Sunday, March 13, 2011


                The only buses to Villazon, the Bolivian side of the Bolivian-Argentinean border, were local buses. No chance for the fancy tourist bus this time.  But it was cheap for the 20 hour ride. It was pouring rain when we left Uyuni, and we crammed like sardines into the tiny bus terminal. We left about half an hour late, which was pretty early for Bolivian time. I was so happy to be leaving Bolivia and was very much looking forward to the more developed Argentina.

We got on the bus and Laurie and I were near the front of the bus. It was cold and dark and smelled like the typical Bolivian buses (armpits, urine and the third world). I was used to the smell, but I could not get used to the cold. I was layered up in every sweater and jacket in my bag. I took a sleeping pill and fell into a deep chemical sleep.  In the middle of the night, I became aware that the bus had stopped and that we had been stopped for some time. The sleeping pills were strong enough that although I noticed, I didn’t care and slipped back into my dreamless sleep.

I awoke in the darkness to the sound of Laurie gasping for air in the seat beside me. There is a door that separates the driver’s area from the passengers. It’s usually locked to prevent passengers from disturbing the driver while on the road. But it should have not been locked while we were stopped in the middle of the night. For whatever reason, it was now locked. Laurie needed to get off the bus ASAP. She was breathing heavily and I thought she was going to vomit in my lap. She was pounding on the door, but no one in the driver’s area moved. Finally, after minutes of non-stop, near window breaking pounding, they opened the door. For some reason there were about 6 people crammed up in the drivers area. They didn’t seem to understand how badly she needed off the bus and didn’t move. Finally once they realized that they had to move or risk being thrown up on, they got out of the way fast. Laurie was ok after a little fresh air. Blame it on the altitude.

As the sleeping pills wore off, I woke up annoyed. Something was dripping on me and I was freezing. I looked up. Some fat old man had opened the roof emergency escape and rain was pouring in on me. Octavia tried and tried to close it to no avail. The fat old man who had opened it just watched her. The sun had come up by now and we could see other buses parked around us. We had been here for hours and hours by now. I could see what held us up. The road was flooded. But basically it was a big puddle. None of the buses were brave enough to see if they could make it through. Another typical Bolivian bus ride; our 20 hour ride was going to be 30. I could almost get used to that fact. What I could not get used to was the fact that I was freezing cold, wet and continuously being dripped on. I was miserable. Easily the worst bus ride yet.

Finally in the late hours of the morning, one bus dared to try the puddle. Our bus was right behind him. Of course we breezed through with no trouble…the water was maybe ankle deep. Fuck Bolivia, I could not wait to get to Argentina! I spent the rest of the ride in cold miserable silence.

We finally arrived in Villazon and contemplated what to do. Our original plan was to get straight on a bus for Salta, Argentina, but after that hell ride, we needed a break. We looked around Villazon and still saw Bolivia. We needed to cross that border. We spoke to an Argentinean who was on our bus and he explained that we could just walk to the border and cross on foot. We were desperate to get out. We walked for 10 minutes to the bridge that led to Argentina. Just across that bridge and we would have escaped Bolivia to never have to return!! I wanted to just run across. I was sure the air would be fresher, the people would be nicer and everything would work the way it was supposed to, just across that bridge.

Well others must have felt that too, because the line up to get in to Argentina was huge!!!! We got in line and hoped the border wouldn’t close before we got across. That kind of thing would happen to us. Looking around, the road out of Bolivia kind of summed up the country. Under the bridge was a mostly dried up creek, where a trickle of nearly black, dirty water ran through. The banks were covered with garbage. Heaps and heaps of it. Some fat pigs, they must have weighed nearly 100 pounds, feasted on the filth before them. Stray dogs sniffed around. And through all of the garbage, we saw some Bolivians skipping out on the immigration process and making a border dash for Argentina. And |I don’t blame them!! As we waited on the bridge, Octavia threw a cigarette butt over into the garbage creek hoping to burn down the whole country. As far as I know, it didn’t work; once I got out I never looked back.

To pass the time, we watched the people. We laughed about the line up to get into Argentina and the lack of line up to get into Bolivia. In typical Bolivian fashion, it didn’t take long for us to find something so stupid that it fascinated us. We watched as a Bolivian mother put her infant on the top railing of the bridge to change its diaper. The railing was maybe 6 inches wide. The best case would have been a 4 foot drop onto the cement where the mother was standing. The worst case would have been a 50 foot drop into the garbage heap and a decent meal for a pig. The mother did not even keep a hand on that baby. One squirm or an attempt to roll over and that was a smashed baby. Thank god, I did not see a baby die that day. After changing the baby, she scooped it up and they were on their way. Of course she left the shitty diaper just sitting on the ledge of the bridge.

When we were very close to the front of the line to Argentina, Octavia realized something. We hadn’t gotten our Bolivian exit stamps!!!! I waited in line as her and Laurie made a dash for it. When they got back I made a dash for it and made it back in just the nick of time. With ease, we were stamped by the Argentina immigration and had escaped Bolivia!!!

Just a few steps outside of Bolivia. I swear, the sun shone brighter. The air smelled fresher. I was in Argentina!!!!

Up next, living the good life in Argentina!!!

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