Cochabamba: the downsides of travel
Trip Start Nov 08, 2011
21Trip End Feb 21, 2012
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The city was indeed delightfully warm, and prosperous-feeling too. Everyone seemed fairly well-off, streets bustling, businesses thriving (as confirmed by the multitude of jewelry and children’s clothing stores seemingly everywhere). It was pleasant, nice, comfortable. On the other hand, we experienced an unfamiliar sense of isolation, probably because there were so few fellow travelers in this city. Stepping off the bus, we were immediately inundated by stares that attacked our peripheral senses.
While Cochabamba isn’t exactly off-the-beaten-track, it’s not as often-visited as its more western counterparts. I guess it’s fair to say that I felt completely out of my comfort zone here, more foreign than I’ve ever felt before. There wasn’t even the commonality of language to rely on. Which only served to intensify our struggles in this city: like arguing over extra bolivianos that had been tacked onto our bill (this happened repeatedly), contesting being ridiculously overcharged for short taxi rides, and duking it out with locals for the last seats on the bus. Our attempts at being unobtrusive didn’t work and we were constantly reminded of our outsider status.
I wouldn’t go back. Not that we didn’t enjoy ourselves, because there were lots of lazy afternoons soaking up sun and perfect weather in the main plaza, intimate evenings in local bars kicking back Bolivian beers, a crazy afternoon wandering a market filled with everything imaginable, and hours of guilty pleasure perusing pirated DVD stores wondering if the movies really were, as the shopkeepers insisted, in English. I just think, and please don’t beat me up for saying this, that our visit to the city was not worth all the hours of travel and the detour we had to make.
After all, we never made it to Torotoro. We tried, very hard, but things got in the way. Like the fact that I came down with a full-blown case of stomach flu, and after we had already checked out of our hostel and were whiling away the time before the bus left in a café with wifi. We headed back to our hostel, sheepishly booked another night, and I proceeded to spend the evening alternating between lying on the bed in a swoon and spending time on the pot. Not pleasant. Particularly when I peed red urine. But don’t worry! Chris and I proved, conclusively, that it was caused by a South American brand Gatorade drink.
And the next day, after feeling much better, we ended up missing the bus because the city had decided to make it a car-free day until 6pm. Meaning there were no taxis to pick us up and take us to the bus stop. We still tried to make it though, and raced there immediately after the ban was lifted, but the bus was nowhere to be seen and after a few fruitless conversations with people who worked in the area, I announced huffily to Chris that we were going to take off for Sucre instead. So we hailed a cab to take us to the bus terminal, where all kinds of small mishaps happened, including discovering that someone had zipped open Chris’s backpack and stolen a pack of Oreos! (Thank god the person didn’t dig further and discover the real motherload in the bag, our laptops.)
That’s the story of our visit to Cochabamba. It’s interesting to see how my perception of our time there has changed, since I’m writing this weeks after. The tirade I’d planned on unleashing has fizzled into the realization that what really frustrated me the most was the fact that we couldn’t speak Spanish, explain ourselves in Spanish, or most importantly, argue in Spanish. The trials and tribulations of foreign travel, I tell you.