Vern: We enjoyed a divine papaya milkshake and some salteñas at the market in Rurrenabaque before heading over to the Amazonas airline offices. We joined a handful of other passengers and sat for ages while they finished off a staff meeting in front of us and then hurried us onto the airport-bus as if we were holding up the trip. The airport was a barnlike building next to a landing strip with a doorless outhouse round back, a few benches and two men at desks on opposite sides of the room collecting two different mandatory airport taxes: someone has to pay for these fine facilities! A small 12-seater propeller-plane landed, emptied, reloaded and took off and as our ears popped vigorously in the unpressurized cabin we enjoyed a whole new view of the jungle.
Forty minutes later we landed in Trinidad around noon. This short flight saved us a twenty hour bus ride on one of the worst roads in Bolivia and on which drivers have been caught drinking to try and stay awake! The rest of our journey on to Santa Cruz would, however, be by road. A taxi drove us across town where we had to choose between several competing bus companies based solely on the company name: We eventually chose Santa Cruz Express over Divino Niño (Divine Child) because the former had a picture of a bus on their sign while the latter's sign sported a painting of a blonde child with a halo. And when in doubt you should probably choose the bus company that seems most like a bus company. Our bus was scheduled to leave at 9:30pm so it was to be another of those days where we wandered around homeless.
We ventured into town to find lunch and an ATM and while walking through an oddly central swamp, a university professor, seeing the Lonely Planet guidebook I was carrying, intercepted us and asked to see something. He said he had spent some time with the author, but on paging through our book he was disappointed to find that while his favorite bar-restaurant was listed in the book, the author had not mentioned that they served delicious alligator. This got our attention. For the last few days while paddling about in the pampas, our hearts were skipping a beat every time these dinosaurs plopped into the water and submerged themselves - certain they were planning a stealth attack to tip our skinny vessel. An alligator on the plate would certainly turn the tables.
We hunted down the restaurant, a large open sided thatched-roof gazebo with rustic furniture, and flipped open the menu. We found 'lagarto' printed there which we understood to translate "lizard" and queried this with the waitress. She said it was a fish dish and we were stumped. We sat there puzzled and irritated until Andrea approached the manager and with creative Spanish and hand gestures she interrogated the woman until the manager finally made alligator jaws out of her forearms with her bent fingers as the teeth and we all nodded enthusiastically in agreement. Two plates came out a while later: a slab of gator fried with lemon and herbs, and a pyramid of gator nuggets deep-fried and served with a creamy garlic sauce. We ate like gluttons, a little too smug that we are at the top of the food-chain.
A few days earlier Andrea asked me why I always say, "Be careful, give it a wide berth, they kick" each and every time we walk behind a horse? Was I hurt when I was younger? I wasn't - probably because this lesson was drubbed into me by wise parents - and I presume by her question she's become irritated with my warnings, since there are farm animals all over the cities on this continent so I had resolved to hold my tongue. So it was ironic that, on the way back to the bus station, we walked (silently) behind some mangy steeds drinking stagnant water from a drain when one of the horses got spooked and stepped backwards crushing my right foot under its hoof. I hopped around in pain imagining a shattered nail on a splintered toe inside my shoe thinking, "This is why I warn you every time! This hurts!!" and grimaced in pain. "I suppose you're right about walking behind horses", she says a bit later but I'm too distracted by my throbbing red and slightly squarer (but not otherwise deformed) big toe to enjoy her conceding that I might be right for once.
We killed some more time watching Bolivia lose to Columbia and sadly exit the Copa America soccer tournament on at the moment in a little restaurant and then wondered sadly about what the future holds for the waytooyoung shoeshine-boys in the bus station while we waited. The dated but comfortable bus left roughly on time and we slept a bit on the wide reclining seats as it carried us nine hours through the night to Santa Cruz.