Tuesday, July 14, 2015
On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
"This could be Heaven or this could be Hell"
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...
Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here
Andy hums the tune to the Hotel California. He has me in tears of laughter for a second or two.
Bread has run out so it is now crackers and jam for breakfast. Incredibly, the miserable woman who serves us our meager breakfast padlocks the cupboard that contains the salt and tea bags so we cannot help ourselves during the day. It comes to something when someone thinks you are going to steal salt.
Yesterday's dust storm has gone and it is sunny and considerably less boistrous today. A few more tourists have 'made it in' to Potosi but, as the final verse of the song says: “You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave! "
Eight out of nine bank machines we've tried now have no cash. We do at least bump into the elderly american couple I met on the first day, who've been staying at a Christian hostel nearby. I've convinced them to come and move into our hotel so they are more comfortable, warm and we are all in the same place. The American lady, Jennifer, who is in her mid sixties, has fortunately got over her altitude sickness, which had confined her to bed. The only other foreigner we have met today during our time out on the streets is a German bloke here on a motorbike who had no problems getting through the blockades until the last one where he was surrounded by people shouting and acting quite aggressively towards him. And our number in the hotel has grown to seven as a Russian bloke called Alexei has just checked in downstairs. Alexei says he is in Bolivia buying silver and precious stones to help finance his travels.
By mid-afternoon the atmosphere in town has changed drastically again and there is a riot in the main square only 100 metres away from us. We are not sure of the scale of the fighting with the police because we are all trying to be sensible and not attend any mass demonstrations where there could be explosions and gunfire. And as if the sound of explosions, smashing glass and crowds shouting weren't intimidating enough a huge dust storm has begun engulfing the city, giving the sky a menacing orange glow and obscuring the distant mountains.
I've been in more regular contact with the British Embassy. The Vice Consul has now put me in charge with the Ambassador but they are both saying they can do almost nothing to get us out of our predicament. If anything, I am more use to them, as they have no reliable information about events from on the ground in Potosi. My journalist background suddenly makes me a trusted source of information. That's fine because I will play the journalist card to our advantage if things worsen here.
We, 'the Potosi seven', are not the only foreigners stuck in Potosi. According to one of Argentina's leading newspapers there are an estimated 80 Argentines – most of them elderly – trapped here. They had been heading home after attending the Pope's visit to La Paz a few days ago. Many of them are said to be too scared to leave their hotels and they are calling upon President Kirchner to step in and negotiate their evacuation. There are rumours that an Argentine army Hercules might be brought in to airlift them out.
We return to the 'secret restaurant' for dinner for more tasty rosti and quinoa soup washed down with Johnny Walker. There is even another couple dining here, eating rather repulsive smelling llama meat. Alexei has joined us. On first meeting him I got the impression he was a rather cool adventurer but this evening he is acting like the whole Potosi Seige is one big funny game. He was way too loud for my liking as we walked here through the half deserted streets; drawing more attention to us all than I would have wished. Now, in the restaurant, he is booming so loudly that I am sure passers by in the street can hear him, and he also seems to think that our predicament is hilarious rather than worrisome.
Case in point, some balaclava-clad motorbike riders pass along our street looking for strike breakers and Alexei has to be told twice to shut the **** up. Our host turns the lights off, gesticulates for all of us to be quiet and even seems to suggest it might be better if we hide by sitting on the floor. The motorbike rider in question has cut his engine so he can glide silently down the hill and catch people unawares. It is one of those moments when you realise the situation you find yourself in might be far more dangerous than you ever appreciated. What would happen if he forced his way in here? Would we be arrested and detained? At the end of the day, these people are not police, army or part of the municipality but thugs appointed by the strikers. I would imagine some of them are not nice people.
Back at the hotel, Andy and I sit up until late drinking Bolivian beer and discussing what the hell we should do. Today's riot and general bad vibe is troubling us both. I guess it has dawned on us both that we are well and truly marooned here. The plan tomorrow is to step it up with the embassies, the press and with our own tweets and online postings.
As if to emphasise the need for action, a drunken mob passes by the hotel at 2am. They sing and shout,chuck a couple of firecrackers and bang on the doors of buildings they pass. It causes my heart to pound in fear. They likely know half a dozen foreigners are staying here. What if they suddenly decide to attack the hotel now? Surely they would have no problem breaking in!
Eventually, the mob passes. But it is another hour or two before the fear abates and I can finally drift off to sleep.