It Could Be Worse

June 16, 2006
Day 261

I was awoken from a deep slumber at 4:45 AM when my bus arrived this morning. I was promised a seat, but Bolivian promises mean nothing, and it looked like I wouldn't get one. I originally sat toward the front, but when we left, everyone started piling into the bus and my seat was already taken. I started making my way toward the back, and a guy waved me in next to him in the back row. I got lucky because at least five people had to stand the whole time.

The road was in a deplorable condition the entire way, making it impossible to sleep. I got jostled around so much, it felt like my bones had been liquidated. Every part of my body ached. At one point, we went over a large bump (even for this road) and I was thrown over a foot in the air only to be stopped when my head crashed against the ceiling. I wasn't sure how long I could hold out without going crazy.

I started to read my book, The Old Patagonian Express, by Paul Theroux. One day back in 1978, Paul left his house near Boston on a commuter train and continued riding on trains all the way to Esquel, Argentina. (You may remember I visited Esquel back in January.) He frequently mentions the books he's reading, which I thought would be good for me to do, especially in this case. Several of the trains he took were in such horrible condition I'm not sure how he managed to survive. Paul's adventure comforted me somewhat as I was being thrown to and fro.

Toward the end of the trip, we had to cross several rivers. This being Bolivia, however, none of the rivers had bridges, so we had to wait for a ferry each time. At one point, I started talking to a guy who said his kids both were going to college in the US to become lawyers. I asked if they were planning to stay there forever, and he said that they would probably just work for a few years in the States and move back to Bolivia. I nodded in approval, stating how expensive the US was compared to Bolivia. He said "That's not the reason. In Bolivia people work to live. In the US people live to work." The man succinctly summed up the biggest difference between our cultures, for better or worse.

About ten miles before Trinidad, the road became paved. For the first time all day, I wasn't in a continuous earthquake. The trip took twelve hours, which I was told was quite fast. At the bus station, I met an English couple who were on their way out of town. I asked if they could recommend anywhere to stay, but they told me they splurged on a hotel room because their bus ride from Rurrenabaque was so horrible. It took them three whole days last week to do the exact same route I had just done. Suddenly, I realized that all of the agony I went through could have been a lot worse.

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