I think I am allergic to Bolivia. Or something. Bolivia is like my gauntlet and every time we meet, Bolivia throws me into a fiery pit of spears and I must emerge with the goblin’s sword. Or something. Anyway, Bolivia challenges me. For the fickle mistress she is, I must love her so.
Sometime yesterday or some other day (after 48 hours with almost no sleep I am barely able to say what planet we are on with any certainty) in Asunción, it was clear that this would be a typical, dusty, unpaved, delayed, and sleepless 20+ hour bus to Bolivia. NO PROBLEM. I was armed. I had clothes for hot and cold, food of my own, some money, my passport, games, and a rock hard gut.
When a family of four Mennonites boarded with adopted Indian Mennonite child in tow I thought Paul had died and gone to heaven. But, within a few hours, he’s sleeping soundly (as he can do sitting up in a chair) and I have run out of ways to entertain myself in the dark. The Wesley Snipes movie they are playing on a loop gets boring on the fourth round and the pavement gives way to bumps. I crawl to two open seats in the back and try to close my eyes.
I am awoken by the Paraguayan Immigration stop soon after. The Mennonite child is screaming because her mother is out of sight. Where the hell are we? I am covered in dust because the bus is so hot I had to crack the window. I pee in public view like a Bolivian chola pro.
When we wake up for the Bolivian Immigration stop after sunrise, it’s dustier and weirder. I closed my eyes and woke up in a Tim Burton film. I have heard the Paraguayan/ Bolivian Chaco described as a “wasteland” before. But I never knew what the word really meant. This is uninhabitable muck. Dirt so hard it can barely be cultivated, dust and ruin stretching as far as the eye can see, and dotted with trees that could only serve to impale a very unfortunate skydiver that lost his way.
An emaciated dog is eating dust off the ground, the heat and humidity are so strong that the giant, round Mennonite woman has rolled down her heavy tights, and the local kids nearly kill me – a would-be innocent bystander in a rock throwing fight. On the other side of the immigration point, a Bolivian army base with ninja style training going on but behind trees. There are uniformed men with machine guns everywhere and we can hear, though not see, that they mean business.
My hair is plastered by sweat to the side of my head, I can smell my own feet, I am under a layer of dust. We are 12 hours in with 9 or so to go. I can do this.
Around lunch time things get bad. I eat some empanadas for breakfast, followed by an icy strawberry thing (the heat, my god the heat), followed by some bus food. Half an hour later I am in the not-really-qualifying as functioning bus toilet vomiting my little heart out. 6 hours to go, 6 hours to go.
Paul drinks cold mate called tereré with some Bolivian guys and rubs my feet and is at my beck and call as I writhe around with stomach cramps wondering if it was the empanadas, the strawberry pop, the bus food, or one of the many germs in the petri dish that is our bus that has made my stomach rebel this way. I hope for sleep. I am bummed I am missing the tereré but I can’t keep water down and the fewer trips to the bus bathroom, the better.
Once my system is purged, I feel better. We roll into Santa Cruz, Bolivia right on schedule. Things are looking up. Paul and I have found a friendly, cheap place to stay and are grinning madly to be back here. Santa Cruz is a strange sort of Bolivia but she is Bolivia none the less. After a long and never-more-needed shower, I feel almost like a million bucks again. Some water, a diet coke, and a plate of Bolivian spicy chicken seals the deal.
Oh she is a fickle mistress but I do love her so.