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.”¬†Thinking 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.

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