Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Groundhog Day

An unfortunate case of Groundhog Day. I decided to try and pre-empt the "call back in 15 minutes" syndrome from Amaszonas by actually going to the airport and sitting in front of their desk so that I could not be ignored. So I got up, checked out of Wild Rover (for the 2nd time in 24 hours) and got a radio taxi up to the airport, during which I got yet more Spanish practice in, courtesy of Willy, my affable driver. I have decided that taxis are definitely good for my Spanish. Having arrived at the airport, I was informed by the lass at check-in that, surprise surprise, there were no flights for the morning and I needed to get back to them by 1pm. I informed her that I would be staying in the airport, went to get myself some breakfast from the cafe, and then set up my perch opposite the desk, reading my guidebook. Unfortunately, by around 11am, said lass was coming over and explaining that I had better go back to town, as there were going to be absolutely no flights that day. Bugger.

At this point, I slightly lost my cool and asked the young lady if there were, in fact, going to be any flights to Rurrenabaque that week - unsurprisingly, she replied that she really didn't know what the weather was going to do, and I'd just have to wait or cancel. So I decided to cancel. In a fit of pique, I decided Rurre could go hang, and I'd go to Amazonia in Peru or Ecuador instead, and I hailed another (expensive for Bolivia) taxi back into town, though I changed hostels, reasoning that the Wild Rover would not be the best place for me to make a sensible examination of what needed doing. So instead of a hostel with an Irish pub, I moved to one with a microbrewery, the Adventure Brew. Well, I reckoned it was a step towards good sense, anyway.

A bit of research online revealed the worrying fact that the companies doing equivalent kind of trips to the Amazon region in Peru or Ecuador cost about 3 times as much. Hmmm, thinks I, maybe I have to start thinking the unthinkable and considering the bus ride to Rurre. So I went to chat with the lady at the in-house travel agency at Adventure Brew, who commiserated for my suffering but advised me that at this time of year, maybe 80% of Amszonas' flights get cancelled or moved about for one reason or another. She also advised that the bus to Rurre could be just a bit uncomfortable, or it could be hellish, but realistically it was about the only option I had. So, order of business for the afternoon became (1) go and see the pesky airline and get my refund done and (2) sort myself a bus ticket.

The first item on the list immediately ran foul of siesta, as the office was closed for lunch when I got there. Grumbling about what else could go wrong, I headed off in search of refeshment myself and, disdaining the multitude of offerings of fried chicken, ended up in a little Chinese place called El Dragon Dorado, which was very helpfully showing the Arsenal - Villareal game from the Champions League, so I got a cheap and tasty meal and to watch some football. Clearly things were getting better. They got better yet at Amaszonas, where they helpfully offered to refund just the outbound half of my ticket, and keep the return valid, with a free change of date, meaning I could still hope upon hope that I would only have to take the bus one way.

Now, those of you who read these pages regularly will no doubt be wandering, after all the bus journeys I have done this trip, what had me so spooked about doing another one - after all, a 20-hour bus journey is a 20-hour bus journey, right? Erm, wrong. The road to Rurrenabaque makes use of the parts of the World's Most Dangerous Road which are still in the condition that led to that name being awarded, and then on bumpy, rutted, unsealed roads across the wilds of northern lowland Bolivia. And the buses are pretty poor. Not horrific, not actual chicken-bus poor, but nothing like the attempts at comfort and luxury to be found on mainstream routes. Certainly not something I would want to subject myself to overnight. But it was that, pay through the nose later, or give up on seeing anything of Amazonia. So I resolved to bite the bullet and do it.

However, to try and soften the blow a wee bit, I decided to split the journey a little bit in Coroico, a town near the foot of the mountain bike ride, so my next stop was across town in the suburb of Villa Fatima, from whence said buses depart. Or, to be more precise, minibuses, as the Coroico service actually uses my old friend, the Toyota minivan. Luckily, by booking the night before I managed to get the spot in the front next to the driver, drastically increasing the possibility that I would arrive in Coroico still able to make use of my legs. Having spent much of the afternoon organising this, I hopped in another cab back to the hostel, and this is where I had the "reverse bump start into oncoming traffic" incident that I mentioned before, which resulted in me walking back the last part, a task that took longer than expected due to Plaza Murillo (the square by Parliament and the Presidential Palace) being closed off by riot police due to some of the frequent demonstrations here.

Back at the hostel, I got chatting with a Peruvian guy who had studied in the US called Edi, and a Yank named Pete, a conversation which continued later in the hostel bar, where I got my complimentary nightly glass of their microbrew beer. The company is called Saya, and they brew a handful of beers, of which I tried three that night, the Colonial (they call it a Kolsch, I call it a light summer ale), the Negra (they call it a Bock, I call it mmmm...Malty) and the Stout. I also partook in the night's bar activity, which was Movie Charades - they split us punters into two groups and we had to take it in turns to act out movies picked from a hat. There were supposed to be "punishment shots" when we got things wrong, but everyone got them right for about the first 5 rounds, so they decided to give us the shots anyway! In the end, our team sealed a narrow victory, helped by some truly inspiring mummery (I was quite proud that it only took them about 15 seconds to get me doing "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"!). Some of the guys headed on after this, inspired by Pete's claim that he knew "a really good seedy bar" nearby, whilst I had one of my occasional moments of good sense and headed for the sack.