I realize this is not a very high quality or telling photo, but I felt the story that it relates to was too crazy not to post. The grainy iPhone picture above is of a TV screen on a bus we took from Uyuni to Sucre. In a traveling career full of absurd bus rides, this ride may have been the most absurd. To begin, there was the choice of movie. Most long bus rides show movies, common choices down here include the terrible comedy Grown Ups ((The South American film market seems to be singlehandedly keeping Adam Sandler's career alive)) and the Fast and the Furious movies ((The bus operators must feel a certain kinship with the insane drivers in those films)). The Uyuni-Sucre bus ride however, went with a different choice. The 'movie' shown was simply a YouTube compilation of bus crashes. I kid you not. A very loud, very graphic series of clips of buses crashing into poles or trees or other buses. This was truly a "Bring out Bolivian Ashton Kutcher cause I must be on Bolivian Punk'd" moment.
As I fell asleep to the pleasant sounds of automobile tragedies, I thought about how this compilation must be one of the strangest things I've seen on a bus thus far in my travels. What I woke up to however, may have been even more ridiculous. We were three hours from Sucre when our driver abruptly stopped to announce he felt he simply wasn't making enough money. We had all already paid in full of course, but he reasoned that there were not enough people still on the bus, and that it would be financially unwise for him to continue our agreed upon route. There were cars outside, he said, and perhaps they could be hired to drive us the remainder of our journey. But he simply wasn't interested in honoring our tickets.
As shocked as I was at a bus driver who flatly refused to continue driving, the whole thing had a familiar 3rd-world-corruption ring to it. I'd never been in this particular situation before but there was something recognizable about all that happening. This old man had seen an angle and intended to exploit it. Though I'd never seen this specific scheme, being in this position was nothing new.
"Tourists need a license to drive these bikes."
"You cannot drink in front of this building."
"You do not have the required vaccinations."
"You paid for the ticket, but not the entry fee. They are different."
"You damaged the motorbike."
"You have not paid the necessary tax."
"Tourists are required to carry passports at all times."
"We require a copy of your passport."
"The park is closed, you are trespassing."
Lies and angles and bribes. The driver was doing what so many drivers and police officers and immigration officials had done before: exploiting a situation for personal profit. He likely never intended to stop driving. He simply realized that the bus was mostly gringos, it was night and we were in the middle of nowhere, and that these circumstances produced a situation where additional money could potentially be made. He asked for 5 Bolivianos each (about seventy cents) - not enough to be mad about, not enough to report to someone. A small, well-executed bribe. And once everyone begrudgingly paid we were quickly on our way again. We arrived in beautiful Sucre early, as the sun was coming up. Everyone was quite happy to get off that bus.