Hint: Don’t take the road that’s 15 times cheaper – because it will be due to the risk of imminent death…
First of all, you need to get to Rurrenabaque – a pain to try to pronounce, but a lovely little village 400km from La Paz nonetheless.
And, if you’re batshit crazy like us, take one of the deadliest roads in the world, in a rickety old bus, where a week earlier a bus had gone over the edge and killed a bunch of people. But when it’s barely one-sixth of the price of a plane ticket – taking our lives into our own hands all seemed worth it at the time. Especially as we showed up for the bus ride, hungover and with green paint smeared all over our faces, from celebrating far too hard after making it down Death Road via bike. Yes, as if it wasn’t enough that we could’ve careered over the edge on two wheels, we were now going to give it a go on six.
About an hour into the trip I was already pledging my entire life savings towards any other mode of transport to get there. I’d walk if someone would let me out of that goddamn oversized tin can, teetering dangerously close an edge that was really a sheer cliff at least a kilometre from the ground. I, of course, had luckily landed myself the coveted window seat. Every time I glanced out the side of the bus, I had to convince myself we were still on solid ground, and not falling through mid-air. It was impossible to see and evidence of a road, we must have been centimetres from the edge. At one point, we had to reverse to let a car coming the other way through. I almost passed out at the thought of what manoeuvring across a road barely wider than a single driveway involved, and if our driver was alert enough to handle it
Thank god we only had EIGHTEEN TO TWENTY-NINE HOURS of this left.
Somewhere along the way, we heard chirping from above us and one of the passengers stuck their neck out the window to inspect the luggage crammed onto the roof. Alas, an entire box of tiny chicks had managed to free themselves from captivity and were roaming free on the roof of the bus. One fell from its perch on a corner our driver took particularly erratically, mercifully caught by a man who’d taken it upon himself to guard the wayward chicks for the rest of the drive – his head stuck out the window at a right angle, overseeing the sheer drop below.
I remember taking two sleeping pills to knock myself out. When this didn’t work – possibly because of my irrevocable shaking and sheer terror racing through my mind – I took a third. It was only fitting that five minutes later we’d stop for a dinner stop and I’d be rudely awoken and forced off the bus, left to stumble haphazardly through town, spaced out at the worst possible time. I slept the rest of the way, dreaming of chicks raining from the sky.
God knows how many hours later, I woke up with the commotion of everyone exiting the bus. We’d made it to Rurrenabaque. Not only had we lived to tell the tale, but the chicks were still there too – somehow having bunkered down behind the suitcases and surviving being swept off the roof. There was a lot of whooping and clapping at that point.
Not enough for us to even contemplate returning via the same route. Once we’d ditched our bags at the hostel, we went immediately to an airline ticket counter and forked over more money than we’d spent in two weeks for a seat on a plane back to La Paz.
While there’s certainly less ‘We’re very much going to die’ moments, there’s not many merits to this mode of transport, either. You’ll check in in a tiny garden shed set on a patch of tarmac in an overgrown grassy field, and then wait – scattered sporadically – in said grassy field. You’ll enter the tiny tin can with wings, and wonder if you should’ve taken the bus not fit for the road back; there was still less air to fall through. But, after a smooth takeoff and relatively smooth (and short; about 40 minutes. Why we insisted on bussing, I’ll never remember) flight, you’ll have an exceptional view over the undulating hills holding La Paz.
Regardless, you’ll still look around bewilderingly as the passengers clap upon landing.