The nightmare that became our reality

Settle in, get comfy. This post sure is longer than most! Apologies too for the lack of photos… priorities were, understandably, elsewhere.

We were due to catch an overnight bus from Uyuni up to Sucre. The duo of Nicole and Andy had turned into the handsome foursome of Nic, Andy, Sarah and James (an Austrian/Australian couple that we had met on our tour of the Uyuni salt flat). Sarah and James made the fateful decision to join forces with us after learning that the bus they were intending to catch to Potosí was going to take 8 hours instead of the usual three, due to roadblocks. A warning sign for all of us that unfortunately went unheeded. 

Two weird things happened on this first bus. The first was that sometime around midnight the bus got stuck in a hole… in a riverbed. Why were we travelling through a riverbed? One can only imagine. The bus was stuck for over half an hour as men from the bus company shovelled dirt around to free the front wheel. 

The second strange occurrence was that we discovered that the route that we were taking to Sucre was… rather indirect. Again, this was all a precursor of what was to come for us, yet we could scarcely know this at the time. 

The reasons behind our elongated trip became evident when we were finally dropped almost an hours’ walk away from Sucre at 6am the following morning. We found ourselves picking our way through an endless series of road blockades to reach the city proper. The trudge was primarily up a steep gradient, and the sheer quantity of blockades was quite remarkable. Slowly, we were adjusting to our new reality. 

Fortunately, the hostel we had booked was an oasis of calm and would become our sanctuary for the next few days. Andy and I had only planned to stay one night as we were meant to be starting a workaway farmstay experience in Mizque the following day. However, a trip to the bus terminal that afternoon informed us that no buses were running, and the incoming news about the deteriorating political situation had us questioning whether going to the rural workaway was the right decision – should we just be leaving this country ASAP?

Our calm, tranquil hostel

Input from friends, family, news sources and locals resulted in us choosing to politely ditch the workaway, and instead to execute an escape plan. We informed our workaway host of this, and began to scheme with James and Sarah on how to get out. The plan we settled on was to catch an overnight bus to Santa Cruz (one of the few destinations that we could apparently still get to via renegade bus operators) and from there catch a direct flight to Lima. This plan had the added benefit of avoiding having to transit through the capital city of La Paz, which sounded like the worst place to be. 

With that decision made and the flight finally booked (of course the website crashed for several hours during the attempt), we tried to enjoy our remaining time in Sucre. Ducking through road blocks at every single intersection (ranging from vehicles to strung up flags – there was even a table tennis table in the middle of one intersection) we visited Cafe Condor more than once for their insanely cheap “menu del dia” and delicious Bolivian pastries. We also hiked up to view the city from Recoleta plaza, visited the inner city “dinosaur park” and meandered around Plaza 25 de Mayo. 

After only two nights in Sucre (in different circumstances we may have stayed longer) it was time to commence the operation to get out of Bolivia before matters worsened. However, if any of us was thinking that the inconveniences we’d experienced so far would be the worst of the troubles that we’d face in Bolivia, we were about to find out just how categorically wrong we could be. 

Usually, an 80 minute walk (uphill) to the distant outskirts of a blockades city to catch a bus, while carrying all of our possessions on our backs, would be a laughable suggestion. But this time, we weren’t complaining: we had a ticket out of Sucre and a clear exit strategy from the ever-worsening political storm in Bolivia. Everyone else at our hostel seemed stuck, but we were on the move. In hindsight, maybe the hostel wasn’t such a bad place to be. 

Our bus was to take 11 hours. The road was winding and the bus was cold onboard: the adolescent across the aisle insisted on keeping his window open even after darkness had fallen. Concentrating hard on my T Swift tunes, I eventually drifted off to sleep. Ironically, I would soon find myself yearning for a time when motion sickness and goosebumps were the worst of my worries.

Approximately two hours into the eleven hour journey our bus edged itself off the road and shut off its engine. In the distance we could barely make out a bridge with a truck on it and a series of lights. Our hearts sank. A blockade. A few more cars and buses banked up behind us: it seemed like no one knew what to do. After disembarking our stationary bus, we were being kept in the dark, both literally and figuratively. Not speaking Spanish wasn’t even the root cause – our drivers moved about in silence, reluctant to share details even when asked. 

