Saturday, December 31, 2011

Buenos Aires to the Bolivian Border

During my flight from Buenos Aires to Salta, Argentina I discovered that the man sitting next to me was from New Zealand and he is a geologist.  He was not at all like the geology grade school documentary; you know the ones that just talk about rocks and sediment?  Murray is a consultant for mining companies searching for lithium; the material used in our cell phone and computer batteries.  He then asked me what I was doing and I explained that after living and studying abroad in Santiago, Chile and traveling the world for many years in a prescribed kind of way, I decided to trade in my Travelpro for a backpack and hit the airports, roads, rails, boats and whatever else comes my way in South America.

This is what I love about traveling and not having a defined itinerary.  You meet fellow travelers and most are helpful at pointing you or literally taking you in the right direction. After our flight Murray was kind enough to offer me a ride to the Salta Bus Terminal.  Some people I end up hanging out with for a day or so but in this case it was welcomed ride to the bus terminal.

The Salta Bus Terminal is somewhat new but nothing fancy.  There is a café where you can connect to their wifi as long as you make a purchase.  Buying bus tickets in Argentina is fairly easy to do but it can be overwhelming with a dozen bus companies trying to sell you tickets.  First, have a few questions ready.  Things to keep in mind are what kind of bus are they using like a microbus or a larger tour bus.  Ask to see a photo and photos of the types of seating.  Semi-cama is good for long rides up to 10 hours, but for me I will purchase a cama seat for 12+ hour bus rides.  Argentinean bus companies have rather nice buses.  There are one or two companies that could use some upgrading, but overall the buses are really nice, especially the “cama” seats that lie (almost) flat.  Some companies provide complimentary snacks and some for sale.  I usually bring my own supply fruit and nuts and water.  Second, ask how much it costs and what time it leaves AND arrives.  In some places ticket prices are reduced as it gets closer to departure time so don’t be afraid to ask for a discount.  If you don’t ask then the answer is no.  Thirdly, ask to see which seats are available.  I usually go for the front row window and far from the toilets. 

After purchasing your ticket you will head to the rear of the bus to check your larger backpack or suitcase.  They will tag it and give you a receipt.  Be prepared with a couple of coins to give a propina (tip) to the guys loading bags (equivalent to .50 - $1).  In most cases they will ask for propinas.  Because I want to ensure my bag stays on the bus or train and intact, I have no problem handing over a buck.  It’s money well spent. 

On this bus trip I have a front row semi-cama seat on the second floor that provided panoramic views.  The ride from Salta to La Quiaca, the Argentinean border town to Bolivia was a stunning ride.  My 7-hour bus ride departed at 3:00pm, which I got to cruise through the mountains during sunset and is was beautiful.  I had not expected such amazing scenery from Salta to La Quiaca.

Arriving in La Quiaca late at night leaves you nothing to do because everything is closed, including the border.  It’s best to just head to your hostel and make the border crossing the morning.  This is one of those times where I made my arrangement ahead of time because I knew I would arrive after border closing and rather late at night.  Upon arrival I recommend using a taxi and negotiate your fare before getting in the cab.  I think my 5 or 6 block ride to my hostel cost about $6 ARG pesos, which is about $1.50 USD. 

One thing you should know about most South American bus companies is that they show movies, which are usually Hollywood “B” or “C” shoot’em-up movies.  Listening to men screaming over helicopters and constant movie gunfire could be migraine inducing because it’s not like airplane where you can choose to unplug the headset because the volume is played throughout the entire bus.  Once or twice I told the bus attendant that the sound was “más fuerte” meaning very strong and they were kind enough to lower the volume.  Being that most of the movies are dubbed in Spanish and have Spanish subtitles no one will miss anything.  Either way, I recommend bringing a fully charged iPod or high decibel rated earplugs.

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