An eventful arrival in La Paz

I guess that when the mindset is wrong, everything else starts to go wrong as well. After getting back to Copacabana, I enjoyed the setting sun from one of the rooftop terraces with view on the lake… while desperately trying to have a proper internet connection. I ultimately abandoned the latter to fully concentrate on the slowly disappearing star. Who cares if your Facebook contacts don’t know that you’re enjoying a gorgeous moment? While you’re typing the news, you’re not really enjoying it. And, at that time, Europe is sleeping anyway. And if the world was falling apart, then I would get to know it eventually and enjoying the moment was still a better option. So far, so good. Trouble didn’t start until the following day.

Signboard at the side of a church when leaving Copacabana.
Signboard at the side of a church when leaving Copacabana.

My next stop was La Paz and getting there would only take me about 3 hours. I left in the morning and enjoyed the first part of the trip especially since, after the motorbike on the railway and the minivan on the tow truck, I got to experience yet another original transportation system: a bus on a flat boat, designed only for that purpose. That allowed us to cross a stretch of water, only a few kilometres away from the Titicaca lake. While the first part was about discovery, the second part of the trip was rather about patience. While the bus was driving full speed (50km/h) towards the Bolivian capital, a sudden bang exploded into our ears and the bus started to zigzag instead of going straight. Flat tyre. Luckily, there was a spare one and in half an hour, we were all set to continue the journey.

We got to La Paz entering the city from the top of the hill, which gave a great view on the city. The contrast with Copacabana was enormous. The crowd. The cars. The buses. All of them mixed together into one messy moving block. I still wasn’t feeling 100%. Not sure if I preferred the loneliness of an island or the loneliness of the city. I was longing to see some familiar faces.

The disadvantage of taking small local buses is that they don’t leave you in those big bus stations, where there are a lot of people  you can ask for  information. I had the address of the hotel but absolutely no idea of where I was in the city. As, of course, I didn’t have a city map. As I was still sorting out my bags, a man came up to me and asked   if I needed a taxi. I normally don’t answer that quickly, rather taking a moment to try to get back on my feet. Trying to see how things work. But this time I gave an immediate “yes”. He put my big backpack in the back of the car and I kept the small one with me.

Shortly after taking off, a lady stopped the taxi and asked   to take her to another hotel. The driver accepted and she climbed in next to me. She started  some small talk, telling me that she was from Ecuador and planning to travel to the salt flat of Uyuni.

About five minutes later, the taxi was stopped again. This time by a man claiming to be a police man controlling tourists on possession of drugs and counterfeit  money. He opened the front door and sat in the passenger seat while the taxi continued its ride. He first   controlled the Ecuadorian woman sitting next to me. Documents, hands, bag,… she showed everything to the police man. Then it was my turn. He checked my hands under the light of his cell phone – which I thought was a bit odd but I didn’t pay more attention to it than that -, then my backpack. I showed him everything I had in there. I even especially opened the more hidden places so that he would be able to have a look at my camera and my computer. He also wanted to control the money, to see if I was using any false bank notes. So I handed out the little pocket that I was always carrying around my waist and which contained my documents, money and credit cards. He checked the notes and showed me how he put them back in the pocket, then handed it back  to me. The taxi suddenly stopped and the driver got out of the car, took my big backpack out – the small one was still in the hands of the police man – and came back to the car. As I was worried that somebody might try to steal it, I had my eyes fixed on it while it was waiting for me on the sidewalk. Then I decided to get out. In two seconds, I got my small backpack back and the car left in a hurry, making a lot of noise and with the trunk still open.

Not until then did I really suspect something was wrong. My first reflex was to check my money. The bastards had stolen  the equivalent of 60 USD in bolivianos. It’s a bummer of course, but not the end of the world. To my relief, I still had my documents and my credit card. My biggest concern was that I was in a totally unknown neighbourhood of an equally unknown city. A dodgy area, at first sight, and I had no idea  of how to get out of there and go to my hotel. Fate did me a favour right then. I guess as a way of making up for the shitty situation it had put me in in the first place. An elderly man   was looking at me. So I explained what just happened and asked if he could help me out. Actually, he had seen the whole scene. As the car had parked in front of his mini-van, he sensed that something suspicious was going on and got closer. That is probably why they left so suddenly. The mini-van of my saviour happened to be a local bus, and it was going in the direction of my hotel. So all I had to do was to step into it and wait for him to tell me I had arrived.

 

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