La Paz, Bolivia
16° 30' S 68° 9' W
Mar 11, 2006 18:14
Distance 235km

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Text written in: English

(We think) we're leaving on a jet plane

I'd like to say we didn't bat an eyelid when, after calling into the bank to haul out a barrowload of cash in crisp Bolivian tenners we pitched up at the airline office to be told our reservations had been cancelled. Truth is, we were a bit ticked off. The woman from Incaland tours tried her best to convince them that we had a connecting flight in La Paz and there was no chance we could miss this. If there was a JPEG in the wikipedia entry for "couldn't give a rat's ass", it would be of the pasty mush of this desk-jockey as he twiddled his pen and said his hands were tied, as a medical emergency had cropped up and the patient needed to be whisked back to the capital ASAP. In retrospect, he may have been better boking himself onto the next horse and cart out of Rurre, given how wont their planes are to simply not get where they're supposed to go, but we wish him a speedy recovery and bear no ill will for having been turfed out to accommodate him. No, our hatred is mostly reserved for the ignoble tosspot who informed us, through lie-encrusted teeth that if we had paid up the previous day, (with magic beans, presumably, as the triumverate of credit-card company logos on thir front wall seem to be strictly decorative) we wouldn't have been cancelled. Presumably if we'd paid out the moolah by whatever means, the heartless bastards would have left the heart-attack victim to die on his gurney, and I'd hate to have that on my conscience. We were bumped to the 6.45pm flight.

Another roasting afternoon in the ever-shrinking town, and there's little to do but sleep, as financial resources are depleted and energy is at a new low. The alarm sounds at 5ish and we duly check out, then walk the few blocks to the office. Outside we re-meet the obviously annoyed Belgian girls from Huacachina and the pampas who shake their heads and inform us we're not going anywhere. Less amazed than severely pissed off, we join our three would-be travel companions in entering the office to find out what exactly is going down. "Bad weather" is all we can get out of the guppy-faced moron at the desk, pen a-twiddling and mind on his dinner. Producing what looks like a child's First Big Book of Airplanes, he informs us that as the flight is cancelled due to inclement weather, they're under no obligation to put us up for the night, much less apologise for the inconvenience. This despite the fact the sun hasn't checked out for a second in Rurre all day and the skies are blue above La Paz. But no, according to Pudgy's latest fabulation, it's pouring in Cobija, a town a thousand clicks north on the Brazilian border, and so they can't get the plane to Rurre and thence to La Paz. Utter rot, as this so-called bad weather is completely irrelevant to our flight path, any more than the fact it's raining outside the pilot's house is a reason for him not showing up to fly the plane, an analogy Porky claims is absurd. As absurd as his imaginary card-reader, his colour-by-numbers Imaginary Airline Rules book and the idea that it's raining in Cobija, I point out, at which point he gets snotty. The five of us are hassling him for a free hotel room and a bit of grub, and he's starting to feel the heat. He repeats his preposterous ill-reasoning about the cancellation and we bring up the subject of the morning's cancelled flights. "We didn't cancel your flight, just your reservation", is the helpful contribution of his colleague, who interjects once more when we point out the failure to pay the previous day was down to their false claims to a credit-card machine she pipes up "We do have a machine, it just doesn't work". When Chubby runs out of inanities to offer in lieu of reasoned arguing, valid excuses or a heartfelt apology, he summons forth security, in the shape of a bumfluffed seventeen-year-old military service conscript, all of five feet four and armed with a stick, seeing his first action in his long months of front-door guarding. It's hard not to laugh, as he starts to tug ineffectually on my sleeve, or pat him on the head as I assure him there won't be any trouble and he can go back to saluting sandflies outside. Eventually, under the imminent threat of all five of us following him home and taking his bed, sofa and spare room, Fatso caves and accords us a hotel room for the night and a shuttle pick-up at six-thirty next morning for a flight that may by some miracle take place. The place is one of the swankiest in Rurrenabaque, with hammocks, huge en-suite rooms and a big garden for lazing in. Dinner and wine would have been nice, but we're eventually content with this small victory.

6.30 comes and goes with no bus. At seven, the owner of the hostel offers to ring Amaszonas and see what the crack is. They're on their way apparently, and presumably still are twenty minutes later, navigating the 500 metres from office to hotel. When they next ring, it's to say they don't actually have a plane but that one might be coming in from La Paz, weather permitting. Miraculously, the plane is arriving, though not for another hour or so, and our bus shows up to take us to the airstrip. It stops by the office first, though, to pick up four more passengers and they then ask us for five bolivianos each for the trip to the airport. So much for complemintary. At the airfield - literally a field, with some humid air - we check in our bags with the same staff that booked, cancelled, recancelled and finally came good on our tickets, then queue up twice more to pay two separate, ridiculous taxes, one of which is to maintain the airport (i.e. oil the lawnmower) and the other to promote tourism (hopefully by having all of Amaszonas' staff fired), neither of which are applicable to Bolivians who presumably don't care if the runway's grass is mown or any visitors come to this delightful northern town. We finally board, and it's looking good for an arrival it La Paz sometime that morning, until the pilot revs up and only one engine responds. We're treated to the sight of the desk-clerk/check-in official/air-hostess tugging on the propellor, her heels sinking into the turf of the runway, then the co-pilot vainly urging the reluctant helix into motion. Somehow, their collective efforts results in two working engines, albeit running at different speeds, and in no time we're airborne. Twenty minutes into the flight, the co-pilot pulls out a thick manual and starts examining some of the controls as though it's the first time he's seen them in his life. He's only the co-pilot, though, and as long as his colleague has a couple of hours actual flying time under his belt and hasn't been at the table wine yet this morning, we've little to worry about.

An hour later, and we're in El Alto, the satellite city overlooking La Paz and we're soon cruising into town, stashing our bags in the Carretero and arranging to meet Vera once again, after a month's separation, downtown. As luck would have it, Manu Chao is playing in town the next night, and tickets are on sale at six euros apiece. Every single person in the hostel is going, and a few long-lost faces from Cuzco show up just for the event. The concert is great, as you'd expect, and the atmosphere top-notch in the open air theatre, and a great way to say a last goodbye to La Paz, a city we've grown to love despite its wacky ways and heart-straining steep streets. Security is lax, to say the least, and over the course of the night dozens of well-wishers and spotlight-hoggers broach the invisible cordon and leap on stage, variously throwing shapes, hugging and kissing the man himself and offering gifts of Bolivian flags, Manu Chao t-shirts (like he doesn't have any of those already) and, I believe, underwear. In a curious twist of fate, Oscar the drum-maker from Qoya makes several brief appearances, before being gently asked if he wouldn't mind leaving by the burly, but friendly bald blokes in tight t-shirts.

Despite plans to the contrary, we find La Paz grabbing our ankles like a unwilling toddler on the first day of playschool and we stay another night, chillin' with da homiez and that sort of thing.

Photos / videos of "(We think) we're leaving on a jet plane":

inside the teeny plane cleanliness is next to dodginess The freshly-mown runway of Rurre The guys who take you where you want to go (exluding the 275 passengers killed so far) This is the bigger of the two planes serving the route The ticket