Oruru, Backpacking Eight Months On the Road
Bus Through South America
By David Rice
Page Thirty Nine
Backpacking by Bus In South America
Eight Months On the Road
By David Rice
Bad Bus Ride
Now I was on my way north, on my way home.
I had bought a bus ticket to the border town of Villazon in Bolivia but the bus stopped before we reached the border, a demonstration was blocking the road.
We could move no further and we had to leave the bus. I started walking towards the border, not knowing how far it was but when all the passengers left the bus and all started heading for the border beside me, I knew it couldn't be too far. After five miles we reached Villazon and crossed into Bolivia. Next I would be in for the most difficult trip I had on my entire eight months on the road. Although I would be only a day and a half on the road, it would be the worst.
I passed through customs and walked to the bus station where I bought a ticket. I then realized that I had bought the wrong ticket. After a tussle I got the right ticket and I heard the call for the bus to Oruru, my destination.
One seat available at the back proved to be the worst seat on the bus . On the all-night ride I bounced up and down with my head hitting the ceiling of the bus. When the bus would come down, I would come slamming down with it and my body would smack down on the hard torn seats where springs stuck out and the stuffing had been pounded flat.
We would stop at places along the way as we crossed the Southern Altiplano for bathroom breaks. These were interesting stops because the passengers would take to the nearest fence or wall and squat or pee. Ladies squatted next to men in the semi-darkness without embarrassment. Meanwhile chicken and French fries were available from a sidewalk barbecue rotisserie. Otherwise the rest stops had no amenities.
Finally after the most miserable ride of my life we arrived at Ouru around seven in the morning. We were on the Altiplano at a town that was once the capitol of tin mining. Everything was colored dirt red, a complete city of ochre colored buildings. There were 17,0000 people still living in the once-prosperous town which includes a large native Indian population who manage to scrape a bleak living from farming and the little mining that was left in the mountains.
The town still served as a transportation hub for buses throughout Bolivia and would provide my bus transit to the next station. I had time to kill before the next bus so I went into a restaurant near the station where the indigenous people eat but the waitress paid no attention to me and would not serve me. The more I hollered for service the more the waitress would avoid me. I went to another restaurant nearby and the same thing happened.
It came to mind at this time how other races must feel when they suffer discrimination. They wouldn't serve me because I was white and different from them. This was a new experience for me and it proved the value of travel as a means to experience events that would never happen otherwise. Even when events are unpleasant, they teach.
I finally went to the main plaza where a Spanish-speaking waitress served me and I and did get my tacos, beans, rice, and eggs for breakfast.
Oruru was a town used up from the mining operation. Bleak and backward, the town has run out its string and barely hangs on, now serving as the only town on the only road north to Lake Titicaca.
From the high ground in the plaza of Oruru I could read the town's disturbing history: scarred land and gouged out mountains where mining operations had ripped the land apart and left it in a shambles once the ore played out.
Men who looked like me had come here once and taken the treasure from the earth and hadn't even bothered to seal the wound so that the native population could farm again. Now the reluctance of the waitress to serve me made sense. People who looked like me had helped themselves long ago and then abandoned the town leaving only scars and bitterness.