Category Archives: bus travel

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.

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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.


And the driest desert in the world, floods

Forget the (tiny) airport surprise, my biggest surprise came when the bus came to get me (the hotel we would be staying at had a bus that picked people up). While I wasn’t staying at the hotel until the following evening when the girls arrived, they were nice enough to get me and take me to the hostel I had reserved in town. However, the drive was interesting.

I had the knowledge from Google earlier that day that the region had seen the worst flooding in 11 years, but on top of that, I didn’t realize that the region would look like Mars.

I snapped photos basically the whole drive.

And then we stopped. In the middle of nowhere. Because the road was taken over by, what else, water. We could no longer pass.

On the left, part of the washed out road. On the right, is the bus driver calling his boss to find out what other road we can take to get to town. At this point, I am wondering what ‘town’ looks like too.


Valparaiso to Vina to Santiago

Valparaiso was hard to leave but after 4 nights, it tied with Mendoza for the longest I stayed in one place. So I was eager to get going. Valparaiso is on my list of places to return. I’m excited to see the progress this beautiful port city will make over the next few years. Here, an example of the work that’s being done to repair some of the streets, or maybe just as a warning for pedestrians…

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Between the delicious food, gorgeous views and lovely people, Valpo was a place I had easily fallen in love with. Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, advice from others should be taken with a grain of salt. All I had heard, was ‘you’ll love it or hate it,’ and I am so happy to report I loved it. I understand why some may hate it, but that’s a decision you’d have to make for yourself.

Heading to the bus terminal, I realized I would soon be back in a big city – Santiago – with a full day and night there, where I would once again meet up with Cara. Then, I would fly from Santiago to Calama, on a flight I booked before I left the States. From Calama, I would transfer to San Pedro de Atacama to stay one night alone before meeting friends who were coming to Chile on vacation from the States. After those three nights, where we’d be staying in an actual hotel (!), I would be on my own (and back in hostels) again. But a few nights with familiar faces was exciting before I would head into less developed areas of the continent, with less of a plan than I had now.

Here’s the view on my ride from Vina to Santiago. I sat in the front row on the upper level of the bus and, as you can see, the view was pretty incredible.


A perfect stranger made my day

After what seemed like forever in the Santiago, Chile bus terminal, it was time to board the bus to my next stop: Vina del Mar, Chile. It was already dark and I figured I could grab a nap in the short 90 minute ride.

Seated in the back of the bus, in the row next to the bathroom, it already didn’t bode well for my ride. A few minutes after departing the station, my seatmate, a Colombian woman, about my age, started speaking to me in rapid Spanish.

When I replied in my Spanish, accent and all, she giggled and in English told me she thought I was Latina.

She will never know how she made my day with those words. After feeling like an outsider for a good part of the day in the bus terminal, I couldn’t have been happier that she thought I was a local.

We chatted in English and Spanish for some time. I know we both fell asleep at some point because we both were jarred awake when the bus lurched to a stop in Vina.


Scene: Santiago bus terminal. Friday rush hour. (Again.)

Once I got off the bus and grabbed my bag, I walked into one of the most chaotic scenes I have ever witnessed. And I’ve been in Port Authority in Manhattan on a summer Friday when a bus breaks down in the tunnel.

There were crowds like I had never seen before. There was no semblance of lines. And there was so much luggage.

When I did figure out a line, and finally got to the ticket window, I was told that there were no buses to Vina del Mar (Vina) until tomorrow.

Okay, I had thought calmly. Just need to create a Plan B.

Feeling cranky, hot and overwhelmed, and with a rucksack on my back and a day pack on my front, I walked out of the bus terminal and landed in an outdoor market attached to the bus terminal. I stopped into a the first shop that was separate from the vendors lined up throughout the garden area. It happened to be a jewelry shop. I explained my situation to the man and woman in the shop.

They listened and the woman smiled and took me by the hand. Together, she and I headed back into the bus terminal. She found me a bus company that was still running late into the night and she went right up to the window, with no regard for the line, and she wrote down the next few available departures – which were hours away.

