La Paz, Bolivia
This is the newly emancipated Modern Nomad, reporting for your enjoyment from the high-altitude Bolivian capital city of La Paz!
After, (count ’em) forty-five long days and nights in Guyaramerìn, I’ve at long last been released. Granted, I have to leave the country within fifteen days and am not welcome back within the next five years, (yes, that means I have been banned from an entire country…woo hoo), but sometimes you’ve just got to make compromises.
My extended stay in Guyaramerìn was occupied mostly by me doing any odd job that I could possibly find for meager amounts of money, and bothering the military down by the port. I’ll start with after I escaped low-wage manual labor down at the docks and changed lodgings from the distribution centre to the aptly named ‘Casa de los Hippies.‘
I found a bed here through pure coincidence; I had left the distribution centre because I told the owner that I would only need the place for a few days, back when I believed the good folks in Bolivian Immigration had their act together and would promptly send me on my way. As we all know that was far from the case, and I felt as if I was intruding upon my hospitable hosts by staying much longer than I initially said I would. Consequently, I left the centre after about a two-week stay, with absolutely no place to go.
There was a small restaurant located in the main Plaza, whose owners gave me work to do on Mondays and Fridays in exchange for ten Bolivianos ($1.40), some soup, rice, and sometimes boiled cow feet (the taste for which I’ve managed to acquire following several weeks of fighting back nausea after taking each greasy, slippery bite).
I decided to head to the restaurant to see if I could find work, and perhaps, by default, a soft spot for the night. Upon arrival I found naught a smidgen of work to be done, though after the aged Señora noticed that I had my pack with me, she seemed worried and inquired as to where I would be staying for the evening. I told her I was between houses and figured I would make camp for the night down by the cow pastures on the north side of town near the beginning of the swamps.
She told me that this was unnecessary, as there was a large, open space behind her church that she was certain I would be allowed to sleep in. She gave me a few loaves of bread and sent me on my way with rough directions to the basilica.
I arrived around ten at night. At first the security guards didn’t want to let me by, but then the priest came out and chastised them in that weirdly friendly but firm way of priests. He told me that of course, I would be able to sleep in the yard for the evening. He then instructed his subdued security guards to drag out a mattress and some blankets for me, which was a nice touch that I appreciated.
I slept sporadically throughout the night, due to the fact that it was Saturday and the discoteca next door was booming out ear-splitting salsa tunes until two in the morning.
I awoke with a start at around six to the sound of a thunderous downpour. Fortunately, I was sleeping under an overhang of sorts, and I was spared from being soaked. I quickly packed up my dwindling supplies, thanked the security guards for the hospitality of the church, and headed out onto the streets as soon as the thunderstorm had rained itself out.
I went back to the same restaurant to see if perhaps they had a few things for me to do in the early morning before they opened. They did, and I soon found myself doing the usual regimen of work that I did there, which was composed of several hours of scrubbing down plastic tables and chairs. I was paid the usual amount of ten Bolivianos and given breakfast.
My plans for the rest of the day were amorphous, so I resigned myself to roaming aimlessly around the market for several hours, pack in tow. After the blistering tropical heat began to melt my brain in an alarmingly literal sense, I made the decision to pay Immigration a visit and check on the status of my incarceration in Guyaramerìn.
While I was on my way, I passed a thin man in his late thirties to early forties with long black hair and a short-trimmed black beard. He was camped out on the sidewalk and was selling beautiful, colorful paintings on the street. I’d seen him several times before and wondered who he was and where he came from, since he was obviously not Bolivian. I stopped and asked him about his paintings, and immediately suspected based on his Spanish accent that he was from Chile.
As the conversation evolved as conversations do, my suspicions were confirmed. He was from Santiago de Chile, and his name was Johnny. He had been in Bolivia for about eight months, traveling around and selling his paintings, which were all done with aerosol paint. He painted records, CD’s and large pieces of sturdy cardboard, as well as doing special requests of turtle shells and other mediums for those who asked. I learned that he had been in Guyaramerìn for about two months and was staying in a house on the other side of town with a fellow from Rosario, Argentina, who made paper flowers and sold them in the market.
