Day 42. Bloqueos (Roadblocks) entre La Paz y Cochabamba
Possibly one of the craziest experiences of my life was today. I don’t believe I have ever done something so drastic with such uncertainty. I’ll explain…
At 4am this morning, our bus driver pulled over on the side of the road. Next he turned off the bus. We were 2 hours away from Cochabamba. In my mind I was brought back to an experience I had read about in which a foreigner was trying to cross the border from Chile to Bolivia. Once the bus approached the border, the bus pulled over and turned if off because the border control office was closed until morning. The driver and other passengers were fully aware of this procedure as they all pulled out their blankets and ponchos for their 6 hour nap in the cold bus. The foreigner basically froze to death and did not sleep… Back to reality, I was thinking the bus was waiting for something and that this was normal for them to stop on this route. I fell back asleep (freezing of course with no blanket).
I kept getting woken up by passengers talking, walking and leaving the bus. I decided to step out for a second to see what was going on. It was still dark out, probably 5am. I saw a long line of buses and trucks in a line and I asked a wanderer what was going on. He told me there was some blockade set up that wasn’t allowing the traffic through. He thought the blockade would be lifted soon. I went back to sleep.
This time I woke up around 8:30am with the sun coming through. By now there were people walking everywhere along the road. As far as I could see, the traffic lines were backed up many kilometers. I got out of the bus to take photos of the madness.
Talking to those who had been walking in the opposite direction that we had been going, I found out that there were three blockades that had been set over a 15km section. The campesinos (farmers) had started a strike and basically were demanding more land from the government. To make a splash and be heard by all, the campesinos decided they would pick this particular day that Tallon, I and thousands of other travelers had designated to throw boulders on the road.
We were presented with a very usual predicament. The time was 9am and the buses had not moved an inch in the past 5 hours nor would they move in the next 5 hours or more. After much deliberation, Tallon and I figured we’d try to do the travel on foot, get past the blockades and above all, hopefully catch some transportation to Cochabamba. Grabbing our bags from the bus’s storage compartment, we hit the road walking not knowing what lied ahead.
Along the way, we see hundreds/thousands of passengers outside waiting beside their buses. Certain travelers actually packed food products to sell and they decided to take advantage of the situation of selling the products to the stranded people. I picked up a few candies as we had no idea when our next meal would come.
We walked and walked past hundreds of vehicles. We passed areas where large sections of the road had rocks strategically placed. Then we hit the first major blockade, There were huge rocks and burning tires covering the entire road. The campesinos were congregated around the area. We were able to walk through unscathed.
About 2-3km later, we ran into the next big blockade. This patch of road was the worst of the blockades. As we walked through, there were campesinos posted up on the sides of the rock walls almost ready to start throwing rocks at the passerby’s. We seen an old man still picking up rocks and placing them on the street. Finally we reached the other side of the blockade which was the start of the stranded oncoming traffic.
We walked and walked past hundreds of vehicles again. In total we probably walked 15km which took a little 2 hours. By this time, the city of Cochabamba was aware of the situation and therefore had been sending taxis up to get those willing to pay a ride back to Cochabamba. It was aggravating after countless taxis were already full. Finally, we found an empty taxi and 7 of us jumped in with all our baggage.
We made it Cochabamba about an hour and a half later. We got dropped off at the bus terminal. Starving to death (and because I’ve been craving a salteña forever), we picked up a salteña to eat. It was delicious. Trying to get to my Grandma Teresa’s house, we hopped in a taxi and arrived at her house 6 hours late.
Knocking on her door, I could hear her exclaiming that we arrived. She opened the door and it was great to see her. After a while of explaining everything, I was quick to calling my family to let them know what happened.
My grandma, knowing my craving for saltenias, ordered 8 salteñas from a highly recommended restaurant. The salteñas were delivered and we revived ourselves with food and drink. After, that we went to a local internet café to knock out some work and check out other important stuff.
From there we went with my grandma to the giant Jesus statue. It’s bigger then the Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The view of Cochabamba from the top of the hill was great.
After that we went to Plaza Colon to pass the time before dinner. We saw my grandma’s great-grandfather Nathaniel Aguirre’s statue. After that we went to the Sillpancho Palacio for dinner. Sillpancho is a typical dish from Cochabamba. It’s like a chicken-fried steak with rice and potatoes underneath and an egg on top, actually pretty good food.
We got home and my grandma had invited some the friends over to meet us. They arrived around 8:30pm and we had a good time talking with everyone. We were able to show them photos and videos from our trip thus far. A few hours later, everyone left for their homes and we cleaned up the house. My mom’s mom lives in a populated neighborhood and so we fell asleep to the sounds of the night-goers yelling.