I finally left Sucre on Sunday 15th December destined for Mendoza, Argentina. It felt strange to be leaving a place I had called home for the last 9 weeks and it was even harder to leave Marion behind. But I knew I would be returning in a couple of months and the thought of Christmas around the pool in Mendoza spurred me on.
I knew before I embarked on this epic journey that it would be fairly boring, tiring and frustrating. But little did I know just how extreme it would be. First of all I had to catch a bus from Sucre to the Bolivian border town of Villazon (10 hours), then walk across the bridge to the Argentine border town of La Quiaca. The plan was then to catch the first bus to Salta (8 hours) and spend the night there to get some rest. The next day I would catch a bus to Mendoza (18 hours) and reach my destination and the place where I would spend Christmas and new year.
Sucre to Villazon
I was not excited about the fact that this 10 hour night bus was only semi cama (a seat that reclines) as I normally upgrade to the more comfortable cama suite buses for over night journeys. The bus was n’t as bad as I thought as was fairly modern. The only problem was it did n’t have a toilet! As on most Bolivian buses the driver played loud local music to keep himself awake and his passengers! I listened to my ipod for most of the night to drown out the ding. I did actually manage to get some sleep, I think the rise in altitude helped with matters as at one stage I noticed my altimeter on my watch was reading 4000m. I can only assume we were in Potosi. The only problem I encountered on this bus was the extreme urge for the toilet. Luckily we stopped on some unattractive town for a pee break. There were no public toilets here so those needing to relieve themselves had to go in the street. I took exceptionally long to finish the deed, and driver tried to hurry me by revving the engine of the bus ferociously and even resulted into pulling away down the street. Thankfully I made it back on the bus safely and we finally arrived in Villazon at around 6.30am.
The Border Crossing
Border crossings are tiresome and frustrating at the best of times, but this one in particular tested my patience. It was a 10 minute walk from where the bus dropped us off to the Bolivian/Argentine immigration office and a fairly large line of people were already beginning to assemble. I met 3 Germans who were also going to Salta and they agreed to let me tag along with them.
The system the Bolivians had in place for the immigration formalities was confusing and seriously disorganized. No one really seemed know what was going on, as the line turned into 3 separate lines nearer the office. Locals pushed and shoved and some jumped the line. Once I finally reached the office I realized why it had taken so long as they only had 1 person working there. After the stamp out of Bolivia it was on to the line next to be stamped into Argentina. More confusion followed, more people pushed and shoved and I started to get angry.
The 4 of us finally got through the border and the whole episode had taken just over 2 hours meaning I had missed the first bus to Salta. We shared a taxi to the bus station in La Quiaca. The lonely planet describes La Quicaca as a “cold windy place with little to detain you” which I think is being extremely kind to the desolate mess of a town.
The next direct bus to Salta was in an hour and a half’s time. It truly was a pain in the ass to buy a ticket. Random guys gave us various conflicting information on what companies were leaving next, all lies to get us to go with their commissioned based companies. We decided to go with Balut, the next direct semi cama bus to Salta.
La Quiaca to Salta
Finally a half decent bus. Anyone that has traveled in Argentina will know the buses are some of the best in the world. This had toilet as well! The bus was hot and the sun was beaming in through the window. The situation was n’t helped by the German girl I was sitting next to turning off her and MY air conditioning vents. The passing landscape was nice as we passed through the desert. It reminded me of the old american wild west. Rolling hillsides, cactus’ and cattle filled the scenery. The journey was abruptly stopped 1 hour after we started by a road side protest which completely blocked both sides of the road. They had set up a camp in the middle and set light to barrels and tires. Most looked like teenagers. I don’t know what they were protesting about and I did n’t really care, all I wanted was to get to Salta as soon as possible. We were stuck there for 1 hour and a half when thankfully the heavens opened viciously and sent the demonstrators fleeing for shelter. Never had I been so happy to see rain.
We set off again and seemed to stop at every little town on the way to Salta. By now I was well over the ‘interesting’ scenery and all I wanted was a fresh shower and some sleep. One other notable thing I saw on this journey was a recently hit dog. He was still alive but looked critically injured. The guilty driver had stopped to see the damage. I can only assume the poor canine died there on the side of the road.
We finally arrived in Salta at 8pm. I had now been travelling for 24 hours without hardly any sleep and I was still an 18 hour bus away from my final destination of Mendoza. I decided to stay in the 7 Duendes Base hostel. I had stayed here 3 years ago. I returned here not because I particularly enjoyed my previous stay, but because it was near to the bus station. This current stay sadly did n’t improve my views on the hostel. Thankfully the showers were powerful and hot, something I had n’t experienced since I was in Cusco, Peru. The dorms however were not so nice. It was like a sauna in there. No air con and a pathetic fan which my Australian room-mate decided was either too noisy or too cold for her comfort. This resulted in virtually no sleep for me as I felt I was constantly stuck to the bed sheets and struggled to breath in the dense humid air.
The next day I walked into the centre to visit the Museo de Arqueologia de Alta Montana de Salta. The museum houses 3 extremely well-preserved mummified Inca children found on the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano at an altitude of 6739m (22110ft). For a more detailed explanation of the mummies check out the wiki page. The museum was extremely interesting and has good explanations in English and Spanish. There is only one mummy on display at a time as they rotate them to help with the preservation. But it’s really spooky to see them face to face. They still look extremely life-like after 500 years and its as if they are just sleeping.
After the museum it was time for lunch and I ‘accidentally’ stumbled across McDonald’s! This surprisingly was my first visit to McDonald’s in 2 and a half months travelling. Surely a record for me. The good thing about McDonald’s is that it tastes the same in every country. Normally shit I admit, but there is something quite comforting about eating McDonald’s when you are 1000’s of miles away from home.
Salta to Mendoza
My bus left Salta at 15.30. It was due to arrive in Mendoza the following morning at 10am. I had decided to go in the cama suite. 140 degrees reclining personal seat and a full meal service with a hot evening meal accompanied by good Argentina wine. It was n’t cheap at around £90, but still well below the air fare cost. I watched a few movies and listened to my ipod to pass the time. I actually slept fairly well, probably due to the lack of sleep in the last 48 hours. We encountered a huge storm at some point in during the night which hampered our progress slightly. I finally arrived at Hostel Lao in Mendoza at 11am. It felt good to be back here and the place still feels like home after all this time. And it was really good to be reunited with my good friends Francisco and Mauricio. Now it was time to chill in the sun and relax in the pool while I celebrate Christmas and New year here.