The Trans Salvador bus to Santa Cruz de la Sierra left Calama at 11 PM. I had 31 hours ahead of me, which made it the longest bus ride I had ever been on. I prepared two books, lots of wool to knit and my PC to full battery. Still, I didn’t need any of them, because for once, I fell asleep as soon as the bus left the terminal and I was barely awake during the whole trip.
We reached the Pisiga – Colchana customs around 5 in the morning. Passing an international border always has its own rituals, and variables change from time to time: getting your luggage out, having the officer of the leaving country checking whether you didn’t exceed the permitted time in country. Holding your breath while the officer of the entering country decides whether they’re going to give you the maximum time allowed, or if you’ll have to go through the annoying process of asking for an extension once the first month expires.
But well, five hours later, my passport was stamped by the Chilean authorities first, and the Bolivians then, and I was ready to go.
At 6 AM the next day, I finally arrived in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. I had decided to get a bed in a hostel instead of Couchsurfing, so I could gather my notes and write a bit. But then, I didn’t know I’d have Isabel as my room mate. I saw her pink panties before seeing her face, and I had to shout my name a couple of times before she could get it. This no longer young but still very energetic English lady had been living in Santa Cruz for over a month, she hated Bolivia, and decided she would be my guide for the day.
So, instead of catching up with my writing, I spent the day listening to Isabel’s stories and getting depressed about the shitty Bolivian transportation system, the rudeness of the Bolivian people and therefore thinking of a plan B.
But then, the dawn of the D-day came, and before I noticed I was hurrying to the Viru Viru International Airport. If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, Muhammad must go to the mountain, right? So, since I had no intention of going back home for a while, my whole family had come to visit me.
My face was already messy with tears before the plane even landed. Hugging my mom and dad after nine months was the best feeling in the world. They both looked so much tinier, as if I had gotten bigger with my experiences around the world.
Five weeks traveling with my family have not been a piece of cake. My trip changed completely, and I had to give up much of my habits. I was not alone anymore, which meant thinking for five people and not for one.
As my sister and her boyfriend were meeting us in Uyuni a week later, we quickly visited the main attractions between Santa Cruz and the salt flats, without taking the time to stop and really appreciate each place. My time suddenly became limited, and I became a tourist, no longer a traveler.
The option was never the cheapest, but a mix of value and comfort that I had never been able to afford before. I changed the cheap bed in a hostel dorm for a private room in a hotel with breakfast included. We still ate at the market sometimes, but we would also try the more touristic restaurants.
We even flew. After nine months only traveling by land or river, I found myself going from a height of 3,500 m.a.s.l. and a temperature of 15º C to 400 m.a.s.l. and 35º C in only forty-five minutes. I flew over the Amazon and saw the immensity of the rain forest from the window of my minuscule airplane, feeling as if I was skipping all the fun.
We took tours to almost everywhere. The Uyuni salt flats, Toro Toro, the Madidi National Park: everything was done with a guide, everything was done the fastest and easiest way possible. It was such a huge difference, but I still managed to appreciate the simplicity of it, and I felt as if I was taking a break from my own trip, as if I was on holiday.
Traveling with my family finally meant spending some quality time with them, engage into deep conversations and catch up a bit. Also, it was important for me to show them that I was happy, doing what I loved the most, and prove that I could make it on my own.
Flashing everything back after I left my parents at the airport created a huge sense of emptiness in me. I suddenly felt incredibly lonely, as if parts of me had just gone missing. Family is family, even though you want to convince yourself that you’re a grown-up, strong and independent woman.
A first part of my heart was broken in the village of Toro Toro. The driver of the trufi could not find the key of his vehicle (typical Bolivia!), and so I kept holding my sister’s hand tight, not wanting to let her go. It took him over half an hour to find it, and then he left, taking Noemi and Thomas away from me, to Cochabamba first and finally back to Italy.
Strange places, airports. Anyone gets to see your red face swollen by tears, no matter how much you’re trying to hide while you say goodbye. You stay there, sitting at a plastic table drinking a fake hot chocolate and making time until the moment arrives and they have to cross that damn gate, looking far away not to cry and talking about practical stuff to avoid the question we all have in our minds: When will we see each other again?
Trans Salvador bus Calama to Santa Cruz de la Sierra: 40,000 CLP (31 hours aprox.)
Accommodation in Santa Cruz: Hostel Coco Jamboo, 55 Bs in a dorm including breakfast.