For the next five hours (yes, you read right) the people on our bus drifted between lying on the road chatting and napping on the bus. Sarah was speaking to a Spanish couple who could speak some English, and it seemed that the official word was that transport was coming to pick us up on the other side of the blockaded bridge from Santa Cruz (approximately 9 hours away). Or not. It was maddeningly unclear. Suddenly it seemed that our bus was rearing to go… and our hearts soared. Until we learnt that the bus was headed back to Sucre. The bus that was supposedly coming from the other side was revealed to be a phantom – after 5 uncertain hours, it wasn’t coming. As our drivers briskly emptied the luggage from our bus, a snap decision was required and neither option felt good. To go back to Sucre was a backwards step that would deliver us to the outskirts of a city wracked by protests at 4am with all of our valuables. But could we really go blundering forwards in the dark?

Our decision was made when we realised that we would be the only four heading back to Sucre with the bus. After agonising in front of an impatient bus driver,  we compulsively grabbed our bags out and started following the masses of Bolivian locals who were now walking across the bridge. The Spanish couple that spoke limited English were long gone ahead – and we never saw them again. We came across a series of rocks placed side by side, preventing access by cars in either direction. We saw a few people sitting in the shade of the roadside, monitoring the blockade I suspect.

The four of us followed a family of Bolivians. There were smashed rocks all over the road. To avoid tripping, Sarah innocently turned her phone’s torch on. Immediately, a panicked member of the Bolivian family gestured for her to turn it off. Apparently we did not want to be heard nor seen. Up ahead, we heard the boom of firecrackers going off. To me it was clear: how could that be anything but a threat? 

As fair-skinned tourists, we felt particularly vulnerable, so we thought it safest to turn back. Several hundred metres behind us, just past the bridge there had been a few street lamps, along with two roadside stalls that had been selling water when we first passed. With no idea what we were doing, we returned toward the lights. When we arrived, one stall had closed shop already and the local woman sitting at the other was neither forthcoming nor sympathetic to our plight in the slightest. Stress levels amongst our group were suddenly quite high. Google maps told us that the closest town was still 45km away (11 hours walk) and supposedly this was where everyone had been headed in hopes of encountering another bus. What on earth could we do? We were struggling to even identify realistic options.

We felt blessed when a straggling young couple with a young child faded into view out of the darkness of the bridge. Sarah spoke to them in basic Spanish and they agreed to us walking with them. A glimmer of hope in a massive blanket of darkness. This glimmer grew further when from nowhere a truck appeared behind us, apparently having traversed the blockade. We flagged it down and he pulled over, allowing us all to jump in the back. The cab of the truck was empty, walls were high, we couldn’t see jack and we just had to focus on staying upright.

About 5 minutes down the road we pulled to an unseen, unwanted halt. We heard the back door of the truck unclick and suddenly we were being ushered off, bags and all. Of course, I jumped off and immediately rolled my ankle in a hole that was invisible in the darkness. Ouch, but not a priority right now. We’d hit another blockade. We had progressed further than before, but still had barely dented the supposed 45km required.

We inched forward, four tourists, a Bolivian couple and their darling baby. Overhead, on the wooded hillsides that rose to the left of the road, and in the riverbed to our right, we saw smatterings of torch lights scanning the surroundings. Several times, the torchlights seemed to wash over us as we walked, before settling on us and following our progress. We were sitting ducks, possums in the headlights. Any trace of comfort we had was obliterated when a mysterious figure who emerged from the darkness informed us that the people behind the torches were throwing rocks down at those who tried to walk through the blockaded road. It was suggested that perhaps we should leave the road and proceed through the riverbed. We waited in the dark while the male of our companion couple investigated. Eventually he came back, told us (in Spanish of course) that the road wasn’t safe, but that we would just have to move forward quietly and slowly. Right.

Step by step, single file, we tiptoed over shattered rocks straining our eyes in the dark. I stopped breathing every time someone kicked a stray stone. When we heard the sounds of stones rolling down the hillside above I think my heart almost stopped. After about ten minutes of intense concentration and pure fear we seemed to be reaching some lights – the end of the blockade – evident by the queue of vehicles waiting beyond. Our pace increased. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a group of people with torches, about five metres to our right. My stomach clenched. Stone throwers? We walked on. Thankfully, they did nothing, just stared.  In my urgency to move past I walked straight into a huge sharp rock, nailing my shin in the process and forcing myself to ignore the urge to cry out. This minor injury was, to this point, the icing on this deliciously drawn out, horrendously baked cake. 

We threaded our way through about 20 parked cars and trucks to where we saw a mass of civilians sitting on the side of the road. We recognised a few of them from our bus. Safety! Perhaps. We reached them and dropped our stuff, collapsing on to the roadside. Here we sat. We didn’t want to go any further. Not when these people would not, and certainly not in the dark. It was about 3.30am when we sat down, and we remained seated there on the roadside until dawn broke. 

