Nick Says: Guayaramerín turned out to be quite a lovely little town on the border. After setting foot on Bolivian soil, we were told by the soldiers that immigration had closed and we would have to report there tomorrow. So instead we walked around a bit, asking directions to the two hotels I had researched. We ended up at the Hotel Santa Ana, a really nice place even if the price did magically double when we checked out… Guayaramerín is totally set up to cater for tourists from Brazil, with the national colours everywhere and prices in Reals. We spent a few days zooming about on tuk-tuks ($1 to get anywhere in town) and eating a lot of ice-cream. In fact, so far I’ve eaten more ice-cream on this trip than I have in the last year. It’s been tough on the road… If it wasn’t an Oreo sundae then it was a chocolate vanilla mix in a cone. Delicious.
Anyway, I digress. It was odd to be back on land again, and even odder to have a choice over what we ate. Stepping out on the first night, we walked to the main plaza into what seemed to be the only place serving food. To descibe it as a unique experience would be an understatement. Our travelling companion Mark, a man who had spent 9 months on the road, as well as living a very interesting life, described it as the weirdest restaurant he had ever been in. Presided over by a heavily made up middle aged lady, it was a mix between someone’s house, a showcase for weird trinkets and statues, a shop which sold bedding, and a giant and fully stocked kitchen at the back which seemed totally pointless as in the middle of the room they had a microwave proudly on display. The tourists seemed to flock here for the speciality, which was frozen lasagne.This should have tipped us off as to what type of food to expect, and we were duly served frozen re-formed chicken in breadcrumbs and carboard chips. It was essentially inedible. I missed the boat food. However, it certainly had beer – as we asked the hostess, who was definitely one of a kind, if she served cerveza, we got a long, drawn-out and theatrical ‘siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii’. Later we asked if the soft-focus prom-style picture of a girl obviously in the her younger years was her. IN reply we got ‘yoooooooooooooooooooooooooo’ (it’s me) as if she was saying, ‘that old thing’. It was proudly on display next to the microwave. By Bolivian standards, the food was also very expensive, adding up to a truly bizarre experience. Contrast that to the next night where we found a more local place to eat and had huge plates of delicous broasted chicken and rice for around a quarter of the price!
After a few days there, it was time to be on the move again. We had hoped to catch another river boat, this time down the Mamore. Going down to the port we were confronted with the amazing sight of the Bolivian Navy. Being a land-locked country, I hadn’t expected there to be one, but here they were, super professional and looking the part in the sailors whites. It turned out that they didn’t know when the next boat would be, and it would also take 7 days to get where we wanted. We then had to make a tough decision, to take 7 days out of our trip for what would be quite an adventure, or to press on. Sadly we had to press on – even with 6 months this would be too much time to take. It was the first thing we had to turn down, but it was the right decision – I would have hated to miss out on an amazing experience down the line because I spent another 7 days on a boat! Mark however pressed on, and signed up to the Bolivian navy. As you read this he’s currently somewhere on the river – the only passenger of a cargo ship. For us however, it meant the bus out of town.
Bee Says: And what a bus it was. Ahhh the Vaca Diez. The bus from Guayaramerín to Trinidad that would become our new home for 30 HOURS. Imagine taking a bus for 30 hours in the UK (you’d have to lap it a few times I guess). Now imagine that firstly, the bus looks like its just been dragged off a junkyard (the photo doesnt show the taped up windows!). Secondly, that the air con doesn’t work… so you are basically in an oven on wheels as the tropics temperatures spike at 34 degrees. Also, there are no toilets on the bus, leading to a constant chicken-game of needing to hydrate with water but also requiring a camel bladder to last hours with no breaks. And finally? The fact that your 30 hours won’t be spent travelling on a road. You will be travelling on a dirt track, that then turns into off-roading over dusty plains SO bumpy you spend more time with your bum in the air, than on the seat.
Our bus, despite the naked ladies on the driver seat, was lot more tasteful than the beast next to us that was heading to La Paz… which was covered in questionable scenes of women clad in thongs, frolicking together in a river on both sides and the back! I much preferred our moon howling wolf and little running cherub girl.
