vida y muerte

(i need to preface this post by reassuring everyone that jonno and i are fine – what follows is pretty distressing, but we’re absolutely okay.)

we left uyuni by bus this morning, on the way to sucre, via potosi. uyuni is pretty much a podunk town, so after shopping around at the different transportation companies (which were all much of a muchness) we and several of our companions from the uyuni trip decided to go with the company with the nicest bus. it was pretty modern looking in comparison with the rest of the vehicles on offer, and we wanted to be comfortable. as we wound our way up and down the steep mountain roads, we read and dozed. we stopped for lunch. shortly after lunch, however, our tranquil little world was rocked. as we came around a curve into a wide plain area, we were confronted with a horrific scene of devastation.

a smaller bus lay overturned on its roof, crushed like a tin can. what at first glance appeared to be bundles of clothing strewn about, were in fact people thrown like limp rag dolls. adrenaline started pumping and my cpr courses started flashing through my head as we rushed to the scene. wailing and blood everywhere. jonno ran to the bus to see if there was anyone trapped inside, and i tried to see if there was anyone i could help.

it quickly became very clear that they were beyond my paltry knowledge of first aid.

there were people crumpled in heaps, people with brains coming out of their head, people crying out desperately for help amidst the scattered metal and luggage.

i couldn’t help the ones who were dead and i couldn’t help the ones who were alive. the ones who were dead had been killed instantly. the ones who were alive were broken to bits.

i’ve never felt so helpless in my entire life. in the end, i am ashamed to say i was no help at all to anyone. and all i could think was that i wish my dad was here, he would know what to do. i stood like a lump and cried.

and at that point our friend recognised the bus as one we’d almost taken from uyuni that morning. that’s when i lost it.

there was confusion as to what to do. we were two hours from the nearest hospital. cell phones were useless. finally some of the men began carrying the injured towards the bus on blankets. survivors in shock began picking through the wreckage for their belongings and climbing aboard the bus with their bundles and bags. the four most critically injured were hoisted and dragged into the aisles, where they had to be stepped over. a little girl of about 10 stared wide-eyed, blood streaked across her face.

and two dead were left behind, covered with blankets, watched over only by a herd of llamas who continued to munch placidly beside the carnage. what else could we do?

with every bump of the road, the injured cried out in pain. moaning, asking for water, pleading for help. the rest of us sat in deathly silence.

so i prayed – not for my beliefs, but for theirs. i prayed the “our father” and the “23rd psalm”. i said “hail marys”. i prayed every catholic prayer i could recall.

the sign said 55 kms to potosi. as the distance dragged on, the bus grew progressively quieter.

a passing jeep was asked to send ahead for help, and an hour later we were met by an ambulance and a doctor. but he could do nothing more than administer morphine. one of the four was already gone.

we continued on towards the hospital. i became fixated on the woman in the aisle nearest me, who was twisting and moaning in spite of the morphine. her skirt was akimbo and all i could do was stare at her stockinged leg. the nylon had a tear in it and small droplets of blood were seeping through. she’d lost her shoes in the impact.

eventually her leg stopped moving, and her stockinged foot became still. i turned away.

we all sat on that bus, willing the distance to pass faster, studiously avoiding acknowledgement that we were now carrying two corpses.

after two torturous hours, we drew up to the hospital. there was more confusion, as the bus couldn’t fit through the gates. eventually stretchers were sent for, and the four carefully unloaded. the little girl was lead away after she tried to wake the woman whose foot had stopped moving.

the bloody fingerprints of a dying woman were dried on the side of the seat.

for a distance of 55 km, two more lives were lost.

and then we were left at the bus station. left to grieve for the tragedy we’d witnessed and the people who never made it to potosi. left to ponder why we were alive, and they were not. left to wonder at our incredible luck at having access to mediflight choppers, and the best medical care in the world only minutes away from our houses. left to suffer the guilt at taking that for granted. left shaken, drained, confused.

what do you do after something like that?

in the end, we simply continued on – because we could. we took comfort in friends and familiarity. we ate and drank and stuck together, drawing strength from each other in the face of the somber reality. life is precious. and although it wasn’t us, it could have been.

there but for the grace of god, go i. or you. or any of us.

so if you’re spiritual, please say a little prayer. and if you’re not, please think a good thought.

for the dead – and for the living.

15 Responses to “vida y muerte”

  1. Stacey
    September 5th, 2006 20:50

    Well….YIKES! I’m just glad you’re ok. I’m speechless.

  2. abigail
    September 5th, 2006 21:36

    Jen, my thoughts are with you and everyone touched by the accident. I am glad that you and Jonno are safe and hope that you are able to process and come to terms with what you have witnessed.

  3. Jen
    September 5th, 2006 21:39

    thanks guys.
    i feel incredibly lucky. and very sad.

  4. Andie
    September 5th, 2006 22:23

    Oh my goodness…What a tragic and terrible thing to have witnessed. I’m so sorry you went through that, and so sad about all the people who were lost and injured. May they rest in peace. :(

  5. Karen
    September 6th, 2006 06:34

    Incredible and ever so raw descriptions of your experiences… Glad you’re safe and we’ll all count our blessings and say a prayer for those on that bus.

  6. Dave
    September 6th, 2006 13:46

    Ho-ly shit….I’m sooo glad you guys are okay. You did what you could. Be safe out there…

  7. Nancy
    September 6th, 2006 13:52

    That is so horrible. Don’t think you were no help, because you were – you stopped to help those people, who otherwise could have been left waiting for hours with no chance of assistance. I’m so sorry you had to witness such a horrible scene, but so glad you and Jonno are safe.

  8. andy
    September 6th, 2006 14:05

    Take care you two. Don’t dwell on it if you can help it.

  9. Carey
    September 6th, 2006 15:13

    What a terrible tragedy. Said a prayer for the dead, and a prayer to thank God that you two are okay! Stay safe.

  10. kim
    September 6th, 2006 19:47

    what a terrible tragedy to experience. you guys did all that you could. I hope you can process all this in time. So glad you guys are ok. my prayers are with you and those in the accident. take care of yourselves!

  11. Avril
    September 7th, 2006 11:37

    These people were very lucky that you came across them and, I’m sure, that those that survived are truly thankful to you.

    Take care of yourself.

  12. Amity
    September 10th, 2006 20:38

    Jen, I just saw this. I’m so sorry for your terrible experience and am so glad you and Jonno are okay. You did everything you could.

    Stay safe. (((HUGS)))

  13. Nicole
    September 10th, 2006 21:07


    Jesus. . .I am so glad that you guys are ok- and sorry that you had to see that.

    Big Hug

  14. Mum
    September 11th, 2006 02:11

    Jen and jonno-How horrible! I just heard about it today from Kate;I was behind in checking my e-mail. Your description is just so vivid, I can picture it.I’m thankful you are OK–I said aprayer for you and them.The people you tried to help did atleast not die alone, and they knew you cared. Thats alot!Take care be safe. Love Mum

  15. Nic Judson
    September 13th, 2006 01:34

    Sorry to hear the horrible news, so glad you two are sweet tho! take care out there & appreciate life! RIP xx

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