Johnny asked me where I was staying, and I told him I was between houses at the moment and had spent the previous night in a churchyard. He told me that I may be able to stay in the house with him, he would just have to ask the owner first. The house was free, except for the occupants needed to pay for the water and electricity every month. I told him I could give ten or twenty Bolivianos when the bill was due, and he figured that would be fine since the bill was rarely higher than fifty.
So off we went to see the house. It was quite a long ways away, probably a good five or six clicks from the Capitanìa and the port. We arrived in mid-afternoon to a high-roofed blue house, tucked away in a grove of papaya trees.
‘Ahora, we are arriving to “La Casa de los Hippies!”‘ said Johnny happily. We went around back through a dry-rotten wooden gate and entered a small backyard area. In the shade of a large papaya was a long wooden table with random streaks of colour scattered sporadically across the surface. A painter’s table, to be sure. To the left, situated congruently to an old wooden fence was a shower which consisted of a small wooden enclosure of about five feet in height, with a small door opening from the back. PVC pipe duct-taped to a stick about six feet high protruded from the fertile jungle soil and hovered above the enclosure.
Towards the back of the yard was a red-brick outhouse, sporting a plaque which looked like this:
Cruz Roja Española
con el cooperaciòn de
Cruz Roja Boliviana
Construìa con la ayuda de voluntarios por mejores conditiones de la Vida en Guyaramerìn, 16/04/1948
‘Spanish Red Cross, with the co-operation of the Bolivian Red Cross. Constructed with the help of volunteers for better conditions of life in Guyaramerìn. April 16, 1948.’
Sixty-two years later, the outhouse was still standing after keeping things more sanitary for generations of occupants. An old wooden door hung precariously from rusty hinges as flies buzzed industriously in and out of the prehistoric privy.
To my right near a pile of old lumber was a fire pit, along with various pieces of blackened metal that had been fashioned into a sort of cooking rack. A venerable black-iron pot sat heavily on the contraption, which looked as if at any moment it might collapse into the ashes below.
‘Come inside, joven, I’ll show you your bed. You have a mattress, right?’
I had a piece of foam about five feet long that I had acquired in Uyuni from a drainage ditch, and figured this would have to do the trick.
We entered the house and came into a small kitchen area. A paltry alcove to the left housed a variety of camp-clean pots, pans, plates, and a few tin cups. The plaster on the walls had mostly broken away to reveal the mud-brick construction of the kitchen area. A defunct gas stove sat rusting quietly away in the corner, it’s burners long gone. Spiderwebs of many exciting varieties hung lacily around the tops of the walls, fastened to a palm-leaf thatched roof which stretched to about fifteen feet above the rugged dirt floor.
Johnny led me to a small alcove that was in between the mud-brick kitchen area and the front of the house, which was one large room made with plywood walls and a tin roof. In the alcove was a bed frame with another piece of plywood nailed horizontally across it to form the bed space. It looked like I had a bed!
After unpacking a few of my things, Johnny took a nap while I swept leaves from the yard area. Later that evening, we went to the Plaza where Johnny tried to sell some of his paintings.
Meanwhile, I needed to find more work. I decided that in the morning I would head back to the police checkpoint where I had worked before and see if I could find work for the day.
I awoke around seven, morningtide, and began the three kilometre walk to the checkpoint. Upon arrival I found that I had been just in time for the morning shift-change. Officer Olmos, the cop whom I worked with last time, was just getting off, and Officer Miranda was just rolling in on his little Honda motorcycle.
I asked Miranda if he had work for the day and he told me he defiantly did, but only until about seven in the evening since he had a Brazilian guy who worked the night shift. That sounded good to me.
Miranda was a lot more fun to work with than Olmos. For one thing, he didn’t just sleep all the time so I had someone to talk to. Secondly, the lunches his wife would bring him were a hell of a lot better than what Olmos usually ate.
I spent the morning in a lazy haze, raising and lowering the barrier on autopilot. By two in the afternoon, the thermometer read a quarter centimetre to 41º C, (around 106º F) and the heavy humidity of the jungle air was torpid and stifling.
Mototaxis began arriving en masse to the small river which ran parallel to the checkpoint. The good citizens of Guyaramerìn piled out, and the little river was soon filled with bathers. Miranda’s family showed up for a swim as well; this consisted of his wife, sister, two brothers and twelve children, ranging from the ages of one to sixteen. When his family arrived, I assumed it was an elementary school class, not a family.
