23-24 October, Villazon to Buenos Aires, Argentina
I get up and get organized. I asked the owner of the hotel if I can get boiled water for my thermos. He hugs me (a bit too tightly) and I pull away. This guy is married and a bit of a worry I thought. But I am old enough to handle myself. I thanked him for the accommodation even though it was dirty, no running water in the bathroom, doors didn’t close properly (locked by padlock) and I doubt the sheets are washed. It was only 30 bolivianos so I got what I paid for. I wasn’t upset, my main mission is to get to Argentina.
I got to the bus place and paper work is filled out. I don’t have much in the way of money but just enough to buy breakfast a bread with cheese inside it and sweet tea. I get on the bus and to my astonishment I am not downstairs (where I can lie down on seats, long trip) I am upstairs at the back of the bus right in the middle of the back seat. There is no foot rest and you are cooped up between people, no view out the window. I communicated my dissatisfaction but this is South America, you just have to go with it. I resign myself to this and perhaps another sleepless night. It is really uncomfortable trying to sleep upright and I was worried I may get sick as a cold is coming on. This happens to me a lot when I travel for long periods.
We get on the bus travel for 5 minutes then everyone is told to get off. I don’t know what is going on as I don’t speak Spanish. I realise that Villazon is a border town between Bolivia and Argentina. I haven’t had access to a map so I didn’t realise. You can walk across the border. I found out later I would have been better off buying my ticket in Argentina and walking across solo. However, I don’t know where I would buy it as it is a semi desert area as you cross the border. Turns out we spent 6 hours waiting to get through immigration. They made us wait hours then took all our bags off the bus and went through everything. The Customs guy liked my juggling clubs and indicated to others that they were for juggling. He smiled.
I waited with the others having cleared customs with a 90 day visa (fortunately at no cost). I sat under a tree overlooking the group on a hilly bit. Then a guy sits next to me and I notice him bending over. He is sick. I find this out quickly grabbed a woman (reluctantly came) and told her we need a medico. I get her to translate but I push her to make the officals listen. I can see she lacks confidence and doesn’t want to get involved. I found this powerlessness interesting. However, I needed a translator and the message was conveyed. Eventually a doctor came and talked to the people. I found a passer by and asked him to translate for me. What interested me is that he told the people if they are sick to come to him. The guy who was sick wasn’t there and when I saw him I noticed no-one help him. I made sure that he understood a doctor was available through the guy translating for me (he was Argentinean). I felt that as powerlessness. I could be wrong but that was an impression in the moment. A police guy came up to me curious about me, as I am the only westerner on the bus. I told him I was Australian and told him of my trip and laughingly said I may swim back to Australia. He smiled and we shook hands. They are very curious particularly about Australians, we are popular around the world, that has been very clear to me.
I got on the bus and was happy to see a Bano. There was no water but that is usual. Just have to make do. Some paper was there so I took a little bit. I sat up the back and talked to the people around me. We were able to talk about my trip and they understood. The guy sitting next to me was in construction and going to work in Argentina and the other side was a student studying Agricultural Economics. I gave him Bill Mollison’s contact for permaculture. The old method of agriculture is actually creating desertification and creates an imbalance in the ecosystem, so hopefully I can lead him to responsible food production.
It is 1909 km to Buenos Aires, so this is a long trip at least 16 hours. As we crossed the border I could see the countryside was very dry, open flat grasslands with tuffs of bushes and grasses. The mountains were in their grandure in the background. I wondered at climate change. It looked to me if it was in undergoing a process of desertification. The sun was hot through the window even though we are in winter. I did enquire (when I came to Argentina) if there is drought here and I am told is it naturally dry (not climate change). I noticed a lot of tanks on houses. I am told that this is part of the water system that pumps into tanks as a reserve and also has piped water. The water comes from rivers or underground bore water. The mineral water comes from the Andes or Patagonia. I also noticed dried up river beds and drainage pipes with no water. The clouds were wispy and not fluffy, I wondered what caused that. I also reflected on the Amazon and wondered about changes in land use and climate.
I found many friendly smiles on the bus and I did have a few conflicts, which I laugh about. I am a person that says what I think but I do have much to learn about not getting upset about it, learning to speak my truth in a way that is not judgemental. I am learning and at least aware, this is the beginning of change for me.
