Geysers, protests, altitude, crazy drivers, mines, alcohol poisoning, cable cars… what leaves David Fegan crying for his mummy in Bolivia?
Tongue firmly in cheek, there are many ways to die in Bolivia, especially for those with a vivid imagination. But of all the things that could have struck me down in Bolivia I can’t believe it was this.
The explosions from the miner’s demonstration in Tupiza didn’t blow me into smithereens. They were just firecrackers, nothing more.
Likewise, I didn’t suffer heatstroke, search for an oasis mirage, and collapse for the vultures to take me in the surrounding desert.
On the four day 4×4 tour to the Salar de Uyuni, I didn’t suffer too badly from altitude sickness, and was even able to breathlessly struggle through a high altitude, low stakes football match for about ten minutes.
I didn’t fall into one of the boiling geysers that we were permitted to walk around and get as close to as we wanted.
“Only in South America,” said my Brazilian friend.
I wasn’t mauled to death by a herd of llamas and I didn’t freeze to death at night, rather I was quite warm under the five woolen blankets provided.
While our jeep broke down and got bogged numerous times, our driver stuck to the known route and we didn’t fall through the roof of an underground cave never to be seen again, as was the horrible fate that is rumoured to have befallen others whose driver took them on more adventurous paths.
I wasn’t permanently blinded by the searing sun in the bleach white of the salt flats, I wasn’t impaled on a cactus, and I wasn’t taken as a slave of Gardulla the Hut in eerily similar surroundings to that of Anakin Skywalker’s hometown, Tatooine.
No, the worst I had to content with was a woman in our tour group who, with little to no invitation, talked, talked, and talked non-stop from 6am to 10pm, everyday, for four days.
In Potosí, I wasn’t deformed by chemicals, electrocuted or crushed by machinery during our visit to the refining plant as part of our tour in and around the Potosí mines.
Last year in the mines 39 people died from cave-ins, but thankfully the odds were on my side and I wasn’t another victim. Likewise, my headlamp didn’t die and I wasn’t separated from my tour group to wander blindly in the dark of the underground maze to find my grave.
I wasn’t blown up by the dynamite we bought and brought for the miners and I didn’t contract black lung in the two hours I spent underground either. I didn’t even fall down a hole.
The worst I got was aggravated sinuses from all the dust and a lifeless pain in my heart from the shot of 96 per cent alcohol our tour guide gave us in the miner’s market.
In the afternoon of the very same day, I didn’t drown or get boiled alive in the Ojo del Inca. A lagoon in the eye of an ancient volcano, its undercurrents have drowned people in the past, a fact I was blissfully unaware of as I splashed about. I wasn’t struck by the surrounding lightening either, despite being at altitude, in the open, in water, on top of a mountain. There was not even a mysterious sea monster. No, that was just a rope in the lake that my feet touched and my paranoia momentarily created. On the return journey, when a car hit the back of our van in the ridiculously designed and even more poorly used narrow one way streets of Potosí, there was no injury, no whiplash, no nothing, just an argument between two blameless drivers.
In Sucre, I didn’t break any bones sliding down a steep gravel descent to the Sietes Cascadas, I just cut my hands up. I wasn’t attacked by mountain goats and I didn’t break my neck jumping off the cascades into the lagoon below. Rather I jumped small, responsible distances.
Back in the city itself, I didn’t fall off the shaky, flimsy ‘Little Eiffel Tower’ in the park despite feeling like King Kong as I clung to its tiny guardrails. That night, I didn’t die of alcohol poisoning in the local underground karaoke bar in Sucre despite the attempts of a recently single Bolivian guy who kept pouring me shots of tequila until I had to say “no more!”
His response: “I thought Australians never stopped?!”
I’m just glad he and his bottle weren’t with me at the Little Eiffel Tower.
In La Paz, again, I wasn’t the victim of some more free-spirited driving. Taking the cable car up the mountain, the cable didn’t snap and I wasn’t dashed against the cliffs or smashed against the roof of someone’s house below. No, I survived again.
Crossing Lake Titicaca to Copacabana the boat didn’t sink and 15 people didn’t have to fight over the two life jackets available or swim to the shore. I’m still unsure why a sea captain passenger, all decked in white like he was preparing to take the stage with Nile Rodgers and Chic and who made use of one of the two life jackets available, asked in bemusement why the other fourteen of us weren’t all simultaneously making use of the one remaining life jacket. Back on shore and back on the bus, which also didn’t sink during its water crossing, we didn’t dive off the side of the mountain as our bus driver careered us towards Copacabana as though this was the first test run of Grand Theft Auto, Bolivia.
No, it wasn’t any of these dangers that befell me.
Sometime over my three day stay in La Paz, I got food poisoning, the one thing I had vigorously protected against by cooking most of my meals and basically diverting to vegetarianism. If you saw some of the open-aired meat displays in Bolivian markets you’d know why.
No, I was a victim of my greatest weakness – my appetite.
Maybe it was the soup I ate in La Paz?
Or should I turn the mirror and point the finger of blame at myself for choosing to reheat refrigerated rice?
Again, maybe, but unlikely considering I reheated it properly.
More likely, and my guess, is that it was the disgusting gnocchi with Roquefort sauce I ate in an EMPTY restaurant shortly before getting on the bus to Copacabana. It looked and tasted like shit. What’s worse is that it took forever to arrive, but like an ignorant animal waiting to be slaughtered, I chose not to make a break for it.
Whatever the case, shortly after declaring my arrival to the idyllic and tourist friendly Copacabana as one of the best days of my travels for various reasons, I then suffered one of the worst 24 hours of my life:
- no food from Thursday night until midday on Saturday
- a disorientating fever, throws of hot and cold, a complete lack of strength, and crippling stomach pain and body aches
- an entire day of uncomfortable sleep, broken only to use the bathroom
and again. It was to the point that I wanted to punch a hole through the bathroom door, even though the door had nothing to do with it, I was just “sick of his face”.
- Drinking more water than the entire contents of Lake Titicaca with a supporting cast of energy and oral re-hydration drinks any elite athlete would be proud of
- the undignified solution of shoving a piece of toilet paper up my arse to insure against any stray streams searching for independence in my underwear.
No, it wasn’t any of the more exotic dangers in Bolivia that felled me. The culprit was more familiar, something I had eaten many times before, albeit with several light years between in taste, presentation, and observation of food hygiene that had me crying for my mummy and yearning for home.
The upside: in moving from La Paz to Copacabana I exchanged an eight bed dorm for a private room with bathroom right before the shitstorm started.