The children splashed happily away in the muddy brown river for the entire day, while Miranda and I sat in the hut and cooked our brains like fresh eggs on the skillet.
Around six, the mass of children that was Miranda’s family migrated from the river back to the checkpoint hut, bringing with them mud, noise, and, in the case of some of the very young ones, total nudity. They bumped around the inside of the small hut for the next hour while Mommy tried to co-ordinade drying-offs, as well as the application of dry clothing. Water was dripping on everything and children were screaming in that ear-splitting, happy way that children do.
Eventually everybody was dried, clothed, and pacified with hard candies. The mass of youth was then carted away in several mototaxis, and order was restored to the little hut just as the huge, red jungle sun slipped below the tropical haze.
Around seven the Brazilian arrived to start his night shift; Miranda paid me fifty Bolivianos for my days work and told me to come back in two days for more if I needed it. Happy with my earnings, I returned to La Casa de los Hippies around eight. I stopped at a small shop and bought some pasta and tomato sauce to cook for dinner.
When I got home I found the place deserted, so I built a fire in the pit and soon had my pasta cooking away in a freshly washed tin pot, boiling merrily over a roaring fire.
Around eleven Johnny returned home, followed by Maximus, the flower man from Rosario. Maximus (known by his nickname ‘Maxi’ which I found privately hilarious, due to his rather absorbant-looking beard), was a friendly person who seemed never to be without a beer. We ate some of my pasta while Maxi worked on some more of his paper flowers.
The next day I had no known source of work, so I went to the market and looked around for things to waste my meager amount of cash on. I settled on a large lunch (10 B.S.), Brazilian ice cream (5 B.S.), five empanadas de pollo (10 B.S.) and some much-needed Internet time. Around dusk I went to Immigration to give my daily signature (which I had missed for the past four days) and to inquire as to whether I would ever be able to leave Guyaramerìn.
The news was, once again, non-existent. The head of the Guyaramerìn branch of Immigration, a moody, pregnant, and infuriatingly curt woman, told me that we were just waiting on the U.S. Embassy to send money for the Visa. Consequently, I was getting increasingly displeased with the delay from the Consulate. Why weren’t they doing anything? I tried to telephone them but by the time I was able to talk to a real person I was out of money.
I held in my smouldering anger and went to the port to by a cigarette to release some of the fury. While I was sitting at a table smoking, a few guys the next table over invited me for a few glasses of beer, which I accepted. They introduced themselves as Javier and Abdul.
Javier and Abdul were mototaxi drivers, and they were just ecstatic that I was sitting there drinking their beer. They asked what an American like me was doing in Guyaramerìn, and I explained to them my situation.
Javier thought that he could probably help me out; he said that his father-in-law owned a small bakery, and that there was work there every day, morning and evening. Stunned, I asked him if maybe I could do some work at the bakery.
‘Of course primo! In fact, we can go right now! They should be starting to mix the dough any minute!’ He jumped up from his chair, wobbling unsteadily for a moment. I stared for a moment.
‘Well, come on, primo, let’s go!’
Well, all right then! We walked out to where his mototaxi was parked, a brightly painted blue motorcycle with Che Guevera decals stuck all over the cab.
Javier kicked the engine to life and we were soon roaring off into the dark streets of Guyaramerìn. After several close calls with curbs and hamburger stands we came to his house, which was situated along the edge of the old, defunct domestic airport.
The house was wide and made of concrete, with red Spanish-style shingles. We walked to a covered area attached to the home, which housed several large clay stoves and a long trough for mixing dough. A man wearing a Green Bay Packers baseball cap and an apron with no shirt on underneath was busy pouring flour and various spices into the trough.
Javier introduced me to the man and told him that I was here to work with the dough. He seemed delighted, and told me to wash my hands and start mixing.
Soon I was up to my elbows in sticky dough, kneading it and punching it with all I had. Four or five times, after the water was mixed into the flour, you ought fold the sheets of dough over themselves and then beat the hell out of them with your fists for several sweaty minutes. This step was repeated ten or fifteen times until the dough was smooth and very well-blended.
