I went to La Paz for the day yesterday, to speak at a conference on racism in Bolivia, and on my way back to Cochabamba I had a TIB moment. The students coined this acronym (TIB = This Is Bolivia) to refer to a range of circumstances that are best explained by the fact that, well, this is Bolivia, and anything that can happen, will happen.
The event I was attending ended much earlier than I had anticipated, so I called my travel agent in Cochabamba to try to book an earlier departure than my scheduled 8:50 PM flight on BOA airlines. She was able to get me a flight leaving at 7:30 on TAM airlines, for only $40 (airfares being relatively cheap in Bolivia). Being a savvy Bolivian traveler, I asked the travel agent to leave my original BOA ticket open: If something were to go wrong with the TAM flight (TIB), I wanted to have the backup option of my original 8:50 flight. So I headed to the airport a good two hours in advance, as the traffic is really bad out of La Paz to the airport in suburban El Alto, got my ticket, paid the airport departure tax at a separate window, and went to the boarding gate.
At about 7:15, the gate attendant announced the boarding of a flight, but it was not my flight - for some reason (TIB), another TAM flight was slated to leave at 7:45 from the same gate as my 7:30 flight. There then began a great chaos, as Bolivians on two different flights clashed and intermingled, one group (the 7:45 flight) clamoring to board (Bolivians are always extremely anxious to board flights, buses, you name it, reserved seats be damned) and the other group (my 7:30 flight) trying to find out what the hell was going on. Of course (TIB), no explanation was given, though the TAM gate attendant had an extremely annoying smirk on her face that seemed to imply some secret knowledge. This was revealed at about 7:40, when the 7:45 flight was entirely boarded, at which time the gate attendant announced that our plane had not yet arrived, and that our 7:30 flight would be leaving about 45 minutes late. People in the boarding gate actually hooted and whistled, like at a villain in an old-time silent movie. I approached the still smirking gate attendant and asked her if the flight was actually en route, and she ensured me that it was and would certainly arrive by 8:15.
This is when my own Bolivia craziness kicked in (TIB can also describe one's own state of mind when contending with these kinds of situations). Deciding that the gate attendant was lying about the plane being en route, and noting that my original 8:50 BOA flight was scheduled to depart from an adjoining gate, I opted to check in to the BOA flight, so that I would have two options ready to go. So, I headed back out to the terminal (I had to persuade the security attendant to let me go back in the wrong direction through the checkpoint, there being no other exit back to the terminal, which for some reason he allowed me to do, TIB) and checked in to the 8:50 flight. (BOA, it turns out, also had an 8:10 departure to Cochabamba, and one woman waiting to check in to the 8:50 flight was getting ugly in line, trying to pressure the counter people to allow her to board the earlier flight. I tried the same thing, but to no avail.) I paid my airport tax for the second time, passed through security again (no need to remove your shoes, TIB), and again stood at the departure gate.
Now armed with two tickets on two separate flights, I determined to leave on the first one that seemed likely to depart. This, it turned out, was the TAM flight: The gate attendant was not lying, the plane arrived at 8:15, and by 8:40 we were winging to Cochabamba. So for $40 and a whole lot of hassle, I managed to leave La Paz ten minutes earlier than I would have if I had simply waited for my original 8:50 BOA flight.