Skip to main content

A lot could happen between La Paz and Copacabana, if only I could understand the hunky backpacker next to me.Michael Major/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Sometimes things don't go as planned – and those moments often make for the best stories. Tripping columns offer readers a chance to share their wild adventures.

The jerky motion of Bolivian buses as they travel between cities on unpaved, winding roads (steered by unpredictable drivers) is hell for using the bathroom, but ideal for "accidentally" cuddling up to the person beside you. This is especially convenient if you find yourself seated next to an Italian hunk on your way from La Paz to Copacabana.

He was around my age – early 20s – and sexy by backpacker standards: long hair, soulful brown eyes, fresh dirt beneath his fingernails. He wore a beaded alpaca sweater and had nonchalantly slung a DSLR camera around his neck.

I gave him the old traveller's salute: "Where are you from?" despite that I'd already sneaked a peek at his passport. He squinted and stared back blankly.

"Ingles?" I asked.

"Poquito," he said, hovering his index finger above his thumb to gesture a very small amount. "Italiano o espanol?"

Nope. Didn't speak either. Damn. I should've taken Spanish in high school. I had picked up a few Spanish phrases in the week-and-a-half I'd been in South America, but they were mostly alcohol- and bathroom-related: "Una cerveza por favor!" "Hay banos?"

I pointed to myself: "Ilana. You? Um … Tu nombre?"


I spent most of the ride pretending to look out the window while actually looking at Matteo. Two gorgeous views to admire! The way he turned his yawn into a tune was almost as adorable as the way he tapped his hiking boots to the beat of his iPod. I imagined his life in the Tuscan countryside where he helped his father run a vineyard, commuting to a nearby university to study philosophy.As I napped, I could feel his eyes on me.

We tried several times to converse. I wanted to tell him about the hostel made of salt and the witch doctor that tried to sell me a llama fetus. One time, he took a deep breath, said "Como …" and then stopped dead in his tracks. Whenever one of us spoke, the other would wind up with a puckered face and shrugged shoulders, and we'd both start laughing.

I did manage to ask about his camera by pointing to it. "Are you a photographer?"

"Si …" He paused. He sounded uncertain. "Hmm … me gusta."

Instead of talking, we developed our own methods of communication. He offered me Pringles, I accepted. When he bumped his head, I rubbed it. The tension was palpable. What if we're soulmates? I wondered. Does God play practical jokes?

I'd been taught that love conquers all. I knew couples that had overcome the greatest of distances. But could two people sitting mere inches apart beat a language barrier?

At the end of the bus ride, the driver stood up to give us some information. Matteo started speaking to me, too. It was the most enthralling gibberish I'd ever heard.

Sure, he could've been trying to explain the bus driver's instructions. But I'd like to believe it went: "I know you don't understand, but I'll never forget you, Beautiful. If nothing else, we will always have this bus ride."

Share your adventure from the road via