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The Midnight Ride of Paul McCormick, Episode 2

August 5, 2006

Last night, Paul and I had another adventure as we rode in another rented vehicle from Tarija, Bolivia, to Tartagal, Argentina, and back up to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, from where we will be flying back to the United States this evening.

Why did we have to rent another vehicle and driver?  Well, Paul still wasn’t feeling 100% yesterday, so rather than risk him getting worse in a location with no available flights until August 8, we decided to get back to Santa Cruz, where one of Bolivia’s two international airports is located. 

Those of you who know enough about South America’s geography might also ask why we went through Argentina to get to Santa Cruz, which is north of Tarija (Argentina being south)?  The answer:  there are no paved roads between Tarija and Santa Cruz, so in order to avoid another harrowing, bumpy ride, our drivers took us south into Argentina, where we could turn north again onto a paved road that would take us from Tartagal to Santa Cruz–a 9-hour detour in order to avoid 5 hours on a dangerous dirt road.  No wonder our drivers, two jolly, if somewhat cynical, middle-aged men, cursed Bolivia consistently during the 18-hour drive.  After we entered back into Bolivia at Yacuiba, an unwealthy border town with streets littered from the day’s pre-Independence Day festivities, Luis, our principal driver, grumbled, “Bolivia es una mierda.  Lo mejor es Tarija–el resto no vale nada” (Bolivia is a shit.  The best place is Tarija–the rest is worthless.). 

I pictured myself having to take a 9-hour detour every time I wanted to head north out of my home town and thought that I would probably think my country was a piece of shit, too, if I had to deal with that on a regular basis.  Imagine having to first drive south to Richmond, Virginia, from State College, PA, before heading back north every time you wanted to get to New York City or New Haven, Connecticut–what a time-consuming, gas-guzzling pain in the ass.  Your only other option would be to risk your life and your car on a bumpy, unstablilized dirt road that washes out during the wet season.

Every time I come home from Latin America, I come home with a greater appreciation for what I have access to in the States–but this trip takes the cake.  Although I saw greater poverty in certain parts of Brazil, I have never seen such a general lack of access to certain perks of modernity.  Although the cities themselves are fairly modernized, the country in general is far behind the rest of the hemisphere. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, if you live in Tarija or Tupiza, Bolivia, the only way to get from here to there is by dirt road, train, or super long detours. 

Think of all of the options that you and I have to take us from here to there–buses, trains, planes, and paved roads (and not just paved roads, but multiple routes along paved roads)–and be thankful.


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