I noticed the hostess on the bus did a lot of work. She organized all the visa applications, handwriting all of them (illiteracy issue). She monitored all the passengers made sure she didn’t lose any. She delivered the food and then poured hot tea and coffee twisting her arm to pick up a large bottle to pour liquid as we went on a rocky bus. I wondered at her getting a strain injury, I am sure occupational health and safety is not an issue here. I contemplated how women often get the administrative jobs and waitress, the men just drove the bus. I find it interesting to look at gender roles and who we think we are and what we are capable of. In truth men and women are capable of doing the same thing with the exception of heavy lifting, the rest all have the capability for. So I am always interested in the lifestyles and work of men and women and the notion of equality. This for me is essential for peace and harmony. I really see equality as one of the most important issues of our time. I find it fascinating how the economic system divides people on so many levels. The child rearing of women has definitely curtailed there ability to join in as equals, they are very preoccupied. I did see on guy in La Paz with a baby strapped to his body which was amazing for this part of the world. So things are changing slowly. Perhaps that is globalization and television. I’d be curious to know.
We were stopped three times by government officials. We had 6 hours at Customs, 2 hours at drug control and 1 hour at Agricultural pests control. Altogether we spent 9 hours having our luggage checked. I did speak up at the final stop and told the officials that we had 9 hours and was this normal, they said yes, I said then I am in Argentina once. The people were all watching me and I could see the smiles as I spoke up. The one who can’t speak the language, the hot head aussie. I have no fear and I feel it is being Australian, we are just used to speaking up and not getting taken away, in other countries there is great fear around authority, I feel particularly for indigenous or poorer people. The Bolivians are mostly illiterate and uneducated so they would be easier to control. We aussies are probably just too used to freedom. I am seeing the freedoms in my own country and am happy I grew up there. I love openness and honesty. Yet I realise a lot of people are afraid to speak up. One of the officers was funny he had a little whistle that sounded like squeaky shoes. I asked what it was he said ‘a toy’. I told him I am a clown and he laughed and wished me well. So I did get to have a little smile with them. I reflected on myself later and thought, maybe it is better to just allow life to be what it is. But I guess I spoke up as I felt to and who knows the ripple effects. We all make a difference no matter how small the incident. Our minds are like sand and impressions are made as the kaleidoscope of life passes us by.
I remember we stopped for another Bano stop and it was night time. The toilets in Argentina appear modern. I went up to have a wash and clean my teeth but the guy handing out toilet paper is saying I have to pay 1 peso. I am saying to him I have no money, he is dismissing me and telling me to go to public toilets. I am unimpressed by this as in Australia they would say just go. I am placing my own cultural expectations over the local ones here. I can see this as I challenge him. However, he doesn’t budge and I go to the public ones, which were pretty good.
The bus trip overnight was good and I did find myself sleeping on and off to my amazement wedged between two guys. I also listened to music and occasionally went downstairs to look out the window next to the toilet. It was like my other private space. I enjoyed watching the mountains and reflecting.
The Andes are spectacular in a way I cannot describe. I was astounded at the size and range of colours. Some were red, green, brown, green tinges, jiggered rock and others were all shapes and sizes. I just couldn’t take my eyes off them and found myself leaning across people to get a photo. I also took some footage. I am so glad I did as the sun came down and I wasn’t able to see anymore. As we were delayed there was much I didn’t see but thankfully saw enough to be blown away. More spectacular than the Swiss alps. Really remarkable. On the bus they played American movies dubbed in Spanish. Unfortunately there was no English subtitles so I just listened to Erkhart Tolle’s interview with Oprah Whinfrey on my ipod. He was the author of the Power of Now and A New Earth. He speaks of living in the now moment and his own personal transformation where he recognized the difference between his ego and the consciousness beyond. He speaks of awakening and Oprah said she considers awakening the most important topic to be discussed. What is awakening, it is to see we are not who we think we are, that our lives are inspired and moved. That has certainly been my experience and I am interested in really understanding this. So I really enjoyed the program. Not speaking Spanish is a good thing in a way, I am not distracted.
