I WATCHED THE BUS FLY past. I’d been waiting for nearly four hours for the bus from Samaipata to Vallegrande, perched on my bag by the roadside, dust kicking up in my face every time a vehicle went by. Everyone I had asked had told me a different time. If I waited long enough, a bus would show eventually. I wasn’t too worried.
This was the start of my solo adventure to follow some of Che Guevara’s footsteps, apart from that I was bussing and taxiing it rather than hiking the trail. Apparently, disappointingly, this was the way of La Ruta del Che for us followers.
A few minutes earlier I had given in to the wait and bought a cup of tea in a café, a thinly veiled excuse to use their bathroom. ‘In half an hour’, a woman told me, ‘mas o menos’. I sipped my te con carnela and was pondering why Che’s men had come to Samaipata, raided the town and robbed the police station when I looked up to see the bus drive on by. I waved madly. The woman ran and waved. But there was no stopping it. Dammit.
I was bundled into a taxi intent on getting me to the bus. The windscreen was broken, the seat belt didn’t work and the driver had a heavy right foot. After a few miles he pointed up the hill. Sure enough, there was the bus, winding up into the mountains. We gained ground. We overtook. We waved and beeped the horn and eventually it stopped.
I had to perch upfront until we reached the next village. The two young lads driving the bus didn’t say a thing and any conversation I tried to initiate was shutdown. Music played loudly, the guys kept their cool.
And then we took a refreshment break in Mairana where I tried to be inconspicuous as men and women and children stared shamelessly at the solo gringa.
Finally into the main bus section and I took a pew. A guy with a gammy eye wasn’t impressed and got me to move. Not wanting to offend anyone else, I waited to find a spare seat.
Everywhere was full so for the rest of the trip I wobbled around on a little plastic stool in the aisle at the back amongst groups of teenagers from Santa Cruz who fed me peanuts, took photos with my camera and teased their friend about being in love with me. A Quechua-English mix would apparently be okay, they agreed. The poor kid looked like he wanted to die.
I arrived into a dark bus terminal in Vallegrande two and a half hours later with no idea of where I was going to stay. I hate turning up anywhere at night, particularly when I’m alone. But sometimes it just works out.
A kind soul sorted me out a taxi that dropped me off at a lovely, family run hotel where half an hour later I was celebrating a birthday, eating cake and meeting the in-laws and babies to be.
‘Us Bolivianos are warm and welcoming people’, one of the girls told me, ‘You will meet so many friendly people on your travels in Bolivia’. My earlier judgement calls were truly being challenged.
Vallegrande, the town where Che Guevara’s body was initially displayed and buried back in 1967, was opening its arms to me.
I got my information about La Ruta del Che from Roadrunners in Samaipata. Austrian Olaf is an enthusiastic, helpful guy who gave me so many ideas and completely re-inspired me to go off and do some adventuring by myself. La Ruta del Che is the route that Che Guevara and his men are said to have taken before they was arrested and assassinated in La Higuera, although there is considerable ambiguity surrounding the exact roads. What is more certain is where Che’s body was displayed, where he was held and where he died.