Hey, we survived the night. 

Sitting on the roadside at dawn after a night spent on a rural Bolivian road, still 43km from the nearest town, I had no idea what we were going to do. We may have had our heavy backpacks, but looking around at some of the Bolivians we were with – they seemed a lot less equipped than us. Elderly women, children, bare feet and sacks – how were these guys going to make it back to civilisation?

A rumbling noise started up from behind us, on the roads that we had just walked hours before. Andy sat up and looked behind us. “Santa Cruz?” He said questioningly, squinting into the dawn light. I followed his gaze. It felt like a hallucination, but trundling towards us, through the blockade, was a decrepit potato truck, with a small sign affixed to the windscreen. Andy had not imagined it – the sign really did say “Santa Cruz”, our destination. Suddenly the whole group was on their feet, lifting their bags up onto the truck as it stopped beside us. Five minutes later we were nestled amongst sacks and sacks of potatoes, putting along on the back of the truck, slowly chewing through that 43km to the nearest town. 

We reached the town at about 7:30am, the sun now high in the sky. The truck stopped, and we realised we had another split decision to make. A quick look at google maps informed us that the town we had reached, Aiquile, was by chance only 40km from the farm that we had originally intended on staying and working at with the workaway program. Though remote, the farm was safe, and we knew that our New Zealand born host could help us to make a plan for the next stage. If we could catch transport to the farm, we could rest and regroup in safety. Option two was to stay on the potato truck and push on for Santa Cruz (still 9 hours drive away). Most people got off and appeared to be warning us that there were still several  barricades remaining in place between us and Santa Cruz. However, the apparent confidence of the truck driver that he would get through, and our single minded drive to make it to our flight in Santa Cruz, kept us sitting on the potatoes as the truck drove away. Instantly, we were nagged with doubts that we had made the wrong choice. We still had hundreds of miles to travel, and the prospect of another night on the roadside was both real and terrifying. We sat uneasily on the potato truck for an hour to another town where Andy and I convinced the others that the safest decision was to go back. We’d messaged our workaway host – we could take refuge at his farm and then figure out what to do next. 

After jumbled negotiations with a local driver, we paid a relatively ridiculous price for a taxi to take us back to Aiquile and then onwards to Mizque, where the farm was located. Not that we cared about the cost at this point. Even this short trip did not go to plan. Our driver seemed to have a predilection for driving on the wrong side of the road for no apparent reason, and then the roads between Aiquile and Mizque turned out to be blocked, requiring us to switch ourselves and our possessions into another vehicle on the far side and continue on.

A well-maintained, tiny little town with a central market and not much more, Mizque was exactly what we needed. At last, we felt safe. We could sleep, eat and shower. Ironically, we learned that our host was stuck in the city of Cochabamba (3.5 hours drive further north) and he sent through a few tasks for us to complete. We fed the dogs, the ducks, the chickens and watered the green house. We did some shopping at the markets to replenish his stores, and did some some general cleaning. We felt helpful, and that was satisfying. Our plan became to wait for our host to make the trip back from Cochabamba, hear his report on the status of the roads, and then if the coast was clear, to make the same trip in reverse ourselves. If we could just get to Cochabamba Airport, we might be able to fly from there to Santa Cruz in time for our flight out, now just 30 hours away. We waited hopefully for any report that we could get back on the road.

But our hopes were in vain. We ended up stranded in Mizque for two nights without any update on the blocked roads, during which time our flight boarded and left without us on it, several hundred miles away in Santa Cruz. Our farm host was still stuck in Cochabamba, where violence and destruction was steadily growing each day. Mizque was quiet and safe, but we felt trapped.  Eventually the news that we had been dreading broke – the results of the inquiry into the disputed election (which had kicked off all of the national unrest) had been announced. The calm before the storm was over. Later that afternoon, President Morales resigned in a televised address. We (rightly) suspected that this would only stoke tensions, and pull the two sides of the conflict even further apart. Our eagerness to leave grew, but so too did our caution to make sure we stayed safe. 

The morning after Morales’s resignation, we decided to take a stroll into the thus-far docile town of Mizque, just for something to take our mind off the anxious wait. Our attempt at calming our nerves backfired fairly spectacularly, as we arrived to find most businesses closed and barred, and a large, noisy mob gathering in the towns main square, carrying clubs, sticks, and metal bars. We hung around and observed just long enough to conclude that the crowd were Morales supporters, before returning back to the farm. 

