Goal orientation. It’s a frustrating quality of human beings. We suffer because we have goals. And also because the world frustrates our ability to achieve them.
I was unable to accept my fate of being stranded at the Bolivian border. Acceptance is not in my blood. Buddhism is not in my blood. As the sun set on Bermeja, my passion to forge on only burned more brilliant.
We waited all day for a ride. And fortunately, contrary to all the vague prognostications of Bolivian taxi drivers, against all odds, I found myself crammed in the back of a station wagon a few hours before midnight. A frantic taxista was piling a menagerie of luggage and people into the car. I was scrunched in between a guitar, a shovel and two bulky canisters that belonged attached to a barbeque, not in a car. But Bolivia, it seems, is ahead of the curve when it comes to nature friendly energy sources. The taxi was a Japanese make industriously adapted to run on natural gas and drive on the right side of the road.
There were five other people with us. Unfortunately, the journey lacked the Hollywood authenticity (oxymoron?) of sharing a ride with any sort of chicken foul.
The three hour drive to Tarija was as exciting as it was tortuous. The first half an hour was spent trying to ‘consiguer un sello ‘ – we couldn’t even leave the town until we had received special authorization from either the army or some bigwig in the taxi syndicate. The border guard was your stereotypical callous, bloated and sweaty military type fattened up by years of laziness and corruption. Having one road out of a town, a road controlled with stringently by the military, gave me the chills. It was as if I had been stripped of some essential freedom. Dexter Freebish would agree. But eventually we passed on to the dark and windy autopista, not knowing what horrors awaited us in the claustrophic darkness of rural Bolivia. Sandy cliffs rose up precariously on either side of us, interrupted periodically by stretches of dense brush. Iwas shocked at how regularly we weaved around roaming herds of cows and donkeys chewing cud carelessly in the middle of the road.
The sense of danger was augmented by the lack of seatbelts in the car and the eerie emptiness of the road. Only a handful of cars were trying their luck that night.
I awoke from an uncomfortable nap and sensed that we had stopped. The driver’s door was open and the dashboard was emitting its familiar beep. I peered out of the windscreen from the back seat and made out the shape of our driver running nimbly up an enormous mound of earth strewn across the road in front of us. Fifty feet of rock and sandy dirt towered above the car.
But before the hope could drain out of me, our Panglosian taxista darted back into the cab and, as if inspired by the recent Dakar racing circuit, pushed the station wagon into gear. We began rumbling up the precipitous embankment.
Somehow, we made it over. My heart soared with Sisyphean glee as we descended back down onto the embracing pavement. Alas, our troubles had just begun.
Moments after our confrontation with Mother Nature, we found ourselves surrounded by a seething, angry mass of humanity. We were in the middle of the blockeo we had been warned about. Aggressive and raucous men crowded up against our windows in droves. Gandalphian cries echoed out from in front of the car: Ninguno puede pasar! You shall not pass!
It was scary, frustrating and exhilarating a la fois. By this point I had ascertained that it was some group of taxi drivers running the protest but I still had no idea why. I wanted to jump out and ask them to explain to me their grievances. I also wanted to get passed without a hassle. A flame of anger also leapt up in my breast – a desire to lash out violently and recklessly at the men surrounding the car.
But what can one Gringo do against the world’s evils? Nada. I cowered with silent awe in the back of the car. A debate struck up between one group of taxistas who was happy to let us pass and another vociferous, principaled group who wanted to send us back to Bermeja. Once again, our fate lay in the small brown hands of our wily driver.
Perhaps he appealed to some secret code of solidarity amongst taxistas, perhaps he used some sort of Jedi mind tricks. Whatever he did it was brilliant. As we emerged out the far side of the sea of protesters that peered accusingly into our car we were confronted with just how good our luck was to have chosen our particular taxi. A queue of taxis on the Tarija side of the road block snaked back for 500 meters on the other side. Their heavily burdened, exhausted passengers eyed us indignantly as we accelerated off towards Tarija.
I would reach my goal after all.
And speaking of goals. Do you know what the taxistas were protesting? The mud slide. Or that fact that the gobierno was taking so damn long to clean it up. Kind of ironic. But kind of makes sense too.