La Quiaca y Villazón

Although in general people get happy when their flight/bus/train arrive earlier than scheduled, it wasn’t the greatest thing for us when that happened.

We were supposed to arrive at 6am in La Quiaca, on the Argentinean border with Bolivia, but we actually got there at 3:40 – the middle of the night, and customs wouldn’t open until 7:00. We were kicked out of the bus, and had to join the other homeless travelers that were spread out on the dirty floors of this filthy bus station. People looked at us with needy eyes or, worst, they watched our belongings. Our money was stored in our bodies, in hip pockets or in our bras, and our backpacks weren’t the fancy kinds, so there wasn’t much we could offer. But we were asked for platas, or cash, all the time. The guy gets your bag and throws it on the bus baggage compartment, and asks for tips. Isn’t that his job?

The worst is that I needed to poo – my stomach was feeling sick. The bathroom was the vision of hell: excrements everywhere around the toilet, no paper, no doors (toilet cover was far from reality at that point), and no flushing. People were supposed to share this aluminum tin, left inside the water barrel, and use it to flush after using. Obviously nobody did it, so the toilet was gross. It stank so bad that I had to cover my nose. My friend, Clarissa, vomited.

At 7 we shared cabs with five Germans we met to get to the border. If we, Brazilians, were disgusted, I can only imagine what they were thinking about La Quiaca. Crossing was fine: we walked the bridge from Argentina to Bolivia, and on the other side was Villazón. Atmosphere was dark, the town was foggy, and the freezing temperature didn’t help. I remember looking at people’s hands and thinking of them as lizards because their skin was so dry and callused.

The first stress among our friends happened, for no specific reason (or none that I can remember). I wrote on my diary: “We were tired and I think a bit afraid that the trip had taken a dark turn.”

We stayed in Villazón until about 3PM. Buying the bus ticket was chaotic, like a first-come-first-serve system that resulted on a crowd of people on top of each other, with one hand waving the cash above their heads and the other hand trying to protect their belongings from pickpockets. Then we went into what looked to be someone’s house for a lunch that had only one option on the menu: a soup with potatoes and a bone-in chicken leg, with its white skim loose and swimming in the broth. Although I was starving, I couldn’t have much of that.

To finalize the terror with golden (more like copper) key, the bus to Tupiza was the worst yet. We got in with our backpacks, there were people hanging from the ceiling, hawkers coming in and out selling empanadas and pop on plastic bags, while out the window the landscape was impressive: dry leaves, cactus, abandoned houses – although Im pretty sure people still live on those.

What have we done?

Next stop: Tupiza.

Check my full itinerary here.

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