The Austrian embassy was encouraging Sarah to get herself to a city ASAP. Andy and I were scarred: we didn’t want any more nights on the street. I was suffering from competing interests: leaving this wretched country as soon as I could and staying out of harm’s way. Andy and I weren’t under any time limits: the latter had to take priority. We owed it to ourselves, and to our families and friends. 

This caused a little bit of tension between us and the others, who were keen to take more risks and try to make a break for it. What made it worse was that the ATM in Mizque had run out of money so suddenly Sarah and James were actually dependent on us. After one night, they wanted to leave but couldn’t, basically because Andy and I chose not to. This was the right decision: Morales’ resignation had sparked massive, violent protests in all of the big cities from his loyal supporters, even if there were rumours that the opposition blockades were now lifting as they celebrated their ‘victory’. It would have been very, very dangerous to be on the road that afternoon, not to mention the heightened danger of our entry to, and crossing of, the city of Cochabamba. 

Everywhere we turned, we were receiving conflicting updates and advice. One minute we would receive a message to stay put, the next would urge us to get out. Reports that calm was spreading were published within minutes of others citing violent outbreaks and more blockades – how did we know what and who to believe? In hindsight, I think nobody knew. Absolutely nobody. Not the officials, not our workaway host.  Not the locals. So we just had to keep safe. Even if that meant holing up in Mizque for longer than any of us wanted to. 

It was an absolute roller coaster of emotion and all four of us were experiencing very different rides – although our fates now appeared to be linked to that of the nation of Bolivia, as the situation unravelled and plunged further into uncertainty.

And then…the time had come. Apparently. Our host at the farm, Simon, had told us at 10am that he was leaving to attempt the journey from Cochabamba to Mizque. After four hours without a word, he appeared in the driveway on his mountain bike in the middle of the afternoon. The highway was clear, he told us. But we couldn’t be sure how long it would last. Another snap decision to make: do we take to the road and try to get to the airport while we had this same-day confirmation that the road was clear? Or, with nightfall only a couple of hours away, do we sit tight and go in the morning, risking the re-establishment of blockades in the meantime? It was obvious that I was the ‘overly cautious’ one who wanted to wait, but I also didn’t want to be a coward. The Austrian embassy had been telling Sarah to go for two days now. We supposedly had a window of opportunity. I had zero desire to remain in the country, but still I hesitated. I just wanted to stay out of dangers way.

As we quickly packed our bags, I couldn’t hide my reluctance. The late departure would possibly (with our luck, probably) have us arriving in the dark. The temptation of the clear road was immense, and who knew how long that would last. After voicing second thoughts, then abandoning them, Andy and I agreed to go for it. We rushed to the transport office in town. 

I was watching my watch vigilantly, the tension mounting. Our minivan departed 15 minutes late, which was not a good start. As the countryside flew by, my chest tightened each time the van slowed. The road twisted and turned up steep hillsides. One hour passed, and we zipped through one hastily abandoned road block. Another hour, another cleared road block. We were starting to feel like we might actually make it, maybe even in time to catch the last flight to Santa Cruz that evening.

Little did we know we were about to walk this distance

Alas, we should have known. With 20km to go, the oncoming traffic started to behave strangely, gesturing to us to turn back. 15km out of Cochabamba, we saw why. As our van drew to a halt and everyone climbed out, we saw a huge blockade ahead. We hoisted our backpacks onto our backs and set off toward the crowd with a purpose. I did not want to be caught out in the dark. 

There were stacks of people walking. We walked for about a kilometre before coming to our first real obstacle. A huge mob of young protestors, entirely obstructing both sides of the road with debris and their physical presence. As we got closer, we saw that there were hundreds of them, and that they were all armed: sticks, clubs, iron bars, baseball bats, axes and, terrifyingly, at least one machete. As we cautiously approached with hearts thumping, we heard a whistle, the unwanted shout of the word “Gringo!” and a ripple through the crowd as their attention shifted. All of a sudden, the entire mob was looking at us. Laughing. Jeering. Yelling indecipherable phrases punctuated by the word “gringos”. Gesturing. We stopped dead in our tracks. Then the closest of the mob started advancing towards us. 

I was ready to bolt. Oh my god. I rapidly turned around, my thoughts quickly spiralling between the threat of being attacked and, perhaps irrationally, that if we turned and retreated we would be forced to spend another night on the road. Of course, the immediate threat of the advancing group won out, and we hurried back in the direction we’d come from. 

