July 17, 2006
We were told that a bus would leave for Pelechuco from El Alto at 6:00 this morning, but we couldn't buy tickets in advance. It was not a good situation to be in, but we didn't have a choice if we wanted to leave for the trek from Pelechuco to Apolo today. We had to leave the hotel at 5:30 to make it to El Alto by 6:00, and doing so meant that no buses would be running so we would have to take an expensive taxi.
El Alto is a city built on one of the plateaus outside of La Paz. As the name implies, it's very high at nearly 4000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level. It has recently earned the distinction of being the fastest-growing city in South America, as Bolivia's large native population migrates there to look for work. Because of this, El Alto is even more run-down, impoverished, and dangerous than La Paz, which is already a dodgy place.
Luckily the taxi took us to the place from which the buses leave without any issues, and thus began the waiting game. Craig and I got some coffee and a fried egg sandwich (the standard Bolivian breakfast) and started watching for the Pelechuco-bound bus to show up on the chaotic street. Just before dawn, temperatures hit -6 Celsius (21 Farenheit), so waiting was far from a pleasant experience.
The bus finally showed up at 7:30, but as the masses converged and stormed aboard, it became apparent that the bus was already sold out. Craig tried to grab an empty seat and was informed that all the tickets had been sold yesterday. It wasn't clear who sold them, but it definitely wasn't the lady at the office we went to.
There was nothing we could do other than take a bus back to La Paz and wait until tomorrow. We went back to the same office and bought tickets, so at least we know we'll get to go tomorrow. The tickets were only $4 each for a 12-hour ride, but in a country like Bolivia, sometimes it doesn't matter how much money you have. You're going to have to waste a day here and there.
Back at the hotel, I felt too weak to move. The illness had been building up for a few days, but now that I was lethargic and began belching acid, I was pretty sure I had Giardia. One good thing about Bolivia is that pharmacies are everywhere and they'll sell you just about any drug you can think of without a prescription. Ten minutes and $1 later, I had a week's worth of metronidazol, the anitparasitic that would kill the single-celled bastards spawning within me. I spent the rest of the day sleeping, so I guess missing the bus was a blessing in disguise.