Monday, 2 January 2012

Into Bolivia, and back out and in again…

We arrived at the border town La Quiaca in the wee hours of the morning after a very, very cold bus trip from Salta.  As soon as we exited the bus we realised that the cold wasn’t from an overworked air conditioner but was due to the altitude, as the temperature had significantly dropped outside.  We joined the other gringos in a dash for more layers and then decided the easiest way to cross the border would be to tag along and hope that one of the other people in the group knew where to go and what to do….

The Argentinian border wasn’t exactly straight down the road as Google maps had promised and the gringo train snaked around until we found the closed border post, not open 24 hours as the Lonely Planet promised either.  So we formed an orderly queue and patiently waited for the window to open.  Thankfully for all of us who were freezing, the sun was slowly rising and things were beginning to warm up a bit... likewise, conversations amongst the gringo’s also started and we struck up a conversation with some ‘interesting’ french girls (in fact the other gringo’s assumed we were french, I guess that means we a least learnt something in Geneva!).  Once the border opened it was easy to check out of Argentina and into Bolivia, so as soon as we were in Villazona the next task was to get out some of the local currency, ‘Bolivianos – aka BOB’.  There were two problems with this, firstly it was Sunday so we weren’t sure if banks would open and secondly it turns out we’d arrived in Villazona on the day they decided to cut power to the entire town (apparently for repairs). This meant no power to ATM’s which meant no money and no banks wanted to open without power (the security guards with enormous shotguns were very persuasive).  The major problem with this was that our final destination fro the day was the small town of Tupiza which doesn’t have any ATM’s and we needed a decent amount of cash to pay for our Salar de Uyuni tour.

Luckily other tourists were in the same dilemma and we found ourselves with a great (some would say, mega super) German couple, Fernando and Saskia, and with them and the interesting French girls in tow we decided that the only thing to do was to head back into Argentina, withdraw peso’s and then re-cross the border and change all our peso’s into BOB’s.  Thankfully both Fernando and Saskia were fluent in Spanish so they explained to the border guard that we’d just crossed into their country and we really quickly wanted to duck back out for a bit.  The Bolivian guard had no problem with this, however on the other side of the bridge the Argentinian guard told us that none of the ATM’s in town had any money left and that’d it be waste of our time going back to town.  We kindly thanked him for his advice but said we’d like to check it out anyway.  Luckily we did as the ATM was very forthcoming with the much needed funds; and fully loaded we went and re-crossed the border for the third time that morning (we were tempted to tell the guard that in fact there was money but in the end decided that it probably wasn’t the wisest idea to annoy a border guard…)

Back in town we were able to change our money so the next thing was to find a bus to Tupiza.  We’d heard a lot of bad things about buses in Bolivia so we were all a bit hesitant boarding quite a dodgy looking bus, but the trip turned out to OK, except for the deafening, repetitive music blaring out of the speakers that we unfortunately had scored seats directly beneath.  (So now we have two seat requirements for travelling on buses – never ride at the front and don’t seat under the speakers….)  Thankfully we had our earplugs handy and we managed to exit the bus with some hearing capabilities still intact! We were excited to arrive in Tupiza, and to actually be in Bolivia, and to start the next part of our adventure.



(No photos this time!  Border towns aren’t so exciting :-)

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