“Excuse me, I’ll need to see your onward travel confirmation”. My heart sank a little as the words rolled off the airline check in clerk’s tongue. No boarding pass for me unless I could come up with the goods.
After safely making my way down Death Road without incident, I managed to require medical assistance for a different reason. Having battled illness for around a week I figured it was time to get myself to a doctor. With a raging fever and a headache, I asked the front desk at the hostel where I could go to be seen by a doctor at a clinic, but expressed that it was not serious enough an ailment to require the Emergency department at the hospital. Was there a doctor nearby that I could see?
Being told to wait, he called a clinic and I was asked to explain my illness over the phone to determine the next step. A short conversation later, and I was told to wait in my room as a doctor would be able to see me there in around 20 minutes. Enquiring as to the cost of this visit, I was told in vague terms that it was not expensive and so went against my gut instinct and agreed.
Almost two hours later a knock on the door announced the arrival of the doctor, and I dragged myself out of bed. I don’t even think it was two minutes into the conversation when the doctor began to explain that he wanted to check me out properly at his clinic. Even though I had given the exact same explanation over the phone in the first instance. “We can take you there, follow me” he said, against my protest, but somehow as my guard was down (being sick and all) and I allowed him to shepherd me into a patient transport van/kind of ambulance thing to be taken “a short distance” to the clinic. It will be fine, he said, and for some reason I wanted to trust the guy in the white coat.
Ten minutes down the road and I started to panic. I’d definitely read stories of travellers being placed into ambulances in South America and then asked for an exhorbitant amount of money. Was this one of those situations? I was certainly not in an incapacitated condition, and perfectly able to look after myself. This was no emergency that’s for sure.
Half hour after we left my hostel, dodging through the traffic and sometimes driving on the wrong side of the road (!), we arrive at a shiny white private looking clinic, with seemingly not a soul inside other than the doctor and the administration lady. The doctor took me into a room and began his consultation, to my animated protest as I again asked about the cost of treatment. “Oh I don’t know, the admin lady does that,” he said and again tried to commence treatment, which I refused once more. Defiant, I demanded the price and this time got the result I was after – he soon returned with an exhorbitant amount scribbled on a piece of paper that I was absolutely not prepared to pay.
That is where things got interesting, and an argument ensued, where I expressed my displeasure in the way in which I had been treated and not been informed when asking about the costs as well as where I was going to be taken. “Well it was your decision to come here,” he rebutted. I stood up and walked straight out the front door, however to my surprise no further attempt was made to stop me nor make me pay for the “service” I had recieved.
Having no idea where I was other than a blue dot on Google Maps saying I was somewhere in the South of the city of La Paz, and even less idea how to get back to the hostel, I see a hospital across the road and figure I can get a taxi from there easily enough…
Many taxis pass and I hail each and every one of them with no success. I realise quickly that I am the only extranjero (foreigner) around and I suspect the taxi drivers are unwilling to drive the long distance to take me back to el centro where I belong.
Slightly distressed, I snap myself back to reality and suddenly have a plan. Looking up I see a metro cable car station not too far away and I figure that I can hopefully get myself a little but closer to where I need to be. Stopping at the university on the way to use the free wifi tell my friends I was still alive (as I was meant to meet them very soon), I manage to find my way easily enough, and soon am high in the sky above La Paz. Why not make the best of a bad situation and do a little sightseeing on the way? Hugely disappointing, the mirador wasn’t spectacular, and an hour later I manage to finally take a taxi from the cable car station closest to town (though he royally ripped me off on the fare, I didn’t care – I wasn’t playing the game anymore as the only thing I wanted was to get back to my bed).
Lesson learned – trust your gut instinct in these kinds of situations and never let your guard down especially when you are sick!