Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No ATM???!!!!!!????? In a tourist town???!!!! Somebody should have told me……….

                                                The brochure sold it for me. Motorized canoe, swimming with endangered pink dolphins, searching for anacondas, cobras and crocodiles and fishing for piranhas. After Mount Potosi, I should know not to believe the brochures…but once again it sure was an adventure.

It started off with the plan to be a real backpacker, skip the 40 min flight and take the 19 hour local bus and save $80 bucks each way. A few hours into the bus ride I would have sold my soul to be on a flight. As my Dad always says, you get what you pay for, and I should have known that a 19 hour bus ride for $11 just didn’t add up.

Figuring out what bus we were supposed to be on was an ordeal in itself, and I will spare you the tiresome, not very exciting melodrama. All I will say is that Bolivia is a disorganized mess of hurry up and wait.

The bus looked like it had had its day before my parents were born. The inside was a mess of broken green seats covered in dirty, 1970’s green fabric. The entire bus smelled of armpits, urine and the third world. In times like this, sleep is my savoir. I can sleep anywhere and especially well in a moving vehicle. Poor Laurie cannot. We began by driving down a road that was similar to Death Road (check out the details of my experience here), narrow one lane dirt road with a sheer cliff face on one side, a mountain on the other, and at times it was partly washed away as it is rainy season. The bus was tearing down the road like it was a paved 4 lane freeway. As we would come up to a blind corner the driver would lay on the horn to signal our appearance out of nowhere. Quite a few times another horn would blare, vehicle unseen and we would slam on the brakes. What happens next is something like a game of chicken. The drivers stare each other down for a few seconds, until one decides to back up and let the other pass.

I woke up in the middle of the night, and the bus was stopped. Well not just stopped, broken down. We got out to see what was going on. It was not a good situation. Laurie and I watched as a few men worked under the bus. Hours went by. Of course none of the other passengers spoke even a word of English. My Spanish was not even close to good enough to have a conversation, had anyone even tried to speak to us. Instead, they stared. Not out of the corner of their eyes, and not when our heads turned the other way. They stared at us full on without even a hint of a smile. I did not feel welcome, or even safe. Outside in a Bolivian slum, at 3 am, unable to communicate and surrounded by locals who I am sure would have sold me for $20 to anyone who wanted a exasperated white girl.

Seven hours later, well into the light of day, we set on our way again. We were less than half way there and our tour was just about to start. We had already had enough of this adventure, and it hadn’t even began.
27 hours after the bus had left La Paz, we finally arrived in the jungle town of Rurrenabaque. But the fun had only just begun………………

We showed up at the tourist office to make sure we could do the tour the next day. No problem at all. Next, we needed to hit an ATM and withdraw some money. The jungle tour required us to pay an entrance fee at the park, and we didn’t have much cash at all. The tour office told us there was a bank on the next corner. Sure, there was a bank, but no ATM. No way to withdraw money. We pooled what we had, but only had enough for the bus to leave Rurrenabaque. No way we were going to go through that hell again!!! We only had one option…to beg for a refund on the tour and if we got a full refund, we could manage plane tickets back to La Paz. We would miss out on the jungle tour, but so far, this excursion was sheer hell. I was not sad at the possibility of missing the jungle, I was only sad at the thought of taking the bus back.

At the tour agency, the lady listened with sympathy. I am sure we were not the only backpackers who had been stranded due to the town’s lack of an ATM. When we were done begging for our money back, she smiled and picked up the phone. Speaking quickly in Spanish we had no idea who she was talking to or what she was saying. After a few minutes, she explained that she had called the manager down and had booked us plane tickets back after the jungle tour was over. We began to explain again, that we couldn’t go because we didn’t have any cash to pay the entrance fee into the park. She shhhhhhed us, and told us not to worry. Once the manager of the tour office arrived, she explained. The tour office was letting us go on the tour tomorrow, had booked our plane tickets back to La Paz, and handed us 400 Boliviano (about $60) for our accommodation, the entrance fee, and some dinner.

We were shocked!!! We did have to hand over our passports until we paid the company back - eeep! - but we were so surprised at how accommodating they were. So, we were getting the best of both worlds….we would be adventuring through the jungle AND we got to fly back!!! So we were off on our adventure in the Bolivian Amazon to hunt for crocs and anacondas, swim with pink dolphins and fish for piranhas. Oh, if we only knew what the jungle had in store for us!!!!

SIDE NOTE: Anyone looking to make some money, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia DESPERATELY needs an ATM. You could charge $20 or more for each withdrawal and make a killing!!!!

Up next, my adventures in the jungle…oh the jungle!!!


  1. Oh gosh, Crissy! Sounds like you're having a jolly old time! LOL. You're sure brave! Good luck in the jungle :D


  2. hurry, can't wait to see what happens in the jungle!!

  3. How terrible that you had to go through those things while in Bolivia. I'm a Bolivian and not every single ride is like should have really payed just 10 more bucks for a higher class bus ride. The bus you took was probably the worst kind and you should have known!
    Trust me when saying that the people staring at you don't want to kill you, they just look at you because you are different and they really don't have anything to say since they are just as anoyed by the ride as you are. Most people do feel sad for you for going through what they are going through because they know you have lived in a much comfortable place.
    My advice would be to get a local who speaks English, try to get good information from them, you will really want to do that...I mean just ask them for the best bus to take, or the best restaurant, things/places to avoid, or places you should really miss! This really applies to most third world countries.

    I know I'm very late in your trip since it's been more than a year, just wanted to share my thoughts!