So the grand 30 hour bus journey was… an experience! In some ways it actually one of the highlights of the trip so far (I know!) because we saw the most incredible wildlife, it was like one long safari. We saw crocodiles sunbathing, neon pink flamingos, ostrich, pelicans, eagles, a big ginger owl and FINALLY… my beloved capybara! TONS of them! We peaked early with the number one spot, which happened less than an hour in to the journey. The driver would toot his horn constantly, and it took a while for me to realise he didn’t have road (non-road?) rage, but in fact was warning straying animals to move out of the way. After a particularly ferocious blast on the horn we smushed our faces up to the glass (plastic) and saw a gigantic black wild boar, who upon running out of the way of the bus, was now baring its teeth and snarling up at us!!! This led to us entertaining ourselves by doing impressions of the wild boar every few minutes, for 30 hours, and it never got old.
We both think we were lucky enough on this leg to travel through one of the remotest places in the world. Mile after mile after long mile passed with no electricity pylons or wire, no roads, no settlements, no wildlife even… just un-inhabitable dry dusty terrain! Sometimes the dust clouded into the bus so much that you could barely see your own hand in front of you. We are both still blowing orange dust out of nose days later.
At mealtimes (and err, the two times the bus broke) we got to stop in some really rural settlements with tiny populations who gazed at our muy blanco faces (and sometimes asked in Spanish WHAT on earth are you doing here). As you can guess, we were so far off the beaten track. Even the Lonely Planet says very few backpackers dare to tread here, since more people with a brain would opt for the 1 hour TAM flight over days of bussing. At one point we had long enough to grab a bowl of chicken broth, complete with feet, which cost just under a pound!, which we slurped under the stars before dashing back on when the bus revved its engine. There were also the occasional bathroom breaks… and usually there were toilets that cost 1B to us but sometimes there was nothing. This was fine for the blokes onboard who can just go against a wall, but for me I had to clamber around wasteland until I found an old shack, surrounded by animal skulls!, and then crouch most undiginifiedly behind it. Upon finishing, a pig appeared from nowhere and sniffed my bum. It was a low point… But I was cheered out of my trauma by the fish phone box in the next big town.
I just want to mention that bus travel everywhere we have been has felt incredibly safe. Amazing drivers and every time at least half the passengers onboard are women or families, which has really helped me feel at ease as I slumber away alongside them in our tin can on wheels! You get to know your fellow passengers quite well due to the cosy confines and every trip we’ve made at least one friend using my Spanish. On this trip we became babysitters to an 8 year old girl at some points, as her mum also had an 8 month year old to tend to. They were travelling to visit her mother who was dying, and it felt special to be able to communicate enough with them to make the journey a little easier. We stayed in good spirits, playing memory games and listening to our iPods, and at the end we were rewarded to a crazy moment where we got off the bus… we thought for another standard snack stop. However suddenly the bus zoomed away from us! And onto a big wooden barge on the river. Having no idea what to do, we followed the other passangers and climbed onto the barge, precariously squidged on next to the bus and we were all pulled over the River Mamore! NOT what we were expecting and we also saw more dolphins, just to cap off a truly unique trip.
We got into Trinidad exhausted and stinky, but opted to get a night bus straight out that night (ARE WE MAD! MORE BUSES!) as we were keen to get on to Santa Cruz. We left our luggage at the bus terminal so we could explore Trinidad which was very quaint and pretty, with a nice plaza to sit and fester in. We got back to the bus for 945pm and we chatted to a few locals as we waited, I seem to be especially popular with little girls who like to tell me I am muy bonital! Which after by this stage 40+ hours on the road, I certainly didnt feel! On our Bolivian travels we have aquired the beloved and majestic… CLOUD BEAR. Every night bus we take all passengers have these blankets because the air con makes for a chilly journey. I decided I wanted to be like them, so picked up this beauty for about 2quid at a market stall. However, since aquiring Cloud Bear every bus since has had broken air con…. So he has just become a rather large, decadent pillow.
Now to explore Santa Cruz, before heading to Samaipata where we can spend a couple of days and do the Che Guevara trail. From there it´s on to Cochabamba for a couple of days, then finally on to UYUNI! Where we explore the salt flats for three days. We are both SO excited to do this part. It feels like lately the ratio of “travel” to “seeing stuff” has been waaaaaaay too bus heavy so we cant wait for a proper tour again and to see something so amazing.