In the UK, there aren’t many people that consider taking a coach when travelling from city to city. We have a fantastic (although pricey) train network and generally when you weigh up the time benefits vs cost, train wins over coach. In South America coach travel is widespread – it’s a cost effective and comfortable way of travelling the vast distances that separate cities and countries. Our journey from Uyuni, on the edge of the Bolivian Salt Flats, to La Paz, the capital, was anything but comfortable. What follows is a cautionary tale about coach travel in Bolivia.
This is NOT the bus in question, just an example of what semi-cama looks like.
Generally there are two classes of seat; cama (meaning bed) where you can recline to virtually horizontal, or semi-cama where it reclines further than a Ryanair seat and with much more leg room, but not quite fully flat. On both you tend to have drinking water provided, wifi, TVs, blankets and sometimes food to make your journey as enjoyable as possible.
We spent a good half hour checking out all the coach companies that line a single busy street, which doubles as the bus terminal in Uyuni, trying to find the best deal. We had travelled semi-cama for most of our previous journeys, so we quickly ruled out cama as tickets were 3 times the price, roughly £24 vs £8. We settled on a company and asked them the usual stuff, “is there any food?” No, “how long is the journey?” 9-10 hours “does the coach have wifi?” To which we got a quizzical look and a firm No.
When I saw that some of the roads were just… missing, I realised just how stupid the question about wifi was.
When we got on the coach we realised we’d been asking all the wrong questions. The couple of hours between booking our tickets and boarding the coach had been spent grabbing a meal and sharing a couple of beers with new friends we’d made on our tour of the salt flats. Beer tends to have a diuretic effect on me, so as soon as we boarded the coach with three minutes to spare, I enquired where the toilet was. Another quizzical look confirmed my worst fears – there wasn’t one. I had to immediately Usain Bolt it to the closest restaurant and pay to use their facilities, just making it back before the coach began to roll out. Great start.
Child sleeping in the aisle. Obviously.
We found our seats, which involved stepping over children who had been laid down in makeshift beds in the aisle and sat down. My seat felt like a metal frame covered with a frayed napkin, Sarah had a white hot pipe running alongside hers which scolded her every time she accidentally brushed it. Regardless, we kicked off our shoes and tried to recline our seats and get comfortable to watch a film on the iPad but they barely budged. As it began to turn dark, we noticed we were driving towards an electrical storm, a spectacular sight if not slightly ominous. This was going to be a great 9 hours.
The film we’d chosen was crap and I was beginning to doze off, when my right sock started to feel warm. That warmth crept from my toes to the arch of my foot before I realised it was wet. My mind quickly went all Einstein: no toilet + warm trickle of liquid down the isle x ammonia smell = only one thing. I whipped my phone out of my pocket and turned the torch towards the offending amber liquid. Once again my worst fears were confirmed.
Now in this situation I figured I had two choices:
1) Get angry, find the culprit treating me to an unwanted golden shower and get even.
2) Sit back and have a little chuckle to myself whilst pretending I was somewhere else, sat on the edge of a hot spring perhaps, slowly submerging my feet…
Which option would you have chosen?