Fichicachi: My Weekend on a Bus
A wizard is never late, nor is he early. He always arrives precisely when he intends to. – Lord of the Rings
Lindsay and I heard the initial plans about the trip to Fichicachi while we attended the Muyurina Baptist Church several months ago, and hadn’t heard anything since, until Ariel mentioned the trip last Monday, a full three days before we left. Muyurina, along with a few other churches, supports the pastor of the Baptist church in Fichicachi, and takes an annual trip to serve the church and town.
I was told to meet at the church at 5:15pm, then 5:30. Finally, when they realized that, as a gringo, I’d show up “on time” (whatever that means), I was told 6:00. I arrived a few minutes after 6 to find about five people at the church. The bus arrived at about 6:45, and a pickup at 7:00. After a lot of packing and repacking to fit everything in the pickup and the bus, we left at 8.
Adventures with the Bus
The trip to Oruro, which normally takes four hours in the large passenger buses, took seven hours. While climbing the mountains the bus overheated, forcing us to pull over on the side of the road for the driver to do what he could to fix it, including sticking his hand into the running engine to do… something (I’m not a mechanic!). We could see the city lights as we waited – so close, yet so far.
We finally pulled into Oruro at 3:30am, and stopped at a church to sleep. There weren’t enough mattresses for everyone, so some slept in the bus while the rest of us shared beds. I slept half-off a straw mattress.
I was able to sleep for a couple hours before being woken up by… roosters? Nope. Honking horns? Nope. The older women in the group. Yep. The group of 25 was primarily jovenes in their 20s, along with the pastor and his wife, a couple of middle-aged men, and several moms of the jovenes. It was the moms that woke me up at 6:00am talking amongst themselves, after about two hours of sleep. And they weren’t whispering. Oh, well…
We got up and walked about ten blocks to the market to get some breakfast. The plan was to leave at 8:00, so we had to be back and all packed up in time. We sat down for api (a hot corn drink) and pasteles (cheese-filled, fried pastries), an Oruro tradition. As we ate, men ran back and forth with sides of beef for the market’s butcher shops. I’m disappointed that I didn’t have my camera, but envision literal sides of beef thrown over someone’s shoulder. Like a whole leg and ribs of a cow. I love this country!
We got back about 8 to see the pickup gone, having taken the driver and a couple others to take care of something for the bus. We later found out they had to make a part that was broken. Oruro’s not big enough to have many supplies, so we would either have to wait for them to order the part from another city or they could fabricate it themselves. So they did.
We were told it would take another 15 minutes or so, so we went back in the church and slept some more. About an hour. Someone called, and got another time estimate – half an hour. A group of us went walking through the city and got back an hour later. Still nothing. We spent some time talking at the church, then went out to find something for lunch. We walked up to a lookout over the city and got back around 2. No pickup. Still. By them I was getting a little anxious to go, feeling a little cooped up, but as I’ve been learning in Bolivia, I just need to go with the flow…
They finally showed up at 3:00, and we got on the road by 4:00. This segment of the trip was pretty uneventful, other than the checkpoints and toll booths. Our driver, who was a friend of someone on the trip, didn’t have the required driver’s license for a vehicle that size, but someone else on the trip did, so before each checkpoint we pulled over and they switched places. A few hundred meters after the checkpoint we pulled over again so our driver could get back in the driver’s seat.
We arrived to the last major town before Fichicachi at about midnight. The roads were too dangerous to continue at night, so we parked at the town plaza and were told we had four hours to sleep, either in the bus or out in the plaza. Several people slept on benches or in the grass, but most stayed in the bus. Looking back, I should have gone outside, since I didn’t sleep too well in the bus…
We were woken up at 4:00 and took off shortly. We made our way through the town and started up the hill on the far side of it. We started up the hill. And we didn’t make it up the hill until the guys got outside to push it up. At 4:30am.
We kept going and soon found out why we didn’t continue driving through the night. The road became a single lane, at times just slightly wider than the bus. We wound through the mountains, passing through a few small towns of no more than twenty houses, and made it to Fichicachi, nestled in a valley, about 8:00am. As we approached the town of 200, several young boys came up and ran after the bus, so excited to see us. The Muyurina Church makes this trip every November or December, but I doubt the town gets many visitors other than that.
Our Day in Fichicachi
After unloading, we split up and started working. Two doctors and four dentists (and dental students) set up a clinic in the school, and two other dentists traveled to another town to do the same. A small group cleaned and painted, and several others ran a Bible school for the kids of the town. I helped install a computer and small radio transmitter in the pastor’s home, to send an FM signal both to homes in Fichicachi and in neighboring communities. A couple other radio stations come in weakly in Fichicachi, so having their own station is a prideful milestone. The church will be using this to reach those who may not or can not come to church but who do listen to the radio. It was exciting seeing these men, from their 20s to their 60s, playing with the radio like a new toy as they figured out how it works, giving “shout-outs” to people working in the school and throughout the town over the radio.
One of the pastors on the trip, Armando, took some time once to the radio was set up and broadcasting music to encourage these men to use it wisely – it’s not just a toy, but a powerful tool. He shared his testimony and challenged them to use the radio carefully. We closed with prayer, Armando and I with a group of about 12 Fichicachi men. It was a powerful moment for me: standing in a circle praying with men from several generations, mostly in Quechua, their native language. Although I could understand just a few words, I could understand their hearts.
There was a service at the church that night. There was a lot of music and a couple short messages by the pastors; the parts that were spoken in Spanish were translated into Quechua for the people of the town. It ended with a birthday celebration for a girl, who then sang several songs with her sisters as her brothers accompanied them with guitars. I wish I had video of it; it was a beautiful performance and very entertaining.
The group of jovenes from Muyurina sang a few songs next, then I was pressured into singing a song in English. 🙂 At the end, we danced to traditional music and had a wonderful evening with the people from the church. Campesinos, people from the country, are very generous with what they have; during our dancing someone pulled a hat on my head. It’s a gift I won’t forget.
The Journey Back
We made it to bed about midnight and woke up at 4:00am to pack up and head out. The bus had left the night before to get to more stable/higher ground, because there was a possibility of rain. If it had rained, there was no way the bus was going to get out of there.
The pickup made several trips to shuttle us to the bus. While we waited, we started walking back, essentially up the mountain. I don’t notice the altitude in Cochabamba anymore, but I sure did in Fichicachi! We left while it was still black outside, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many stars at once. It didn’t even compare to the Keweenaw! We saw the sunrise as we walked, and made it to the bus to find… no driver. He was sleeping in one of the small towns along the way, and didn’t hear the pickup drive by four times. We went down to find him, and were on our way back to Cochabamba.
It was a mostly uneventful trip, excluding the engine problems and two flat tires (with only one spare). On our way back, we stopped a couple of times to fill one tire up with air to make sure we made it back all the way. We arrived in Cochabamba at midnight, capping a very full three-day trip.
Would I do it again? Definitely!