‘Dos entradas para Potosi por favor’ My Spanish is very bad, but I wanted to learn; we have been here for a few weeks and it wasn’t getting any better. Ema on the other hand has perfect Spanish; well it is her mother tongue. The girl selling the tickets smiled at me, ‘Would you like to go 1st class?’
‘You speak English?’ I smiled and looked over my shoulder; Ema was distracted with a street seller out of ear shot.
‘I can get 1st class?’ I moved in closer, I wanted to get this done and report back to Ema that the trip to Potosi was sorted out.
‘Yes of course sir, you can pay $1.50 US for a standard ticket, or pay $5.00 US and you travel 1st class’
We had just spent 4 days on the salt flats in a rented Toyota 4WD. The flats are so vast you need that time get a feel for them. One of the most spectacular places on the flat was the Isla del Pescado, (Fish Island) as the name suggests and island on the salt flats, not approached by boat, but by 4WD. At 3656 metres above sea level we are at risk of altitude sickness, the 4WD spluttered and coughed searching for air and went higher to the 5450-metre mark at the Cerro Laguna Colorada. A lagoon high in the Andes mountains. It was a real adventure and we roughed it in very cold conditions the whole time so the idea of a 1st class bus ride really appealed to me.
‘Yes I would like 2 tickets, 1st class please’ I handed over the cash and pocketed the tickets.
‘How did that go?’ Ema asked
‘All sorted, yeah really fitting in here, where does Bolivia end and I start, you may ask’ It’s my standard joke when traveling
Eyebrows raised she passes off my joke without a laugh; she has heard them before, all of them.
‘Yeah, I got us first class tickets, we travel in style tomorrow baby’
Again the raised eyebrow, ‘Are you sure? Do you want me to go in and check’?
‘No, no babe its ok I got this sorted, really starting to get the lay of the land here in South America.’
We wandered off down the road and back to our hostel we needed to rest today before tomorrow’s travel day to Potosi.
The bus was due to leave at 9am so we made our way down to the Terminal de Bus to sort out our ride. This was easier than expected as there is only 2 ways to go, south towards the Argentine boarder, or north towards Potosi. We found our bus and I approached the attendant with the tickets ‘Where are the 1st class seats mate? We got ourselves some 1st class tickets’ tickets held out.
The attendant gave me a very blank look and glanced at the tickets.
‘1st Class mate, 1st class’ I waved the tickets to show what I was talking about.
‘Come on man show me where 1st class is’
The blank look continued, ‘Ema could you sort this out please, these are first class tickets. Ema launched into a conversation in Spanish and before long a wide smile appeared on the attendants face and I was getting worried.
‘How much extra did you pay for “1st class” ‘ Ema asked
‘well the standard fare was $1.50 but these beauties were $5 a sweet bargain I recon’
‘Did the girl who sold you these tickets have a pretty face and could speak English?’
Well yeah, she could speak English, but didn’t notice if she was pretty’ I lied
‘Well Darling she scammed you, there is no such thing as 1st class on these buses’ both Ema and the attendant thought it was amusing.
‘She has been scamming a lot of middle – aged gringos over the last few weeks’ She was laughing now.
I felt rather silly, wasn’t worried that I was ripped off, wasn’t that much cash, just that it was her pretty face that got me.