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Busing into Bolivia

Having taken the overnight bus from Salta in Argentina to the border town in La Quiaca, we were pretty shattered and this was all before trapsing a couple of Kilometres to the Bolivian border with a Finnish couple and a Dutch girl. Here we slipped through immigration in a minute or two, surprised by how speedy and easy the whole process was. If only the rest of the trip was like this…
After trying to find a bus company which Andy had found on the internet, who it turned out didn’t exist, to get to Uyuni, we were told we would have to wait 6 hours or just take the bus to Tupiza and change there. There was a bus leaving right away so we jumped on with the Dutch girl and headed to ‘we had no idea where’. The journey was ok, lots of locals chatting with us and despite it being a rather old run-down bus, it was pretty comfortable for the hour and a half ride. Arriving at Tupiza we were informed of a bus leaving in just over an hour, so we reserved a spot whilst we headed to the plaza to look for an ATM and somewhere to eat brekky as it was going to be an 8 hour trip with no stops (including no toilet!). All the cafes in town were closed and the only place serving food was a little place with plastic chairs which looked fine enough. Almost half an hour later we were handed our plate of something we didn’t understand as we ordered, which turned out to be ‘pique’ . This basically consists of everything in the kitchen cooked off on a plate; absolutely scrummy including sausage, beef, chips, gravy, peppers and onions mmmmm. We washed this down in about 3 minutes with a beer (well it was 5 o’clock somewhere in the world!) and ran back to the bus station with about 1 minute to spare.
Well, we were late weren’t we and our seats had been sold to someone else. A bit of stress and a few minutes later led to the bus woman telling us all was fine, we had a seat and they were ‘panoramic’ ones, and all for $3 – excellent!

The bus looked interesting from the outside, but it was the inside that was pretty special: climbing up the steps to find our special panoramic seats we realised we had zero leg room and a window next to us that would not open. Stuffing our bags under our feet we settled down about 20cm away from the seats over the aisle, which housed a man who never spoke the whole journey and a woman who had a baby on her lap attached to her breast and a toddler asleep at her feet (I have no idea how they all fitted into this space as I struggled just on my own). The bus was finally ready to go, but oh no don’t be silly, things were clearly not going to be that simple…the bus would not start! After 20 minutes and an eventual jump start (were we really going to survive on this thing for 8 hours or would we be stranded in the desert of Bolivia; thirsty and shrivelling into cactuses?) we were on our way. Well, only 2 minutes down the road to a check point, which entailed another jump start down the dirt track that was to become the route that we would follow to Uyuni.

The surrounding countryside was stunning, and being only a few moments into our journey we were yet to suffer the effects of claustrophobia, which would set in soon, and sore ‘everythings’; all was quite good, until…from behind us a strange constant drone disturbed the ‘peace’. It sounded rather like the call to prayer I had become accustomed to after so many years in Dubai, but surely not? We were in Bolivia weren’t we? Turning around, Andy let out a deep sigh “It’s a Jehovas Witness, and he has a fake microphone!” True enough, there in the aisle (thankfully behind us) was a bearded man with a Stetson on chanting at his uninterested, unperturbed audience. This ridiculously loud and animated sermon continued for 2 hours, until he finally jumped off the bus at a pueblo in the middle of nowhere.
Peace and sleep, however, were clearly not going to be accompanying us on this journey as the bus chugged it’s way up mountains and around hairpin bends at ridiculous speed (video does not do this justice). I seriously did not think I would survive the journey at one point.

After 4 hours the bus eventually stopped to drop off and pick up passengers, allowing just enough time for me to run to the toilet and back. The changeover for Andy getting off the bus and me getting back on involved grabbing a couple of kids and passing them between us, pushing an old man who was shoving me out of the way, and taking the baby from next to us back up the stairs while she stared at me like I was from another planet. Andy had a quick wee stop down an alleyway, where he was caught out by a perfectly timed gust of wind and within a 5 minute turnaround all was good for the next half of the journey. Thankfully this seemed to pass a lot quicker than the first, although by now every part of my body was in agony from the cramped conditions.
Eventually we arrived at Uyuni and the whole ‘pass the baby and child’ scenario was played out again until mum lay her baby on the street floor on top of a blanket and grabbed it, wrapping it around her body as a caragador. It truly amazes me how the women here do this, no need for a fancy pushchair or pram; they just strap their babies and children onto their backs with a square of material…easy ;)!
Obvioulsy we had nowhere booked in Uyuni and so the obligatory trapsing of the streets with our backpacks on commenced, until thankfully we managed to find a wee place with a room and stretch out!! BLISS!

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