Monthly Archives: December 2016

Oruro to La Falda in 52 hours

Oruro is a fairly nondescript altiplano town, but the roads are such that almost everyone travelling in Bolivia passes through. Our memories from 2012 are mostly of going to the market in the morning and having our first ever api and bunuelo. Oruro is also the town with a huge Carnival celebration in February, though, and it seems they also do it up big for Christmas. We got to Oruro around 7 after a 4 hour bus ride from La Paz, found a hotel at which to drop our mountain of bags, and wandered out into the streets. We found blocks and blocks of streets closed to traffic, and in the plazas, food, performers, lights, and a long long line to talk to Santa and have your picture taken with a stuffed polar bear.

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The 145-foot-tall Virgen de Socavon, built on a mountain overlooking Oruro in 2013.

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Walking through the market in Oruro, Leticia spied a fruit we had never seen before. Ocoro! (That white thing comes from inside the poky yellow outside; it has a big seed in it.)

The next day we had the morning to walk a bit before getting our truckload of stuff to the train station. They looked a little surprised when we checked in 6 huge bags, but they let it go. We lightened the load a little by eating more of the food from the UMSA Christmas basket, had our last tucumanas in Bolivia, and were on the train at 2.

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Guardaequipaje (luggage storage) at Oruro train station.

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Peaches, crackers, tuna at the Oruro train station. (Thanks, FEDSIDUMSA!)

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Waiting for the train to leave Oruro, we were treated to Spanish pop hits and ballads from the 70s and 80s. Unforgettable.

The train pulled out exactly at 2:30, the only transport we have found in Bolivia that leaves on schedule. We were in no hurry for that to happen, though, as we were entranced by a succession of vintage music videos. You owe it to yourself to spend a few minutes with Donde Estan Tus Ojos Negros?, which is like a message from a parallel universe. I still have it running through my head, and I’ve learned to play it on guitar. Look for it at every gig I play in 2017.

The train goes through lots of empty land, some of which used to be near Lake Poopo (pronounced POE-OH-POE), which was once the second largest lake in Bolivia but is now almost gone, a victim of water being diverted for irrigation and mining. Here are some views – one has flamingos.

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We had supper on the train (there was even a vegetarian option! OK, it was egg, rice, and fries, but still) and watched four movies with varying levels of interest before drifting off to sleep. A few of us woke up in Tupiza, where the train switched tracks, and where we bought such good humitas in 2012. (At 4am, the humita lady wasn’t in the station.) About an hour after sunrise we pulled into the station at Villazon, at the Argentine border.

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Villazon, the end of the line, just north of the Argentine border.

We got a station wagon cab that stuffed our wagonload of baggage into the back, leaving the hatch open, and drove the mile or so to the frontier. We hadn’t had breakfast, but figured it would make sense to try to get through before things got busy. Two hours later, Paul was still in line and the others were guarding our herd of backpacks. Two hours after that, Paul was in process of paying the fines for overstaying our time in Bolivia (it was worth it),Leticia was in another line, this one for entrance into Argentina, and Anna and Zeke were somewhere in between, protecting our pile of pertenencias. After that, it was one more line, in which our small army of bags was scanned. The trunk with the padlock attracted special attention, and they asked what was in it, but didn’t open it. For the nth time officials couldn’t understand why we had so much stuff, and for the nth time we explained that we were (more or less) moving house from Bolivia to Argentina.

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Anna and Zeke guarding our mountain of luggage at the border, where we spend 5 hours waiting in lines and paying fines.

Once across the border, it took our usual shuttling operation (which takes at least three people big enough to fight over a bag or scream bloody murder if necessary) to get the bags down to the taxi stand, where a succession of taxi drivers looked at our tired hungry faces and our small shipping-container sized load of stuff and decided they wanted nothing to do with us. Eventually we got to the bus station, where we got a bus for a few hours later to Jujuy, left the bags to fill the office of one bus company, and went to find some lunch. It was 2pm by the time food arrived, barely averting a meltdown into a puddle of low-blood-sugar induced misery.

