Trekking in Bolivia is an incredible mix or rivers, mountains, farm land, fossils, rock paintings, small pueblos, and incredible views, but getting to all of these wonderful places requires transport...
We call if a flota; a truck cab with a 20 foot flat bed behind it which holds an average of 75 people. The sides are wooden beams up to my chin, with a few slots to look through towards the top and with small, low doors that swing open and have narrow metal ladders at the sides to climb in.
Once inside you're submerged in quite the overwhelming scene: wrinkled old women showing friends their new chicks and kittens wriggling in woven plastic bags, children eating boiled corn and potatoes out of their baseball caps, women breast feeding, and young boys dodging low branches as they sit along the edges holding onto the metal bars that arch across above our heads. Corn, potatoes, alfalfa, clothing, and possessions are all wrapped in brightly striped, hand woven awayus and stacked along the roof of the truck's cab.
The abuelitos and abuelitas seem impossibly resilient with their scarcely-toothed grins, work-stiffened hands, darkly wrinkled skin that has seen more sun that I ever will, and feet strapped into sandals made of recycled tires. The men chew coca leaves that they keep in a woven chuspa or empty milk bag, stripping the leaf from the veins. It stains their teeth a somehow pleasant light green and leaves a thick, dark film on their lips. The earthy smell of coca permeates everything and mixes with the mildewed scent of wool, wet from the rain. Below their white felt, or cowboy-reminiscent leather hats women gossip and visit in Quechua. The language is noticeably different from Spanish, most distinctly in the throaty pronunciation of the letter q and the vowels a, i, and u. These vibrant conversations mix with radios hanging from neighbors necks, and the moan of the engine to haul everyone up the steep switch-backs.
Throughout the trip open stares of elders, wide eyes of young children, and questioning glances of shy neighbors imply a short-lived interest in us. The ride is rarely comfortable and generally longer than expected, but you would be hard pressed to find a more genuinely Bolivian experience.