Sunday, March 27th, 2016
Today I woke up at 5:30 AM while the rest of my squadmates are still in bed. We just got into La Paz yesterday after a 16-hour bus ride/border crossing. Why get up at such an “ungodly hour” you ask? We have another bus to catch to our ministry site in Apolo, Bolivia and they only have one bus time at 7:30 AM. This implies that it must be a pretty small town if they only have one bus time…crap. Can’t be that bad, though, I heard the ride is only 14 hours.
I bring all of my stuff downstairs and wait for the rest of my team. Getting up this early has its perks, I can check my email! Our contact for ministry in Bolivia just showed up and offered to take half of us to the bus station, while he calls the other half of us a taxi. That was nice of him. No clue he was coming, but still really nice.
We get dropped off at the bus station around 6 AM and man, is it cold. Who would’ve thought after months and months of summer weather I would be able to shiver again? I break open my pack and take out my only pair of sweatpants. I put them on over my shorts and find some socks as well. Sporting the Birkenstock/sock look isn’t the best, but hey, comfort over beauty on a travel day (or maybe every day on the Race…)?
We wait for 30 minutes. We were told to be there by 6:30 so that we would have time to load the bus up before leaving at 7. It’s actually freaking cold out now. I’m starting to shake a little and have flashbacks to training camp (trust me, not a good feeling). Oh, and did I mention that I just found out that leaving this early just late yesterday evening? There was no time to pick up any food, so I’m eyeing the street vendors to see if anyone has bread. Last night we were told not to buy any street food in Bolivia…let’s see how long that lasts.
A man that works for the bus company just came out and started blabbing to us in Spanish about our seat assignment. He hands the seating book to Hannah and made her change our seats so that we can “all sit together.” Interesting. Don’t know why it’s necessary to sit together, but okay. And today is Sunday! Easter Sunday! What a great day! Wish I could be at church to celebrate, but I digress…we have somewhere to be!
Hannah was getting cold and hungry too, so we went for a stroll around the block. Jill spotted what looked like bakery down the road, so that’s where we’re headed. Turns out, it’s a butcher shop. Nothing funnier than finding a butcher shop with a vegetarian at 7 AM when it’s freezing cold outside and we should already be on a bus. She literally started gagging. Good times.
We eventually head back to the bus station with news that this exact street must be the meat supplier for all of Bolivia because we couldn’t find anything but hanging chunks of meat. The bus rolled in at 8 AM. Not bad, only an hour and a half late.
We board up our stuff and search for our seats. They literally put us all in the back row of the bus. Worst seats for a 14-hour ride. Thank goodness that man switched the other seats so that we could all be together for this misery. The first 4 hours are a blur of wide-open mouths and some snoring. Occasionally, the bus driver hit a bump so hard that we would go flying. Everyone else on the bus learned to giggle at the “gringas” groaning each time we nailed something and went airborne. Hilarious.
At our first stop, we found the nearest bathroom in a random storefront. 1 boliviano per person. Not shocking, but I’m still annoyed that I have to pay someone to take a pee. At this point, I’m really hungry and I see a lady selling bread. I buy 2.5 pieces for the same cost it took to take a pee. Hmm…
Then I see the cheese lady. You know her—she’s dressed in a killer skirt, colorful blouse, and a green felt hat. Beautiful. You know she understands the concept of hard work as her face and hands show the evidence of it. Cheese would be great right now. Nothing like fresh cheese and bread. I ask for a little try. That’s some fresh cheese. Straight from the utter. So I buy a chunk despite our warnings not to eat street food. 14 hours later and I already broke the “no street food rule.” Whatever. I want my cheese.
We pack back into the back row and are on our merry way. A few hours later and we’re really in the mountains now. Windy streets, not paved. We thought the bumps were bad before. 6 hours later and we are rewarded with another stop. I’m really trying to learn the balance between not passing out from dehydration and making the bus driver stop because I have to pee. But we made it and I didn’t have to make the bus stop! #Victory
This time, it feels like Africa. We find another bathroom storefront and search for the toilets. We had to walk down 2 flights of stairs in a building under construction to find them. There are 3 toilets divided by a cloth curtain. You have to take a pail of water with you to flush the pee of the person before you. I do so and get out of there ASAP. Eww. Thank goodness for hand sanitizer.
