Tag Archives: argentina

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.


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:


I spent the bulk of my time dreaming of how I could get off the damn bus

Based on the notes I took during this (what turned into a nearly 10 hour) ride, I am confident that I spent the bulk of my time dreaming of how I could get off the damn bus.

My notes are pretty funny to read through now, after the fact. I have 28 pages of notes/scribbles/complaints from my bus ride, just complaining to myself.

Before things went from bad to worse, I had attempted to break out the ride into activities:

Look out window / 1 hour
Write / 1 hour
Read Chile (in Lonely Planet) / 1 hour
Read book / 1 hour
Nap / 1 hour
Movies / tbd
Eat / tbd
Organize bag and dump trash / 30 minutes

It started out simple. I even noted that I “revised thoughts on long haul buses. This is not Greyhound. And better than coach on an airplane.”

After all, we had meal service. I was served food…twice.

First, a sandwich which tasted better than it looked.

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And a special guest. A guy with a butcher’s coat and sunglasses jumped aboard to sell empanadas and would ride with us for a few miles before hopping off. In case you are wondering, the bus smelled delicious but I passed on the opportunity to purchase the empanadas, wherever they may have come from.

I even noted that it felt somewhat safe because cops would randomly come aboard, walk the aisles and leave.

I admired the scenery, with switchbacks sans guardrails, homes in the middle of nowhere and the vegetation once we decreased our elevation.

I was playing around with the exchange rate so I had an idea of what $10USD and $20USD would equal in Chilean pesos. At the time I was traveling 9500CHP equaled $20.55USD. I noted that “it makes me nervous with so many zeros.”

I wrote some words I learned “palta = avocado,” aceitunas = olives” and “para llevar = to go”

I made notes about my fellow passengers. I came up with stories on why they were traveling and where they were headed.

“Flowing chocolate milk…with rocks.” Apt description of the fast-moving brown river, considering the other notes I made, that include: “rafts, going in that water???” “lots of rocks” and “where’s the nearest hospital?” (perhaps I was foreshadowing for what was to come).

Then, another meal service later, with an assortment of crackers, cake, marmalade, teas, coffees, instant milk and a variety of sugars. I don’t drink coffee but I finished everything else off….once my bus neighbors finished yet another diaper change (and their aversion to throwing the dirty diaper in the trash, instead tucking it into their diaper bag). At the same time, their second child was having a meltdown, throwing a bottle of milk. The image and stench of the bus bathroom memory was still worse than then smell of countless diaper changes and spilled sour milk just a few feet away.

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And then my ride went from tolerable, to painful…

In reality, looking at these 28 pages of notes, forget my timeline of activities I could do to while away my travel time. Instead, I spent the bulk of the time on the bus detailing my misery in chicken scratch.

A movie with English-language voiceover couldn’t entertain me. The words didn’t match their mouths and I started to unravel. This was the beginning of the end, though this hiccup would be the least of my issues as I became increasingly more cranky on this seemingly never-ending ride to Santiago.

I have notes like “This bus ride is making me nauseous.”

“How gross?” I questioned in advance of checking out the bathroom situation after a few hours. “AWFUL,” I responded, noting my attempt, but instead choosing to hold it.

(I assume this was directed towards the baby) “This ride is awful. And guess what, I want to scream and cry too.”  “Super crankified.”

I also had jotted down “Cute kid. Not so cute anymore. Throwing food. Sister is crying. I’m cranky too.”

Using the logic from the time that had elapsed, the Lonely Planet and whatever signage appeared on the roads, I was creating crazy math equations and sketches, passing a good chunk of time. I was definitely getting frustrated because my answers were “No idea how much time is left” and also, the much more colorful, “No F idea.”

My misery crossed language barriers and was documented in my notebook in both Spanish and English.

To top off my bus misery was the added uncertainty of my arrival in Santiago.

I was going to be arriving in the middle of rush hour. I needed to secure a seat on a bus for the 90 minute ride to Vina del Mar. Friday. Summer. Rush hour. Didn’t I just do this the week before in Buenos Aires?


La Frontera to Santiago (in photos)

Rafael was 100% right. The scenery on the bus route was stunning. From Mendoza to the border, there were snow-capped mountains on one side of the bus and desert on the other. Views on either side were incredible.

I knew that the bus would make no stops, other than at the border, from Mendoza to Santiago. I didn’t know how much farther we had left but I just couldn’t wait to get off this bus, even if it would be just a quick stop. Quick…ha.