The last step was to cut the massive sheet into ten sections of about two square feet. Oil was poured into the bottom of the trough, and the dough was kneaded one final time before being wrapped into heavy balls with about the same weight as a five year old child; these were stored in the corners of the trough.
After we wrestled the dough-children into their proper place and covered them with a sheet to keep the bugs off, the work was done. Total elapsed time, about two and a half hours. Javier fed me dinner and drove me home, telling me to come back the next morning around three to bake the bread.
I awoke early to the ringing sound of the dilapidated alarm clock that I had found in one of the drawers of a chest which sat in the main part of the house. I quickly washed my face and headed to the bakery, about half an hour’s walk away.
When I got there, Javier welcomed me with his usual over-the-top friendliness. We went to where the dough-children had been entombed the previous night in the trough, where there were several other men taking them apart and rolling loaves of bread.
Javier grabbed a chunk of dough about the size of a softball and showed me the proper way to roll it into a nice loaf of french-style bread. After five or six mutants, I managed to make a passable loaf.
We rolled bread until five-thirty while Javier fed the prepared loaves into the fiery clay stove. Around six, most of the bread had been baked.
‘Now you must go and sell the bread,’ said Javier to me. He pulled out an elderly red bicycle with a basket lashed onto the back. ‘All you have to do is ride around town and shout ‘¡Hay pan!’ It’s two Bolivianos a loaf.’ He loaded eighty or so loaves into the basket. ‘Good luck, my friend! Come back at ten o’clock!’
Well, all right then. I hopped on the the bike, which creaked loudly in protest, and pedaled squeakily off into town.
‘¡Hay pan!’ I shouted at the top of my lungs to an empty street. ‘¡Hay pan, pan frances!’ A wizened old head popped out of the window of one of the houses.
‘¿Tienes pan?’ said the old woman raspily.
‘Yes, I do indeed have bread!’ I told her in Spanish. ‘How many would you like?’ I asked as I pedaled wobbily up to her house.
She looked inside the basket. Taking out a loaf, she examined it carefully, and even sniffed it. After a moment she seemed satisfied, and bought four loaves.
Encouraged, I pedaled away, the eight Bolivianos jingling merrily in my pocket. I decided to be a little more creative with my sales pitch. People were starting to come out of their homes for the morning sweeping of their yards and other chores. I shouted at the top of my lungs,
‘¡Hay pan, pan frances! ¡Calientito, rico, saboroso! ¡Hacìa con amor, solo para Ustedes! Allì esta el mejor pan de Guyaramerìn, no, de el Beni, no, no…¡allì esta el mejor pan de Bolivia! ¡Hay paaaaaan!’
Here is bread, French bread! Warm, delicious, flavourful! Made with love, just for you! Here is the best bread of Guyaramerìn, no, of the Beni, no, no…here is the best bread of Bolivia! Here is breeead!
Most people thought this was pretty funny, this foreigner riding around on a creaky bicycle at six in the morning and shouting about the best bread in Bolivia. I belive half my sales came from people who just wanted the novelty experience of buying ‘French bread’ from that crazy extranjero shouting in the streets.
I came back to the bakery at ten, having sold all but five loaves. For my work the previous night, the baking in the morning, and the riding of the bread bike, I was paid thirty Bolivianos, or about US$4.
Over the next two weeks I worked at the bakery every morning and evening, and worked at the police checkpoint with Miranda every other day. Total, I made about 300 Bolivianos a week, or around $40.
Once, I found a three foot female green iguana stealing papayas from one of the trees, and promptly spent an hour chasing and capturing her. I had to tote the lucid lizard downtown to an Internet cafè to get a photo. A gringo with an iguana? I drew stares.
She was released back into the jungle later that day.
One day around September 19th, I was feeling really constipated. I hadn’t been to the prehistoric privy in nearly five days, and I was feeling clogged and a little green around the gills. So I spent one of my free afternoons on a visit to the local hospital for some laxatives.
The doctor was sure that I was fine, and gave me something called ‘Enema’ which would apparently clean me out like a gallon of coffee and ten pounds of bananas. I assumed Enema was just a name for it since enemas clean you out, but when I got the medicine I realized it was called ‘Enema’ for a good reason.
