Monday, July 13, 2009

the journey

It's not about the destination, they say, so much as the journey. That is what I kept telling myself last Wednesday as I traveled a lesser-known road that connects the town of Caranavi to the village of Puerto Rico where I planned to catch yet another ride to my final destination: La Asunta. La Asunta is an isolated pueblo in the heart of the South Yungas where UAC-CP students and graduates live.

Sign in the windshield indicates that "my" minivan is bound for the community of Puerto Rico in the zone Bolivar.

In the minivan, I sat front and center, wedged between the driver and a man who intermittently slept and chewed coca (interesting to me because coca is a stimulant used precisely to avoid shut-eye). Other passengers don't generally allow for sleeping in the front seat--its contagious, they say, and will spread to the driver. But in this minivan, the 14 adults and six children squeezed into seating intended for 12 people didn't seem to mind that my cocalero companion dozed off on occasion.

We plugged along at a speed I can merely describe as "pretty slow" as the broken speedometer didn't allow for the velocity to be assigned a numerical value. Considering the wild, death-defying ride with Hugh and his sister Paula the previous day, I was more than okay with the driver's steady pace--especially when I looked to the edge of the narrow, gravel road and considered the steep, plummeting alternative.

My direct line of vision was blocked by a pine-scented, U.S. flag-decorated, air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror.

As is the case with most all public transportation in Bolivia, I was quite uncomfortable. I craned my neck around the little iconic air freshener to score a good view out the vehicle.  My lower half was twisted in such a way as to avoid disconnecting the loose wiring that powered the giant floor speaker--the one that repeated the same the same six or seven cumbia songs throughout the five-hour venture.  I had to carefully keep rearranging my position to avoid both the driver's repeated downshifting and to ease the burn of my seat which seemed to be unnaturally heated by the engine.

Climbing up mountains, we passed small villages and secluded single-family homes made of either wood or adobe, most with thatch or corrugated tin roofs. In this region, people are dedicated to the production of coffee--as evidenced by the beans sitting out to dry in the sun. It's a very poor life. Schools, health clinics, stores, etc., were notably absent as far as I was concerned. As always, I found myself marveling at how people manage to survive such rough, remote living conditions.

A typical roadside stand...with not much to offer in the way of food or supplies.

After three hours on the road, the driver stopped at a seemingly random spot and grabbed a bottle of alcohol out of the side pocket door. After sprinkling some of the alcohol out the window, he took a small swig. Then he gave it to the man on my right who did the same. I recognized the ritual--a blessing drivers regularly do before descending Bolivia's infamous World's Most Dangerous Road.  I subsequently feared that our tranquilo ride would become more life-threatening...but the chofer, whose wiry body drowned in his dress pants and once-white t-shirt, proceeded with calma.

Direct transportation between Caranavi and La Asunta is rare--most Bolivians don't even know it's possible. In truth, I wasn't able to find a ride to take me the entire way. Which is why I could only find a ride as far as Puerto Rico--a town my Caranavi friends had never heard of before. 

Despite the fact that I found it to be a sad, little river village, I was happy to have arrived in Puerto Rico. I jumped down from my seat and planted my feet on the dusty ground. The driver, handing me my backpack from the roof of the minivan, explained that within an hour I could probably find transportation to take me to La Asunta. I calculated that I would be in La Asunta around 6 or 7pm.

It's a good thing it's about the journey, I thought. Because it was 3pm; my destination was still a few hours away.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

But did you get to La Asunta??