They were village women in braids, highland hats and tiny pumps. Some even had babies slung to their backs. But they all made their way about the makeshift soccer pitch at pace, kicking around a half-deflated ball. We — of hiking shoes, branded outdoor clothing and little to weigh us down – were getting our butts kicked.
I need to fill up the tank completely. Finding gasoline in Chapare can be unreliable. It’s one of the ingredients in cocaine production – and that gets first priority.
— Alvarro, our client and guide in Cochabamba, Bolivia explains why it’s necessary to gas up in the city before heading into the jungle.
Paraguay customs. We had just crossed the 200 mile desert frontier with Bolivia. Border agents dressed in knit shirts, their shoulders adorned in crossed Paraguayan and U.S. flags, scanned our bus’s contents –- all of it piled before us. As we waited for a drug-sniffing Labrador retriever to finish pacing and pawing suspect bags, we figured it was time to bring the cocaine story to its finish.
And just as we thought this, the guard approached: “Miss, place your bags up here. We’d like to take a look.”
As much as anyone else, we enjoy visiting world-famous tourist sites and embarking on adventure trips. Peru has been no exception. In fact, in just a few hours we depart for a five-day trek to the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu by way of a mountain pass at 4650 meters/15,500 feet.
But there’s almost always another side to the countries we visit. And sometimes we disappear into the hills for weeks to find it.
The driver carved his way across northern West Bengal through territory unknown to most, including the mapmakers. Our SUV eventually rolled to a stop at the end of a dirt road where a group of village women dressed in their best and brightest saris were seated in a semi-circle on the ground. They had been waiting for hours.
And they were waiting for us.
When Guatemala City and the town of Totonicapan both wound up our itinerary, several Guatemalans we spoke to wondered aloud: “Now why exactly are you going there again?“