It literally was an enema. The directions for use were mortifying, with little drawings about ‘suggested positions for application.’ Ugh.
After following the directions and feeling rather violated, I was soon sprinting to the outhouse. Unfortunately, the enema was ineffective, and I was still clogged like an over-used Shop-Vac.
I got worse over the next few days. I had trouble walking, I couldn’t eat anything because it felt as if there was no more space in my digestive system, and my skin and the whites of my eyes began to turn yellow.
When I went to Immigration to give my daily signature, a few of the people who work there that are actually nice people whom I like, were very concerned as to the state of my health. Fortunately, Moody Pregnant Head of the Department Twat was on vacation, so I didn’t have to deal with her nonsense. There was Fernando, a guy about my age, and another younger girl who had taken over for the month. They had always been very nice to me, and decided to try to take care of my Passport issue once and for all.
Unfortunately, they weren’t able to get anywhere due to phone problems. So I went across the street to the Capitanìa and asked the Capitan of the port if I could use his cell phone, since it was able to call to La Paz. Immigration let me use their computer to look up the emergency phone number for my Embassy, so I dialed that, not wanting to talk to more machines.
Finally I was able to talk to someone, a woman named Cecelia. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with the fact that I’d been waiting more than thirty days for them to do something, so I wasn’t the most happy or polite of citizens.
However, I soon learned that the Consular unit knew nothing at all about my situation! The Bolivians hadn’t even bothered to inform them! This made me even more angry, though less at the Embassy and more at the stupid people in Immigration. For more than thirty days I had been waiting, and Immigration hadn’t done a damn thing. I was furious.
Cecelia told me that she would contact Bolivian Immigration and see what she could do. This sounded like progress, which calmed me down a bit.
After I hung up the telephone, I noticed the Capitan looking at me in a funny way.
‘Joven, you are yellow as a squash! Your eyes are yellow! I think maybe you have hepatitis!’
What? Hepatitis. Impossible. I was vaccinated for hepatitis when I was young. I was yellow because my body was blocked up with toxins, that was all. He wasn’t convinced. At that moment, the people from immigration showed up, and everyone began jabbering away about the state of my health. Eventually, I agreed to let them take me to the hospital the next morning.
First, we went to a Cuban doctor who had a clinic in the downtown area. She was very young and pleasant, and seemed positive that I did indeed have hepatitis, most likely contracted from tainted meat or dirty water. Whether i had hepatitis A, B, or C was unknown, though there was a 99 percent chance it was A. This was rather sobering news, as I knew nothing of the illness and always assumed it to be something like AIDS. Fortunately that’s not the case; it’s a foodbourne virus that infects the liver, and usually is not very serious. She recommended that I go to some other Cuban specialists in the nearby town of Riberalta, but I told her I wasn’t allowed to leave the city.
I was then taken to the house of some German missionaries, who had been known to help foreigners in need in the past. The head missionary, named Don Guillermo, was very concerned about my state of health and insisted that I be taken straight to the General Hospital of Guyaramerìn, on the western edge of town. We told him that the Cuban doctor recommended that I be taken to Riberalta, so he went himself to have a talk with her.
When he returned an hour later, he said that we shouldn’t put too much credit in her diagnosis. I asked why and he shrugged and, after a moment’s hesitation, said that he thought she seemed too young to know a lot about medicine. The fact that she was black, and Don Guillermo was in his eighties was not lost on me (old people can be hopelessly racist sometimes). He insisted that I be taken to his doctor in the general hospital.
So off we went. After the doctor had looked me over, he decided that I should be checked into the hospital and spend a few nights there, as hepatitis has been known to lead to liver failure in rare cases. I told him this was impossible, as there would be no way for me to afford a hospital stay.
Fortunately for me, the missionaries stepped in here; Don Guillermo insisted that I be admitted, and that he would pay for the stay and for any types of medicine that I would need. Now that’s a Christian acting like a Christian! I was truly overwhelmed by his generosity.
The doctor led me into the back of the hospital where the admitted patients slept. Nurses dressed in all white, with white stockings and little white nurse hats passed us by.
When we arrived to my room, I found a rusty metal bed with a plastic mattress awaiting me in the corner under a painted sign on the wall which read ‘Cama 7-1.’ A metal ceiling fan whirred above us, doing little to combat the stifling heat.
