We´ve come to the end of our time in Bolivia, and what an adrenaline-packed final week it´s been!
Firstly, Anna and I mountain-biked down the world´s most dangerous road - and you´d be amazed at what passes for a road in Bolivia. We started the descent at 4700 metres in the cloud-covered, snow-capped mountains around La Paz, and rode 65km (descending 3,500 metres in the process) along the treacherously thin track, avoiding the oncoming vehicles as we went. We eventually arrived into the small Amazon town of Coroico feeling very lucky to be alive.
Not content with this hair-raising adventure, we then chose to spend 3 days climbing the Huayna Potosi mountain, which stands at an imposing 6088 meters tall. This was one of the most exhausting and dangerous activities either of us had ever attempted, and there were many times that we had to encourage each other through the pain. However, reaching the summit in time for sunrise after a grueling 6 hour final climb made us forget our pain, the lack of oxygen in the air and the freezing temperatures. The view was incredible, and being able to share the elation with each other was something neither of us will ever forget.
However, the fear that we may have felt during either of these adventures was completely eclipsed by the events of Friday night in La Paz. We had a great travelling crew of three Australians, two Kiwis, and another English guy and the night had started off well, with a party in the Australians’ room. At about 1am, after several beers, we decided to go to a bar called the Blue House, as we´d heard that it was the place to be on a Friday night. Upon arrival it was emptier than we´d expected, but we didn’t think anything of it and proceeded to have several more beers in a small room upstairs. At about 2.30am our world was turned upside down.
We heard some shouting and banging downstairs and next thing we knew several balaclava-clad, machine gun-wielding men dressed all in black stormed into the room shouting at us in Spanish. My first thought was that they were criminals, and were going to rob us for any money or belongings that we had on us. However, as more and more similarly-dressed men swarmed threateningly into the room, I began to notice the Policia and FELCN badges on their armored black uniforms. This might have been more reassuring, were it not for the fact that they began dragging us to our feet and making us stand facing the walls of the room, with our hands above our heads and our faces touching the wall. Panic set in immediately. What had we done wrong? What was going on?
We weren’t allowed to move, talk or turn around. The heavily armed police then began slashing apart the sofas that we´d been sitting on with their machetes, and upturning all of the furniture in the room. They then began kicking down a small door which led into the adjacent property, and I began to realize that this was a raid of some sort. For a short while, I was slightly comforted by this, but then 2 things happened which made the situation anything but comfortable for us.
Firstly, I saw the police plant packages of cocaine next to some of us when they were ripping apart the furniture, along with some additional drug paraphernalia. Secondly the more senior officers (as judged by their slightly less threatening uniforms), began thoroughly searching us, and unfortunately one of our friends did have a spliff on him. The excited exclamation of the searching officer, followed by his smug smirk was something close to evil and I realized that we were in big trouble. Next a state police television crew entered, and the senior officer began talking into the camera, happily explaining that the anti-narcotics police had uncovered a group of foreign drug dealers. Oh shit, now this was serious. The camera crew began taking all of our photographs, and photographing all of the ´evidence´ of our drug dealing activities.
After 2 hours of not being allowed to respond to the charges, go to the toilet, or even look at each other, the situation began to calm down slightly, and eventually some of us were allowed to leave. The fact is that most of us didn’t have anything on us – to the obvious dismay of the police officers - and so we were completely innocent. It seemed that the police were looking to demonstrate a show of force, and apart from stealing money from most of us while they searched us, none of us were actually harmed. After leaving as quickly as possible, we spent a few very paranoid hours at the hostel, before the staff informed us that the police would be raiding the hostel too as that was where we were all staying. We didn’t need telling twice, and so we checked out immediately.
Unfortunately our friend did have to spend the night in a Bolivian prison cell, and he was charged with possession of drugs. He was given a Bolivian criminal record, but hopefully that is the end of the matter, and hopefully it won´t be transferred to his home country. This whole experience was incredibly scary, and even though we hadn’t done anything wrong, when you see the police planting drugs you never know what could happen. This episode has tarnished our impression of this beautiful and spectacularly varied country, and now we´re really looking forward to getting over the border into Peru.