We slowly approached the border station at Paso Los Libertadores, a well-traveled crossing, in both directions, linking Mendoza and Santiago.

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I snapped some photos around me as we were waiting, and waiting, and waiting, to pull into the crossing.

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Unfortunately, the wait to get off the bus took an extraordinary long time. More so, because I wanted to get off the damn bus and probably even more so because I had to go to the bathroom pretty badly since I refused to go on the bus.

Even more unfortunate, is that the border stop took just shy of 3 hours from the rolling stop to the bus moving again.

THREE HOURS. THREE. HOURS.

What I didn’t understand was the process. There were many lines we had to enter and I’m sure each served a purpose but it just took so. very. very. long.

The bus first had to go through a line because we were departing Argentina. Then the bus went through another line because we were arriving into Chile (um, duh). Next, get off the bus and wait outside, on the Argentina side, for the dogs to sniff the bus. Once complete, enter the next line inside the building.

Once inside the building, everyone on the bus lined up, like it was a police station line up, with our driver and his co-pilot leading the way. There were tables in front of each of the two lines. Bags went on a conveyor belt. Once the bags from under the bus were through, everyone on the bus had to put their day packs through.

Somewhere in this long line, we waited in line to get passports stamped and probably go through customs. At some point, I was able to get to the bathroom. I walked into a bathroom that had at least an inch of water on the floor from wall to wall. I had to go so badly that I didn’t even care. I just told myself that the sink must have overflowed to avoid thinking about the toilets overflowing with something much worse than water.

Waiting, waiting and more waiting.

Once we had all gone through the line, the bus driver got the okay and motioned everyone to collect their stuff and get back onto the bus.

Once we were back on the bus, the scenery changed slightly after passing through the border and as we headed down the mountains.

Switchbacks ahead!

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By far, of my bus photography, this photo (below) is my absolute favorite. Much of the ride down the Andes on the Chilean side was on roads, with views, like this.

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I wasn’t sure if the 3-hour border stop was included in the 6 to 8 hours so I was hopeful that Santiago would be close as we came down the mountain.

It didn’t bode well for a short leg. Soon after we got going, the ‘co-pilot’ put another movie on.

 


Mendoza to La Frontera (in photos)

Because of the turn of events towards the end of my time in Mendoza, there weren’t many photos. Until now.

The ride to the border, la frontera, was long but I occupied a good chunk of time taking photographs out of the bus window.

I thought that the scenery was very similar to North America’s southwest.

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Look closely at the below photo. A river.

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Mountains and cactus and desert.

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And more mountains and desert.

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Some greenery.

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And of course, snow on the mountaintops. We were traveling through the Andes and so one of these peaks in the distance could be Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the world after Mount Everest. But unfortunately, I cannot confirm which one.

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Some more interesting views out of the bus window before I started to get restless.

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My backup plan consisted of a bag of ham-flavored potato chips. Don’t judge.

Rafael and Gustavo assured me that I would be well-fed (sandwich, hot meal, chips and a drink) on the bus ride from Mendoza to Santiago.

However, this would be a long day of travel (I just didn’t realize how long) and I wanted to make sure I had my own snack back up plan. I was warned by several travelers and the woman who sold me my bus ticket, not to pack any fruit or anything with seeds for this ride because it would be confiscated at the border checkpoint and hold up the whole bus through customs.

My backup plan for, what I was told would be, a 6 to 8 hour bus ride depending on the border situation, consisted of a bag of ham-flavored potato chips, both pizza AND cheese-flavored crackers, a Sprite and two juice boxes. Please don’t judge.

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I had never crossed a border by bus before. Plane? Check. Ferry? Check. Car? Check. By foot? Check (later in my trip).

The idea of crossing a border by bus excited me, probably way more than it should have. I didn’t know what to expect other than…

  • The actual time at the border could be long,
  • The bathroom situation on the bus wouldn’t be ideal and, what got me on the bus in the first place,
  • This was a ride to be done during the day because the scenery was not to be missed.

Turns out, all true.

When Rafael took me to purchase bus tickets, he had reserved me a single seat upstairs, and not in the front row, because he said the cross wind from the Andes paired with the windy roads could make someone very ill. My seat was terrific except for the young family in the two-seater across the aisle that, what seemed like every 10 minutes, used the tray tables as changing tables for their baby, who had frequent bowel movements.

Knowing what I know now about bus travel, it wasn’t a bad situation at all.