Hard to Get High


This blog entry about the events of Monday, January 19, 2004 was originally posted on January 20, 2004.

DAY 92: Potosi, the highest city in the world at 13,353 ft. ASL, was supposed to be a “five hour” ride according to the woman I bought my bus ticket from that morning in Uyuni.  However I discovered by the end of the day that getting that high wasn’t as easy as she said.

Originally the British girls Sam and Zoe were going to get a bus with me and continue from Potosi to Sucre, but both of them were feeling sick and decided to stay in Uyuni another day to look for a doctor.  I too had been coughing for most of the previous week — I wasn’t sure if it was the dust in the desert or if I was coming down with bronchitis or something.  To be the safe side, I popped another Cipro antibiotic and chased it with the 100% vitamin C-enriched Tampico fruit drink I had come to like.  I packed my bags and hopped on the bus bound for the mountains.  I was the only foreigner on board, but I welcomed being a lone traveller again after being in big groups for almost two weeks straight with no time to myself.

THE BUS RODE OUT OF TOWN, out of the desert and up the winding roads that zig-zagged through the Cordillera de Chichas mountain range.  Nearby wild llamas trotted outside the window as we drove by.  The bus ascended up and up under the warming sun and everything was fine for hours, until the bus stalled — conveniently near a small village.  The conductor and driver went under the cab and banged on a few things — that solution seems to work wonders in Bolivia — and soon the bus was up and running again.

Despite the fact that the entire journey was along a bumpy, unpaved road, I tried my best to handwrite my journal since I was so behind — it was easy task to do with a bagful of Oreos.  I managed to write coherent chicken scratch until I came to the last page of what Lara called my “pedophile” notebook because of the baby on the cover.  I took a break from writing when the bus stopped in a small town for a lunch break.  I wasn’t hungry after all the Oreos I had, so I opted not to eat and just went for a walk.

WE CONTINUED THROUGH THE DESERT MOUNTAINS and valleys, passing willowing trees and, for one quick moment, a pair of running ostriches.  The bus stopped at seemingly random places in the middle of nowhere to drop off passengers at their request.  The driver continued along a long and winding road, closer and closer to its destination, until it stalled a second time — this time in the middle of nowhere on a desert mountain road. 

The conductor and driver went out again to bang things around, but the engine wouldn’t start.  They banged some more and investigated the fuel tank and fuel lines, but the engine still wouldn’t start.  Two hours of this transpired — a woman knitting a doily started with nothing and eventually made one about a foot in diameter.  I kept my sanity reading the copy of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones that I had gotten in exchange for my Dave Barry book back at the South American Explorers’ clubhouse in Cusco, Peru.  Eventually the day got darker and there was no more light for me to read its pages.

I went outside to take a leak and investigate the progress of the repairs, but I had seen that the conductor and driver were in the front cab, laying back in their chairs, wrapped in blankets.  They knew what I soon realized:  the bus would be our shelter for the night.

NIGHTS IN THE DESERT GET EXTREMELY COLD, especially when that desert is at such a high altitude.  The temperature dropped to what seemed like freezing temperatures, and I kept warm by keeping my arms inside my sweater with the sleeves empty.  I huddled into myself with my bag on my lap and accepted that I was in my “hostel” for the night.  The other passengers also accepted the truth and bundled up, still hoping a magical taxi would come and bring them somewhere warm.  Several gas tanker trucks rode passed in the other direction, but none of them stopped to help us out. 

I heard the pitter-patter of rain on the roof as a storm came through.  There wasn’t much to do — at least we were inside — and I just went to sleep. 

I WAS AWAKEN AROUND 10:30 — it seemed much later — when I saw a red light blinking coming from the front of the bus.  It looked like it was coming from a spaceship or something but I soon realized it was the hazard lights of a cargo truck.  The driver had stopped to pick up anyone who wanted to hitch a ride into town.  Confused, I followed the handful of passengers who seized the opportunity, got my bag from the roof and hopped in the back of the open-roofed trailer with two other Bolivian guys.