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This is the station in La Quiaca, on the Argentine side of the border. Once upon a time you could take the train all the way to Cordoba (and then on to Buenos Aires).

And after that it was better. We got to Jujuy around 9pm, after a bus ride that included two or three stops by customs officials. Only once did I have to get off the bus and explain what was in the trunk with the padlock (dishes, clothes, books). We figured that after a night of sleeping on the train, we’d all be tired enough that we’d sleep soundly during a night on the bus. And that mostly happened, and as day broke we bore on southward toward Cordoba. For the first time, they weren’t happy about our epic stack of luggage and charged us extra (about $4 total). We got to Cordoba around 3, found some food in the bus station, and within an hour were on the bus to La Falda. I was looking forward to this part of the trip – I still remember well the ride from the airport with Felipe in 2007 when we came to spend a year here – but I fell asleep and missed most of it.

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Exciting times around midnight at the shiny new Jujuy bus station.

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Before too long we were in La Falda, where I went and found two taxis willing to take our mule-train worth of stuff to the corner lot were Pat and Hector’s new house is, and where Leon and Louisa live in the old house. We got in around 6:30pm on December 18th, 52 hours after the train left Oruro, and 75 hours after pulling away from the apartment in Pasaje Gasco. It felt good.

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Leaving La Paz

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The last few days in La Paz were bittersweet, as we tried to do various things one last time  and tried to soak up as much as we could. In my number theory class, my students took me completely by surprise by having a small party immediately after the last exam and giving me a backpack. The whole experience of teaching at the UMSA (while having its hard moments, and with my usual doubts of how well I’m teaching) has been all I could have hoped for.
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We made the most of the last few days. We covered 13 miles on foot on Saturday, ten of it out of town from Chasquipampa toward Ventilla, then a few more walking down to the Christmas parade on the Prado. On Monday we went to the big stadium in La Paz for a football game, and saw Strongest beat Nacional Potosi 7-2, making the home fans happy. (Nine goals in a game!) Tuesday we had supper with my colleague Oscar and his wife Mercedes, the only time we were invited to eat at someone’s house in our 5 months in La Paz. After being told by the whole world not to forget to pick up my Christmas basket, we made the trip down to Cota Cota to get it. It turned out to be not a basket but a wheeled cart, filled with groceries, snacks, treats, and a bottle each of wine and rum. On Wednesday we had a last supper at Marrakech, our favorite Moroccan restaurant (and perhaps our favorite in general) in La Paz.
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Mixed with all of this was the last of my grading and logistical work of the end of the semester, plenty of goodbyes at the university, and cleaning and packing on the home front. We had originally planned to send one checked bag home with Tenaja, but when she had to leave early on crutches and with an injured knee, we didn’t really feel we could in good conscience send an extra bag with her. So there was everything we came with plus all we had accumulated minus what we managed to give away in the last week.
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December 15 was moving day. We were up early to work on the last of the cleaning and packing. We worked hard and fast, checking time every half hour or so. At times I felt I could hardly breathe. Leticia was the mastermind, and somehow got everything packed by noon. We had, though, 5 large bags and 8 small bags, more than we could pick up and carry in one trip. This went down to 5 and 7 after eating lunch, but it was still a ton. Ivonne, our landlord, was nice enough to let us finish up on our own time after settling up, and we got the last of the stuff out and I went to get two taxis (4 of us, plus all the stuff, doesn’t fit in one.) We said farewell to Primo the security guard, Alina the building’s cleaning lady, and our neighbor Ramiro, who pulled up as we were loading. I would have liked it to be a little calmer, but we needed to be off. The taxis took us to the bus station, and helpfully parked right at the correct bus stall, meaning we didn’t have to shuttle our mound of baggage across the station. At 3:30 in the afternoon we were off to Oruro.
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Looking northeast from our bedroom window on Pasaje Gasco.

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