Endurance Travel – A Break in Carmargo

Finding a Ticket Onward
Our bus finally arrives in Carmargo at 2pm. After climbing off, I look around to see if there is a bus to take me to Potosí. Just as I am looking, a bus pulls up behind us with a sign to Potosí. Thinking that it is about to leave because the driver is still aboard, I ask the driver where I can get a ticket. He climbs out and leads me to the ticket office.

Carmargo town
Carmargo is set at the foot of some massive mountains.

Within moments I have booked and paid for this bus to take me to Potosí. Behind me a line forms of other people who also want to continue their journey northward. I was happy to have my ticket, but the bus was not leaving until 8.30pm and I would have loved to have travelled there during the daylight hours. Worse is that I need to wait for six and a half hours before the second part of my journey begins.

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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.

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YWAM Tarija – An Early Childhood Centre

Here I am in Tarija, staying at the YWAM base here. This base is not like many of the bases of YWAM in that it does not run courses or training. What it does however is something very important for the community. Run by one woman who is occasionally assisted by temporary helpers, this base provides a free educational service for poor families in the neighborhoods.

teaching in a group
Stephanie teaches the days of the week through a dance.

on the blackboard
Young girl working on the blackboard with chalk.

Many of the children that come to this centre have terrible stories about their family life. Others have lived in poverty and never been given the opportunity to experience the learning opportunities of the rich. Most families do not have electricity in their houses, few have water, and some eat from the garbage dump to survive. These are families in massive risk. A great number of them are “mistresses,” women on their own with one or more children to try and keep alive.

The goal of this centre is to provide these children with both the educational and relational experiences they need to be able to succeed in life. And it is doing a remarkable job too.

Mercedes working with the children
Mercedes works with the children both together and individually.

Stephanie working with a girl
Working one-on-one with the children.

Here are some photos of the children as they work away in the centre, learning and discovering things that they had never had the opportunity to do before. If you would like to help them out, then I am certain that Mercedes would be very pleased to have you along. Obviously, being in a Spanish country means that being able to speak Spanish would be an advantage, but is not essential. Contact me and I will pass on your request (translated if in English). I have had a lot of fun working with the children during my time here and I am sure you will find your time here rewarding.

young girl cannot speak
An older child that still cannot speak more than a few words.

Girl playing with plasticine
Young girl building hand skills in plasticine.

alphabet puzzle
A young boy works on getting his alphabet letters in the right place.

girl painting
A young girl working at the painting table.

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.

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.

Salar de Uyuni – A 3 Day Tour

I have just arrived in Chile after a three day tour of the Salar de Uyuni – the largest salt lake in the earth. The tour covers a lot more than just the salt lake, which was only the first day, but every part of the entire tour revealed amazing sights and incredible views into the high plains of the Andes mountains – something that I did not even know existed until this tour.

Salar de Uyuni – Day Two (2)

The second day took us into wild places in the Andean mountains, reaching altitudes of up to 5000 meters in our Toyota Landcruiser 4wd where seven of us managed to fit in quite comfortably. During the second day we saw lakes filled with flamingos, a smaller type of llama called a vicuña, and other wild animals, plus one of the lakes was a blood-red colour.

San Pedro town
Looking down over San Pedro de Quemaz from the burned ruins.

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