THROUGHOUT SOUTH AMERICA, I had seen people ride in the back of big cargo trailers like the one I was in.  I had always seen their heads at the edge of the trailer looking out to the road.  I then knew why they did that:  to keep their balance and prevent them from rolling all around the trailer. 

I drizzle of hail came down from the sky so I put on my rain jacket and hood and tried to keep warm.  Being in a drizzle on a freezing night in the middle of nowhere wasn’t good for my coughing, but at least I was making progress to somewhere — anywhere.  I rode under the night sky, sort of excited that I was doing something out of the ordinary.  I thought to myself, “Hey, I’m like, in the back of a cargo truck right now, at night, in the middle of nowhere across Bolivia.” 

After forty minutes through the mountains in the back of the cargo truck (picture above), I finally saw signs of hope:  the distant night lights of Potosi. 

The truck took us through the industrial suburbs and to the outskirts of the city.  The driver dropped us off at some truck depot area; I had no idea where I was.  Luckily the area wasn’t too deserted; an occasional taxi drove by and I managed to hail one down after a few attempts. 

After the long, tiring day, I told the driver to take me to the company of Jesus — the hostel that is, named “Hostal Compañia de Jesus.”  The description of it in the Lonely Planet made it sound a little bit more than basic, but after what I had been through I decided to go for a little splurge:  a whole extra two bucks over my usual $3 night.  The room was nice — cold, but with many blankets.  There was a black and white TV in the corner and I turned it on to see what was on late night TV.  The reception was crappy but I managed to see part of an Eagles concert where they played “Hotel California,” followed by the music video for George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.”

I tried to figure out if there was some sort of significance of why these two songs came on, so that I could tie them into the conclusion of my blog entry, but I was too tired after my crazy day trying to get to the highest city in the world.  I was just happy to be in a bed rather than cramped in a cold bus in the middle of nowhere.

Next entry: High and On-Line

Previous entry: Back to Reality

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Comments for “Hard to Get High”

  • BLOGREADER WHO ASKED ABOUT MY BAG:  I forgot who asked me for a picture of my bags, but here it is in this entry.  Yup, everything I own, including my electronics, fit conveniently in those two bags.  It’s not too heavy at all…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:10 AM


    MOM & DAD

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:26 AM

  • Now I want Oreos…crazy adventure Erik, glad you made it. So whats it like in the highest city in the world? (besides Linkin Park)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:49 AM

  • Wow, I just realized I beat everyone else…(your parents don’t count cause you were just on the phone with them) tongue laugh

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:52 AM

  • Mom finally got the first entry!

    Your trip was way out of the ordinary. I’m glad you arrived.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  02:10 AM

  • heh. i was way off the mark on that photo…i thought it was a speeding train. (^_^).

    feel better.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:13 PM

  • btw, great title. “Hard to Get High”...haha.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:14 PM

  • That was me who asked for the bags.. thanks for the pic, it looks like you’re packed as much as we did for our 30 day bit thru Europe.  As Rick Steves says.. pack light, pack light!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/22  at  04:33 AM

  • DARCY:  Yes, pack light, roll your clothes, stick them in baggies… you can never have enough baggies!

    I’d have a lesser load if it weren’t for all my electronics, but without them, where would this blog be? wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/22  at  01:10 PM

  • Darcy, Erik: I found that these help reduce your load http://www.spacesaverbag.com, They came in handy when I was traveling through South East Asia.

    Posted by sim  on  01/22  at  02:05 PM

  • SIM/DARCY:  Sam and Zoe told me they met a Japanese girl on a one-year RTW with nothing more than a bag as big as my DAYpack…  Her secret:  “One pair trouser, one pair boots… MINIMAL MINIMAL MINIMAL!!!”

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/22  at  02:20 PM

  • Woah !!! I bet she slept in the nude!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/22  at  02:46 PM

  • And did her laundry in the nude . .

    Posted by Alyson  on  01/22  at  02:56 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.

Next entry:
High and On-Line

Previous entry:
Back to Reality


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The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

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