up in the early hours of the morning is not my speciality.
But when it means you have to or else miss that plane,
then the only fear is that you will sleep through the
alarm. This was possibly the reason for my light sleep.
I hauled on my backpack, followed by the daypack then
the extra bag I'd needed for all the things I had bought
here in La Paz. Each bag was packed to bursting point.
I pictured myself hauling this lot through customs in
they believe me?
hotel was a very dark place at four-thirty in the morning.
I felt like a blind man attempting an army assault course
as I fumbled my way along the landing and tried to find
where the stairs began. When I reached the toilet that
signified the start of the steps, I switched on its light
in order for me to walk down and not fall. The main doors
of the hotel were closed, so I tried the door to reception.
That was locked also. Who ever heard of getting locked
in a hotel? I banged on the door in the hope of rousing
someone. A minute or so later it opened to reveal a bleary-eyed
youngster with a crooked baseball cap on his head.
dias!' I announced, trying to sound cheerful.
you paid?' he grunted.
this he allowed me through, proceeding to unlock the front
door so that I could leave and he could get back to sleep.
my taxi outside yet?' I asked.
shrugged and followed me out. The street was devoid of
life. We both stood there awkwardly for a moment, me wondering
if the receptionist the night before had remembered to
book me that taxi, and him possibly wishing he hadn't
agreed to do the nightshift.
flagged down the first taxi that shot around the corner
and I got in that. My driver was extremely jolly, given
the time of morning. At four-thirty in the morning speaking
in Spanish was not something I found easy. In fact speaking
at all was not something I found easy. But as the airport
was a good half-hour ride away, I felt it would have been
rude not to. We talked of my trip and of Bolivia.
you like Bolivia?' he asked.
yes,' I replied, truthfully, 'it's a beautiful country.
The people are so friendly, and the indigenous people
have you been?'
entered via Chile, on a tour that ended in Uyuni, then
went to Potosí, Sucre and Lake Titicaca. I stayed
there for ten days.'
you go to Tiwanaku?' he asked, a sparkle appearing in
is Bolivia's most significant archaeological site. Very
little remains of it now and it's not all that impressive.
The pyramid is all but gone. All that remains are a few
walls and a couple of ugly statues. If this was the best
in Bolivia, then I dread to think what the others were
I told the driver this, his smile fell off his face and
rolled onto the floor.
it's because I've been spoiled by the pyramids of Mexico,'
I continued, trying to counteract the bad effect this
seemed to be having on our friendship.
what are they like?' he asked.
they're fantastic!' I exclaimed, and proceeded to waffle
on about the size of their pyramids and the number of
ruined cities in the Yucatan.
he grunted, and drove on in silence. Any attempt at conversation
after that was met with indifference. At the airport I
gave him an extra ten bolivianos and told him to keep
the change. 'Right!' he replied, without so much as a
smile, hopped in the car and sped off.
he was proud of those ruins.
I had checked in I made my way to the departure lounge.
At security the officer pointed behind me. I turned to
see a suspicious-looking character beckoning me into a
room the size of a changing compartment. Once inside he
pulled the curtain across and stared at me.
didn't like the look of this.
he said, quite frankly.
shouldn't really, I thought, I'm just about to get on
then performed a rapid body search and nodded for me to
outside I plonked my bag on the conveyor and started to
remove my belt.
worry about that,' said the security officer, without
actually removing his eyes from the screen.
it always sets off the metal detector,' I protested.
okay,' he replied, motioning me through with his hand.
stepped through. The alarm went off. I turned and gave
a 'told you' look to the officer. He waved me on again.
Their relaxed attitude to security was a bit daunting
to say the least.
I stood in the queue waiting to board the plane, I watched
the sniffer dog run up and down the conveyor belt as they
loaded the luggage on the plane. On occasion his back
legs would fall off the side. I found this highly amusing.
However this time the smile was to fall off my face and
hit the floor at the sudden realisation that I had forgotten
to take that bag of coca leaves out of my backpack.
heart rate increased by double and my bowels suddenly
went into spasm. For those who are unaware, the coca leaf
is the substance from which cocaine is derived. It grows
in Bolivia and is widely sold in the markets. The Bolivians
use it for tea and for chewing. When placed in water it
makes a great herbal tea. When chewed it helps combat
fatigue and hunger. However in Bolivia they are legal.
In other countries they are not.
I took my seat on the plane I chided myself for forgetting
such an important thing. I had constantly said to myself,
forget to get rid of those coca leaves!' but in the last
minute rush to get everything and then try to fit it all
into my bags, I had quite obviously neglected to do this.
after three months of safe and relatively trouble-free
travel in South America, it looked as though I could be
arrested when I arrived in England, or even before I left.
Although given the carefree attitude at security I doubted
if this would be the case. Even so I nervously waited
for take off and hoped I wouldn't hear the following announcement:
Mr Ian Middleton please come to the front of the plane.'