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My bad trip – my Spanish was improving, but my refusal to be taken for a ride got me kicked off the bus | Life and style

My bad trip – my Spanish was improving, but my refusal to be taken for a ride got me kicked off the bus | Life and style

It was 2007 and I was weeks into a solo backpacking trip in South America. By the time I reached Bolivia, my Spanish had improved markedly and so had my resolve not to continue being swindled by local taxi drivers and their ilk who dared exploit my first-worldliness.

So when, late one afternoon, I boarded a bus in the town of Samaipata for the 15-hour journey to Sucre, I had done my research and knew the fare was maximum 70 bolivianos (approximately US$10).

The coach was full so I stood up the front with the driver’s assistant, who assured me a seat would become available within half an hour. Sure enough, a passenger soon disembarked and as we took off again, hurtling up the precipitous mountain road, the driver’s assistant asked me for the fare: 100 bolivianos. But the normal price, I protested, was no more than 70 bolivianos! He avoided eye contact, saying if I didn’t want to pay 100, I could get off. After a few back-and-forths – me offering to pay 70 bolivianos, the driver’s assistant offering to show me the door – the bus screeched to a halt in the middle of nowhere. There was forest to the left of us, a drop to the right and the sun taking its last gasp behind the looming ranges.

The driver’s assistant opened the luggage hold and yanked my monster backpack on to the side of the road. I followed him, still convinced my Spanish skills could help me save US$4. He stepped back on the bus and as the doors began to shut, he finally turned to look me in the eyes. I racked my brain for the best comeback line seven weeks of Spanish lessons could produce, settling on what only someone well-schooled in both Jewish guilt and conditional verb conjugations could muster. “Would you leave your sister here?” I asked.

Confusion flashed across his face, but as the bus sped off, I was euphoric. Not only had I fashioned a complex sentence in Spanish, I hit a nerve with my pointed words.

Or had I?

As I trudged up that darkening road, I realised I had made the rookie error of mixing up the two verbs for “to leave” (salir and dejar). What I had actually said to my antagonist was something closer to: “Do you date your sister?” A cutting insult, perhaps, if we were 12 years old.

I walked on, with creeping dread, for what felt like 40 days and 40 nights (but in reality was probably 40 minutes) until I saw lights in the distance – a roadside gas station with an adjacent diner. Parked out front were a fleet of overnight coaches, en route to Sucre….

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