the officer decided to back down, stating firmly that it was ok then, but the driver should know that everybody must be comfortable for the journey.

Just as we think that everything was fine and we are ready to leave, the daughter of one of the passengers walks up to the bus and asks with a voice loud enough to be heard by everybody inside, including the police, “daddy are you ok? I hope the police told all of those people to get off because it was far too unsafe with that many people crammed in there!” We all held our breath, including her “daddy” who was seated next to me. Fortunately the police ignored her comments and we were able to finally begin our journey.

Midnight Fuel Stop
Just around midnight the bus stops in some tiny town, covered in darkness. We all climb off, taking the opportunity to relieve any pressure in our bladders. No fields were near us so people simply went in the streets or against the walls of the houses.

man taking a leak
A man relieving himself against a wall in the lights of the bus.

Meanwhile the bus driver and his helper were bashing unashamedly on the door of one of the houses until the bleary-eyed occupant opened the door. There was some discussion inside and then some noises. Before long they emerged with two open tin cans filled with diesel fuel and a long hose.

Filling up the bus
Filling up the bus with fuel from cans.

The driver’s helper crawls underneath the bus and amidst grunts and moans, pulls the hose into place. Then the driver lifts up the can of fuel with the hose well placed and waits until it all drains into the tank of the bus. The first can emptied, they repeat the process with the second, each can holding near to twenty litres.

last can
Emptying the last can into the bus.

When the bus is filled the signal is given to board the bus once again and we continue on our journey. It seemed strange to me that we would stop at such a late hour in such an obscure little town to fill up with fuel from open cans, so I asked someone about it. He told me that because there was no electricity back in Carmargo the fuel pumps did not work, so they could not refuel the bus. Also, many bus companies have special agreements with places such as this along the route where they can fill up with fuel at any moment should they need to.

A Brief View of Potosí
It was 3am in the morning when we arrived in Potosí. The temperature outside was quite cold, but with so many people jammed in the bus we were still at a very comfortable temperature. When we arrived at the bus terminal, which really was just a slightly wider street than normal, many of the people both in seats and the aisle disembarked. Their absence made enough room for everybody to finally find themselves a seat.

View of city lights
Looking down on the city from where we filled up with fuel.

Getting into and out of the city of Potosí required a rather steep approach with the city situated down in a hollow. One of the passengers pointed in the direction of the famous hill of silver where the silver mines were dug, but it was too dark to see anything clearly.

The city itself had an old feeling to it, with houses and buildings of mudbrick and streets of paved stone in most places. Even the concrete structures were old and worn in appearance, but overall it had the same style as the other places that I had visited in Bolivia.

bus terminal
The bus terminal in Potosí.

Resting the Driver
Sometime around 5am our bus comes to a stop in a small township. The driver’s helper appears in the doorway to the passenger area and asks, “The driver has been going since 7am this morning and is tired and would appreciate a rest. Do you agree to giving him a rest?” Only two or three of us were awake at the moment, and only just at that. We mumble our “yes” to him. After all, who would want a tired driver taking us over the winding roads of Bolivia.

With our consent, the bus shuts off and all of the lights turn off. Everything is silent, and we sleep. Every so often a nearby church bell sounds off the 1/4 hour with a plethora of sounds that seem to last forever. Around 6am people start filling the streets of this town, calling out and laughing. Trucks and buses start moving through the streets too, with their horns sounding off at inconvenient moments. It is impossible to sleep anymore.

selling bread
The town started waking up.

The Goat Lady
As we wait for our driver to locate his caffeine fix a bus pulls up in front of us. A typical rotund and traditionally dressed Bolivian woman climbs out and reaches in underneath the bus in the baggage compartment. What she pulls out however is nothing resembling baggage.

Showing her strength, she picks up the carcass of a goat and throws it over onto the side of the road, then reaches around to get another one. Well over ten goat carcasses later, she then moves around to the back of the bus and pulls out even more. Their heavy fleshy carcasses devoid of all intestines are complete in every other way.

goat carcasses
A lady unloads dozens of goat carcasses from the bus.

A local butcher sends down his sons to pick up the goats, and the lad struggles to pick up and carry the carcass that the Bolivian lady had so lightly deposited there. A man also picks up one of the carcasses, his struggles showing the weight that is in them and the strength of the lady.

Soon however we are gone, moving onward toward our final destination of Sucre.

Great Descents
For a while we travel along a road that is flat and mostly straight. The farms beside us are also flat, but stop suddenly at mamoth cliffs. Before long we discover these cliffs too, winding our way down into a valley hundreds of metres below us. On reaching the bottom we cross over a wide riverbed of stones with only trickles of water running through it.

dry river
The wide and dry river at the bottom of a huge valley.

The rest of the journey continues alongside this river, hugging the left side of it as we travel downstream. We know that we are very near our destination when we finally reach the police check point that symbolises the limits of the city. It is here that I view the corruption first hand.

old bridge
An old bridge indicates that the city of Sucre is close.

Viewing Corruption First Hand
Our bus had already passed through over eight of these police check points and there had not been any problems along the way. Yet this time, when the driver’s helper jumped out and went over to the booth to present the same papers there was obviously a problem. Within moments the policeman with whom he was talking came over to the bus and started talking with the driver.

The conversation was not heated, but there were certain things said that did not sound like friends talking. From my seat near the front of the bus, I could see the policeman and the driver’s helper as they stood at the window talking with the driver. During the conversation, I noticed the helper reaching into his pocket and pulling out some money. I could not make out what it was at first, but saw the policeman shake his head sideways as he continued his conversation with the driver.

police check
The final police check where we encountered corruption.

The first amount was not enough, so he pulls out another note. I see the $20 pesos returned to his pocket and a $50 peso note retrieved which is then handed to the officer. Suddenly everyone is all smiles and the unsuspecting looking police officer walked off with his left hand tightly clenched, concealing the fruits of his misused power. We move on.

Sucre At Long Last
It is 8.30am in the morning that we finally arrive in Sucre. After a 7 hour journey from Tarija to Carmargo, 6.5 hours wait and a 12 hour journey to Sucre, I was ready to stop travelling. I had been awake since 5am the day before, with a couple of hours sleep during the second bus journey, and felt considerably tired. It was so good to have finally arrived. I was in Sucre, at long last.