We didn’t make it far. Locals (the friendly kind without sticks) were running alongside us and gesturing for us to turn back towards the mob. They yelled that we could pass. We hesitated and looked back. One lady, who we would come to regard as our saviour, motioned for us to follow her. With limited English, she tried to reassure us that we would not be touched, that the mob had a different enemy. Seeming like the lesser of two evils, we chose to trust her and stuck close as she led us through the jeering mob. I focused my gaze staunchly ahead as we proceeded forward past the shouts and laughter, my concentration broken as people approached us, ridiculing us. One man approached me and attempted to shake my hand. Not knowing whether this was mockery or comfort, I did the only thing I could and shook his hand back. This just fueled the laughter and jeers of the group. Scared and humiliated, we simply kept walking. 

Once we had passed the first mob (there were many yet to come), we stayed close to the lady that had ushered us through, Ximena. Across the next ten or so kilometres (I’ll never complain about walking long distances again) we passed through multiple more throngs of people, countless roadblocks, and burning tyres. All the while, a steady stream of thousands of young, armed men walked purposefully in the opposite direction, towards the roadblocks on the edge of the city. It was scary, but thankfully none of them made quite as much of an example of us as the first. We made brief conversation with Ximena in English and Spanish to take our minds off the chaos around us. It had been Ximena’s first day back at work after two weeks, but this was far too dangerous and she wouldn’t be returning the following day. We soon realised that Ximena herself was absolutely terrified. This did little to calm our own nerves.

Darkness was falling, but the streets remained well lit by the growing fires every hundred metres or so. We were ushered back and forth across the road, avoiding certain groups of what Ximena called ‘dangerous people’. Our ears were ringing from the ceaseless popping of firecrackers, and we had to be careful to avoid the broken glass on the road, or hidden barbed-wires strung intermittently across the road at shoulder height.

Finally we passed a roadblock that had moving traffic behind it. Through the smokey orange haze, we spied an unoccupied taxi. We bundled ourselves in, backpacks on laps. There was no hope that we would make it to the airport that night, so we asked Ximena to direct the taxi to accommodation. For a few minutes, we felt safe riding in the taxi, until an inferno at a major intersection promptly stopped the fare and forced us out back on the street.

Ximena was no longer hiding her fear. She had tears forming as she pointed us in the direction of a deserted looking hostel directly across the road from a blaze. “Or”, she said “you can come to my house”. Ximena’s place was still twelve blocks away, and we had no idea what would await us there. “We want to stay with you” we said, “if that’s okay”. She’d led us this far, we knew we’d be safe there. 

We’re not sure whether she would have been relieved or burdened to be accompanied home by four “gringo” backpackers, but with the help of one more taxi, we made it. As Ximena locked her gate behind us, we all felt the weight lift off our shoulders. Ximena’s building was large and deserted. She showed us to the third floor, where we would sleep, and also showed us her own apartment on the fourth floor. 

The third floor was a huge, unfurnished space with a bathroom and a kitchenette. We would have to sleep on the bare tiled floor and there wasn’t an ounce of food to eat, but nevertheless we felt like the luckiest people in the world. We had a roof over our heads and a locked gate and door between us and the chaos raging on the streets outside. Ximena brought us some juice and water and told us to let her know if we needed anything. She told us to stay away from the windows and minimise lighting, because the “bad people” outside liked to throw rocks if they saw people inside. She didn’t have to tell us twice. 

We couldn’t believe it. How quickly the situation on the roads seemed to have deteriorated, how we had managed to find ourselves in a situation that was even more terrifying than the ordeal of a few nights before, and how we had the sheer luck of meeting Ximena, who not just guided us through the blockades but put a roof over our heads.

Our night on the floor at Ximena’s apartment in Cochabamba was a restless one. The tiled floor was freezing to sleep on, but beggars can’t be choosers. We heard a helicopter, jets screaming overhead, sirens and glass smashing. Eventually, around 4am, we heard the blissful sound of pouring rain.

We awoke (or, more accurately, sat up) at six am, swiftly packed our belongings and were ready to leave. It was a 45 minute walk to the airport. We hoped that the early hour and the rain would deter troublemakers from interrupting the final stage of our journey to Cochabamba airport. 

A bit of luck saw us hail a sputtering taxi, which limped its way to the airport, thankfully without incident. 

