transportation here comes in every imaginable form. motorbikes spin around street corners, crumbling metal frames posing as cars creak through intersections, and “public” transportation is open to every kind of interpretation: converted station wagons, family vans, garishly decorated school buses — all are encouraged to apply. the point is, people need to get where they need to go, and they do so without much fuss. grandmas load themselves into precarious truck beds with big bags of onions or potatoes or peppers, mothers and fathers squeeze their children and groceries between themselves and the handlebars of their motorcycles, entire soccer teams fit into impossibly small taxis.
my own transportation experiences here have made a deep and amusing impression on me. in spite of the troubling lack of safety precautions (I’ve yet to find a seat belt, ever) I’ve experienced a distinct feeling of community in these shifting, ever changing forms of transport.
here are a few of my highlights:
when leaving the small farming community of Chulumani, we usually walk for about an hour to another small town where we’re able to catch the first of our shared taxis, or “trufis.” on one of our treks down the mountain in the misty morning light, we got lucky. a boxy ambulance rumbled by and my coworker flagged it down. the driver was reluctant at first but then hopped out of the front seat and opened up the back, where we flung our muddy selves onto the stretcher, grinning at our good fortune. we stretched our legs and happily bounced around with the ancient oxygen tanks.
a true japanese model.
many cars here are imports, from China, the US, or Japan. one afternoon, when headed to a community meeting, my coworker and I were picked up by Don Mario, who drives a most unusual model. at first I didn’t notice much of interest, but eventually found myself puzzled to see that the dashboard features — the clock, the radio and tapedeck, the speedometer — were all on the right hand side, facing the passenger. as I looked more closely, I could see dozens of wires, wild and winding, tracing from the right hand side of the car to the left, to the base of the steering wheel. no matter how it started out, this car had been crudely but creatively converted to drive on the right side of the road. a true japanese model.
to get to my little office in Sacaba, just outside of Cochabamba, I hop on a “micro,” a small, school bus type vehicle. every micro has it’s own personality. drivers decorate the cars with posters of Jesus or their favorite music group or public service announcements. music blares cheerfully, no matter the hour. seats are covered in sticky plastic, or leopard print, or on a good day, the seats are plush and soft, as if taken straight from a movie theater. I genuinely enjoy watching the city pass by as we chug through morning traffic, cruise through roundabouts, and turn onto the rough dirt roads of the rapidly urbanizing suburb where I work.
blockades are a common form of protest here. protesting groups shut off small highways or streets with their banners and their bodies, making their point. confronting a bloqueo is a common occurrence, so frustrating as it is, people grumble without much rancor or impatience because they’ve been through it before. my favorite aspect is that everyone has something to suggest to the driver — no, turn left here, up this hill, no, turning around is best — it becomes a community effort to employ some creativity to get everyone to their destination.