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Running into a highway riot just 2 hours from La Paz on my 26-hour journey from Salta is not as an easy matter as I have expected. I read and heard about them on my way here…. At first, I thought our bus got stuck in traffic since we were closer to La Paz – well, we were further from La Paz to run into a real traffic. I was still napping when I felt a thrust of motion that sent everyone forward. Still not sure what went on, I heard a lot of noise outside and some people arguing not far from us. Our bus driver hopped off the bus to entertain himself with some extra dramas in his rather boring daily work, leaving the rest of us locked-in on board. After a while I saw people walking with their luggages from the other side directly to the back of our line. In an hour (and with my vehement complaints), the bus driver finally opened up the bus to let me get out. “Sorry” he apologized in English… that was all I can understood from him.
I walked over to the front of our line, passing a group of angry men rounded up glaring at each other, then I found lot of angry women with their children hanging on their backs – followed by broken rocks and burning tires. There were quite a few buses u-turning on the other end of the line, advertising to the travellers to continue on their on-ward travel. One of those bus ladies grabbed me and wanted to charge me 80% of the full fare – maybe because I don’t look too Bolivian – and I told her my full fare took 12 hours to get here and here you are charging me a lot more for just two hours ride. She got a little nicer and backed down a bit…
Sometimes I wonder if those highway riots were there for a reason – the bus company could earn more than what they should have….
I got La Paz on Bolivian time ;). After walking through a couple hostels, I was quite dismayed to find them all crowded with lousy European teenagers. A girl working at the registrar at a hostel whispered, “there is a hotel not far from here and it’s just right along the main plaza, it is cheaper than here and you will get your own room. But please, don’t let my boss know about this.” Following her advice and asking around, I found a nice looking hotel right off the capital plaza just a few buildings away from president’s office. “Are you sure it’s cheaper than the hostel bed?” The hotel looked rather expensive and I almost gave up without trying. I stood there for a while, and after giving myself some serious thoughts, I finally resolved to tidy myself up a bit and walked into the hotel.
To my relieve, the inside of this hotel is actually a lot simpler than its grandeur on the outside, and I was able to get a single bed room at 2/3 the price of a bed in one of those European tourist hostels.
While settling myself in the hostel, I found a coca energy drink displayed on their front desk so I bought one. When I got to my room, I twisted and turned its cap but it wouldn’t budge. Then an idea poped in my head, “let’s see if I could find another backpacker to open this and perhaps make some friends.” So I walked down the empty hallway looking for anyone to pop up from his/her room. It looked pretty hopeless for a while then I heard some music from somewhere. Following the sound of music I found a half-opened door with a man dressed in his pajamas working on his luggage.
He introduced himself as Sergio, an Argentinian guy temporarily moved here to help his friend to find a local apartment and move into the apartment. He also introduced me another girl that he met in this hotel, Lily, a Mexican archaeologist currently studying the artifacts in Tiwanaku, a pre-Inca ruin just outside La Paz. It wasn’t long before I get comfortable with my two beautiful Spanish-speaking friends. That night the three of us went out and explored the night market while looking for Sergio’s coca leaves. “There is a really good Korean restaurant in the city.” Sergio said, “let’s go there tomorrow.”
He kept his words, the next day he brought us to the Korean restaurant. After sitting down for a bit, another man – Sergio’s famous “boyfriend” – showed up with a elderly lady. The boyfriend is currently researching in a Bolivian university, and his colleague is a lecturer on Bolivian culture. Though I had no idea what they were talking about in Spanish, the Korean food was indeed delicious. Not to mention there is a Korean group sitting right across from us – they kept staring at me – maybe they thought I’m a Korean….
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