Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Highway Cowboys - The Bolivian Bus

The title pretty much says it all.  Bus drivers in Bolivia ARE highway cowboys.

I had read that the road to Tupiza and Uyuni from Villazón was a bone-breaking washboard road so I wanted to take the train to Tupiza.  Since trains do not run on schedules like the modern transportation systems in developed countries and I wanted out of the border town!  I decided that the next bus to Tupiza (in 3-hours) was the way to go. 
The Bolivian buses are a completely different experience than that of the Chilean and Argentinean buses.  First, the prices are cheap, like really really cheap.  My ride from Villazón, Bolivia (border of Argentina and Bolivia) to Tupiza, Bolivia costs B$20 (B-Bolivianos), which is about $2.89 USD.  At that price I knew I shouldn’t expect much so I bought the window seat for my backpack and the aisle for myself. 

All three buses departing at 3:00pm from Villazón depart at the same time and each one was in a hurry to get there.  Sitting in the front row on a double-decker bus in Bolivia is not for the faint-of-heart types.  The ride was fast and furious.  It was as if we were playing leap-frog because the three buses kept passing one another throughout the entire 1.5 hour ride, which isn’t so bad when roads are flat and straight.  The twists and turns through the mountains had made me wish I had had a glass of wine, no, make that a bottle wine.  At one point we reached a detour where a tunnel through the mountain was closed for repair and a new makeshift tunnel had been carved.  The double-decker narrowly crept through the tunnel and successfully to boot.  Also, that washboard road I mentioned?  It was paved!  I made it to Tupiza in one piece with my nerves barely intact.  And of course upon arrival at my hostel I met a few other travelers who told me that I could have taken a taxi for B$25, $3.62 USD, minus the 3-hour wait and minus the nerve jumping bus ride.  Go figure.

In Tupiza I had planned to stay for just a day and I had hoped to catch a Salar de Uyuni tour, the 4-day salt flat tours going Uyuni since that was my next destination.  One thing I did not anticipate was that traveling solo to Tupiza and catching a 4-day tour would be a challenge.  I spent hours going from one tour company to tour company and had no luck of getting on a tour.  If the tour operators do not have enough people (usually 4-6 people) then the tour is a no-go.  Even after hanging around town and hitting some gringo hangouts I still could not gather enough people to make the trip happen.  Many of the people arriving in Tupiza are coming from Uyuni, on a tour of course.  Being that is was “off-season” did not help the situation either. 

So now what?  I can hang around Tupiza or make my way to Uyuni and hopefully get on a salt flat tour.  I decided to hang Tupiza for another night since it is situated in a beautiful mountain range.  As the sun shifts over the mountains the colors in the mountains turn from reds, orange, rust colors and then the clouds appear to be pink and blue cotton candy.  Besides, the train was leaving the next afternoon for Uyuni and I did not want to take a Bolivian night bus because sleeping in my brand new comfy hostel is a better choice for Bolivian bus rattled nerves.            

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