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In this small Bolivian town I must have appeared like something from Nasa


This is why I travel.

The night before the day was pretty miserable. And when the day dawned, it wasn’t a lot better. So my expectations were pretty low for New Year’s Day.

I slept in the Bolivian city of Oruro, a place of more than a quarter of a million people set in the middle of the altiplano that links Uyuni further south with La Paz in the north. I had booked a room in a hostel/hotel that looked like it was built about 10 years ago – ie it appeared bright, modern and swish, in a Holiday Inn sort of way. What the photos didn’t show was the surroundings. They were a mixture of Beirut after a bad spat and an open top landfill site, in high wind. The filth was simply incredible – it was everywhere and there was no apparent effort to keep the place clean. The only ones doing that were the stray dogs that were everywhere feasting on mounds of rubbish.

Apart from the incongruous hostel/hotel, there was a warren of mud and gravel roads and walled-off sites, some of which had homes in them. Most were half finished, or certainly works in progress – and not a lot of progress at that. The ring road, off which the hotel was located, was the only hard-surface road around. Everything else was mud and piles of builders’ waste, plastic – loads and loads of plastic – and domestic garbage. And so, when it rained, which it did for most of the night, the result next morning was medieval-looking in terms of the filth and squalor everywhere. And a few feet from the hotel there was what might have been a small river but was more of an open sewer. My bathroom stank of sewerage.

The whole spectacle screamed inequality and injustice. What riles me about such conditions is not the effect they have on me. I can – and do – leave, after all. What annoys and depresses me is that a government and/or a municipality, a society majority even, cannot deliver better for its people. Maybe there’s a view that this is okay, that it is all right to have people live in such conditions. I don’t agree.

I slept badly, woke at 5am and got up to do some writing. Rather than have a faeces-perfumed shower, I got dressed and headed off rapid. The altiplano is fairly dull, to be honest, though traditional agriculture was asserting itself more and more as I headed north. Lots of tillage and quite a few dairy and beef cattle. All facilitated by the rain, such as last night’s. This month is, apparently, the best for rain in the region and so I really have left desert behind, at least for now.

So that’s why I travel. For moments like this – moments that come right out of the blue, that happen simply because you get a notion of “Oh, I wonder what’s up there?” Nine times out of 10, there’s actually nothing that unusual. But still you go because, occasionally, very occasionally, you can find yourself right at the heart of another community’s special moment and have an encounter, a wonderful encounter, that enriches and makes you think, yeah, it’s not all bad.

Source : The Irish Times