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Trinidad to San Borja: A bolivian nightmare

Trinidad to San Borja: A bolivian nightmare

On October 2015 me and two friends of mine were travelling through Peru and Bolivia when we decided to try entering into the bolivian amazon and get in contact with indigenous people by our own, without organized tours.
On 29th October, after almost one day travelling by bus, we arrived in a town called Trinidad.

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Trinidad is a small but interesting town. But I will talk about it on another occasion, because today I want to talk to you about the precautions to be taken if one day you decide to enter the Bolivian Amazon jungle by your own. And I’m not talking about the precautions you should take to avoid being eaten by jaguars, bitten by spiders or snakes. This article is about the precautions you should have with people.
In Bolivia the rainy season begins on November and the first rains began as soon as we arrived at Trinidad. Little did we know what that would mean for us in the following days.
On the night we arrived in Trinidad we bought our bus tickets on the bus terminal, for the next morning, for about 60 bolivianos each (around 8,5$). We wanted to reach a town called San Borja because in La Paz we´ve met a guy who told us that San Borja was the best place to start our adventure through the jungle. We found a place to sleep near the terminal for about 100 bolivianos a night/triple room (around 14$) and we decided to take a walk around town and eat something.

The next day, when we reached the terminal, we were told that because of the rain the road to San Borja wasn’t good and that the bus would only leave Trinidad at about 3pm. Long story short, the bus only left the terminal two days later. Despite this delay we took the opportunity to rest and get to know a little bit of the town.

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So, on 1st of November, the bus company (which is not worth mentioning the name) finally informed us that the road was already passable and the bus could move on. We were very excited because one of our main objectives was to have contact with the indigenous people of the Amazon and although Trinidad was already an amazonian town, we wanted to enter the “real” jungle. We were told that Trinidad to San Borja was a 6 to 7 hours journey so, by our calculations, in the afternoon we would already be there.

A few minutes after we left we came to a river and the bus made i ts first stop. There were men working on the margins, which were muddy, so the bus could get on a modest ferry and cross the river. Another small delay but we didn’t mind and we took the opportunity to eat something in the local stalls and to take some pictures near by.DSC05472DSC05473DSC05481DSC05480

An hour later we were crossing the river. Our journey could continue.
Before I tell the rest of this story I just want to mention that we were the only foreigners on the bus. All other passengers were local, used to make this trip between Trinidad and San Borja.
A few miles after crossing the river the bus stopped completely. It was stuck in the mud. The hours began to pass. Passengers eventually got off the bus and help the two drivers to take some mud off the wheels. The bus would run around 5 minutes and stop again. The rain did not give us a truce and began to fall heavily worsening the situation.
Other buses were stuck in the mud too just in front of us.

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At the time we should be reaching San Borja we hadn´t even passed Fatima, a town that was around 5km from Trinidad.
We were surprised that none of the other passengers seemed bothered by the fact that the company had ensured us that the road was in good conditions. Male passengers helped the drivers to push the bus forward and seemed well disposed and prepared for the situation. But we felt scammed.

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For several times the bus almost fell to the side of the road. The situation was becoming dangerous for anyone who was inside the bus and to make matters worse in Bolivia there are no seat belts. If the bus had overturned, many people would get seriously hurt, and unaided.
It was getting dark and we started to realize that no one would come to help us. The other passengers were equipped with blankets, food and water but we had only our clothes and backpacks. When the night came we gained new hope when we saw some caterpillars and working machines approaching our bus. The machines helped clear the muddy road and pushed the busses a few miles forward but the road was so bad that soon they gave up and disappeared in the dark leaving us there to spend the night in the middle of nowhere.
No one spoke, no one said anything. None of the drivers came to give any information to the passengers. People just settled down in their seats and tried to sleep.
We realized then that this is the reality of these people. That situation was not new to anyone but us. The bus company that sold us the tickets knew this and didn’t warn us because it was only interested in receiving our money. Now we were stuck in the middle of nowhere with no water or food, and we didn’t know when we would arrive to San Borja or anywhere for that matter. The fact that several small children, including a newborn, were on the bus, which now began to be full of insects, did not matter to anyone. We could hear people urinate into bottles in order not to go outside into the dark.
The whole situation seemed unreal because as westerners we aren’t accustomed to see people abandoned in these conditions who knows for how long. In western countries would be unthinkable not to send help if three or four buses, each with 40 passengers, were stuck in the mud in a remote location without water. We forgot we were in Bolivia, the poorest country on South America. I didn’t sleep that night. I felt outraged by the situation but most of all I felt helpless. The passengers, including my friends and I, could only wait for the morning to come.

At 5 am passengers and drivers started working again. A pickup with some military personnel passed us and informed us that the working machines would return around 8am. But at 9am no one had yet appeared to help us. We could not waste any more time there. We had to go back to Peru and catch our flight home and if we were stuck there another day we could not make it to Lima in time. We decided that we would try to hitchhike when we saw another pickup pass by us in the opposite direction.

We would go back to Trinidad, and ask the  bus company for our money back. Lucky  enough,  after  an  hour  or  two  we saw  a  pickup  that  agreed  to  take  us  back. We  climbed into the  back  of the  van  and we felt relieved to leave that situation  behind,  but  at  the same  time frustrated  to  know  that so many  people  go  through such  situations. And they can not give up like we did. They really need to reach the destination and that is the only way. Later we´ve learned that usually that trip takes 3 to 4 days on the rainy season. When we were arriving to Trinidad we saw dozens of people, including children, finishing the journey on foot that they had started 4 days ago in San Borja. If we had stayed on the bus we would be in risk of being 3-4 days without water or food, because no one cared to warn us that our 6 to 7 hours journey would in fact take 3 to 4 days to complete.

When we arrived at the terminal in Trinidad our bus company stall was closed and a sign in the door said that there were no road conditions to travel. We went to the  terminal  police  station  and  talked  to  a  police  woman  and  in  the  end  requested  her  police ID  in  order  to  know  how  to  identify  her  later  if  we  wanted  to  explain  with  whom we  had spoken. A friendly advice for  anyone traveling to Bolivia:  never  ask  a police officer for  his/her  identification! The  way she  treated  us  changed  completely.

She felt threatened and refused to give us her police ID. She told us to go to the central police station, but the central police station explained to us that such things are not seen as a crime and we would have to complain to the terminal. When we returned to the terminal the police officer was no longer the same. The current police officer was already waiting for us and barely spoke to us and told us to leave. We sat on the terminal stunned by the situation and thinking what would be our next step when, to our astonishment, we saw two Interpol agents approaching the police officer. Yes! Interpol! The police officer didn’t like the way we spoke to him so he called the Interpol. They confiscated our passports and we waited almost an hour for them to confirm our information by phone. I began to fear that we had put ourselves in a difficult situation. If, as tourists, when we have problems we can not resort to the police to whom can we turn too in Bolivia?
Fortunately everything was solved out and although the company did not want to give us back the money it ended up doing it so just to get rid of us.
We continued our trip with an experience that we won’t soon forget.

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