My flight back home to the UK was from Buenos Aires so, despite having already spent time there as part of my travels, I had to go back through and therefore decided to allow myself at least a full day in BA before having to fly so I could relax, knowing full well the journey from Uyuni in Bolivia would be a long and painful one. I paid 40 bolivianos (£4.80) for my “night bus” from Uyuni to Villazon at the border and, when I arrived for my bus at 7:30pm, I could see why it was so cheap; a run-down, decrepit, one-floor bus where many of the seats were broken and wouldn’t recline and those that would only did so as far as about 110 degrees. The bus was mainly filled with locals whom got off at their stop 2-4 hours in the journey, with kids filling the aisles and a lot of changing seats going on. With no toilet to speak of either – and with my bout of diarrhoea still hanging in there, for which I had bought and desperately taken an Imodium just to get through the night without ruining the bus journey for everyone – this really was not what I would class as a night bus.
Add to that the quality of the Bolivian roads and you have yourself a nightmare journey. I had heard – and been warned – about the dodgy roads in Bolivia but, other than Death Road which is no longer used for transport purposes, I hadn’t experienced anything that severe myself and didn’t really know what the fuss was about – could people not handle a bit of windy, mountainous roads or a little bit of bumpy travel? But, my goodness, the road South from Uyuni to Villazon was another thing entirely; “bumpy” doesn’t cut it. At one point we were going over so much uneven, free turf that it was almost like I was receiving a massage from my chair with the amount it vibrated, which might have been relaxing had it not been for my head being thrown into the window with every single up and down and my arse almost falling off my seat every 30 seconds.
It was dark so I couldn’t quite decipher the “road” entirely but at one point we passed a gaping whole in the road to our right and at another we dropped down so low and fast from a standard road boulder that my heart went into my mouth. Everyone around me was sleeping and I had no idea how; never mind a fear of safety, I had no way of getting comfortable enough, or stable enough, to even begin to doze.
We arrived into Villazon at 4:20am, 40 minutes ahead of schedule, after I probably managed to get about an hour of sleep in total, feeling cold and uncomfortable for the majority of the time and focusing most of my energy on controlling my bowels. As soon as I stepped off, despite being pitch black and in the early hours, I was swarmed by local men asking where I was going and if I wanted a taxi. When I told them I was going to La Frontera (the border) they told me a price in bolivianos but I knew it was about a 10 minute walk so I refused – I needed to warm up somehow! I regretted the decision a few minutes later when I found I was walking down an empty street on my own, but I soon made it to the border where a kind Bolivian lady informed me it didn’t open until 6am (7am Argentinian time). Brilliant. So I sat on a stone step by the border, wrapped in an eclectic mix of most of my clothes (Thailand pants, walking boots, alpaca jumper, winter hat, alpaca gloves, Rio scarf and my Thailand towel wrapped around my shoulders) while I wrote my Salar de Uyuni blog as a way to pass the time.
At 6am I changed my remaining bolivianos for Argentinian pesos and made my way to the border to find the local Bolivians were smarter than me and had headed there early and formed a lovely long queue. So, despite me being first to the border, I was now 15th in line, outside in the freezing cold with my fingers turning blue. I eventually made it to the front, got stamped out of Bolivia and then at the next window was stamped into Argentina, where I then had to put my bags through a security van before walking approximately 15 minutes to the bus terminal in La Quiaca, the Argentinian town by the border. I was told the only direct bus going to BA was at 11am, arriving at 3pm the following day, so I paid the 1,700 ARS (£87) and went to sit in a hotel cafe to have some breakfast and abuse their wifi.
When I got back to the bus terminal at 10:45am and put my bag on the bus I realised it wasn’t a direct bus at all; instead I had a bus to Jujuy, which would take about 5 hours, and I then had to wait 2/3 hours for my bus from there to BA. Awesome. This was just getting better and better. I suppose I would get severe cabin fever on a 27 hour bus, but what I would do for 3 hours in Jujuy with all my luggage I had no idea and it just meant I felt I couldn’t properly settle or sleep, especially as Jujuy wasn’t the final stop on this bus and you never could rely on the bus drivers to announce the stops.
We arrived in Jujuy at around 4pm after making numerous stops along the way where local women would climb on board and try to sell their sandwiches. Fortunately the roads were much smoother and sturdier was than those in Bolivia and I could enjoy the beautiful mountains under the blue sky fir this leg of the journey. There wasn’t much in the way of food at Jujuy and my connecting bus to Buenos Aires was late, not arriving at the terminal until 7:30pm, but I was lucky to have no one sitting next to me so I had 2 seats to myself. I was shattered but took a sleeping pill to be safe, falling asleep at around 8pm but being woken at 11pm as we were stopping for half an hour at a cafe service station and I had to get off. Excellent. Back on the bus I quickly fell asleep again, before waking at around 7:30am and being able to grab some food from our rest stop at 10am.
I’d been told we would arrive in BA at 3pm and, based on the number of stops we made with market food the previous day, I thought I would be fine to not buy any more snacks. Wrong. The only stops we made were for passengers to get off and on – no food or opportunities to buy anything the whole way – and we didn’t reach Retiro bus station in Buenos Aires until 7:40pm. By this time I was tired, hungry, had a headache from the high volume of the films they played on the TVs (which I couldn’t properly follow because they were of course in Spanish, but I did kind if enjoy trying to decipher as much of it as possible) and disappointed to have my 1.5 days in Buenos Aires before flying home cut down to only 1 day. But, hey, at least I had planned for issues and allowed myself more time.
So, 48 hours after getting my first bus from a Uyuni in Bolivia I finally arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. So it is doable although tedious, long and a bit boring if you are by yourself. It has been recommended to break up the journey with stays in Salta or Rosario, which I would have done if I’d had the time, but that also does increase costs as buses across Argentina are generally quite pricey. As with many things in South America, don’t expect it to be on time and don’t expect to get exactly what you’re told you will get!