Day 5 – Two Days in One.

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Today was another early start and late finish, ultimately arriving into La Paz at 1am the following morning.
90% of that time was spent in 1st and 2nd gear over roads that are giving your kidneys the paddy-whacks.

Upon rousing, a quick assessment of bites indicates that I have been found and they are gaining in number. Sleeping covered was the most effective. Sleeping covered in bug spray the least. A 30% Deet solution seems to merely act as a hot sauce condiment for whatever invisible creatures appear in the night and drink my blood.

Mr. Ian fortunately continues to outdo himself with his pre-boarding brews. We’ve been to Congo, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda; just enough to wet the lips, sharpen the mind and remind myself that well brewed coffee, drunk black, brings back the indulgent and exotic-yet accessible roots that a simple cuppa is capable of.

On the docket three visits are planned but only two shall proceed.
First is a stop at San Ignacio; another cooperative of organic farmers for whom coffee is 100% of how they make their living.

 The welcome is warm and festive with confetti generously cast over our heads. A flare is fired to gather the members and we three stooges take our place in the seats of honour. Each member, upon their arrival greets all gathered with a handshake and good-natured welcome. I’m assuming that this will be the usual meet and greet. Some get to know you speeches, a chance for pictures and perhaps a hike up the hill to examine a plot of coffee trees etc. It was all those things but there was also the threat of dancing to come; the two speaker stacks being carried in suggested that Mr. Ian’s threat of dancing was not idle.

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Dancing? I am white, early 40s, wearing shorts *gasp* (it gets worse) with white socks (I told you). I couldn’t let my backbone slide short of surgery to say nothing that I have no fluency in any of the traditional dance steps of even my own culture let alone what I might encounter in the Bolivian jungle.

But a party is a party and it was going forward you could be damn sure of that-my shortcomings notwithstanding.

First there was the laying on of wreaths. Beautifully put together flowers for us the guests of honour. Next was lunch, a massive portion of chicken, potatoes, yucca and plantain. I quietly gave thanks for the food and am pretty sure snuck in a “Please Lord, let there not be any dancing today…” Sadly no Biblical rains arrived to thwart the scheduled festivities and not long after lunch we were ushered out and paired up with three lovely women from the Coop and the music began….

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Make no mistake, the women although modest in stature were most certainly the leads here with their 6ft, 200lb partners. My dance partner was graciously the meekest of the three. Mr. Ian’s was a touch more rambunctious. JD’s was older (60?) and an absolute pistol, with JD in turn getting tossed around like Raggedy Andy; just along for the ride and trying to stay loose. It’s only worse if you’re stiff.

No word of a lie, the song we were dancing to went on for eternity. It was like the Stairway to Heaven of South America. What was worse – no one else was dancing! They were all just watching and enjoying themselves.

Song over, we quickly collected ourselves, said our goodbyes and were in the truck just as fast as could be.

You’ll notice no pictures or videos exist of this time for obvious reasons.

Next stop was Cenaproc, a cooperative who in the past was arguably a model for the others. They had a reputation of being big, well organized and capable of great coffee. At this juncture of our visit things were obviously in transition. No coffee or activity at the mill. No one around. Some confusion as to who was the president anymore and a sense that it was going to be each man for themselves going forward for the indefinite future.

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La Paz was where we were to lay our heads but we’re close to 6 hours away and it’s nigh to 5pm here, leading to a disappointing decision to skip the last scheduled Coop visit but assuaged by the prospects of a hot shower and fine bed at days end.

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A word about origin travel. No one shows up to a place like Bolivia and gets the kind of presidential access we’ve enjoyed without help; a fixer, a driver, a contact, a local, someone who is trusted, known and knows. There were a couple of key folks during this trip and Jaime (Hi-May), our driver, was one of them. Driving on the roads that bring you out of Caranavi and into the coffee requires intense concentration and effort. A moment’s lapse could be a broken truck. A broken truck in the Yungas jungle with no cell service is a story that I’d rather someone else tell.

After back-to-back days of massive drives on epic roads, Jaime expires, quickly and completely. You could tell because he suddenly, out of character, began to slavishly follow the speed limit. Then he began to drift into the oncoming lane. Then we pulled him over.

What to do? Vroom, vroom!

Near midnight and at 4000m, with only the milky-way and my high beams for light, I couldn’t tell if the tension in my neck was the altitude and it’s special kind of headache or driving a new truck on a strange Bolivian road armed only with Young Drivers training. The joker in the deck is that at certain unmarked points in the highway, the flow of traffic flips so that where you would normally be in the right lane; you now need to be in the left. To the untrained eye, nothing short of facing down a truck coming head on would tell you the error of your ways and hopefully with enough time to correct them.

Gracias a Dios, we made it into La Paz. I may not have even taken off my boots as I fell onto the 300 thread count sheets of the Casa Grande Suites Hotel bed.

Join me for the following and final installment of my time in Bolivia-the crescendo with a cupping and sucking of the remaining marrow from Bolivia’s bones before we depart. We’re almost there!

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