Monday March 16, 2015 (Argentina, Bolivia, South America)
The night bus we took to La Quiaca was actually reasonably comfortable! Within an hour or so, Sandra and I had both fallen asleep in our customary front row seats (better road views!). After a few premature wakeups from early stops, we were both awoken with a physical shake by the driver to inform us that we had reached our destination. The bus was empty, so I guess we’re the best sleepers on there!
So here we are at 5:30am in a far north Argentinian town. The “bus station” is shady at best, especially at this hour. There are many dogs throughout the station growling at each other and locals sleeping on most available surfaces. At this point, we struck up a conversation with Henri (Belgium) and Tuure (Finland). They were travelling together and were also planning to cross the border to Villazon on foot.
After waiting an hour or so, we got word that the border should be open and we could potentially cross. So off we went with our little crew marching in the dark toward the Bolivian border. I don’t think I’ve ever crossed a border on foot at sunrise. It was actually quite pleasant!
We had already booked a train departing Villazon to Uyuni at 3:30pm. However, once in the town of Villazon, we heard that there was a bus leaving much earlier (8:00am or so) that would get us to Uyuni at about 4:30pm. This was a much better option as the train wouldn’t bring us in until midnight or so, at which point it would be difficult to book tours for the following morning. So we decided to eat the cost of our train ticket and buy bus tickets with Henri and Tuure to get us to Uyuni.
Before leaving, I grabbed a street food meal of chicken soup with rice and potatoes — it was absolutely delicious! Once of the best meals I’ve had on the trip so far: simple, yet well executed!
So now it was time for the bus ride. Whoa. This was a bus ride to end all bus rides. It brought us in to Uyuni by 6pm or so. After crossing mountains, switchbacks requiring the bus to back up along the mountain edge, fording dry riverbeds taller than the bus itself, and every piece of the bus rattling from the entirely unpaved route the entire time. It was pretty awesome. Although sleep was at times difficult to find, the views were quite spectacular!
We’re not yet sure how it works, but some locals get on busses with a different type of ticket, wherein they can stand on the bus and knock on the driver’s door to get dropped off in seemingly random locations. We had a few of these passengers on this ride. One in particular got on about two hours into the ride and either stood or sat in the aisle for the remainder of the journey. And we thought we were uncomfortable!
Upon arrival we wandered around to a couple of tour agencies with Henri and Tuure, who were also looking into an Uyuni tour. We had heard news that tours in English were more than 50% more expensive than tours in Spanish. Luckily for us, Henri and Tuure both speak great Spanish, so we chose the 100% Spanish tour and nominated Henri as official translator!
Now it was time for dinner. Tuure wasn’t feeling very well (likely altitude sickness, as Uyuni is 3650m above sea level (or about 12000ft). I looked up some local restaurants and saw that Minuteman Pizza had some good reviews. It was run by an expat from Boston, so we were hoping for a great meal. We were NOT disappointed! Our trio of Henri, Sandra and I wandered over to check it out. The decor was really fun and the atmosphere was generally warm and cozy. For about 9 USD you could get a small pizza, and every pizza came with a homemade salad. This was clutch for Sandra. We each got a small pizza, my toppings being Spicy Llama and Cheddar Cheese. We each started with an incredible salad, with everything from pomegranate seeds to home-candied nuts on offer. Sandra was in heaven! The pizza itself was perfectly done and didn’t suffer from the “more cheese is better” approach that we had gotten very used to in Argentina. A Huari beer to top it all off, and we were ready to head out on our Salar de Uyuni tour the following morning!