An Australian couple in Bolivia tour the salt flats and experience more than they bargained for: taxi rides from hell, a coke-fueled lover’s quarrel, and a creepy old religious man. To put it simply, it was ‘the most intense days of my entire life.’
Part 1- Stuck in the Salt Flats
Brodie: So, we were in Bolvia and organized a salt flat tour. It’s about three or four days. You get in a four wheel drive, stay in the desert for a couple of nights, and on the last day you finish up at the salt flats. It’s awesome. We’re in this fourvie (Aussie slang for a four-wheel drive): Amber and I, a French couple, and a dude called Carlos, from Spain. He would have been in his sixties, but super hippie. He was all into Pachamama.
Brodie: It’s a religious thing, almost like mother nature. Worshiping mother nature. You see those rock piles everywhere? It’s related to Pachamama. Anyway, Carlos was a very different cat. Every time we stopped off, he would take an hour and pray to the gods. He’d come back and say “There’s so much energy from this rock.” That’s the kinda dude he was, but he comes into the story later.
We finish the salt flats tour, just shy of Uyuni, which is one of the main towns in Bolivia. There’s about 5 or 6 groups in fourvies, and they would just meet up in the end, have lunch, and then all go their separate ways. Anyway, we finish the tour and had lunch.
I say: “Let’s head back to town.”
“Yeah, it’s a problem. We’ve got no fuel.” The driver responds.
“Can’t we just go to the servo (service station) and fill up?
“Yeah, about that. There’s been these protests and riots about the government. People aren’t happy. All the trucks that were trying to get through Uyuni with the supplies couldn’t get through. As soon as all the trucks and buses start to drive through, people start throwing rocks at the buses and puncture tires. There’s just no of getting through. So we have no fuel.”
“Soooo what are we going to do?”
“Ahhh, dunno. We’re just gonna hang out here for a couple of days until there’s fuel.”
They would just stay there until there was fuel. We couldn’t stay there. We had an itinerary in the back of our mind. We didn’t want to stay. Everyone’s starting to panic, because people have flights. It was in the middle of nowhere, in these salt flats. It’s a good four hour drive to civilization. What are we going to do? We saw this pickup truck, so we ran over and asked him to take us to the closest town. “Oh yeah, no worries,” he says.
I don’t remember how many Bolivianos he said, but it was ridiculous. Completely overpriced, ten times the price of any normal transportation. Fuck, we don’t really have a choice. We start negotiating, and he came down a little. But nope, if you want a ride back, that’s the price.
Me: Supply and demand.
Brodie: Yup. Alright, cool. No worries. Let’s get in. Then, all the other backpackers got word of it.
“Can we come too?”
“I don’t know, speak to the guy, but I guess?”
The guy’s like “Of course, come in!”
So we had, in this four by four pickup truck, 17 people with their massive backpacks in the Ute (pick up truck), on the roof, sticking out the windows, people sitting on top of each other, with everyone driving crazy.
We were in the cabin. There were six in the back, where it’s meant to sit three. Amber was sitting on me. My leg was dead, it was curled up against the door. I had no feeling left. So there were six in the cabin, another eight in the back, and another 2 or 3 on the roof. We were driving four hours through the desert, dust everywhere. Just nuts. Anyway we get to the next town, and they say “You have to catch a bus to La Paz and then from there, you can do whatever.”
Everyone outside the cabin was covered in dust. A dude took off his sunglasses and his face was covered with dust, except where the lenses covered.
At this point, Carlos gets lost. We get to the town and he said he has to buy some food.
“Dude,the bus is leaving in five minutes.”
“Yeah nah, it’s cool.”
So he goes. Fives minutes later, the bus rocks up. No Carlos. Alright, see you later, we all get in. Get to the next town, where we have to catch a bus to La Paz. The wait was 2 hours or something. Hour and a half in, Carlos rocks up out of nowhere. “Hey!! What’s up!” The French girls are excited “Ohhh! Carlos!!” They were friends with him, at the time.
We get a bus back to La Paz, a night bus. Would have been six or seven hours. It’s an old school, rusty piece-of-shit bus. Had the air con on full blast, it was freezing in there. The bus driver was drinking on the job, swigging a flask. Whatever, just take us back.
Part 2- Crazy Taxi and the Amazonian Death Road
We get back to La Paz. We’re heading to this place in the Amazon. They told us the best way was a flight, but it’s all booked out, so we take a taxi, but definitely not a bus. Apparently, everyone’s crying within a half hour of taking the bus, because it’s so dangerous and so crazy, on a sheer cliff. People would get out in the middle of nowhere, because it’s safer than being on this bus. There’s been stories of the bus falling off the cliff and everyone getting killed. Alright, we’re taking a taxi. There were five of us in the cab. Carlos, us two, and the two French girls. But the driver, he was insane.
We’ve been a lot of places, we’ve seen a lot of crazy drivers. But he was insane. Insane.
The road was being closed for roadwork, so we had to be in a particular town before a particular time before it closed. He was going 100 km/h in a 40 km/h zone, along a sheer cliff, trying to make it in time. It had been raining, so there was mud everywhere. He was going under the arms of diggers.
They close the road between 8 and 5 because they were doing roadworks. It was five past 8, but he kept going. “We can do it, we can do it.” He’s sliding all over the road. It was the worst. I took a tablet to stop feeling sick, but it made me hallucinate. I was hallucinating that we were dying and was having panic attacks. Just the worst trip of our lives.
