- 24 August 2001
- Hotel 24 de Septiembre
- 327 KM
- 206293 KM
24 August 2001 – Upon departing Yacuiba, we traveled about 200-kilometers over paved two-lane roads and were stopped at five police checkpoints, where, in large, aged books, our international drivers’ license numbers, vehicle plates and passport information were noted. Nothing ever will come of these books besides serving as dust collectors! Granted, the ridiculous, time-consuming process does offer jobs. We also paid about US$20 in tolls for both cars during that 200-kilometer trip, and I assure you the charges far outweighed the caliber of the roads.
Mid-afternoon we arrived at the dreaded 150-kilometer unpaved leg about which several Bolivians had warned us. The rocky, bumpy, narrow road, with not one sign at any crossroads or v-junction, was worse than I expected. Over the course of four hours, we drove no faster than 30 kilometers per hour. Near nightfall we reached the simple town of Gutierrez, home to a few hundred people with a central square, with a row of food stalls stocked with cooked chicken, beef kebab, rice, potatoes and salad.
In Gutierrez, there are two hotels, but most people I know would call them sheds. The first hotel was filthy with only a sheet as a divider, so I was extremely hopeful going into the second hotel, which turned out to be a couple of rooms in the backyard of Senora Lucha’s kitchen and restaurant. Our room consisted of a wooden chair, small table, a single and double bed with no sheets or pillows, and, on the double bed, a mattress so thin the half-inch springs could be felt. A nailed-to-the-wall screen covered the lone window, which had a view of Senora Lucha’s not-so-attractive outdoor kitchen. There was no lock on our door.
I planted our few things inside and Big Mama, as we termed Mrs. Lucha due to her enormous size, came with clean sheets and pillows. I felt relief. Clean sheets can be a luxury at a time like this. I helped Big Mama make the bed and asked for agua (water) to wash my hands and face. She responded by sending her young, sullen teenage son to draw a bucket of water. Big Mama even gave me a wash pan, a tremendous one, to keep my washing water separate from the clean water in the bucket. The bathroom was an outhouse behind the pigs in a pen, ducks, chickens and dogs in the dirt courtyard. The stench of the outhouse was pungent.
Before supper, I washed my face, used the stinking loo and then met Jim in the square for a meal at a metal table with clumsy chairs in front of a chicken stand. Trucks speeding through on the dirt path spread dirt everywhere. Adults and children alike are dirty out here. We ate fried chicken, potatoes and salad, and Jim also tried a little rice. Each plate cost about US$.80. We’ve had cheap meals before, but I genuinely could not believe how little we were charged. We washed down our food with ice-cold beer supplied by Big Mama’s icebox, one of a couple in town.
While eating, we made friends with the girls frying our chicken, and one of them, who looked to be a child herself, had a couple of adorable little ones. We took Polaroid photos of the toddler boy and girl and their tremendous excitement was contagious drawing a small crowd of townsfolk to eye the photos. These were the first photos the children had ever seen of themselves.