The International Journal of Sport and Leisure
(Some sport. Some leisure. Also, schistosomiasis.)
Galapagos Islands (5)
About Me (1)
Ecuador: Quito (5)
Honduras: Utila (4)
Rio de Janeiro (2)
South Africa (13)
Temporary Update (1)
* South of Durban
* Escape from the Cape
* Skydiving for Bacon
* Rage Against the Machine
* Bite Me
* Africa Cold
* Scum-Dodging on Long Street
* Cable Cars, Lentil Soup and Bart Simpson
* Cape Town
* Cape Drear
* Lows of Travel ("Welcome to Africa")
* High Entertainment
* Paradise or Miami Vice? (Part 2 of 2)
* Paradise or Miami Vice? (Part 1 of 2)
* Don't Make Me Cry, Argentina
* Hago el Vago en Buenos Aires (Part III: Final Week)
* Gloom at the Top
* Its The End Of The World As I Know It
* Perito Moreno Glacier
January 03, 2005
Bungle, No Jungle
La Paz, Bolivia
Monday, January 3, 2005:
I woke up at 4:45 to pack my bags and catch a taxi to the airport for my flight to Rurrenabaque, a town of 15,000 people some 190 miles north of La Paz in the Amazon basin. Nearly half of Bolivia (the north) is comprised of rainforest, much of it still relatively unaffected by the deforestation and development that is the cause of so much concern in countries such as Brazil. Rurre is considered one of the best places to organize an excursion into the jungle or the flatlands (pampas) along the Beni River.
At the suggestion of the owners of the tour company that had booked me my flight with TAM (Transporte Aereo Militar), the airline run by the Bolivian airforce, I had left a note for a British girl named Joanne who would also be on the flight, asking if she wanted to share a taxi to the airport. She had sent an e-mail agreeing and so I hailed a taxi and had it take me the several blocks to where she was staying. At 5:45 she came out of her hotel, along with a younger English guy named Chris, who she had just met in the lobby. As it turned out, he was also flying that morning with TAM.
We reached the airport used by TAM at approximately 6:20. It was in a facility that appeared to be heavily guarded by the military, with several checkpoints in front and a visible presence of troops. Other flights fly out of La Pazīs main airport, but TAM has its own separate runway and complex. The terminal was small and utterly no-frills. There was no chance of getting lost --- your flight would depart from Gate 1, Gate 1 or Gate 1. Care to purchase a newspaper or a frappuchino while you wait for your plane? Tough.
We got in the first and only line that we saw. It was boarding passengers to Tarija, in the south, but a man in a uniform directed us to wait there as well. After several minutes, however, another man behind the desk shouted to us that all passengers to Rurrenabaque should sit down and wait. We did so.
At approximately 7:00, we began to get slightly apprehensive. Check-in was supposed to be at 6:30, so it seemed we were definitely running behind schedule. Still, we waited patiently and talked. Joanne asked me if I had quit my job to travel and if I missed working. "Yes and not really," I told her. "What did you do?" she asked me. "Corporate lawyer." "Ugh," she said, "thatīs what Iīm going to be starting as when I get back to London." For the time being, however, she was traveling through South America for two months with her boyfriend. He was convalescing in bed with a stomache bug but would be joining her later on, as soon as he felt better and could book a ticket (they had been unable to purchase tickets on the same flight together). Chris, on the other hand, was a Cambridge University student studying French and Portugese and spending the year in a program in Brazil, a few hours away from Recife. He was traveling for a few months during a break in his classes and planned to make his way from Rurrenbaque up to the Brazilian border and back home via a 7-day (or more) boat trip up the Amazon (impressively enough, in addition to French and Portugese, he was also fluent in Spanish and had a working knowledge of Russian).
At 7:30, the flight to Tarija departed. We still had no clue as to what was happening. There had been no announcement and nobody with TAM seemed concerned with apprising passengers of what was going on. I headed up to the ticket counter and asked the man what the situation was.
"Come back to the counter at 9:00," he told me. He did not elaborate. We had to wait.
We waited. There was a very small cafe in the back of the building and we wandered in and ordered what was on the menu: coffees, teas and egg sandwiches. When we returned to the waiting area at 9:00, there wasnīt a soul to be seen at the ticket booth. Joanne revealed that she had stashed a travel monopoly game in her rucksack and, bored beyond belief in the cold, dark and spartan confines of the terminal, we sat down on the floor and broke out the pieces. We figured that we would be interrupted at any moment by a boarding announcement, but we werenīt. At 9:45, Chris went up to the counter and was told that we would have to wait until 2:00 PM to see if there would be a flight. It was raining heavily around Rurre, he was told, and there was no way of knowing whether we could fly there until later on in the day. This all jived with what Lonely Planet and the tour company that had booked the flight had said about TAM: Flights were unreliable and subject to delay and cancellation with great frequency. The German owner of the tour company had gone so far as to say that weather conditions would be cited even when there was no rain at all in the jungle. It could be that the pilot didnīt turn up or that there were mechanical difficulties at play. Chris revealed that when he asked the German what the best airline to fly to Rurre was, he had replied, in his booming bark of a voice: "ZEY ARE ALL TERRIBLE, BUT TAM IZ DA CHEAPEST!!!"
We continued to play Monopoly. Chris won (a fluke, an absolute fluke). We then headed back to the cafe for lunch and several hours worth of card games.
We returned to La Paz. Joanne discovered that her boyfriend had managed to fly to Rurrenabaque aboard another airline; he had made it without incident. She tried to book another flight on that same airline for later in the day. Chris and I were wiped out and skeptical as to her chances. We checked into a hotel where we ran into one of Chrisīs friends, Jay, from Australia. Jay was deliberating over whether to fly to the jungle and, in a few moments, we talked him into it and got ourselves a triple room that looked not unlike a section from a hospital ward (three bleak little beds lined up in a row).
That night we went to a cafe where we masochistically decided to split 9 different types of pie they had on display between the three of us. There were 3 pies on 3 different shelves and we decided that each person had a first, second and third pick of pie, provided one pie had to come from each shelf. The end result of the exercise was deserved illness all around. I suffered through an enormous slice of desert-dry banana-bread cake as my third pick and do not know if I will ever be able to eat banana-bread, cake, bananas or bread again. I do know that I can eat more cake than Australians and English Uni students.
Posted by Joshua on January 3, 2005 03:47 PM
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