Bolivia & Peru:
04 and 05SEP 2002
The ‘All Nations Quest’ (episode 4) ……. and how I eventually discovered Bhutan.
Our first crisis occurred on the Tam Air flight from Asuncion to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Because, with little space in our small backpacks, John was responsible for the Sony Vaio notepad and I was responsible for the two cameras. One of which I left on board the aircraft. D’oh! John was not happy and I was kicking myself inside. We watched despairingly as the aircraft took off to Cochibamba in central Bolivia. ‘No problemo’ said Danny, the young Tam Air staffer. ‘I have spoken to the captain and they have your camera in the cockpit. They’ll be back here in 2 hours.’
Disaster averted we went to work changing our onwards flight to La Paz, and congratulating ourselves with a few local beers. As promised the camera was returned and we had time to head into downtown Santa Cruz, an added bonus. There we met Leaudro Toledo Saareda (3 years), and her family. Leaudro’s dream was ‘To be a Princess’. Let’s hope she makes it. Bolivia was, and still is, in the grip of woeful economic conditions despite the citizens in the Plaza seemingly happy & smiling.
DIY Taxi Conversion Bolivian style
The taxi ride from the Plaza back to the airport was a cracker, if not downright dangerous. Because Marco, the driver, was sitting in the front passenger seat and his steering wheel shaft disappeared into the glovebox! All the dials, none of which worked, were on the opposite side of the car. Where the foot pedals should have been were now just gaping holes. The white line in the centre of the road was there as a guide apparently and having ones wheels on both sides of the line meant one couldn’t go wrong!
A very old plane
Our flights were usually the safest part of the ‘All Nations Quest’. However, our Lloyd Aero Boliviano Boeing 727-200 taking us from Santa Cruz to La Paz was positively ancient and a little unsettling! And it performed what we came to describe as the ‘South American Plummet’. A very special art of landing by diving down to ground level rather than ‘gently descending’.
La Paz , capital of Bolivia is at 4200m altitude. Our plane virtually ascended to land on the runway! With energy levels collapsing, drinking one too many ‘pisco sours’ after dinner finished us off. But the ‘Quest’ must go on, altitude sickness or not. So, after a fractured nights sleep we gingerly headed back to the airport at 0600. On arrival John immediately lost last nights dinner on the stairs down to the men’s room. It’s amazing what US$5 will entice a cleaner to do in a cheery manner. Getting back into the air in a pressurised cabin was bliss.
Thank You TACA
Transportes Aereos del Continente Americano was the flag carrier of El Salvador back in 2002. They did a splendid job with a fleet of relatively new Airbus A319’s. TACA ended up merging with Colombia’s airline Avianca in 2012. We flew many sectors on TACA and used San Salvador as a hub city to get to quite a few central American nations. It was common for us to gain cockpit access, in this region, and have our logbook signed by captains or crew. As this was only 12 months on from ‘9/11’ it did break a few safety rules, but as Capt Alfredo quipped ”Anything is possible in Sth America”.
After a wonderful birds-eye view of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake at 3812m, we descended into a very murky Lima. Because it was covered in a grey haze off the Pacific the city, at first glance, was putting on a very poor impression. Therefore, to raise our spirits, in the late afternoon we mucked about the upscale Miraflores area of the city situated on high cliffs where paragliders and restaurants prevailed.
Early next morning we headed back to the airport. Our taxi driver, Alahandro, informed us our impression of Lima was all wrong. “You haven’t stayed long enough (true). It is a wonderful place! Two hours drive east is good skiing; hundreds of miles either side is beautiful beaches for swimming & fishing and the climate is fantastic. And inflation is low here too, only 20%“!
One Crazy Travel Adventure, ‘The All Nations Quest’ Remembered ……. and how I eventually discovered Bhutan (episode 5) – To be continued.
By Bhutan Travel Expert – James Irving.
James has worked in the travel industry for over 40 years & has been involved in the leisure, corporate, group, sport, incentive & wholesale Travel genres.
He loves rugby union, and keenly supports the Queensland Reds and the Australian Wallabies.