The eight-hour bus ride to Charazani was uneventful. It was not a modern tourist bus like the one we took to Copacabana. This bus was at least as old as me, if not older. There was no heat and it was very very cold. The people who shared the bus with us were wrapped up in warm blankets – they’d known how cold it would be. They were not tourists, but native Bolivians traveling for work, traveling for family, traveling for Festival, traveling for a better life somewhere else.
I slept most of the way and when I wasn’t sleeping, I watched the landscape slip past the window. I tried not to look down because when I did, I saw nothing but the steep slope of jagged mountainside. The road we traveled was narrow and our bus hugged the edge so that it seemed one sharp turn would send us spiraling down the mountain in a flurry of stone and dust. Every few miles we came upon a herd of cattle and more than once I was sure we’d barrel right through them, but they always scattered in time. Two hours in we made a stop for food and toilets. Dave and Mike got off the bus to pee and came back with fried chicken and french fries. Possibly the best fried chicken and french fries I’ve ever tasted in my life. After that, the bus only stopped to let passengers off and never for more than a moment.
Midway through the trip they played a movie on an ancient little television. An American sci-fi movie dubbed in Spanish. A little boy, maybe six or seven, stood in the aisle gripping the armrest of Mike’s seat, eyes glued to the television as it lulled him into enchantment. His eyes were so wide, so full of awe, his mouth hung open just slightly and when the bus hit a bump and he lost his footing, he’d grab Mike’s shoulder or arm and hang on, eyes never leaving the television screen. I wanted to scoop him into my lap, bury my face in the top of his head, nibble the sugar at the back of his neck.
We saw Charazani long before we reached it. A cluster of brick buildings pressed into the mountainside. The closer we got, the less inviting it looked. When we finally pulled into the town square, my whole body was tense. I told myself it was because I’d been on a bus for eight hours – I just needed to get off and stretch my legs. But that wasn’t it. It was the people in the square who stopped what they were doing to watch the travelers disembark. Who froze in their tracks with slack faces and cold eyes and stared.
It was hot and I was sweating. Tired, hungry, bladder bursting, and sweating. We pulled our gear off the bus, now crusted with a layer of dirt, loaded it onto our backs and started walking. We knew there were three hostels in the village. The first one we tried was locked up, deserted, so we moved on. I only wanted a clean place to pee, a hot shower, and meal. After that, I didn’t care what happened.