Tuesday, March 27, 2007

la paaaaaaaaaaaaz

The Powercrushers (or actually, just one of them right now) are scooting around La Paz after a series of especially "authentic" Bolivian experiences. After traipsing around Uyuni and Potosi with for a couple days we parted ways with the globetrotting Eric Adamson and booked an overnight bus to La Paz. Once there we planned to hike and rest while we awaited the arrival of new tires for the Tallies. Initially the ride seemed to be going well, on track to be our smoothest Bolivian transit experience so far - our previous bus experiences that included interior rain showers, a flat tire (you should have seen the jack they used - gaaaaaaaaaah it was huge!), sliding off the road in a rain storm, and an overnight ride that featured the same a particularly un-melodic bird song samled on repeat for six hours. Ka-Kaw Ka-Kaw! Anyway so the ride was smooth through the night until we got to Oruro where we had to change buses for La Paz...after reloading our bikes and bags we settled into our seats for the second leg of our trip, only to have the bus stop just as it was pulling out of the terminal. A lady with nice teeth but a bad haircut came on board and informed us that there was a blockade of unknown origin on the road to La Paz and all motor transit was impossible between the two cities. It was like, you know, a pretty intense bummer. This would have been the perfect moment to hop on our bikes and just bust the 150 km in a day or two, but alas, too many holes in our tires. So we found the cheapest dirtiest bus station hostal we could and crashed out for a couple days to wait. In the meantime Ben got pretty sick again and had to push the Cipro button. though luckily a strict dietary regimen of Pringles and Sprite had things back to normal by the time, bum bum bum, we decided to run the blockade.

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What Daring!

Ba-zang running the blockade was awesome. Although at first nobody seemed to have any idea who or how people where blocking the road (guesses included peasants disatisfied with the quality of the socialized health care/blueberry pancakes), by reading the paper (very slowly....) we discovered that residents of the three major villages in between Oruro and La Paz thought they were gauged in their energy bills and decided to stone anybody who tried to pass on the highway until the issue was resolved. At the end of the third day we were sick of waiting and threw our bikes on top of a cab, heading to the first roadblock in hopes of somehow being able to get around it. We had heard there was an "alternate route" to La Paz and, after being dropped off 30 miles out of town, where able to hitch in the back of a minerals truck as our driver drove over every ledge, pothole, and rock in between the two cities. We made it to La Paz 18 hours later after getting stuck in a ravine, bribing innumerable locals at road blocks, and guiding downed powerlines hand-over-hand over the top of the truck. Felipe, our driver, spoke a strange mixture of Spanish, Quechua, Mumble, and "I talk to myself a lot on long drives," making comminication hit or miss. We shared a delicious dinner of fried chicken and cookies at 1 am in El Alto before passing out in the back of his truck, hoping our sleeping bags wouldn't pick up too much of the sulfur smell.



Thea had a great point that the fact that anyone in this country can literally bring all commercial and private transportation to a standstill is mindboggling - in the US only transportation workers can do that, and then only for public transit. As we passed the roadblocks we saw thousands of trucks that had lined up to wait over the course of the three days. Locals had literally just rolled big boulders into the middle of the main highway and stood by with slings and rocks ready to pelt anyone who tried to pass. The back roads we took were sometimes blocked, sometimes not, though anyone we encountered was quick to stand aside in exchange for a bribe, money easily extorted from the desperate bus and truck drivers. President Evo Morales was elected as a populist leader, the country┬┤s first indeginous president and the closest South American ally of Chavez. Because of this I had assumed that the road block, despite being a major hassle, would be something that people would be proud of, concrete affirmation of the populist sentiments that have recently become popular. People power, you know? But when asked Felipe was angry about the blockade - he thought the blockaders where were little more than mean, petty thieves using a political issue to financially exploit their countrymen. It was both amusing and sad to find groups of kids no more than ten years old demanding money from drivers in order to pass. Perhaps more sobering were the interspersed groups of adults doing the exact same thing.

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