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The long way to Bolivia

... Or the joys of the unexpected...

sunny 10 °C
View South America 2007 on miromar's travel map.

It was meant to be easy. Go to the station, buy a ticket to La Quiaca (argentinian border town), cross the bridge to Villazon (bolivian border town), go to the station, buy a train ticket to Uyuni and then arrive to Uyuni, nice and ready to visit the "Salar" (the salt lake). Easy. Or that is what we thought.

Myself and Christian (my new argentinian travel companion) decided to go early to the station to pick some good seats in the bus to La Quiaca. The plan was to catch the 2am bus so we would arrive early at the border with plenty of time to buy the train tickets. And that is when we find out the news: the services are suspended because the road is cut. Ok, that kind of sucks, bearing in mind that if we miss the train in Villazon we might get stuck for a couple of days there. So we asked around, and somebody eventually said that one of the companies is operating a service at 23.45. And Im wondering (and im sure you are too), if the road is cut, how can they have one service?? The ticket lady explains: The road is not cut by works or something like that. It is a demonstration. But not a demonstration like the ones in Europe, no, one of those that people camp in the road with fires and wont let anything pass through. Apparently they want money from the government. Ironically, I WANT MONEY TOO, but i dont cut any roads, do I? (I might do sometime soon though...) But that is not all. There are actually 2 cuts, separated by 2kms. And the plan apparently is this: We get on this bus, we drive to the first cut, we disembark with our bags, we walk the 2kms (bear in mind this will be at 2 or 3 am) in the dark road until we get to the second cut, and there is meant to be a bus waiting in the other side to take us to La quiaca. Or so they say.

I began laughing, big time, cause this seems taken from some random movie instead of being real life. I looked at Christian, who, even being argentinian is also shocked with the travel plan and has began laughing too. And he looked at me. And we thought: what the f##k! Lets do it! And we bought our tickets choosing the best seats, as the original plan was.

We couldnt sleep, although we thought it would be a good idea as we didnt know when we would be able to sleep again, but the tension of not knowing when the bus journey would finish and the walk would began, made it diffcult. But at some point we felt sleep and only woke up when the bus stopped, engine included. "This is it" I thought, and looked at my watch: 4am. And then looked at the window, and i dont see a bunch of people with weapons in the middle of the road, as predicted, but a bus station with a sign: "La quiaca". So there was no road cut at the end, and because nobody was in the road due to the cut, we have arrived earlier than ever. Great, now we have to wait in the station for 3hs until the border opens. The station is not the nicest place to sleep either. Well, it could be, but the best spots have been taken by several argentinian and bolivian families that have SU MUCH stuff, that there is no room for a couple of gringos to share.

Those were the three coldest hours of my life I would say. Or maybe not, but it felt like it. Eventually made our way to the border, and after some stupid bureocracy, we got into Bolivia at last! At this point we have met few other travellers at the inmigration office, and we are all walking happily together to the train station. We got there at 8.20am, and the ticket office opens at 8am. Perfect. Or so we thought, cause the lady says there are no tickets left. How?? They didnt have the time to sell them in 20mins and they are not supposed to take bookings, so How?? It is pointless to ask her again, cause she is not even looking at us anymore. So we have to think of a Plan B (im loving these plan b situations). At this point is 10 of us in the train station with the same problem: two korean girls, one spanish girl, three argentinian girls, a british couple and me and christian. Random group walking towards the bus station hoping to find a bus.

When we get there, we get told that all the morning buses to Uyuni, have left already. The next ones are to Tupiza (half way through) at 2pm. The idea of waiting 5hs in this not-so-nice town is not good. But suddenly this lady comes over and says that she has now a service to Tupiza leaving at 9am, if we are interested. We look at the bus and realized that they are taking some electrical equipment in a bus to Tupiza as is too much to take it in a car, and with this gringo group, they can make extra money in a bus that was going empty. Fine for us! as we get a whole bus for ourselves!

The road goes through a very interesting scenery, and I realise already how different Bolivia is from everywhere else I have been so far. When we arrive in Tupiza, the same situation arise: Buses to Uyuni have left already, and the only way of getting there now is waiting til the next day, or hiring a private jeep to take us all. We decided for the second, but at this point, 2 other argentinian girls have joined the group, which means that 12 people and all the backpacks in a jeep, seems a lot to me (although for bolivian standards that is just fine). The british couple (Jo and Vernon) decide to stay, and so do I. I wanna get to Uyuni, yes, but in one piece. Besides there are tours to the salar that begin here, so, I will ask around and see what is on offer.

I say goodbye to the rest of the group, Christian included, and prepare myself for some "tour hunting"... (even though I havent slept in 30hs and im feeling soooo tired...) So, watch this space...

x x x Hasta Pronto x x x

Posted by miromar 12:54 Archived in Argentina Tagged backpacking

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I'm waiting with interest to see what happens! I'm going to be in Bolivia in the autumn and I know I must prepare myself for many situations like you describe! Helen

by Eleniki

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