A harrowing day

Trip Start Jan 19, 2006
Trip End Jan 19, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, September 4, 2006

Before you read todays entry just a warning that it is quite upsetting but also just to let you know we are fine.

Woke up to the sound of īThe Last Postī which in retrospect is quite fitting for today as it always makes me cry.

We checked out and headed up to change our last travellers cheque (we have money again thankfully!). I went to check out which bus looked the best at the bus station and proceeded to have a mini row (as much as I could with my Spanish) with the guy we had reserved with last night as we found a better bus which was cheaper. Felt a bit bad about it really but got the better bus anyway. Bus left at 10am, we had decided to get the day bus as the scenery was meant to be good and as we left Uyuni we could see the rolling hills. More to the point we could also feel the very bumpy roads, not tarmac and very windy up and down the Andes through villages and past huts. Saw lots more llamas and Vacuruna (SP?) sorry forgot to mention these before but were all around in our trip too, apart from on the salt flats that is!

After a few hours we gratefully stopped at a small shacky restaurant with no toilet for lunch. We merrily continued our journey reading guide books, looking out the window, chatting away. We carried on the roads round one bend after another. Little did we know what would happen next.

As we turned around the next bend we saw an overturned bus. Our first thoughts were blimey that must have been a bad accident a few weeks ago. But then we could see clothes and a couple of people sitting by the side of the road. It gradually dawned on me that this wasnt an old accident but had just happened. The bus was a good 70 metres from the road there were people, belongings strewn around 100 metres around the place and crying and blood. I got off the bus hoping to do something to help but all I could do was stand in disbelief. As I walked around the bus I saw at least one person was dead and others covered in blood with serious injuries. I now felt desperate and could only think to get them some water so got our bottle and gave it to a young man covered in blood next to another who was older and in a much worse state, it turns out he was the driver. We felt so helpless but as a result I got angry with Dave as I didnt know what to do and wanted him to get our first aid kit out of the rucksack under the bus. Of course this would have been no use to anyone, things were far worse than a few plasters and bandages. A few local women on our bus just stood and cried at what they saw.

Some great men on our bus got some blankets and moved the injured near our bus. Thank god our driver stopped and we were helping, albeit the small amount we could do. People spent some time moving the injured and getting belongings together. I feel awful but we were of little use and eventually when I realised it was too far to walk to the next town (mobiles dont work here) we got out of the way and back on the bus. We moved to the back as the seriously injured were carried onto the bus and lain in the aisle. Others got on including a young girl with her mum. The ten year old seemed virtually unscathed, thank god for small mercies. We must have left 2 bodies there and eventually got on our way to take them to Potosi which was at least another 55km away on very bad roads. A jeep stopped and then drove off we hoped to get help and prepare the hospital or get an ambulance.

There were 2 women laid near us at the back and I could hear the occasional groan and cry in pain. I am sure you can imagine how dreadful that must have been. You could hear our relief when an ambulance approached us and a doctor and nurse came on the bus and administered some injections, presumably for pain or shock to all the passengers on their bus. It appeared that it may have been too late for the two women near us but we all held out hope. The doctor and nurse left us to go to the scene. We were left to continue for another couple of hours in silence apart from the cries from the women and our occasional sobs or sniffs.

The road was so bumpy and awful. I am not a religious person but I prayed for ages on that bus hoping that we would get everyone back safe and well. We did eventually arrive at Potosi hospital where it didnt appear they were expecting us and we had to scream for stretchers and doctors. There was a journalist with a camera there somehow (possibly for another occurance) who filmed all the passengers coming off. At first I thought this was sick, but actually at least it might warn people of the dangers of these roads and that safety is the most important thing not speed.

Eventually all the passengers from the fateful bus were off and in the hospital. Somehow our driver carried on into town and we arrived all very shaken up and distressed.

7 of us had been travelling together on the bus from our previous trip and none of us knew what to do with ourselves. We just wanted to get out of Potosi and to Sucre and to try and make sense of it all. Touts were coming up to us asking if we wanted to buy bus tickets or for a taxi. For some reason when something like this happens you expect the world to know about it and for everything to just stop.

By this time I didnt know if I wanted to come home or what I wanted to do and just wanted to do something that gets some good out of this tragedy. We are both fine though just a bit shaken up so dont worry about us!

We found out in todays newspaper that 4 people died in the crash and 14 were injured some very seriously. It was the 3rd accident on this road in 3 days and there had been 11 fatalities. It is all to uncommon here and elsewhere around the world. Watching CNN though there were reports of a train crash that killed 5 in Egypt but no mention of any deaths in Bolivia. Makes you think.

We have all talked about it a lot and Dave and I emailed and called our families today to remind them how important they are to us. Seeing someone die in front of you really makes you see the world differently, I know that must be obvious to anyone.

Today we also went to church and prayed and lit candles. Its only a small thing but its all I can think to do.

I am now considering whether to join or start a campaign to improve road and bus safety here and elsewhere. The bus they were on was old (although thankfully small), the driver was probably going too fast and people would have got this rickety bus (which I decided we should not take at the bus station - thank god) as it was cheapest. I dont know if this would make any difference at all but I dont know what else to do. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions please do let us know. All we can do now is ask people to think of the poor families and friends of these people here and everywhere else where such tragedies occur and make the most of every minute you have on this fantastic planet. Also drive safely and if you are travelling check the buses before you go.

Below is the link to the report that our friend, Jen, who we met on this trip has written. It is far better than I could do but I felt like I needed to write it down too.


Also below is the newspaper report - front page in the regional paper today so at least lots of people should know more about the dangers.


To all our family and friends we miss you all loads and are thinking of you!
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