We’ve had our share of long days on the road, rail, air and sea. We were thinking back about our most difficult days and we all had different experiences. Sometimes the time it takes isn’t the biggest issue. The pinnacle of my travel angst was heading from Salta, Argentina to Uyuni, Bolivia. South America is a big country and crossing borders on the road can be a time consuming endeavor. Eric and Gage had originally been rallying for an overnight bus, which I vetoed. Maybe earlier in this journey I might have agreed but not now. It isn’t like I need to be pampered but a cold, crowded bus with a border crossing in the middle of the night, nope!
We left lovely Salta at the break of day to catch a bus headed for the Bolivian border. We had arranged for a driver to meet us at the border as I just couldn’t stomach a 3 hour wait at the border for the next Bolivian bus (7 more hours) to take us to Uyuni and from there were would have to take a taxi to our hostel. It makes me exhausted just writing about it! Anyway...it turns out that might have been the better option, read on.
The bus from Salta (+7 hours) was relatively easy and we arrived at the border, which was like a short walk into the Wild West, with our 4 Osprey backpacks on wheels, we were quite a sight for the locals.
The visa process wasn’t easy and is very expensive for Americans, it was $160 each and they needed lots of odd documentation, like our bank account information, ample cash on hand, itinerary, pictures and many lengthy forms to fill out which weren’t even used! So after sitting in the hot sun for (+1 hour) while the red-tape was dealt with we were finally allowed to cross the border into Villazón, Bolivia.
Robert our taxi driver was there waiting for us with a tiny vehicle. The drive from Villazón to Uyuni is “typically” (+5 hours). We are not a tiny group. I’m not sure on what planet 4 people could fit into this car, but we did. It was a miracle that our packs it into this tiny trunk (+30 min).
We were all very relieved and ready to get moving but there was the issue of needing to find SIM cards (+1 hour) This is a rite of passage in any new country the Eric deals with and everyone else grumbles about but appreciates in the end. We finally get on the road and realize that our driver doesn’t have a good grasp of the route and he gets lost. He managed to get off the main highway and to get back on he needs to find passage over a small river. Read-we need a 4-wheel drive to be off roading in Bolivia! But alas, we manage to get back on the main road (+1 hour).
During this time our elevation had been quickly climbing from to 3700 to 12,000 feet. I was deep into listening to Michelle Obama’s book Becoming with my fancy noise cancelling head phones, given to me by my dear friend Paula Reardon. I think the excellent book and the quiet made me immune to the fact that altitude sickness was creeping into my body. We stopped in a little town as our driver seemed sleepy and Eric wanted him to get out and walk around and when I took my headphones off the massive headache and nausea was revealed. We still had 2 more hours of driving. I managed to make it to the hostel without completely de-compensating. The owner of the hostel realized what was happening with me and took me immediately to our room and brought me coco tea and twigs/leaves to crush and inhale and I was feeling a bit better, but still felt a crushing headache.
I awoke the next morning feeling a bit hazy, wondering what my oxygen saturation and cerebral blood pressure was, in all of my clothing feeling very grateful to the woman who came to my rescue with a warm bed and remedy to my ailments. Fortunately the altitude sickness abated and I did just fine for the next 2 weeks at 12,000+ feet. We survived the journey, which was in total (+15 hours). Onward...to the Salt Flats, post to come "shortly".