My vacation has officially started. I checked into the Park Hyatt Mendoza earlier today and am going to take it easy for the next few days. Although I left Frankfurt last Wednesday night, the last five days have been anything but relaxing. But they have been interesting…
I flew on TAM from Frankfurt to São Paulo, São Paulo to Asunción, Paraguay, and Asunción to Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It was my first trip on TAM and I was impressed–I flew business class on the 12hr transatlantic flight and loved the food and service (full report to follow). The plan was to continue on to Sucre, Bolivia, but the last TAM flight was delayed a bit and I missed the connection.
So I spent the first night at a dive hotel in Santa Cruz. The largest city in Bolivia reminded me of San Salvidor and Bogota–streets lined with vendors aggressively selling just about anything you might need with a surprising amount of American influence…I’d honestly say the majority of the youth and many adults were wearing knock-off Abercrombie, Hollister, or American Eagle apparel.
The following morning, I caught a flight to Sucre on AeroSur, a private carrier in Bolivia that has stepped in to fill the void left after the demise of state-run Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB) that ceased operations in 2010. The ticket was only $46 and was operated by an aging 727. I will write a separte post on the flight, but I experienced one of the worst landings ever–bounce, bounce, bounce…
I had a few hours in Sucre before catching a three-hour bus to Potosi. Unlike the relatively luxurious buses offered in Argentina, the buses in Bolivia reminded me of my elementary school days–you know, the yellow school bus that everyone packed on to. There were two girls who looked six years old traveling alone and sitting in the aisle next to me. Sucre is a nice town–a little more quaint than Santa Cruz, but with a bustling street scene. There’s nothing like freshly squeezed orange juice for 20 cents.
In Potosi, I did not even have time for dinner–I hopped on my next bus to Uyuni just minutes after arriving. The six-hour journey to Uyuni was primarily on a dirt road so it was quite a bumpy ride. We stopped at a rest stop halfway there (out in the middle of nowhere) and I enjoyed a freshly-made egg sandwich for 50 cents. As I mentioned in my last post, the views of the stars were simply incredible.
We pulled into Uyuni just after midnight where the temperature hovered at the freezing level. Shivering, I ducked into the first hotel I could find and secured a private room for the night for $4. The room–the size of a closet but sufficient for my needs–did have a heavy blanket on the bed, but I slept with four layers on and was not at all too warm.
The following morning, I arose early to secure space on a Salar de Uyuni tour. The street outside my hotel was full of hucksters searching for tourists, so it did not take me long to book a day-tour. The tour left at 10:30, so I had some time for breakfast prior to the trip–I enjoyed some eggs and fresh orange juice in a restaurant that was packed with locals and tourists.
The tour of Salar de Uyuni itself was a bit of a letdown. The tour guide was a grouch and that dampened what was otherwise an amazing journey through mile after mile of salt. I will post pictures when I return to Frankfurt, but I had never seen anything like it before–highly recommend if you ever find yourself in South America.
Back in Uyuni late in the evening, I booked an overnight bus ticket toVillazón, a city just a few paces from the Argentine border. There was also a train departing that night to Villazón, but the bus was quicker and I assumed (wrongly) that with a 10-hour overnight journey, the bus would be more comfortable than the last two I had taken. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
This bus was at least 30 years old and falling apart. The green leather seats were lumpy and bursting at the seams and my seat would not recline (while the guy next to me [thankfully not in front of me] was able to recline his seat about 120 degrees, much to the displeasure of the woman behind him. The buses are oversold in Bolivia–I was actually lucky to have seat because two guys ended up standing in the aisle for more than three hours. We again traveled over dirt for the first five hours of the journey, making the ride loud and bumpy.
We pulled into Villazón just after 0600 and from the bus stop I made the short 500 meter walk to the border. After a quick stamp out of Bolivia, I crossed a bridge to La Quiaca, Argentina. There was line at the small border station, but in ten minutes I was into Argentina and on my way to the bus stop–a further ten minute walk from the border.
No rest for the weary–a bus to Salta was departing just as I arrived at the station and I was able to grab one of the last seats for the six-hour journey south. At least I was back in Argentina and on a clean bus with a bit more comfortable seats and a lavatory onboard…
The trip to Salta dragged on and as we approached the northern Argentine metropolis, I feared I would have little time before my next (and final) bus trip to Mendoza. We pulled up to the station and I found that the bus to Mendoza was not leaving until 2100, giving me five hours to rest. There were only three seats remaining on the bus to Mendoza, so I purchased one right away.
I was in no mood for sightseeing. Salta is a nice city and has a beautiful cathedral, but I had work to do and checked into an internet cafe of the next three hours–it was excruciatingly painful to have been disconnected the last 48 hours.
Having caught up on my e-mails, I boarded the bus to Mendoza–a 19.5 hour journey was ahead. The bus ride turned out to be comfortable, with three meal services, movies, air conditioning, and a seat that allowed me to get six hours of sleep on. Nevertheless, I was ecstatic to hop of the bus in Mendoza this afternoon.
So now I am in Mendoza at the Park Hyatt and will not be moving for the next 48 hours. Let the vacation begin…