Diarrhoea and Bolivian bus accidents

It seems like my illness was far from over when I wrote my last post.

The next morning I woke up at 7.30am with diarrhoea. At first I was happy. "Yes," I thought to myself, "I'm eliminating the final toxins in my body." But after the tenth run to the toilet I started to worry about the 13-hour bus-ride commencing that evening. Within the next hour I went to the toilet about 30 times to explode water through my rear. It wasn't painful at all - and I generally felt in good health - but after wiping with the roughest of Bolivian toilet paper 30 times... well, you can be assured there was some pain involved. Luckily by the time I had to get on my bus - and following an additional ten pit-stops - my intestines had almost completely dried up.

In Chile or Argentina the long-distance buses are amazing! They are luxurious and very safe and come equipped with: near fully-reclinable seats; box-office movies to watch; heating or air-conditioning; pillows and blankets; meals, snacks and drinks; and lots of space. And the wonderful and attentive drivers commandeer them so smoothly that they almost glide.

Bolivian buses, however, are are nothing like those of it's neighboring countries. Bolivian buses are primitive, cramped, dirty, slow and bumpy. They are usually completely packed and are most often travelling on Bolivia's dirt or gravel roads - so be prepared to move up and down in the vertical direction a lot as you (hopefully) move forward. Seat-belts are a luxury item and consider yourself lucky if you can manage to recline your seat. On the plus side, they are ridiculously cheap. A 13-hour journey cost me US$7.

I was on my way to Villazon, on the Bolvian-Argentinian border, where I was intending to get a connecting bus to Salta. My interactions with the driver didn't fill me with confidence and I felt even more dubious once he started driving - as he sped recklessly along the the winding and very mountainous, dirt roads. At first I even stayed awake so that I could act in the case that he managed to steer the big, metal people-container off a cliff, but then I finally managed to sleep.

I woke at 2.30am when the driver was trying to u-turn after accidentally driving down the wrong dirt road. Five minutes later - on the right track - we were involved in a low speed collision with a truck scraping against the bus as the truck-driver impatiently failed to give priority to the bus as it was ascending up narrow, dirt road.

[Below] At 0.01min and 0.10min in the following video you can hear the creaking of bending metal as the truck tries to move forward.

The 'road' was raised on it's outer edges which meant that the bus and the truck were leaning in against each other in the middle. Also, the load on the truck was overhanging it's frame so as it passed us it scraped against the bus and shattered several windows. Screaming was involved.

The next 40 minutes that followed involved everyone getting off the bus and watching the drivers jack-up the bus away from the truck and load large rocks under the wheels of the truck so that as it moved forward it would simultaneously be pushed away from the adjacent vehicle. Amazingly this actually worked.

[Below] The photos are a little dark so you may not be able to see the smashed windows and the high elevation of the jacked-up, bus wheel. I was very lucky in my seat selection - I was sitting at the window in front of the first smashed window. With three hours remaining to our destination, the driver temporarily resolved the problem of a missing window my using duct-tape to secure the curtains over the space of absent glass. I felt bad for the people in those seats - as I said before, Bolivian buses are packed, so they had nowhere else to where they could move.

It's needless to say that I was very glad to reach Villazon in one piece. Now I am back in Argentina and the land of beautiful buses. In 30 minutes I will take take a 20 hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires. I'm actually looking forward to it!

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