Rocks on the road
Altiplano Travel Blog› entry 2 of 8 › view all entries
A few kilometres later the first rocks appeared on the road, but still nothing we couldn't drive around. We ended up behind a truck which simply charged through the feeble roadblocks made of rocks, flattening the road for us.
We encountered some soldiers who were clearing the road. They told us how the road ahead wasn't too bad at all. Some rocks, but no people, so as far as they were concerned there was no need to head back. Good news for us, and so we continued.
We had lost the truck, but after passing through a village we were behind a bus, which continued to clear the road for us. However, as the bus had a wider wheel base than our taxi, we couldn't follow in its tracks, and the taxi driver had to carefully drive around the many rocks on the road. However for some reason he seemed to have made it his purpose in life to hit each and every one of them, as he displayed some of the worst evasive driving I had ever seen.
The changing of the tyre took less than 10 minutes, but didn't give us much hope for the onward journey. Rather than a full-size tyre, it was one of those slim emergency tyres, which was kept in a very poor state. If he continued to drive as he had this tyre wouldn't last five minutes.
The bus in front of us seemed to have run into some problems as well, as it had stopped about half a kilometre ahead. The taxi driver advised us to take that bus instead, so that he could go and have his tyre repaired.
We grudgingly agreed but asked him to at least drive us to the bus, as we didn't feel like walking with our luggage in the light air at this altitude. The taxi driver however continued to grumble for such a long time that the bus had started moving again, and was disappearing in the distance.
Finally he accepted and drove on, but we never saw that bus again.
As the rocks on the road petered out we were becoming hopeful again, as did our driver who was driving a little bit too fast with his emergency tyre, taking care to still hit the few rocks that remained on the road.
Unfortunately a few kilometres ahead we encountered more rocks on the road and in the distance we saw four guys setting up a blockade with large rocks and tree branches.
We figured we had to at least try and talk to the people setting up the roadblock to see if they would let us through. There were only four of them, and they looked like teenagers, as both Olav and myself are fairly tall, we figured that if talking wouldn't yield any results, perhaps intimidation would.
Our driver however felt he should do the talking, so he went up to the four guys, and came back 2 second later, shaking his head “sorry, they won't let us through”.
Stubborn as we were, we thought we should have a try as well. So all three of us went up the guys to talk to them. They turned out to be very nice guys, who actually 'asked' us to go back. They were students and they were protesting against their government and if they'd let us through that would mean their protest was useless.
From our end we tried pleading with them to understand our situation. We were tourists with a plane to catch from Peru, if we had to stay in Bolivia it would cost a fortune, our driver had to get to the next village to repair his tyre, etcetera. They kept refusing however, and I tried to provoke them by telling them that I sympathised with their situation, but if they'd keep refusing to let us through that sympathy would disappear. Protesting is one thing, but disallowing fellow students to leave the country is something else. They got the point, but asked us if we didn't have anything to give them as a gesture. 'Refrescos'? Turned out laying rocks on the road makes thirsty and they didn't have anything to drink with them. Good thing we stocked up at the bus station when we left, so we gave them a can of coke each, and a pack of biscuits.
They cleared part of the road for us and let us through, wishing us a good journey.
We figured it would be a good idea to stock up in the next village, so that we could keep bribing any other people we'd encounter. However, if we'd run into a roadblock with hundreds of people that could be a bit more challenging.
Our driver however, thought otherwise when we arrived in the next village. As we passed the village he saw more rocks up the road ahead and people at the side of the road. This was the end as far as he was concerned, and he resolutely turned around and switched off his engine. The message was clear.
He could not have picked a worse place to stop. We were in the middle of the main street of the village, which had big walls on both sides of the street. And on top of those walls there were people looking down at us.
People were also gathering in the street where we came from, blocking the way back. I pointed this out to the driver, and told him we'd better turn around rather than driving towards those people. He disagreed, from this end they would let us through, he reasoned.
A local villager walked up to us and asked the driver what we were doing here. The driver explained he had to repair his tyre, but the local advised us this was impossible here, and we should leave immediately.
Just at the moment the driver started his engine, someone in the crowd thought it was enough and started to encourage the crowds. The roaring crowd came towards us, pelting rocks at the car. The driver turned as white as a sheet and in his mind he saw his car getting demolished by the crowd. So he forgot that he just said we could easily get through the crowd from this end and he turned around once again and sped off into the direction we wanted to - bringing us closer to Copacabana...
The rocks on this section of the road weren't too bad, and actually we made good progress, getting through the next few villages without a problem.
The next time we had to stop to clear a large (unattended) blockade the driver did not just stop, but also switched off his engine. We thought this would be a good stop for a loo break, but the driver started taking our bags from the booth and threw them on the street.
He had really had it. His face was ashen, he was shaken, he was terrified and nearly in tears. He said that if we would encounter more people throwing rocks, and one of these would hit his windshield, he would not have the money to repair. A windshield would cost him at least $ 500, and he did not have that kind of money. This was the end for him, we had to get out.
We talked and talked to him. We'd already talked about what would happen if we couldn't go any further, and decided that Olav and I would simply continue to walk, and David would go back to La Paz with the driver. We told him this and asked him to at least drive on until there was the slightest sight of danger. After all, we were on an empty road here, and had been for the last 20 kilometres, so perhaps we could go another 20 without problems.
He agreed and we went on, but 50 metres on he stopped the engine again. What if in the next village there were people hiding behind the houses and would come out all of a sudden? What if they'd block the road behind us? He really would not drive any further.
Olav and I looked at each other and got out of the car.