We were in Bolivia's capital, La Paz about to head down to the southern town of Sucre. As we bought the tickets for our comfy bus, we thought it odd that the guy behind the counter was motioning at us to check our backpacks in already when we had ages to go. It's like going on a plane. You check the bags in at a counter and you're given a ticket with which to collect it at the other end. Still it was easier eating horrible 'station cafe' grub without lugging our huge backpacks with us.
So, we headed to board our 7:30pm bus. The first hint of panic came when we handed our tickets to the guard and he stared at us with a shocked look muttering, "salida, salida" and pointing at the door. Jody and I gave each other blank looks but when we headed back to the cashier' s desk to complain about the crazy man, we finally got it.
The bus already left - almost an hour ago! And not only had we wasted our money but our sodding backpacks were still on board! Everything except the clothes we were wearing and passports were in those bags and now there was a distinct possibility we'd never see them again. Complete stupidity turned into blind panic. Our luggage was winging its way across the country on a luxury bus - without us.
The only course of action was to get the next available bus and chase our bags across the country. Unfortunately for us, we were going to have to go 10 hours to Potosi (the highest city in the world and one we'd been trying to avoid) and then find another bus on to Sucre. However, we'd heard so much about the bag thieves in South America that despite the cashier's reassurance that when we got to the other end we'd just have to show the tickets to get the bags back - we were already getting frantic.
And luck definately wasn't on our side. The only other bus leaving that night was a 'normal' coach (very cheap but cramped) and it seemed like every Bolivian in La Paz wanted to get on it. Women with kids, women carrying sacks of Bolivia t-shirts, a group of drunks (who got the back seats and shouted all night) and some old women, who had a row over seats so fierce that the conductor had to get on to calm them down.
When we finally left La Paz two hours late, Jody's legs had already seized up from lack of legroom and we were forced to sit through an hour of a guy screaming through the coach about digestive problems, showing a flip-chart of the internal organs as he tried to flog some 'miracle' cure. I pretended to go to sleep but listened as he was laughed at by the other passengers. Unsurprisingly, nobody bought any. Just as I thought we'd got rid of him and could get some peace, another guy got on selling his answer for back problems.
Eventually, I managed to curl my body onto the seat to doze but I have no trouble sleeping on buses. In fact, I have trouble staying awake! However, the worry of the backpacks kept rousing me and we spent a lot of time disecting the contents of our bag wondering which clothes/books/medicines we'd have trouble living without . Apart from one toilet stop (no loo on board), around 4am at a Bolivian version of a 'Little Chef' (some deserted cafe in the middle of nowhere), at least there were no more disruptions.
Despite the much famed attractions in Potosi, we were so worried about the altitude (4100m) that we practically ran into the bus station there and got the first one we could - staying a possible record of about 15 minutes. We managed to see a few of the city's famous churches as we left. With it being a Sunday, the bus driver treated us to a tape of terrible wannabe singers belting out church songs, probably recorded at his local service the week before. No chance of a nap here then either.
Three hours later, Sucre bus terminal looked deserted. We eventually found a guy manning the 'Trans Copacabana' office and after about five minutes of sign language and us waving the tickets at him, he announced that our bags were in the cargo store across the road. I must have looked thrilled as Jody told me not to relax until we'd seen that they were in fact OUR bags. It was a tense moment, but there at the back of the dusty warehouse were our backpacks. I practically threw the tickets at the man. Sucre's a pretty city, but that day we didn't see any of it - we went straight to bed.
Where are we? Still in Sucre enjoying the warm weather. Someone's bravely given us a voluntary job teaching English to people who can't normally afford to learn. I have a class rowdy 10-year-olds while Jody's teens are angelic by comparison.