I suspect that something everyone is curious about, is the question of money. As volunteers, we’re not being paid to be here, however, all of our expenses are covered: beginning with all the shots and vaccinations prior to leaving, to our air and ground transportation, and of course meals and accommodations. Given our specific assignment , we were even supplied with a cell phone so that we can communicate with each other, as well as call anyone else in the country that we may have to contact or schedule interviews with.
We were picked up at the airport by a taxi that had been pre-arranged by the hotel we?re staying at, while in La Paz, and CUSO had left a package for each of us, at the front-desk containing some reading material and an envelope with 360 Bolivianos. Presuming that the Canadian and U.S. $$ are at par, and the exchange rate at approximately 7:1 that works out to about $50.00 to cover our meals for the next five days. The hotel rooms were being billed directly to CUSO.
Fifty dollars for five days of meals may not sound like much, but it?s more than enough. Breakfast is included with the room and lunches were also covered on each of the three days of In Country Training, so $50.00 goes a long way. More on the food later, but for the purpose of some examples, one can grab a burger and fries for under $3.00 and a great three-course meal for $10.00, which includes a bottled beer for $1.00.
The hotel is by no means the Royal York, but neither is it a Have A Nap that rents out by the hour. The room is very comfortable, with a small bar fridge, TV, desk with both free WiFi and an RJ45 hard wired internet connection, chest of drawers and, oh ya, a bed. We also have something that many, if not most of the homes in La Paz don’t have, and that is heat in the form of a small radiator. It’s one of those situations, such as I?m familiar with in Spain, whereby because it doesn’t get TOO cold, homes didn’t always have heat. However, when it’s hovering around 0 in the middle of winter for a few months, cold is cold. That’s changed in Spain, but here it still appears to be quite common.
I mentioned TAXIs earlier and that deserves a description all its own. There are various modes of public transport and although somewhat regulated, it still seems a bit chaotic to the uninitiated. First, there’s the Radio Taxi which is the safest, because one telephones a dispatcher, who logs the pickup and client. They charge based on distance or around $7.00 for an hour. You heard me, you can go anywhere you want and make as many stops as you want for an hour.
Then there’s the Taxi, which will stop to pick you up on the street and anyone else along the route going the same way. Less safe since no one knows you were picked up and someone else could get it, be in cahoots with the driver and, well snatch your Louis Vuitton bag. They too offer the hourly rate option and come in around $6.00 for an hour.
Another alternative is the Trufi, still a car, which follows a specific route just like a bus, and will stop to pick you up and anyone else along the route. Less safe for the same reasons as the Taxi, but they charge as little as 50 cents.
The three Taxi examples are regulated, however, there doesn’t appear too much enforcement of rules, so it’s difficult to know for sure, when you?re out on the street, as to what kind of cab you’re hailing.
Finally, we come to the buses. Well, sort of. First, there’s the Mini Bus, which is a van that follows a route, apparently of their choosing. The way it works is that they have hand-made signs that they display on their windshields indicating the various major points of interest on their route. This appears to be a family affair because one person sits in the passenger seat, shouting out the different destinations along the route and another slides the door open and shut along the way. They pull up to a traffic light, slide the door open and try to out-shout all the other Mini Bus tour guides. It’s a real spectacle to watch for a mere 25 cents.
Last but not least is the Micro Bus, what we would recognize as School Bus. They follow a route, move much slower, because of the inability to dodge around other traffic, and spew an outrageous amount of exhaust fumes: hack, cough, gag, squint blahhh… and you can ride that magic bus for around 20 cents. Oh ya! these Mini and Micro-buses are unionized and that means a lot here. They’re very powerful. So, there you have it, a brief rundown (oh stop complaining) of some of the basic expenses I’ve had to deal with. But of course, I wouldn’t make you read down this far without treating you to some visual reinforcement.