Monthly Archives: May 2016

You can’t make this bus ride up

A movie, a short nap and some staring out the window later and we pass a bus on the side of the road. Flipped over.

I was thankful that my seatbelt – while covered in gum – was fastened.

The drive continued. At the border we were stopped. Sitting, waiting. I was anxious. Maybe we’re almost there and time passed faster than I had thought.

HAHAHA.

We were the only bus at the border because all of the other companies had cancelled their route for the day. Awesome. Now I was genuinely concerned about my safety. This bus was going through the Andes mountains. Though it was a well traveled route and it was summer, had I chosen a bad route, and more importantly, should I have gotten off the bus when I had the chance.

I did believe I was the only one with a passport from the US on the bus so I figured my parents would be notified rather quickly should things take a turn for the worse (and sadly this was not the only bus ride I had this thought – wait for the Bolivia bus ride from hell).

We were finally able to get off the bus to go through passport control and I was able to take a quick bathroom break. Anything had to be better than the bus toilet … but with a quarter of an inch of liquid on the floor of this bathroom, who knows what was worse.

X-ray machines, dogs sniffing and a maze of stops to check in with a passport. Sometimes with a bag, without a bag – it was definitely a lengthy process.

Nearly 1 hour and 10 minutes later we depart. Remember, we were the only bus. How long this would take on a day where other buses were traveling this route, I am confident I would have lost my mind.

My seat mate and my translator have differing opinions on what’s ahead. My seat mate thought we passed the bad part. My translator thought the worst part is to come. I think I just want off this freaking bus.

From the time we left the border, it was about 12 minutes of driving. Then we slowed. And all I see is a hole in the road. Like an earthquake had separated the land.

This picture doesn’t do the scene any justice.

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Obviously we had some warning, but might there have been a conversation at the border like “Hey, for real, there’s a big problem up ahead.” Or did I miss that chance when I could have gotten off the bus before we started? Was that my warning? Probably.

We saw a 4×4 off road through the missing road – and so our bus went forward. Then back. Then I think we may have gotten stuck.

And then there it was. We were in the middle of the Andes mountains and we were asked to get off the bus. I recognized the word ‘peso’ which I pieced together that the bus was too heavy to make it through whatever the driver was attempting to do.

Everyone but the driver disembarked and I found it pretty hard to breathe. Duh. The driver motioned where we were to meet him (we were in the middle of the mountains, it wouldn’t be hard to find a bus). He revved the engine and went.

The rest of us walked and I was so thankful that the driver made us get off the bus because I probably would have had a heart attack if I had stayed on the bus for that part.

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Back on the bus…for a variety of scenery. And some gut wrenching twists and turns. Not to mention the drastic weather conditions.

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(Some of the few guardrails spotted)

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6pm: The bus stops to let someone off. Since so many hours had passed since this journey started, I was thinking that we may be in the home stretch (and if someone is getting off, we must be near civilization, I think). So I ask my seatmate if he thinks we are close. He pulls out a map and tells me we likely have five more hours to go. Looking at the map, we were closer to where we started than to where we were headed.

7.43pm: Entering Jujuy. I still don’t know if I should be taking my malaria pills because technically it’s bordering where I should be taking them. And it’s raining. I decide I’m going to wing it without the meds.

Arrived in Salta at some crazy late hour – my patience thinned and second guessing if I should have just headed to a beach instead. My 10 hour bus ride was at least 15.

Grabbed a cab and made it to the hostel. Checked in and requested a private room since I just wanted to go to bed. I’d happily be friendlier in the morning after sleep and a shower.

It was still raining pretty hard. I noticed that the window screen in my room had a gaping hole (but because of the temperature outside, the window needed to stay open). Concerned about the malaria situation here, but not enough to take the pills, I pulled duct tape out of my bag, covered the hole, hoped for the best and went straight to bed.


Back on the bus (or maybe not)

After learning that everything in the desert depends on rain, and everything is dictated by the rain, the three of us were now parting ways. My long awaited reunion with friends in the north of Chile was coming to an end and I would soon be on my own again.

I would be back in hostels. It was nice to be reminded to drink water (I was failing at doing so on my own), it was nice to spend time with familiar faces, it was nice to sleep in a double bed – and not a bunk, it was nice to shower without flip flops, it was nice to use a real, fluffy towel, and not my quick dry towel and it was nice to have a plan <gasp>.

But now I’d be heading to Salta, Argentina, crossing back into Argentina by bus. I made my way to the bus ‘station’ and upon arriving I found others headed the same way. One woman handed me a piece of paper with a notice to travelers from the Argentine government. It basically said no buses to Salta because of a road blockage.

Um, okay. We made our way to where we should have been departing. There was a delay (or cancellation, who knows, really) so I went with another woman to mail postcards (why not). We get back to the area and it’s time to board. I was confused, was this a go or not.

We boarded.

We drove. For five minutes.

Then we were directed to get off the bus. For customs. The bus had left the station at 9.33am, for a 10 hour journey, and at 9.38am we were asked to get off the bus.

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What was happening? Customs. I think. But it seemed that no one really knew what was going on. We got back on the bus at 10.30am.

A woman got on the bus, presumably from the bus company. She spoke in Spanish and far, far too quickly for me to understand – because she probably wanted to get off the bus as soon as she said it.

I didn’t know what she said so I asked if anyone near me spoke English. A young man did and his translation was along the lines of “The bus may not be able to go. There is snow and ice and a river on the roads (a flood, perhaps?). We may stay in Purmamarca, which is just over the border. Another possibility is to go through Santiago.” (UM NO. I FLEW north from Santiago to Calama to get to San Pedro – I would be going the opposite direction of the way I would need to go … adding about 14 hours to an already 10 hour long bus ride.).

Everyone gets off the bus. Then we get back on. My seat is now wet. I am wearing waterproof pants. I ask to move. I am now seated next to a smelly man but my seat is dry. Priorities have changed to be thankful my seat is now dry.

Bus driver gets up to talk. All I can make out is “No hotel, no food…it’s not our fault.” I ask the man on the other side of the aisle to translate and he translates, “We can go. It may be open, it may not. We may have to sleep on bus. If there is a room in town, we will have to pay for it. The only food they will give us is what is already stored on the bus. We have the option to get off the bus but we lose 30% of what we paid if you want to attempt the trip again later in the week.”

The bus driver clearly saw that I was receiving a translation and then asked me a question, that my new friend translated to he wants to know “What are you going to do? The bus waits for you.”┬áThinking that someone else would surely get off the bus, I see no one move. Quickly I weigh my options – spending a night on this bus, not moving, in the middle of the Andes, does not sound super appealing. But maybe there’s something all the other passengers know that I don’t. I ask my friend if anyone else is planning on getting off the bus. He said no. I said fine, I’ll stay.

My seatmate, now deciding to let me know he speaks English, said “Good decision.” I replied with “I am not so sure. This is going to be one hell of an adventure.”

I was not mistaken.


Last Day of Adventures in San Pedro

The rest of our last afternoon here we explored – there was rock climbing and a visit with a llama to top off our time in the region.

We returned to the hotel, exhausted again, that evening. After dinner the three of us finally polished off our bottle of wine…that only took 3 ladies, 3 nights to finish. Tiring days in high altitude did not mix with wine.

Since we were parting ways in the morning, we prepared for departure before heading to bed.