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2004: Bus and truck drivers

Meeting a truck on a lonely road

For reasons, which in the following account will be comprehensible, I want to tell about Bolivian bus and truck drivers. With their endurance, skill, ingenuity and energy, they often prove the best qualities you find there against the background of a male population majority struggling in the informal sector to make ends meet, often without much success. If I tell about it, at the same time I must prescind from what they frequently transport. For example cattle of which only a certain number arrives at the abattoirs alive after a week of transport without food and water. For this they cannot be held responsible, for they receive nothing of the obtained profits. I want to tell of them, because on the lonely roads, which often are only tracks, you meet them and occasionally need their help, driving in remote areas or when travelling on a truck or in a bus. These go nearly anywhere, where there is a path wide enough for them to pass. They, the choferes together with their assistants, keep connections going also in the remote zones, since horses, or carts and transport on the large rivers have all but disappeared.

As far as the roads of Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Cochabamba, Trinidad and Concepción (Chiquitanía) are concerned, their job is not very different from countries with expanded roads. But as soon as the tarmac  ends, they must become much more than a normal driver. The going itself requires from then on a lot of experience and uninterrupted attention, but here is an example based on an experience on two stretches with what more they have to deal with.

Turned-over truck on the roadsideIn pitch dark night and pouring rain, a spot appears, seeming somewhat too narrow for large vehicles. Several heavily loaded trucks are there and a bus, sunk already axle-deep in the mud and obstructing each others way. One of the vehicles is stuck diagonally across the track and with its nose in a swamp hole. A sight at which the simple-minded super civilized human will think, that this it and not before a crane vehicle with high special wheels ordered from somewhere would arrive, nothing could possibly move from here. In a comparable scenario, if it should occur, in Europe the fire department and technical relief services with special equipment would be called. Nothing of the like here. For some time our folks smoke a couple of cigarettes or push themselves a new "bolo" coca into the mouth, have an animated chat, while for a while not much is happening. Then, by and by they become vivid. A few of the men will cut down some slender trees, others will shovel the wet mud under a couple of wheels away. Two are busy lashing to a vehicle a strong wire rope, whose eyelets usually have disappeared from too much use. So they have to make a provisional splice. The round timbers then are being wedged between the double wheels of the truck, so these will not spin when the trucks start. There is not much to be seen in the dark, and only here and there a flashlight is flashing up, but everybody is working. Not everything can be observed because of the darkness. But after a couple of hours, the vehicles that want to go in one direction have passed those, who want to go  into the other direction. All trucks stand free and upright and are ready to continue their voyage. As a matter of course, everyone has helped. Even in case one's own vehicle is not affected, it would not get through, for the others block the passage.

Our old JeepHaving been with the old Toyota caught up in the middle, one finally is happy to leave  the trucks behind and also because the mosquitoes are being blown away by the air flow, but after a couple of miles, there is another stop, because a huge tree has fallen on the track. With luck, there is only a thicket with thin trees left or right, through which you can break through with full power on either side. Occasionally a branch strikes then into the windshield, but if it gets only a couple of scratches or cracks and does not break entirely, its not worth lamenting much about. Normally however the thick branches have to be attacked with machete for at least half an hour until the trunk is laid free. If then you have no chain saw in working order and the trunk is too thick to be cut with an axe and much too heavy in order to pull it with the vehicle and a wire rope aside, you only wait and hope for a truck to come for help.

If with luck, a truck appears, then hardly a word is changed. The driver does often not get out of his cabin, his assistant fastens the chain around the trunk, a hitch and the track y is open again. A queer feeling: I do not like these trucks, because they are carrying away the large trees out of the last jungles of this earth, but their drivers are friendly and helpful people, who will get you out of a difficult situation quite often, if your vehicle is in the mud up to the axles and seated on the chassis.

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