Blockados, blocados, blocados todo el mundo

8 Jun 2004 7:55 pm

Local lady on the plaza in Copacabana

After a very nice time treking around Sorata, I set my sights on Lago Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world and also the birthplace of the Inca civilization. The plan was pretty simple, from Sorata get a bus to Huarina and there change for a mini bus to Copacabana. Part 1 went like clockwork. I got the front seat on a bus to Huarina. Front seats are especially sweet in Bolivia because there is much more ventilation in the front and Bolivian buses are rather stinky. Perhaps not as smelly as a herd of wild pigs in the rain forest (see Chalalan entry) but imagine being trapped inside a wet llama blanket for hours with eons of ancient food and B.O. tucked in there with you.

Yeah, so the bus paused in Huarina and I jumped out into the middle of nowhere. No worries, I would flag a minivan down soon enough. I crossed the road towards the direction of Copacabana and started up a conversation with a mother and daughter who were in fact on their way to Sorata. Ah, dear old Sorata… After about 1 minute chatting with these ladies I learned that there was absolutely no transport going to Copacabana because of blocados, road blocks. Blocados are just about the national pastime in Bolivia. If you’ve got a legitimate gripe or just got up on the wrong side of the bed, well, organize a road block. Why not? Just because it disrupts all commerce in your struggling country is no reason to come up with another form of protest. In this case, the farmers around Copacabana were protesting the fact they they don’t get to vote in an upcomming referendum about the state exporting it’s natural gas. I was recommended by these ladies and other interested passers by that I should go the other way to La Paz and attempt another bus journey early in the morning. So I flagged down a mini bus heading towards La Paz and was in my favorite hostal, Hostal Republica within 2 hours.

After my frustrating day, I decided to shell out the extra bucks for the fancy tourist bus to Copa in the morning. The ticket agent was well aware of the blocade and told me that, yes, there was a blockade, but that it was minor and we could just drive AROUND it. Ok, cool, drive around, good idea. Copa in just 4 hours, right. All over it.

Two and a half hours into the four hour trip all was muy suave when we arrived at the ferry crossing. It turnd out the blocade was more serious tham expected and the ferry people said if we crossed we couldn’t get through the blockade anyway. We waited just a hour until the ferry people changed their minds and then we crossed. On the road to Copa, just passed the opposite ferry terminal, surprise, we encountered the blocade. The blockade was about 50 or 60 older Bolivians from the country side sitting and standing in the middle of the road. It went like this: they turned us away and we turned around and went away. It turns out that there was not just one, but three blockades on the road ahead. We went back to the second ferry terminal and waited for 3 hours at which time someone came up with a plan. The plan was to collect 3 bolivianos from each passenger and purchase 3 cases of orange fizzy soda, one for each blocade. The rational being that it was 2 in the afternoon and the blockaders must be getting thirsty. I didn’t have a better idea, my experience with blockades being rather limited, so I went along with the scheme.

Armed with three cases of orange fizzy pop we approached blockade numero uno. A well spoken and diplomatic Isreali guy got out and made the peace offering to the leader. Things seemed to go OK because we were allowed to pass. We weren’t actually allowed to pass through the blockade, but we were allowed to head off the road to Copa and proceeded down a VERY narrow dirt road. OK, perhaps this was the secret way to Copa, let’s go for it. Three hours later after many near tumbles down shear cliffs leading directly into Lago Titicaca and many other loud bottoms out of the bus on the rough dirt road, we arrived at a town with a PAVED road just on the other side. Horray! There was just one little problem. The little town was actually inside Peru. The driver had gotten lost and we had been caught in another coutntry in a bus that shouldn’t be there, with 30 people without proper documentation, some, without even passports. Whoops.

So we waited another hour or two while the driver and interested bilingual passengers discussed and pleaded with the police to let us through so we could reach the border and get everything in order. Eventually, the police said that the passengers with passports could walk through but that the bus would not be permitted. If that actually happened I would probably still be walking. We were clearly in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, we convinced the police to just let our illegal bus drive us to the nearest bus terminal where we would all get some other legal form of transport, and afterwards we PROMISED that our illegal bus would turn right around and go back to La Paz the way it had come. So off we went, augh. We traveled for quite some time and then it became apparent to me that our bus was attempting to take us to the Bolivian boarder and that the agreement we made at the last police checkpoint was simply to save face for the police. Whatever it takes, I just wanted off the damn bus.

We passed two more police check points but things went much more smoothly at the second two because someone important arrived and ‘helped’ us negociate with the police. I don’t know who he was, perhaps he was the owner of the bus company. The police seemed to like him much more than they like the lowly bus driver. Whatever it takes, it was now getting dark and I just wanted off the damn bus.

At last we arrived at the border. Of course it was the wrong border, it was Peru, but at least I could SEE Bolivia, the country I was SUPPOSED to be in all day. I knew that if necessary I could abandon the bus, and all my new friends on board, sneak behind a few buildings and be back in Bolivia before anyone noticed I was missing. However, with our new snazzy escort we made it through both borders in a matter of 30 minutes. Like lightening, I tell you.

Ten minutes later I was off the damn bus and walking towards my hostal. I chose The Cupula, the snazzy place in town, with an excellent restaurant and nice views. I deserved a treat. It was at the Cupula that I learned that there were in fact numerous blockades in and around Copacabana. It seems many people had gripes. The boats to Puno, Peru were not operational (don’t know why). One of the communities on Isla del Sol was not happy with the other two communities because they felt they are being left out of the tourist trade so they were blockading the north side of the island were the Incan ruins are. And last, but not least, there were no buses from Yanama back to Copa. Yanama is a nearby town and the end of a beautiful day hike. To add just a little icing on the cake, Copacabana was pretty much a ghost town. No one could get there so nothing was going on. So it was a pain in the ass to get here and now there was nothing to do here.

I had a little walk around Copa and decided to leave in the morning for Peru. Puno was just three hours away. In recent weeks Puno had experienced it’s share of violence. In fact, the mayor of Puno refused to resign and he was linched right in the middle of town. Murdered, in plane daylight. Other tourists have since told me that they also saw things when they were in Puno like pregnant women and children tied to posts and being beaten. I’m not exagerating. I heard that things were quite calm in Puno at the moment, so bought a ticket.

The next day we arrived in Puno and it was the most ugly city I’ve ever seen. People like to visit Puno to access the islands and island peoples in Lake Titicaca but I just didn’t see the point. So I got the night bus and was in Cusco early the next morning.

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3 Responses to “Blockados, blocados, blocados todo el mundo”

  1. Jeff Jordan (June 22nd, 2004 at 12:59 am)

    Loved the blocada story. It had me rolling! I didn’t care for Pun either, but loved the area otherwise. I think I had an easier time of it. I do recall some of those busrides were along hairraising cliffs with sheer drops. Then you’d see all the white crosses where one didn’t make the turn. Make the turn. Stay well. Jeff

  2. Joe Gallagher (June 24th, 2004 at 10:32 am)

    It is great to see the adventure that you are on.
    Hope we will all see you soon. You are always in my thoughts.

    Uncle Joe

  3. Mom (June 25th, 2004 at 5:49 am)

    Love all the new pictures. The ones you added to previous entries bring the stories alive. Do you have any of the women with long braids and native dress? Love you.