We’ve probably just had our longest day so far. We were up around 3am to get our bus to Villazón, the small border town which lies just north of the Argentinean boundary. By about 3.15 we had brushed our teeth, put our clothes on and packed our bags. But when we got down to the front door, it was chained. We had to ring the bell several times before a man let us out. With the bus station being just round the corner from our hostel, we were a little early for our bus. It was freezing outside. Eventually a minibus arrived as there wasn’t enough passengers for a big bus. We got in but had to wait around for a while before it left. I’m not sure what or who it was waiting for as all the other buses had departed and we were the only ones left. With around 8 passengers on board, we finally left!
Like all other Bolivian buses, the heating element of the vehicle appeared to be non-existent. The journey took around 2 hours and I don’t think I’ve ever been as cold as I was. We arrived in Villazón around 6am. The border crossing didn’t open until 7. With no idea where we were going to go, we were approached by a guy who said that he offered bus tickets to Salta. He also said that he it was warm in the office. Sold! We followed him to the office and it was probably about a degree warmer than it was outside! As part of the bus ticket, he said that someone would take us to the border and on the other side there would be a bus to take us to Salta. Having never crossed a border via land before and almost freezing to death, his offer appealed to us.
One problem. We didn’t have enough cash on us for the ticket. Because we knew we were leaving the country today we had pretty much spent all our bolivianos. The guy took us to a cash machine but when we got there it was locked. The guy said ahh, maybe it will open at 8am. So we had to hang around until 8am then we went again. It was still locked. Every time we went outside, the cold just slapped us in the face. Then we finally remembered that we had some emergency US dollars on us. In the end, we paid with a mixture of US dollars, bolivianos and Argentinean pesos. We were pretty much cashless now with our emergency supply depleted. But we were told on the other side there would be ATMs for us to use. As soon as we paid, the guy booked us on a bus and said that if we go now we could catch the next bus. So we followed a boy who walked halfway with us and then pointed towards the direction of the border control. And that was that.
We got our exit stamps and moved on towards the Argentinean immigration office. When I handed my passport the guy was like so “Where are you from?”, which is a bit of an odd question seeing as though my British passport was in his hand. Since I’ve been in South America they seem to get really confused that I’m Chinese but with a British passport. Anyway, we moved on and they checked our bags. When the guy asked me to open my bag, I was like really? My fingers were so cold that they felt like dropping off any minute so fiddling around trying to unlock my padlock was a complete mission. He had a quick peek then said it was okay.
As soon as you pass into Argentina, you can tell immediately that the country is much better off than Bolivia. The roads were proper roads and the people were much fairer. We had to find our way to the bus station, which was not directly on the other side which the Bolivians had claimed. It was about a 5 minute walk from the crossing. When we eventually found it we tried to board our bus but lo and behold we had missed it. The Argentinians are one hour ahead of Bolivia – the Bolivians failed to mention this to us as well so they knew that we were going to miss our bus!
They rebooked us for the next bus which wasn’t leaving until 11am! We decided to go looking for an ATM. We found one but our card didn’t work. We then found another one but the queue was so long that we may miss our bus…again so we sacked it off.
Eventually we boarded our bus. Argentinean buses are amazing, better than the ones in the UK. We sat on the upper deck and John was wowed by the fact that we had a TV which played movies and wait for the best bit, you get free self-serve coffee! I’m not a coffee lover but John is. Plus there was a toilet! This felt like luxury after travelling around on Bolivian buses for a month.
The bus journey to Salta was 7 hours. Halfway, the bus was stopped by police and everyone had to get off with their bags and queue up, boys on one side and girls on the other. The police wanted to look into everyone’s bags (maybe searching for smuggling drugs?). After queuing for about 15 minutes we noticed that they were only checking locals. So when we got to the front, we showed our passports and they just waved us through.
We finally arrived in Salta in the evening. When we went to get our luggage, the luggage guys got our bags for us and then demanded 2 pesos off each of us. This was not a good first impression of Argentina. We didn’t pay, basically because we couldn’t. We found a cash machine in the bus station and decided to get a taxi to our hostel. We weren’t impressed by the ATM charge though! In the queue we met an english couple who was also on our bus. We thought that they were staying near us so we shared a taxi but in the end we didn’t have a clue where we were and ended up walking for ages and arguing. In the end, we sat in a park on separate benches for about 10 minutes then continued searching for a hostel.
The first one we approached was full. The second one had room. So we checked into a 6 bed dorm. Once we checked in we walked out to find some food in the main town. We eventually settled on getting a super pancho, a foot long hot dog with ketchup, broken nachos, and olives on top of it – not the best meal but quick and easy! We walked around for a bit longer then headed back to the hostel. The final of the Copa America was on so John stayed up to watch that but I was shattered after our 3am start so I went to bed.