I didn’t purchase the ticket at that time because the line was too long and I had to think about the timing of my arrival. My concerns were on both ends of the travel. 1. I didn’t want to hang out in the Santiago bus terminal for hours and 2. I didn’t particularly want to arrive into Vina in the middle of the night either. I needed to think about my options if I were to spend the night in Santiago instead.

Note to future self. Should have just purchased the ticket and figured out the actual plan in the hours I had to wait in the bus terminal. As I’m writing this, I realize how overwhelmed I was because I wasted so much time deciding if I should stay in Santiago or leave for Vina, when in fact, I had likely secured a place (Cara’s hostel) to sleep in Vina.

I walked over to the internet cafe – where every single person on every single computer was looking at Facebook. After what felt like an eternity, I was able to get online and send a few emails asking about availability for that night. I figured if I needed a place to stay, I could check back in a few minutes to see what kind of replies I would receive.

Next, I bought a calling card. Went to the phone booths and tried calling Cara to give her a heads up on my timing and whereabouts. Remember, I had been on a bus for most of the day already and I didn’t have a cell phone.

Back to the internet to check on availability in Santiago for the night. All negative. My best bet was to leave for Vina on the first available bus, whose departure was still hours away.

Now it was time to navigate and try to purchase my bus ticket to Vina. Of course, since time had passed, the once available buses were no longer available. After finally securing the ticket, I went back to the phone to call Cara. Got her! I let her know if she didn’t receive an email from me by 10.30 that night, I would definitely be en route and we’d connect at the hostel over breakfast in the morning. Could she please confirm with the hostel that I would be needing a bed that night. Yes, she would. So I had a place to sleep, if I could only get there.

And now that I had a plan, it was FINALLY time to find a bathroom! I went back to my new friends at the jewelry store and they asked for a status on my next steps. At this point, I had to go. I left everything – minus my passport and some coins – and ran to the ladies room. Yes, you have to pay to pee. Which actually, was a nicer (read: cleaner) bathroom than you may have expected.

When I got back to grab my bags, the couple handed me a hand-drawn map of Vina with notes. They marked exactly where I would find a cab once I disembarked, they warned me not to go with anyone waiting on the street and emphasized to be careful because of the late hour.

I thanked them profusely for their kindness and apologized for my incorrect grammar but wanted them to know that they were my guardavidas (lifeguards), a word I learned in Uruguay. They smiled and shared some kind words which really helped my morale at this point. We hugged good bye and I made my way back into the bus terminal. For what, I wasn’t sure. How would I kill the next few hours? Eat? People watch? Wander? Rest?

This would be a long wait.

The terminal was an indoor/outdoor terminal. It was crowded. It was hot. There were loose dogs – though they looked well-fed – roaming the terminal. It was not somewhere you could grab a seat and wait. You’d be lucky to find enough floor space that wasn’t in the way of the hundreds of people trying to get where they needed to go. Wandering the station wasn’t the greatest option for me because I was carrying a bag on my back and another in front. And it was crowded. And hot.

The bus terminal was an assault on every single one of my senses.

My frustration had piqued. After spending the better part of the day on one bus, a few hours in this terminal had me ready to get back on another bus.

Just had to wait a little longer.


My Lonely Planet told me that there were 4 bus terminals in Santiago. And I had no idea which one I was pulling into.

After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived in Santiago. It took some time to park in the bus terminal since it was rush hour. But the end was near. I was about to embark on my next adventure. And adventure it would be.

I was lacking crucial information and I would be getting off the bus in just a few minutes.

My Lonely Planet told me that there were 4 bus terminals in Santiago.

That said, what I don’t know:

  • Which of the 4 bus terminals we are arriving into.
  • Which station has the bus I need to take to Vina.
  • If the bus I need has available seats.

What I need to do (in no particular order):

  • Must go to the bathroom.
  • Need to find a left luggage place. I don’t want to bring my stuff into a bus station bathroom since I can only imagine the floor is probably disgusting. It’s going to be hot and crowded and I’m going to want to drop my bags and run to the bathroom as quickly as possible.
  • Need to get Chilean pesos.
  • Need to buy hand sanitizer ASAP.
  • Need to figure bus situation out of the city as soon as possible.

What I do know: