I took the long way, traveling by bus from Buenos Aires. After singing upon request from the bus driver, “Summer time when the cotton grows high and the living is easy,” I got on a bus for the 24-hour ride to Salta. A piece of cake, really Argentine style, riding in comfort. One night in Salta enjoying an asodo—carne, carne, yes, sir ree bob—and some gaucho dancing. I was up early the next morning for what should have been an eight-hour ride to the border.
Not long after Salta we hit a roadblock from the farmers trying to make some political point. Man, these things can go on for weeks. The police don’t break up the roadblocks, I am told, on account of the past history of police brutality and the fear of reprisals from the people. Lucky we only had to wait five hours. I arrived in La Quica feeling not so good. At first I thought it was some road burn, checking into a hostel for a night’s rest. The next day I felt worse—very tired, no appetite, and it hurt to breath. It finally hit me it was the altitude. I was tired but it was hard to sleep, only getting half-hour naps before waking and struggling to breathe.
I stayed another night and felt I was not going to make it, like my batteries were all done. I got to thinking I should at least say fare thee well, so I made it to the computer at the hostel and found a message from Shelly saying someone probably hacked into my email. “Dude, I don’t do Viagra.” Great, my parting words to you all. “Buy Viagra.” I shut her down and went back to bed.
Lo and behold I woke up the next morning, forced myself out of bed and drank some coffee. It helped. I walked to the border and waited on a bridge for three hours before getting into the border office. Complete chaos, after another hour of paperwork and buying my visa I finally crossed into Bolivia. I bought a ticket for the night bus to Potasi and walked like a zombie through the streets until the bus left. It was a dirt road, no faster the 40 mph. The moon was big, enchanting countryside, cactus and high bluffs. The road just wandered. I slipped in and out of sleep feeling the road and sucking in the dust. Sometime in the night the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere. A jack knifed truck was blocking the road. The truck drivers and bus drivers tried for hours shoveling and placing rocks to move the truck but no go. It’s not like you can call a wrecker. They gave up on that and made a road in a dry river bed. Young boys with flash lights showed the way urging us along in a confident voice, “Dale, Dale.” Man, I would have not brought my mighty Ranger down that river bed. At times the tires would sink low. The driver would give it and the bus felt like she was going over. I was looking for hand holds if she did. We ended up backing up the bank back onto the road. Some slick driving if you ask me. On we went to Potasi, which they claim is the highest city in the world. Great. Sometime in the morning we arrived. It took me a long time to walk to the terminal to get the bus to Sucre. A local man asked what my troubles were and I said the altitude. He gave me a handful of coco leaves and said to chew on that. By God it helped. The last leg was a five-hour bus ride to Sucre, nice country by daylight.
I showed up the next morning at the school with my pack loaded with first aid and art supplies from Kat. The social worker office was also the infirmary. Twenty minutes after unloading and taking inventory, a fourth-year medical student showed up to work on the kids. A lot of these kids live in mud houses with grass roofs. Bugs fall on them from the roofs and go under the skin. The kids scratch them and then get these nasty open infections. Well, he put those supplies I brought right to use. The anti-infection cream Bacitracin was a big hit. He squeezed out pus, poured on iodine and then applied the cream. It must have hurt but not a whimper from these kids, holding tight to their fists. Juan will be a good doctor. He has a strong heart but does not let it get to him, finding some laughter with each kid.
So here I am. The plan is to help these kids build 70 shoeshine kits and work on the buildings. Things move along slowly here. It will take some time adjusting and learning.