The Whiskey Chronicles (in Buenos Aires)

The Whiskey Chronicles (in Buenos Aires)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

What Would the Highway Patrol Think of This?

Plan B was to get out of not only Quijarro, but Bolivia. After passing the night in the Pantanal Hotel, a five-star resort suspiciously located in the middle of one of the country's major cocaine transit routes, I hitched a ride to the short bridge defining the border between Bolivia and Brazil.

There I chatted with the Bolivian border guard about all the narco-trafficing taking place in the area, which also happens to be a top destination for cars stolen in Sao Paulo and Rio. But when it came time to show him my passport, he wasn't interested.

"The passport guy will be here in a couple hours if you want to come back," he said. I offered my thanks and walked over to the Brazilian side, where the border guard there waved me past when I tried to show him my $100 Brazilian visa. Apparently passports weren't all that necessary in this part of the world, something the drug runners and car theives must love.

After spending a day on the Brazilian side of the Paraguay River, gorging on chicken-stuffed coxinhas and sweet caipirinhas, I hoofed it back to Santa Cruz. The taxi in the photo above (click on it for a better look) took me from the airport to my hotel and is typical of the city's taxi fleet.

Santa Cruz taxis are all brought over, well past their warranties, from Japan, where people drive on the left side of the road. Bolivians drive on the right, so the steering columns have to be ripped out and reconnected on the other side of the car. As a result, the dashboard becomes more decorative than functional: the odometer, speedometer, temperature gauge and gas gauge all stop working.

In La Paz, the taxis aren't much better, but there's an added element of danger. La Paz's narrow roads are like San Francisco's - insanely steep - but to save on gas drivers often turn their ignition off while going downhill. When I do that in my car, I lose most steering control, but somehow the drivers here manage.