Then they closed the road completely, and we couldn’t get through. So, we’re stuck in this random little town for 12 hours, and the following day we would start again. The next morning, the driver told us he wanted more money, since we had to stop for the night.
“I know we agreed to three hundred Bolivianos, but I want five hundred now.”
“No, dude, we agreed on three hundred.”
“I’ve been here all day, I want five hundred.”
“No… fucking take us, man. We agreed.”
He was getting really edgy, and he wouldn’t drive. There’s literally no way we could have gone everywhere. It’s a tiny village. In the end, we didn’t pay him. We went, but he wasn’t happy, and he just fucking floored it.
The crazy driving went up a notch.
He was overtaking guys on these cliff faces. I felt like I was going to die. You cannot explain it… It was insane. We got to this next town and we changed over drivers. This driver would fall asleep and we’d have to take the wheel. He fell asleep multiple times. Amber told him “Oh my god, Brodie can drive! Just let someone else drive, this is ridiculous!”
The taxi driver dropped us off at the town, but the hostel was still 5KM away. “If you want me to take you to the hostel, it’s an extra 50 Bolivianos.” It was midnight and he knew we didn’t know we were going. So we paid him, he took us there, and we went to sleep. The next morning, we got up early and were planning on walking to the travel agent. We find the taxi driver out front of the hostel.
“Hey mate, what’s going on?”
“You stole my MP3 player! I saved for this MP3 player, it’s gone missing, and you stole it!”
“Mate, I’m sorry, I didn’t steal it. Whatever, see ya.”
We continue on, get to the travel agent, and the driver rocks up (arrive) with two cops! “That’s them! That’s them there!”
Shit, we’re in Bolivia, he’s accusing us of stealing stuff, we’re going to go to jail.
The cops rock up. “He told us you stole his MP3 player. What’s the deal?”
“Mate, I didn’t steal his MP3 player, he’s probably lost it in his car.”
“No, they definitely stole it! Check their bags! Check their bags!”
“Alright mate, open up the bags, have a look, whatever!”
They searched all my bags. It wasn’t there.
“No no no, they’ve hidden it somewhere!”
I told the cops: “Look, I don’t wanna be… arrogant, but I’m a tourist here, from Australia. I got my SLR which cost me 2 grand and we’ve got iPads and stuff. All this equipment is probably worth 4 grand, why would I want to steal his $10 MP3 player? It just doesn’t make sense.”
And in the end, the cops agreed. It was an intense situation.
Part 3- Drugs are bad
From there, a tour guide took us to this place in the Amazon. You had to take a canoe an hour to get there. It’s in the middle of the Amazon. So, we’re in this bush camp, in the middle of nowhere, and Carlos, who is in his sixties, accosts the French girls, who were about 25.
“We’re going to have sex tonight, yeah?”
“Yeah, we agreed in the car earlier we would have sex tonight.”
Earlier in the car, he was talking in Spanish to them. They were trying to learn Spanish. They were trying to work out what he was saying, so were generally being agreeable. They’re weren’t into having sex with a sixty year old hippie, so he’s cracked the shits (gotten angry) and gone off to his room. It was awkward from there.
The tour guide brought his girlfriend along to the camp. That night, they’ve had this massive fight. . He’s wasted and coked up. She’s run off to the French girls’ room, and he’s come after her with a machete. This was midnight, in the middle of the jungle, in treehouse cabins, by the river. There’s no way of getting out. You needed a canoe to get there. There were crocodiles and anacondas everywhere, so you couldn’t even run away. So, she’s ran to the French girls’ room, he’s come out, trying to get into their room with his machete. “Get the hell out!”
They were talking to us in French, asking for help, but we didn’t understand what they were saying.
“Talk in English next time you need help!”
He’s circling the room for hours, trying to get in. They’ve got the table up against the door, sat behind the table. They had to pee in their cabin because they were so scared and were stuck there for hours and hours.
The next morning, it was time to leave. Carlos lost his phone, and accused all of us of stealing it. We had spent a week with him by this stage, and he would say things like “We’re all family! Everyone’s friends!” Now, he’s saying “Everyone get your bags out, I’m searching all your bags.”
Then he’s accusing the chef of stealing the phone, which is a big deal. They’re earning shit-all because Bolivia is in a serious economic crisis and there aren’t many jobs. So, the guide gets fired because he was coked up and trying to kill his girlfriend.
Me: Yeah, you get fired for that.
Brodie: And the chef gets fired because he was accused of stealing the phone. He was 22 or 23, and that was the best job any 22 or 23 year old could have, being a chef at this tourist place. His boss sacked him because Carlos accused him of stealing his phone.
We couldn’t get a flight back, so we had to take another taxi and go through the same crazy, horror driving. The road was actually worse because it had been monsoon season and the road was just a mud bath. We’re going through the road, up to your waste in mud, just trying to get through. “How the hell are we driving through this?”
Cars were bogged out, one bus was bogged on a 45 degree angle.
How the hell are we going to get home? Anyway, I ended up passing out and waking up in La Paz.
Carlos was like “Alright, where is everyone staying?”
“We’re not staying with you mate. Fuck off!”
That was the last time we saw Carlos. That was five days of shit just going wrong, every day.
It was the most intense days of my entire life.
I thought we were going to die every day, or get locked up, or get lost in the Amazon, or get killed by a machete.
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