We get back on the bus after unsuccessfully searching the nearby stands for any decent food. My teammates eat peanut butter as I eat another cheese and bread sandwich. Gotta make it worth the purchase. At this point, the ride starts getting beautiful. We’re deep in the Andes. Every so often I see a field of llamas grazing and they’re just too cute. Sometimes a street dog chases our bus away… good boy, protect those innocent llamas.
The road is rough, but no one is puking. That’s nice. My butt is beginning to go numb from sitting in one seat for so long. I hung my cheese up on the window curtain; I don’t want it getting warm. It’s still pretty cold out, so I figure the window is the best spot. It looks like a cheese air freshener. Sounds like a potential business idea, anyone??
We ride for another 348,234 hours and it’s getting even more unbearably beautiful out. We are beginning to see waterfalls at every turn. Kirsti just saw a naked guy bathing in one of them. I’m wide-awake and taking pictures. Hannah is hanging out of the window, “because nature.” Don’t mind the dirty looks from the locals on the bus because it’s freezing outside and they want her to shut the window. No chance. In this bus ride alone, I’ve already seen more waterfalls that I have in my lifetime. What a beautiful world we live in.
It’s starting to get dark out. I hate it because I can’t watch the road line and pretend that I can control us from falling off of the mountainside. Every once in a while the bus driver slams on his breaks because we nearly collided with a vehicle coming from the other direction. Holy mother of pearl. There is NOTHING WORSE than a large bus backing up on a one-way road on the side of a cliff. Protect us, Lord!
At one point, we are moving so slowly that the tire began to spin in the mud. I recall Jill saying, “Hell no, get me off of this bus. This is past my breaking point” (that’s Biblical right?). Everyone starts standing up and shuffling off the bus as if there’s some sort of unspoken understanding that if the bus starts sliding, we would all get off and push it or something. All of us but Kirsti made it off (the bus started moving again before she could get off, slow poke). I walk a few hundred feet ahead to be clear if it starts moving or rolling. To be fair, it was in a bit of a ditch on the right side of the road, while the cliff was a ways away on the left side. It eventually clears and we all hop back on like nothing happened. Near death experience and then you jump back on because you’re in the middle or nowhere and have no other option. Awesome!
A few more hours and I’m done. We should’ve arrived at least an hour ago and there is still a ways to go. Some passengers have been getting off at full-fledged forest areas. Where the heck do they live!? That’s so cool.
Fast-forward to 10 PM. We have arrived. Or at least, I think we have. We overheard someone say that this was the last stop, so we jump off. Some guy is talking to Hannah in Spanish and she has no clue what he said, but I think he said “missionaries,” so we keep an eye on him to see if he’s our host. We unload our stuff and the streets are covered in mud. It’s raining. Turns out that man is our host, so we follow him down the road carrying all of our luggage. We pass a bunch of parked cars, assuming one is where we’ll load our stuff, but apparently we’re walking to wherever we’re going. We walk a few slippery blocks and I see a sign for a church. Please be us. I hear someone scream and become one with the ground. I turn around to see that Hannah biffed it bad. She’s covered in mud and half laughing/half pissed. Great first impression. She’ll be known as the “mud girl” from now on.
We get to the church and half-understand where we are sleeping, where the bathroom is, and that we can take showers, but they will be “muy, muy fría.” That’s fine. There’s like a whole family here greeting us –mom, dad, 3 girls, grandma, and some random guy. They’re all so kind but speaking another language so fast and we’ve been on a bus for 15 hours. Please be silent. Need sleep. Don’t understand.
Our host begins talking (probably about important facts) and realizes that no one really understands him. I’m not sure if he’s speaking 100% Spanish at this point. Interesting words that I don’t know. Keep nodding your head and saying “sí.” Eventually, we make a plan for tomorrow and understand that they just want us to rest. Good plan, thank you.
I took one of those very, very cold showers and feel ready to pass out What a day. We are here. They don’t understand us and we don’t understand them. But hey, God kept us safe and well fed. OMG…I just realized that I left my cheese hanging in the bus!!? Probably for the best. Buenas noches a todos.