If there’s one thing Bolivia is determined to teach me, it’s patience. This is not my strongest quality, so learning it takes a lot. And believe me, we dealt with a lot of waiting in Puerto Villarroel for Bolivian boat hitchhiking into the Amazon. We knew our perfect scenario, finding a boat ride to Trinidad the same day we arrived, was unlikely. But the only way to get down the river was to start looking for a boat. We first tried the dockside restaurant with a “Tourist Information” sign on it, but the lady inside looked shocked to see a tourist and of course knew nothing about boats. So we stashed our packs under the stilted building and I went walking along the river.
Next someone directed me to the naval office, where the military officers at least tried to help this crazy dreadlocked hippy bum from a country Bolivia doesn’t get along with too well. They found a boat captain who was leaving in the afternoon, a glimmer of hope! But all the captain said was “I don’t have much space.” When I asked him the price he ignored me and told me to go look at the boat, before walking away. Since his boat was 1km away, we didn’t know the price, and it didn’t sound promising, we didn’t walk to look at the boat and never saw the captain again. So more sitting around, more asking random passersby. Most people want to help but just don’t know anything, so they direct you to one person who directs you to another person, and it all just turns into a wild goose chase.
Then finally — success? An old man led me on a more profitable goose chase to a man driving by in a truck whose boat was also, supposedly leaving in the afternoon. We settled on a price, agreed to wait for him where we were, shook hands and everything. Shazam! “After lunch,” was the time frame he’d given me. So I sat with the stuff while Zach took off to buy groceries and water for the trip. And then we sat. And sat and sat. 1pm, 2pm, 3pm. I was desperately craving a shower and a nap but still holding out hope that he guy would show up. “Doesn’t he want our money?” we asked. Apparently not. Around 4pm, after watching the one way-too-crowded boat mentioned earlier leave, we gave up for the day and moved into the only hostel in town, hoping for better luck mañana.
The next day we woke at 7am, not wanting to miss any boat departures. Silly U.S.-bred timeliness! Rather quickly we were informed that nothing was leaving that day but one boat was leaving the next morning. Some guy called the captain over to talk to us, but he wanted 200 Bolivianos ($29) each and for us to bring our own food. The only other tidbit of info the Lonely Planet had given us on this trip was that it was supposed to cost 100 Bolivianos including food. So ARGH! We said no, maybe this Bolivian boat hitchhiking thing wasn’t going to work out. We were hoping to SAVE money on this trip, not break even. But as soon as we arrived back in our room, we both had realized that this was probably the best offer we were going to get to get out of this stinkin’ town. It would cost more to get anywhere new by bus. So we did an about face and accepted the offer. “Woohoo, we hopefully have a boat ride tomorrow!” we cheered. Now how to kill a day in the sleepy, nothing town of PV: sit and watch The Sopranos all day because you sweat if you move and there are way too many mosquitoes outside.
Day Three. “Please, let us leave today!” We got up early again and waited where we were supposed to wait. Again, it proved completely unnecessary. The captain had said he’d come get us around 9am, but who knew what that meant. Our hope started waning when at noon we were still sitting there, watching a monsoon downpour, with no departure imminent. We thought we might have to stay another night and leave by bus in the morning, accepting defeat. Then finally, finally, somebody random appeared and led us through the rain to the boat. It seemed it was going to leave that day, hooray! So we loaded our stuff, bought more food, and settled in to wait longer to see if the boat would actually leave… Who thought up this Bolivian boat hitchhiking idea anyhow?