‘Rest here,’ said the doctor. ‘A nurse will be in shortly to draw some blood.’ Fantastic. I tried to make myself comfortable on the flat mattress.
One thing was for sure: this was definitly a poor hospital. I felt as if I’d gone back in time to the 1940’s. The nurse soon arrived in her impeccable white stockings and neat little hat, and proceeded to viciously stab my arm with a needle the size of the Eiffel Tower in an attempt to, apparently, draw blood.
Once the bloodletting was over I was given some strange syrup that would ostensibly cure my constipation and return my ravenous appetite to me. This I looked forward to.
Several hours later I was about fifteen pounds lighter and felt really sorry for whoever had to clean the toilet next. My appetite instantly returned, and I eagerly awaited for my dinner, which I was told would arrive at six. There was no clock in my room, so I went into the lobby and counted the seconds.
At six o’clock sharp came the rattling noise of a metal cart rolling down the tiled hallway. Finally! I was so hungry I could die! The nurse came in and brought me…!
Three crackers and a cup of tea.
I stopped the nurse before she left.
‘There’s more coming, right?’
She shook her head. ‘No. This is your dinner.’
Really? ‘Well, when’s breakfast, then?’
Eight o’clock! That’s ten whole hours, and I was fairly certain that my stomach was on the verge of digesting itself. Ugh.
Around nine the missionaries came to visit me and brought me some clothes and apple juice, for which I was grateful. They also sang me some churchy songs which made me feel slightly uncomfortable.
I managed to make it through the night without perishing from starvation, somehow. At eight, I was awoken by the familiar sound of the cart rattling its way down the hallway. Food!
I was instantly awake in anticipation of a breakfast of eggs, bread, juice, and maybe some-
Two crackers. And a cup of tea. Goddamnit.
My last hope was lunch; they couldn’t just give me crackers forever! Lunch had to be something substantial.
I waited patiently in my room for noon to arrive. While I was waiting a few nurses came in and stuck another needle in my arm, leaving me a few minutes later tethered intravenously to a bag of saline hanging from a hat rack (yes, a hat rack).
Restricted mobility? Not for me. I promptly hoisted the rack onto my shoulder and went for a walk to the lobby, saline bag dangling precariously from the end. This amused the casual passerby but irritated the nurses, who said that I should be resting. I told them my room was roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun, and that the fan had stopped working. After much deliberation they decided to let me sit in the breezway, under the condition that I not move again until lunch.
Noon arrived; I practically sprinted back to my room and eagerly awaited my meal. The nurse came in and she had….!
Half a bowl of soup. No meat. No potatoes. Just juice. This was getting ridiculous, I needed some FOOD. I went to my doctor and complained that prisoners of war during the Death March in Indonesia likely got more rations than I was currently getting. He agreed that my diet should be changed, and promised to do so the next day.
That evening I had to do an ultrasound and got to see my liver. It was inflamed by four centimetres and had turned black. Fabulous.
After another meager ‘dinner’ of crackers and tea, the missionaries came to visit again, this time bearing gifts of entire packs crackers and apple juice! Yes yes yes yes!
I politely waited for them to leave and then proceeded to gracelessly gorge myself. Four packs of fifty crackers and two liters of apple juice vanished in about fifteen minutes. Ah, the satisfaction of a full stomach!
Throughout the next four days I simply ‘rested’ at the hospital. My meals had been upgraded slightly, in that now I got bread and milk for breakfast, soup and a main course for lunch, and meat and rice for dinner. It still wasn’t enough, but fortunately the missionaries were pretty consistent about bringing me apple juice, cookies, crackers and papayas.
I made friends with my doctor, a gastrointernologist from La Paz. He would let me watch movies on his DVD player on the venerable old television in the lobby.
During nights I would lay on my bed, swat mosquitoes, and sweat like I’ve never sweated before. Fortunately, there was some form of entertainment, and that was simply leaving the flourescent light on and watching cicadas the size of candy bars fly in through the window and commit suicide by whirling fan blade. Sometimes, it would just daze them but, undeterred, they would go buzzing back for more until it killed them. Very entertaining, like watching wrestling only more authentic.
