In case you haven’t already heard, I was recently interviewed by Pauline Frommer for The Travel Show, a weekly radio program she co-hosts with her father, Arthur Frommer. We chatted about one of our recent articles – Fawlty Tours – and some of the pitfalls one encounters when booking local tours.
The entire interview experience was terrific.
But there’s more to this story than just a successful radio interview. There’s the behind the scenes in Bolivia to comply with a simple request: a landline phone number at 4:45 PM on Thursday.
Like many others who contact us, Pauline assumed we were in San Francisco because of our (415) area code Skype-in number. Readers are sometimes unaware that we run our website entirely from the road. However, Pauline was pleasantly surprised to find out we were in Bolivia; we would be the show’s first interview from that country.
After exchanging emails about the show, the interview and a time slot for our conversation, Pauline writes: “We usually try to talk with people on land-based phones (not cellphones) just to ward off any voice quality issues. …call me on my cellphone at 4:40 or so, and give us a landline number to call you back at.”
Seizing the opportunity, we responded: “Yes. We’ll secure a number and give you a call on Thursday.”
But what we gained in coolness in being “The Travel Show’s first call from Bolivia” we lose in the ability to easily execute simple tasks like “find a quality landline phone.”
Finding a Phone? It Takes a Village
We had a Bolivian cell phone number, but the sound quality wouldn’t cut it for a radio interview. The rickety rotary dial phone at our guesthouse wouldn’t work either.
We sent emails to some local five-star hotels asking if we could book a phone for an hour on Thursday. None responded.
We even asked some newfound American friends working in town whether they knew of any place where we could reserve a phone. They visited a few cabinas (ubiquitous South American phone booth businesses) to check out our options. No speakerphones. And anyway, the idea of the two of us squeezing into a police box amidst a bunch of screaming Bolivians making phone calls seemed absurd.
Our options were looking grim.
One day before the interview, we were at a previously scheduled photo shoot in Chapare, a region known for coca production about three to four hours away from Cochabamba. After the shoot, in a moment of creative desperation, we raised the topic of the radio interview over lunch with the director of the microfinance organization whose clients we were photographing: “We need a stable telephone line with a speakerphone. Do you know where we could find such a thing in Cochabamba?”
Alvaro came to our rescue: “You can use the office. We’ll set up a telephone for you in your own room. You’ll have privacy. It’s no problem.”
A flood of relief washed over us. We were saved yet again by the kindness of others.
Now all we needed to do was return to Cochabamba in time.
The next morning, we rose early and arrived at the stand for minibus departures back to Cochabamba. The first minibus: full. We waited patiently in front of the registration table for the second. The employees gazed right through us as if we didn’t exist and filled the list with the names of everyone around us, despite our pleas. The second minibus departed.
Fortunately, we had left ourselves a padding of several hours to arrive in time for the interview phone call. But panic still began to set in. This was Bolivia after all: rockslides, traffic jams, protests, road closures, and strikes. Bolivia is not the sort of place that demands hours of padding, but days.
We were first on the list for the next minibus. But what if no one else arrived for hours? We calculated in our heads how much it would cost to purchase the remaining seats so the minibus could depart immediately. We decided to give it 20 minutes, after which we’d buy our way out of the jungle.
Ten minutes later, a family showed up and filled the van. We were saved. Their adorable Spaniel mix puppy kept our eyes off the road in front of us: passing trucks on blind curves and endless strings of roadside graves marking those who didn’t make the cut.
Safely in Cochabamba with a bit of time to spare, we went to the office to set up. We could use the organization’s phone to receive calls, but we could not make outgoing international calls. No problem, except that we had agreed to call Pauline with our telephone number.
Skype to our rescue. Hooray!
Enter Murphy’s Law of Internet on the Road: it will work if you are updating Facebook or Twitter, but fail when you need it for anything really important. Our connection was so terrible that when we called Pauline, she couldn’t even understand the phone number. We believe concern ensued with her too, as she wondered if this was the best sound quality Bolivian phone lines could offer.
We resorted to plan B: email the phone number. At that moment, the office internet connection quit completely. We stared at the computer screen as Gmail issued those gloomy “Trying to Connect” messages. After a few stressful minutes of willing the connection to work, Gmail came back to life.
The studio called and we both answered on the speakerphone. It sounded terrible and we knew it. The studio sound technician did, too. “Speakerphone is not going to work,” he said. “Do you have another phone?”
That’s when I picked up the receiver.
And the rest? You can hear for yourself here.
The interview turned out better than we could have imagined. We were floored by Arthur Frommer’s introduction. Pauline conducted a great interview.
And, it was even difficult to tell I was in Bolivia.
A big sincere thanks to the Frommers for their interest in Uncornered Market and for taking the time to chat with us. We hope to have the challenge of finding a quality landline phone in another far-flung country one day to talk with them again.
We also thank Alvaro and CIDRE in Cochabamba for coming to our rescue. Without them, I may have been squished into a cabina at an internet café screaming over the din of Bolivian children playing video games.
And thanks to WordPress for the functionality of scheduled publishing. When this article first appears on our site, we will be in a jeep in the middle of the Bolivian salt desert (Salar de Uyuni).