We steered straight for the ticket desk. First flight to Santa Cruz please. The response: “sorry, we’re not selling tickets today”. Excuse me, what? We dove onto our phones and frantically tried to book a flight through both the Bolivia Airlines website and its corresponding app. No luck. Naturally. My determined front wavered slightly as I realised there was a very real chance we could find ourselves enduring another night in the wild city of Cochabamba. 

Andy enlisted pals from NZ to help from afar with online bookings, while he desperately tried to book a flight on Skyscanner through an agent called ‘budgetair’. As we stood in the check-in line, our payment went through. Success, we thought, until we received a follow up email informing us it may take 24 hours to receive our e-tickets. This… would not do. The flight was scheduled for two hours time. 

But something about our luck changed yet again in that moment. In the nick of time, right before it was our turn to approach the check-in desk, Andy received another email from budgetair. It did not include our tickets, but it did have an “airline reference code”. With nothing to lose, we approached the counter, nervously feigning confidence.

We handed over our passports and showed the reference number to airline staff. One moment, he said. He disappeared for about five minutes, and then came back and asked to see our tickets. We tried to explain our situation, again waving the reference number in front of his nose. Silence. More silence. And then, mercifully, “ok, Nicole’s bags please”. Breathlessly we placed our bags on the scale and looked at each other in disbelief. We didn’t want to let ourselves believe that we might be getting onto our flight until we had boarding passes in hand. Then the man handed them to us and wished us a good flight. 

We raced up to the departures lounge. We did not care that our 11.15am flight was nonsensically boarding at 11.35am. Delays didn’t matter to us, not yet anyway. We idled away the time, only becoming anxious as 11.30am came and went. We couldn’t help but check the board every two minutes. 

And then all of a sudden, our flight was gone from the board. Our hearts dropped. No way. A minute or two later, our flight reappeared, delayed by a further two hours. There were multiple flights leaving to Santa Cruz that day, and yet it appeared that we had bought tickets to the only dodgy one. We retreated back to the food court, the mood amongst us palpably darkened. The thought of being turned away and having to walk back through the chaos of Cochabamba to find a place to sleep for the night hung heavy on our minds.  As we sat and waited, I glanced up at the board again. Miraculously, it was now displaying the message that our flight should proceed through security for ‘pre-boarding’. We jumped up and did our best to walk calmly through security hearts racing, not stopping until we got to our gate. 

Another step closer. As we waited by the gate, we didn’t dare believe that we were out of the woods yet. True to form, our flight time was delayed further as we waited, this time by 45 minutes. The flight, that was due to leave at 11:15am, had now been delayed until at least 2pm, and counting. 

I’d never been more happy to hear a boarding announcement. We shuffled onto our plane and took our seats. Even as we took off from Cochabamba, I still had my doubts. The takeoff was bumpy and I had the ironic thought that, even though I’d come to not trust anything about Bolivia, my desperation to get on the flight had completely superseded any fears I may have had about their flight safety. Too late now. Yikes.

But of course, we landed safely in Santa Cruz. Our landing was shortly followed by another dose of bad news – Andy and I discovered that the flight we had wanted to catch that evening was no longer available, and so our next 36 hours were to be spent within the confines of the airport. 

It wasn’t all bad though. Andy got on the phone and successfully negotiated a new flight for us in two mornings’ time, at no extra cost to the original flight we’d paid for and missed several days before. We settled in for a long wait.

Sarah and James, on the other hand, weren’t mucking around. After having being caught up in both the Chilean and Bolivian uprisings, they decided to change their holiday plans on the spot. Twelve hours later, they would be beginning their journey across the world to Australia. Tempting, yes. There is still a chance that we’ll follow suit. 

I write this now sitting in Santa Cruz airport, still somewhat traumatised and yearning to get out of here. Last night we had a comparatively peaceful night sleeping on the floor. The only disruption was the hundreds of triumphant opposition supporters who gathered in the terminal from about 9pm onwards to welcome Bolivia’s new interim president back into Santa Cruz. The chants were intermittent from 9 until finally Jeanine Anez passed through the terminal at 1am. The cheering was deafening. No conflict though, so we didn’t mind. 

We said a surreal goodbye to James and Sarah in the early hours of this morning as they left for Australia. What a bizarre situation to have found ourselves in: two pairs of strangers fighting to get out of this country, thrust together in such a confronting situation. We were so lucky to have had their company and to have been able to join forces – an adventure that none of us will ever forget. 

Only 12 more hours to our flight. And it couldn’t come soon enough. Wish us luck.

Table tennis tournament, mid-intersection


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