It had been a long and bumpy ride. We were squeezed into an old bus, which we affectionately referred to as “ the chicken bus”. Not that there were chickens on the bus with us, but we felt that there could have been had we hit the right day. We pulled into a dusty little town on the Peru-Bolivia border. The rest of the locals on the bus filed off and dispersed into the various shacks that lined the street. As our packs were being thrown down from where they had been strapped to the roof of the bus, we looked around for a clue to tell us where to go next. We put our backpacks on and started to wander off as if we knew where we were going. A few buildings away we see a sign that says “Cambio de Change”. Okay, that’s a start. We had to change our money over to Bolivianos. As we headed towards it, a young boy, probably ten or eleven years old points in the opposite direction. We continue to walk casually toward the Cambio de change, when he follows us and continues to point in the opposite direction, saying something in Spanish.
Photo courtesy of Toastforbrekkie's on Flickr
We pause, and look in the direction he’s pointing. There is a sign on a building that looks like it might be a government sign so we shift our path as if we were always planning to head that way. When we arrive and peer into the building. We realize he is right. This is immigration. We shuffle along passing several immigration officers who look at our passports. I answer “ La Paz” and “ seven days “ with seven fingers in the air, hoping I am answering the right questions. Our passports are stamped and we are back out on the dirt road.
We start to walk towards the Cambio de change again, anxious to get some cash before too many locals notice that we have money to change. The young boy steps out again and motions diagonally across the street, this time walking us directly where we need to go. Customs. This time the forms we need to fill out are available in English so we get this done pretty quickly. We say “Ola” to the officer, hear a stamp, then “ gracias” and we are off again. The boy is right by our side now, taking us across the street to a different “ Cambio de change” than the first one we were headed for.
Now I’m starting to understand. This boy is trying to take us to one of those money changing spots where they rip you off with a ridiculous exchange rate and he gets a cut. “Just change a little bit, and we’ll get more in La Paz.” I whisper to Sean. “ Watch your pockets”. The boy takes us in and Sean changes only the money in his pockets but none in his money belt. Hmm, the exchange rate seems to be about what we expected, perhaps even a bit less. We’re done here. Money is all safe and sound where nobody can get at it and we’re back out on the street again. The boy is motioning for us to follow him again. We can’t keep following, because we’re supposed to be boarding a bus again for La Paz. We look around, and realize there are no buses. The bus we got off has turned around and is headed back for Puno, Peru. The boy is smiling now and waving for us to follow him. “ Bus?” Sean asks. “ La Paz?” I say. Nodding the boy starts walking, looking back to see if we are following. We are of course, because we don’t know what else to do. The sun is getting low in the sky now and we appear to be walking out of town. It seems like we are walking for a really long time on this main dirt road lined with dirt colored buildings. I am starting to get really nervous now. My mind is racing. He turns down a side road and we pause to look at each other. Should we keep going? We’ve got to find this bus. He’s taking us deeper into town.
“Where is the bus?” He points in the direction we are heading. “ The bus is in here?” “ Si, si” he replies. It looks like we are starting to walk amongst people’s homes and the streets are becoming narrower, almost like alleys. Visions of being mugged are starting to flash through my head. It’s all very clear now, he’s taking us to his older brothers who are going to smile and welcome us into their home right before they pull a knife, hold it to my throat and threaten Sean for everything he’s got. “ He’s got all the money” the boy will tell his brothers in Spanish as they route through our bags and start to make a small cut in my throat when they don’t find much. Sean and I will start to pray, I will cry, Sean will make some quick move in an attempt to get them off us and yell run! Terrified, I will start to run and look back to find he’s not with me. I’ll back and find them fighting. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I will pray that somebody will come and find us.
“ Lisa” Sean says “ do you know which bus we’re getting on?” I look up and we’re at the bus stop. He was taking us there after all. I look at the boy and I’m actually seeing him for the first time. He is dark haired with beautiful dark eyes that are smiling back at me. He is proud that he has brought us here. He adjusts his baseball cap that is too big for his head and speaks to the bus driver to arrange our seats. We board the bus and look out the window at this snotty nosed kid who helped us find our way. We decide we should give him some money and Sean digs through his pockets to find something to give him. I am so impressed that I want to take a picture of him. Back off the bus, Sean gives him some money and I snap a photo of the two of them. I am ashamed that I didn’t trust this young boy and glad that he couldn’t read my mind when my imagination had started to run away with itself.
Feeling good about ourselves and finally able to relax we settle into our seats. Just before the bus departs, the boy climbs onto the bus. “ No good” he tells Sean and hands him back one of the coins he gave him. “ No good” he pauses and waits for us to answer. “No good?” Sean asks, confused by this statement. He is still waiting for a response. Somebody behind us speaks English and explains that the money is not real. Apparently we had given him counterfeit money. We’re not sure how we got it or how he knew, but agreed to exchange the coin for another one. He smiles, nods and hops off the bus. He waits for the bus to leave and waves to us as we go, sending us off safely on our next adventure.
© Lisa Woodill and Storytime @ My Little Travel Bug, 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Lisa Woodill and Storytime @ My Little Travel Bug with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.