I slept off and on but fine overall. The next morning the hostess gave us biscuits for breakfast and tea/coffee. I didn’t really like them but I try to fill my stomach when I can. We had a Bano stop after a while at a restaurant. I was unable to get money from an ATM and it appears I would not come across one until Buenos Aires. I wondered about food. I sat next to this old lady and she immediately handed me a pastry with meat in it. I gratefully thanked her and ate that. I would just have to wait to get some money. Interestingly enough on this stop when I went to go to the toilet it was 1 peso but a woman was collecting the money. I told her I didn’t have money and she quickly waved me through, no problem. How her behaviour contrasted with the guy the night before. I found their attitudes totally different. I often find women more flexible than men, they play by the rules and they don’t realise that women may have periods or that they may be desperate, bend the rules is my advice. In Australia I have seen that happen by both men and women and it is good. Sometimes you use common sense not just acting as a robot. I have issues with paying for a pee, particularly when I think of the poor. They use the environment to pee and are excluded from these private facilities. I find that incongruent with unity. My inner feeling is to move towards unity. Yet sometimes I find myself at odds, so I have to reconcile the reality with my beliefs to be an example of peace when things are not the way I like. I do recognize my own judgement and my realization that speaking truth in harmony is the way forward. As soon as we get angry we divide from others and this precludes love being present in the moment.
Most of the trip from this point is farm land and no mountains. I allowed myself to simply rest to build strength. As we get closer to Buenos Aires I notice big warehouses selling a range of goods, large shopping centres and the most of western industralisation. The roads have white line markers and are bitumen. Predominantly straight roads all the way. The city appears very large as it takes a good hour to get into the centre. The bus makes 3 stops for disembarking passengers. I watch out the window the packed city buildings that are often two stories high. I see many run down and old buildings and I get the impression of poverty. I wonder about the impacts of capitalism on the people. I was surprised as I expected a more modern place. I was told Argentina is very European, so I expected it to be quite modern. I can see the latino culture and the modern capitalist culture and whilst I feel uneasy about the poverty, I take it on as another experience. To watch and learn.
I get closer to the city and there are a few modern skyscrapers and eventually arrive at the bus station that has 75 bays. It is quite large. A man from the bus who sat next to me offers to help me make a call to my couch surfing host. I couldn’t get in touch with her and didn’t want to hold him up. So I tell him I am ok. I go upstairs looking for a bank and pass lots of little bus companies. I find a bank at the end but don’t understand Spanish and there is no English translation. I ask people if they speak English and I get no. I can feel myself tired and getting frustrated. I look for another bank. I then go to a women in another little office and try to explain to her I need help and have no pesos. She recommends the police, I thought that is a good idea. So she tells me where to go and I turn up there. The policeman was lovely I could see a glow in his face of friendliness. He let me use the internet to contact Erica my couch surfing host. We tried to ring to no avail. So my thought was to wait. He organized another policeman to help me find a ATM and eventually I got money. It was fascinating to watch the policeman run his fingers of the ATM in all the slots. I wondered if he was looking for false cards or ways to get my card details. He helped me get my money out and I was pleased to have some money. He made a comment about Gandhi on my back. I explained I went to India to his ashram. I told him I teach peace as a clown. He conveyed to me the violence was out of control in Buenos Aires and it was related to cocaine. The drug problem is a key problem and I wondered at organized crime gangs and the havoc they create through the greed of making big money. No conception of the social harm it causes. My hope is through clowning young men in particular can find a way to focus on juggling and self improvement without competition. The policeman talked about Patch Adams and I explained I went to Russia with Patch.
We strolled back to the police station. I sat and waited. At some point he waived and left. He was a nice bloke. The other police looked at me without smiling but within that there was no judgement, just looking. They knew why I was there. They don’t have an easy job, no policeman does I feel. They are in the role of protector and enforcer of the law and it must bring up dilemmas for them. Especially with crime that appears out of control. They are not trained in the social area or psychology so they have limited means of dealing with problems they face.
I waited and then the phone rang, Erica was on the other end. She and her partner Jorge came to get me. I was so pleased. We caught the number 28 bus just outside of the Retiro bus terminal. We only traveled 20 minutes and we got off. They took me to their apartment. It is up some steep stairs in a secured block. They have a split level. Downstairs is living with a separate kitchen and upstairs is their bedroom and bathroom, it is very open plan. So there is not much privacy for them with me here. They must be ok with that.
We had some food and tried some of their drinks, like a tea that is high in caffeine, very popular here. They have a metal tube coming out of the cup and you suck it up like a straw. Quite bitter but must be addictive if people drink it on the way to work.
We sat around and talked a bit then they got on computers. I was happy to update my blog. They then put on their video theatre, connected to internet and we watched some of a documentary on social networking. This looked at the popular couch surfing and how it instills trust. There are over a million people in this network and I am a couch surfer as well. You are going to strangers places but they show you around. It is a wonderful way to learn of the world and as a woman traveling alone, it has been fantastic for me.
We then went to bed as they have to get up early to sort out the purchase of a combi van.
I do feel exhausted but happy.
23-24 October, Villazon to Buenos Aires, Argentina