After five days in the hospital, I was feeling great and was ready to leave. Cecelia from the U.S. Embassy had called and told me that I should be able to get my passport back now, and I would have about fifteen days to leave the country from the time I got it back. I was ready to get going!
However, Don Guillermo was still not confident as to the state of my health. He refused to allow me to leave and said that I should rest for two more days, just in case.
I mucked through the last two days in a terrible boredom; one afternoon a blue morpho butterfly fluttered into my sweat lodge, I mean, room. This was the highlight of the two days; I was grateful something had flown in that didn’t want to suck my blood, sting, or make loud, irritating mating calls during the night.
On several occasions during my hospital stay I had to relocate docile, corpulent tarantulas the size of my inflamed liver from the showers. The nurses nearly had a heart attack the first time they saw me walking outside with a hairy red-kneed tarantula with roughly the same amplitude as a Chihuahua puppy sitting peacefully in my cupped palms. Some people; they fear things for no good reason.
Don Guillermo returned at last and I was finally liberated. I planned to immidietly start hitch hiking to La Paz. However, the Don had other plans for me.
‘Your health is still not good. You are not well enough to travel in this way.’ He handed me an envelope. ‘I have purchased an aeroplane ticket to La Paz for you. A taxi will be here in a moment to take you to the airport.’
What? He bought me a plane ticket? Like, on an airplane, that flies, and costs hundreds of dollars?
I honestly didn’t feel comfortable accepting this, and I told him so. He refused to listen and said he was very worried about me, and that it would be in my best interest if I took a plane.
‘I’ve already bought the ticket, you have no choice.’ He thrusted the ticket into my hands. I didn’t know what to say, so I just said ‘Thank you…!?’
‘Here comes your taxi. I will ride with you to the airport.’
And he did. Half an hour I was boarding an Fairchild Swearington Metro 23 turboprop, and after a short delay, was soon soaring over the hazy jungle as we chugged our way south to Trinidad.
I was free!
At long last, Guyaramerìn faded into the clouds as the turboprop gained altitude. We landed in Trinidad around six, and after an hour long layover in which I saw the President of Bolivia Evo Moreles and his presidential jet, the propellers roared anew and we were soon airborne, en route to La Paz.
About twenty minutes into the flight the plane flew through a lightning storm and we endured some heavy turbulence. I was reminded of Uraguyan Air Force Flight 571, a plane of similar size and stature, which crashed in the remote Andes between Chile and Argentina in 1972. The passengers were stranded for 72 days and had to resort to cannibalism. Fortunately for me, my fellow passengers all seemed to have a good amount of meat on their bones, and the pilot looked like he might go well with sautèd onions.
Just to be safe, I read over the emergency instructions, which were basically, ‘In the event of an emergency, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.’
Of course, there was nothing to worry about. We landed in La Paz around nine that evening; I stepped out of the narrow fuselage and into the chilly, high-altitude air of the Bolivian capital city.
Using some extra money that I had leftover from when I was working, I took a cab to a hotel which the U.S. Embassy had set up for me. I take back what I said about the Consulate being full of useless twats; they have been very helpful. Not only have they helped immensely by co-ordinating communication with Bolivian Immigration, they have even allowed me to make numerous free telephone calls to the Unites States, something for which I was deeply grateful.
They also took me to another doctor, who wanted to take another blood test to confirm that I did indeed have hepatitis A, and not B or C, since they didn’t have the facilities to do the test in Guyaramerìn. I learned this morning that it was A, and that I have absolutely nothing to worry about and am able to go on with my life without any worries whatsoever about my present state of health.
Next stops: Lake Titicaca, Bolivia; Arica, Chile; Cuzco, Perù; and Iquitos, Perù.
The Modern Nomad
Map of the City of Guyaramerìn
- Where I was forcefully removed from the river by the Bolivian Anti-Narcotraffiking force
- The Capitanìa, where I was brought afterwards and spent many hours bothering the Navy on account of boredom
- Immigration. Ugh.
- The docks, where the backbreaking manual labour took place
- The distribution centre where I lived for two weeks
- The resturaunt where I sometimes worked
- The bakery
- La Casa de los Hippies
- The police checkpoint
- Hospital General de Guyaramerìn