Monday, 28 May 2012

A Bolivian road trip

Birdgirl enjoying "The Importance of Being Ernest"

A relaxed approach to Maths lessons

From Samaipata we drove further west along the foothills, then south and down into the dry valleys to Saipina. Our destination was the Red-Fronted Macaw Reserve.

This turned out to be the most eventful journey of our trips. After leaving Samaipata, before reaching even the next town, we came around a bend to find the aftermath of a recent accident. An open truck full of bricks had turned over, turning 180 degrees and upside down. A car had already stopped, but there was no ambulance yet. The front windscreen of the truck had fallen out and there were 3 clearly seriously injured people scattered around the vehicle, amongst the bricks. There was also a boy about 12 years old, covered in brick dust, sitting on a pile of bricks. Sandro and Herman ran to the people, whilst we waited helplessly in the vehicle. Our first aid kit seemed completely inadequate and I made a mental promise to attend a first aid course when we returned home. A few minutes later, they returned saying that the boy wanted a lift to the next town. Did they think we might say no? We made space for the boy next to Birdgirl and we set off at speed for the next town. During those 15 minutes, all I could do was wash some of the blood and dust from the boy’s face whilst Birdgirl washed down his arms. He was in shock and finally shed a few tears. As we got into town, he insisted on being dropped at a house surrounded by bricks. I felt terrible letting him go like that, but he clearly wanted to find someone. Who were the people in the truck? His father, his mother or both? We then sped of to the hospital to tell them about the accident. A doctor and nurse were already waiting outside in bright white coats, having already been phoned about the accident, waiting for the ambulance to pick them up. There was nothing more for us to do and we carried on our journey in silence.

I was worried about Birdgirl. Was this one step too far in her travel experiences? After a couple of hours, she said “I’ll never be able to see a brick again without thinking that.”

“I’m sure they looked worse then they were.” I lied. I asked Sandro whether he had seen many accidents like this. He said that he had seen two bad accidents, both on the road between La Paz and Rurrenabaque (where he lives) the first section of which is the World’s Most Dangerous Road. He said that sections are only wide enough for one vehicle and have a steep drop to the side. He said that one time he was on the Rurrenabaque to La Paz bus, when they came across another bus that had gone down the mountainside killing all 40 people on board. He said that his bus had stayed a whole day to get all the dead bodies up from the bus that was 100m below. In his understated way, Sandro described it as being “horrible”. I wondered if people suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder here, or is that only a luxury of the West?
On that sombre note, we all sat quietly for our long journey. Just before Saipina, we stopped for Least Grebe, Birdgirl’s 2400th bird on her world list. She was very pleased. We did not see a Bolivian Earthcreeper and I was less pleased. It was another hour to Saipina and then here we drove two hours west, to the Red-Fronted Macaw Reserve.

The last three hours were dusty in dry desert conditions. It was late and pitch black when we stopped. We were apparently 400m from the lodge but the river was flooded between us and the village. Herman was more optimistic than Sandro about being able to drive across, but as he started to drive into a fast flowing river, the front of the vehicle dropped down into the water and we had to reverse back out. I had visions of spending he night in the vehicle, but Herman was not going to give up so easily. I could hear laughter outside and saw Herman wading across knee high, trying to find a shallow enough path through. Back in the vehicle, Herman drove us into the river and then downstream before crossing and driving along the riverbank and finally up onto a different track. He certainly had nerves of steel.

Our bird mobile

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