My Bourgeoning Career As A Sign-Maker

I am presently in Sucre, almost the dead centre of Bolivia, and in less than twenty-four hours here, I have already fallen in love with the city, though I think I was ready to fall in love with any place that wasn't on a bus.

Yesterday morning I had to by my bus ticket from Santa Cruz to Sucre. Money is easy to get from the bank machines here, but the problem is that the machines will only distribute bills that are far too large for any business to ever be able to break. This makes it difficult to rent a room, eat food and do other equally frivolous activities. I figured out that the best way to make change was to trade with the black market money vendors on the street corners, who would charge 1 Boliviano (25 cents) to change your cash for you. My business associates were suspect at best, and I highly doubted that they were at best, so I kept my eyes open as I tried to break down a 100 Boliviano note. The man flipped through the money at rocket speed, handing me a wad of tens followed by a two fives.

"Uno,dos,tres,quatro,cinco,seis,siete,ocho,nueve, y DOS cincos," he told me slightly quicker than the speed of sound, before sprinting off to talk to his friend. I sprinted after him, and kindly pointed out that he had only given me seven tens and not nine, and that he actually still owed me twenty Bolivianos more. It seemed the poor fellow hadn't learned how to count properly! What a lucky break for him that I was there to rectify the situation. I took the cash and and went to the bus station, quickly.

There is a common travelers' joke in South America that never rung so true as in this journey:

Q. What does a Bolivian mini-bus do when it sees a sign that says "Maximum 70"

A. Stops and lets ten people out

As always, the bus was a sell-out, but I had somehow scored a front row seat, the only one on the entire with a lot of space ahead of it. I was in heaven. I stretched out my legs and relaxed. Then they started letting other people on, and these people sat or stood in the narrow aisle. We were about twenty people over-capacity when they let on a family of two women, three young children, and a man. The man and one of the women had to sit in the driver's cabin, while the other woman and three children sat in the once-luxurious space ahead of me. While they sat, my place was crammed, but tolerable. However, the ride was an overnight, and as they all stretched out to sleep, my left leg was desperately pinned under my chair by all three of the kids, two of whom were using my shoes as pillows.

It was impossible to move more than two to three inches in fourteen hours, and as the kids sprawled out and rested happily, I had no choice but to keep my legs where they were for the duration of the ride, thereby completely disintegrating any hopes of I had of sleeping while on the road. Then they let more people on. These newcomers couldn't even get into the bus, because when they tried to open the door, they kept crushing it against the head of the baby sleeping in front. Now, to me, when a door is jammed shut by the screaming head of a baby, that is usually a good watermark that no more people should be on the bus. I, however, wasn't driving the bus, and another dozen people hopped aboard.

At 2:30 am, my leg cramped up.

At 3:15 am, we were delayed by a man chasing his bull down the road, kind of like watching Pamplona in reverse.

At 4:30 am, we suffered the obligatory engine failure that these rides always offer, free of charge.

At 5:00 am, the babies on board started a cacophonous choir of wailing for about twenty minutes.

At 5:30 am, the rooster that was brought aboard the bus started crowing at maximum volume.

At 11:30 am, 18 hours after leaving Santa Cruz, we arrived in Sucre.

Again, it was an experience that was comical, and more so in rose-coloured retrospect, but, I repeat, I love Sucre. I arrived feeling beaten and haggard, and looking worse. I took my first hot shower here in 7 weeks of travelling, a blessing for which I, and the nation of people who I travel beside, are eternally grateful. Now if only I could afford a few "Maximum 30" signs to be planted before future rides, I will be one happy camper.