Bolivians are generally a very tranquil, happy, satisfied group of people – except when they’re not. And when they’re not, their method of expressing their discontent is usually to block major road arteries until their message is heard. When this happens, travel between major cities can become a hassle and a headache, something that I experienced twice during my two months in the country.
The first blockade I experienced was heading into Oruro from the north. There were two protest groups: teachers and miners. I got into a shared taxi at Conani and drove about 45 minutes to the town of Caracollo, where I was told to get out and walk. I wasn’t told how far to walk, but I saw everyone else walking and I just followed. It actually turned out that the people I saw walking weren’t other travelers, but the protesters themselves, and I accidentally found myself within a group of teachers protesting for higher wages. As this is a cause I can get behind, I wasn’t too distressed.
After the teacher protest, I passed through the much larger miner protest, which was just beginning to assemble. There were massive numbers of police officers as well, and it turns out that this protest would be disassembled rather violently a few hours later. I simply walked past, and after a total of about 6 km of walking I finally found another taxi to take me to Oruro.
The second protest I encountered was just outside Uyuni, traveling from Potosi. Again, the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere and everyone was told to get out and walk. This time, the cause of the protest was a demand to reconstruct a bus terminal. After walking a few kilometers downhill, I was picked up by a bus that had been arranged by the same company that dropped me off before the protest. I was actually rather impressed at the company’s coordination of ongoing travel.
My advice for anyone traveling by bus through Bolivia would be to always expect some kind of disruption. Usually the protests are known about in advance, but sometimes they are not. Always wear comfortable shoes and clothes on bus rides, bring plenty of food and water to help you get through up to 10 km of walking, allow room in your schedule for delays of up to a few hours, bring layers and blankets in case you are stuck on a stopped bus at night, and don’t forget your sense of humor and adventure!