Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bolivia II

We headed out of Sucre on a sunny Sunday afternoon, and when the sun went down we were 50 kms closer to Potosi. There were very few vehicles on the road, and that seemed rather strange to us that such an important road would have so little traffic.
In the morning we waited for hours, and, having got tired of the empty road, we started walking. In a few minutes a car pulled over and gave us a lift for the whole 9 kms more, to the toll station. There, we hitched for a few more hours, and when a truck full of people finally stopped, we hopped into the trailer. We were sure that we will be asked to pay later, but as it was the first moving thing we saw in 2 hours, we were happy to be moving at all.From the fellow passengers we found out that the road to Potosi is blocked by a strike, for an ¨indefinite¨ period of time. Indeed, the truck came up to a town of Betanzus and stopped in a long line of other vehicles. The road was blocked by stones, tires, buses, taxis and a whole lot of traditionally dressed people. ¨The road is closed to traffic¨, they informed us,¨until we have a talk with Evo!¨. The people had a list of things that they wanted the government to accomplish for them. We asked three of the protestors what those things were, but none could tell us. The answers came down to the fact that the government promised the people a lot of something, and now was not delivering, so the people are protesting until something gets done about the mysterious points.It did not seem likely that the roadblock will be lifted soon, so we walked through empty Betanzus in the direction of Potosi. All the businesses, including food stores, were also closed because of the strike. Nevertheless, we managed to buy 2 kilos of pasta to last us on the 50km hike to Potosi. We walked about 30 kms the next day when a minibus stopped for us and took us the rest of the way.
In Potosi, the scene did not look any better. Closed stores, demonstrations on the streets, no cars moving, and, the scariest thing, dynamite charges exploding on the streets once in a while. It cetainly felt like the Red Revolution we learned about at school. There is a huge mine near the town, Cerro Rico, and it is mostly worked by poor independent miners. Because of this, dynamite, an important thing for a miner, is sold in the town´s stores like bread. The protestors bought a lot of dynamite sticks, cut them up in small (5 cm!!!) pieces and were using them to boost the morale of the strikers.We had no desire to stick around and walked straight through. There was yet another blockade on the other side of town, so all the traffic towards the Argentinian border was also paralysed. At this point, we decided to forget about Uyuni and get out of the area as soon as we could.As we were walking away from the last blockade, a black pickup, the only moving vehicle around, cought up with us and offered us a ride to the border! The driver made a lot of effort to get out of town. He camouflaged his car to seem as if it was a protesting vehicle: two huge speakers in the box yelling ¨Potosi Federal!¨, red and white flags of the protestors all over and a paper sign stuck to the windshield: ¨AUTHORISED VEHICLE¨. As soon as we were out of sight of the barricades, the guy unloaded all his makeup in some office building, and we took off. We were as happy as could be to ride with him.
Little did we all know, that 30 kms down the road, there was yet another roadblock. It was the last one, but there was no hope of running through it, as the protestors would throw stones and dynamite charges at any vehicle that would get close to the debris blocking the road. The guy waited until 2 in the morning, at which point it became obvious that they will not lift the block any time soon. He then turned around to go back to Potosi. We stayed there and camped near the blockade, in between the parked trucks, for the night.
We waited for something to happen the next day, doing nothing just like the rest of the people around us. We met some really cool Argentinian truckers, they treated us with breakfast and lunch from their portable kitchen, and we chatted with them for most of the day. But as the evening fell, we again pitched the tent in the same spot.
As the rumours had it, the strike was becoming more and more widespread, and more roadblocks could be set up further towards the border any time now, and the border crossing itself may be closed off ¨indefinetely¨. This was bad news to us, so we decided to move at any price. There were buses circulating between the border and the blockade, but they were taking full advantage of the situation, charging two times and a half the normal rate. We found a taxi that was willing to take us for only two times the price, a good deal given the circumstances. The car had some mechanical problems and the engine would stall once in a while. When the engine stalls, the breaks quit as well, so we rode down a few steep hills on an emergency brake. The driver was racing like crazy on the bad dirt road (the main highway in the country), so within thirty minutes of the ride we got a flat tire. He put on the spare and kept on racing just as before. There were only six more hours to go. The guy had no gas in the tank too, and as there was a shortage of that as well, he spent at least an hour hunting for the last 10 litres of fuel in the village. He finally got it, and we got to the border at night.

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