A funny thing happened in Bolivia…
I’m a big fan of the HowStuffWorks: ‘Stuff You Should Know’ Podcast. My sister and her boyfriend had become fans of the geeked out show while driving their 1981 diesel Volkswagen Rabbit from New Jersey to Bolivia last summer…
Josh and Chuck ended one of their shows by asking their listeners to email them stories about great sea voyages they had been on. I’ve never been on a ‘great sea voyage’ but there was this funny thing that happened in Bolivia…
I flew down to visit Elizabeth and Brady while they were living in South America; with plans to explore Peru and Bolivia. I had spent a day in Cusco by myself, taken a van over a mountain, ridden a train to Machu-Pichu, feared frost bite on an overnight bus, and walked from one country into another… I thought I had this South America thing down as we finished up our day in Copacabana and bought tickets for a bus to La Paz.
I boarded the bus - with similar hesitations as a child on their first day of school. The bus looked enormous, had a scary looking driver, was painted obnoxious colors, and felt like it was the bus that would lead me to my end… The only comforting thing was knowing that this ride would only be a few hours - and would end with a hot shower and warm bed in La Paz.
I was actually able to sleep on the bus, despite the constant banging of my head into the window, since I was so exhausted from not sleeping on the last one.
I woke up as the bus pulled into what looked like a rest stop. There was a fuel station (a single pump with unknown functionality) a food cart (not food court… food cart) and a bunch of people wandering around. The driver stopped the bus, shut the engine off, and opened the door. As the other passengers started exiting the bus; I asked Elizabeth if we were in La Paz already. She said ‘no’ and told me that the buses without bathrooms usually stopped to let people go every few hours. We left our things, and exited the bus to stretch our legs.
As soon as we were off, the door slammed shut, the engine fired, and the bus began moving. ‘Where’s he going!?’ I yelled - Brady, being the relatively calm one of the group, replied: ‘I’m pretty sure he’s going over there to park the…’ he hesitated for a minute when we all realized that the bus was indeed parking… on what looked like a make-shift ‘barge.’
We instinctively ran towards the cold beach as our bus, and belongings started to float away on a vessel constructed from plywood, logs, tires, and prayers. Together we leaped off the dock, in slow motion of course, onto the ‘barge’ and watched the little rest stop, and it’s single street lamp fade into the darkness of lake Titicaca.
We soon realized that jumping onto the ‘boat’ was not a great idea; but what other options did we have? Brady tried to get some answers from the captain (operator of the outboard motor; who then tried to charge him for the free ride.) Elizabeth got back on the bus (to hide, or pray; most likely both.) I quickly found something to hold onto, and kept my eyes on the dwindling specks of light that I could see from lakefront villages. There was no doubt in my mind that this busboat would sink - and I wanted to know which direction to swim.
After about an hour on the lake I could see another single-street-lamp lakefront village. The swim looked doable; so I headed back onto the bus where Elizabeth had been sitting. I told her that I thought we were almost there; and that the stars looked amazing from the lake! She rolled her eyes and shot me a smile.
The bus finally drove off of the raft and onto the beach; I could breath again. The driver pulled up to the street, the door opened, and all of the other passengers piled back on.
Brady asked a gentleman sitting in front of us how he got to the other side of the lake. He turned around with a confused look on his face and said something in Spanish. He paused looked at the three of us shivering in the back seat (imagine the shocked look someone would give you if you told them you had just jumped across the grand canyon) and said, (what was soon translated to me)… ‘you didn’t stay on the bus did you? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?’
There was another boat, for passengers, and I believe they had hot beverages…
We continued onward, arrived in La Paz, and as promised, there was a warm bed and a hot shower waiting for me.
above is a true story… below is a true empanada