July 24, 2009
Crossing from one of South America’s richest countries to its poorest offered surprisingly little contrast.
Friday morning we saddled up our luggage in preparation to cross the footbridge leading from La Quiaca, Argentina, to Villazon, Bolivia. Upon arriving at the border, we left Argentina with predictable ease and entered the Bolivian border patrol station to fill out visa applications and our $135 fees, in cash.
The little immigration room was unheated, and I was seriously concerned for the well-being of my toes by the time our papers were processed.
Once our money was inspected and approved, we trekked on to the bus station in search of 11 a.m. tickets to Tarija. Like most border towns, Villazon is best used for crossing the border, and moving on. However, there was nothing leaving before 7 p.m. We bought our tickets and the bus company kindly stored our luggage for us, and we set out to kill the next nine hours.
Villazon is fairly tranquil for a border town, but aside from selling lots of basics for less than half the price of the other side of the border, it doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. We had a light breakfast, caught up on internet tasks, lunched, wandered the markets, and finally had a light dinner, all the while pondering our night’s bus route along a “spectacular unpaved road.” Spectacular leaves quite a bit up to the imagination.
Even so, we were totally unprepared for the reality. Our luggage was stored on top of crates of juice, toilet paper, and other nonperishables under the bus. We boarded, finding the bus teaming with short, round Bolivian women in their brightly colored native dress, packages of produce, and bundles of goods (including babies) spilling out in every direction.
The headrests on the seats hit the top of my shoulders, so I slouched down to get comfortable. Bolivian music pumped over the sound system, only occasionally drowned out by the engine of the bus struggling up a hill.
The unpaved road at times massaged our back with its vibrations, but overall wasn’t as bad as I had feared.
We arrived in Tarija at 3 a.m. (despite being told we’d arrive around 5 or 7 a.m.), and headed to our hotel. Tammy admited she couldn’t remember how she’d ended up choosing something so fancy, but we both enjoyed our shiny, modern bathroom before moving out into a hostel in the morning (or rather, later the same morning).