Coming back to La Paz wasn't as bright and happy as the first time, when Zhanna and I had a dance party in the taxi while driving into the city, falling in love with it before we ever stepped out of the the car.
The second time we drove into La Paz, after our Southwestern Bolivian expedition in Uyuni, we were on the worst bus ride of our lives. Twelve hours through the night in an old bus on the bumpiest road you can imagine, where for the first few hours, I would fly into the air so high that landing back in my seat felt like getting punched in the stomach. So bumpy that I needed to pee for hours, but didn't think I could walk down the aisle and make it downstairs to the restroom without splitting my head open. So bumpy that things in the overhead compartment would tumble out, like a water bottle that landed in my lap while my eyes were closed, startling me so bad that I jumped up.
When I finally got some shut eye, I held onto it with all I had. I wanted nothing more than to sleep through the rest of the miserable bus ride and wake up in La Paz. And we did eventually sleep, probably because the roads got better closer to the capitol city. When I woke up, everyone on the bus was standing and shuffling around, packing up their belongings and getting ready to get off the bus. We had a small backpack in the overhead compartment, and when we didn't see it right away, I figured it had just slid forward during that crazy ride. The bus slowly emptied out, along with everyone's belongings, and Yuriy and I were the last ones on the empty bus, looking underneath seats, panic growing. After I realized the backpack wasn't on the bus, I was sure that someone took it by mistake and would bring it back. Eventually reality set in, and I realized that someone most likely intentionally took our backpack, along with our professional camera, a coupe of lenses, a full 32gb card of photos we took during a week in Bolivia, and our passports. I sat down on the curb between buses and cried so hard.
The worst bus ride ever led to the worst day ever. We circled around the bus terminal, looking for the backpack in people's arms, checking trash cans (in cases someone took the camera and threw everything else away), looking at faces, and wondering what person could do such a horrible thing. If we left the bus terminal, it felt like we were accepting the loss and never seeing it again, so we went around and around.
We couldn't spend all day mourning our lost camera and photos, because we were planning to leave the country shortly, and had no passports. I always wondered what would happen if you lost a passport in a foreign country, and now we got to find out. On a day when I wanted nothing more than to shower, sleep, and take it easy after roughing it in the wilderness of Bolivia, we got none of those things.
The following was our series of events to replace our passports:
- bus terminal police
- bus terminal tourist police
- La Paz tourist police - must get new passports before we can file a report
- U.S. embassy
- go take passport photos
- check into a hotel to drop off our bags
- U.S. embassy to get new passports
- go take Bolivian passport photos
- La Paz tourist police - file report
- go take more Bolivian passport photos because they were the wrong size
- go to a bank to pay for a visa
- immigration - wait for hours, even after closing, because they ran out of stickers for the passport
This mad dash from one place to another lasted from 7am until about 5 or 6pm, and most of the time we were taking a taxi between locations because the city is massive. Getting the new passport at the U.S. embassy was actually the easy part. Getting a new visa from the Bolivian immigration office was the real hassle. We had already paid $140 for a visa when we entered the country, but we had to buy a new one when we lost our passports. We were in the immigration office after all the workers went home for the day. It was Friday, so if we couldn't get our new passports/visas that day, we couldn't leave the country on Sunday and would have to wait until Monday. Lucky for us, there was another American there who had his passport stolen on the same bus ride from hell (though probably a different bus), and he was a loud and demanding New Yorker, which helped us find one employee at the immigration office who spoke some English and tried hard to help us. Everyone else didn't give a hoot about us. After everything was paid and filled out and ready to go, the office ran out of stickers to put in the passport. Someone had to travel to another office during rush hour traffic to pick up a sticker for us. I felt like I was on a reality show or some sick scavenger hunt.
Having to spend the day desperately trying to get new passports and visas actually took our minds off of losing all our photos. We ended up getting a nice hotel for a couple nights and bought a plane ticket to Lima instead of taking a bus and traveling a little longer, like we originally planned. We were just done with traveling and ready to be home.
After the ticket was purchased and the passports replaced, we spent a couple days exploring La Paz again, and documenting it with our Fuji X100s (a much smaller camera which wasn't stolen, but was hardly used throughout the trip).
Biggest lesson learned:
While traveling, take the memory card out of your camera and put it in a safe place. If your gear gets stolen, it's much easier to replace than the photos from your trip.
When we were still traveling, every time I thought of our stolen things, I had to try really hard not to cry. Finally the stuff that happens to other people was catching up to. Once we got home, the pain of losing the photos really melted away. I realized how lucky we were to be happy, healthy, together, and completely spoiled in America. We have everything we need. The camera was easily replaced, the passport was somewhat easily replaced, and the memories associated with the photos are still safely in our minds.
Hope you enjoy these photos of La Paz, the city of endless markets. All images were taken on a Fuji X100s.