The Departure

Villa Tunari Travel Blog

 › entry 29 of 38 › view all entries
I have finally left the animal refuge in Villa Tunari. For days I had been counting down to my departure but when the moment actually came, I left with tears rather than smiles. For the past 3 months Inti Wara Yassi has been my home away from home. I love the ideals, the animals and the people and had I not had a reason to leave I might not have been able to do so. Still, I was physically and emotionally weary of the everyday toll of the jungle and I was ready to take a vacation from my vacation. I expect one day I will return to Parque Machia but now my focus is on the journey ahead of me.
My last morning in the park began before sunrise. I stole out of bed at 4:30 am and walked the dark, rainy path to Spider Monkey Park for the dawn watch. For the last month, two wild spider monkey males have been coming down from the forest and attacking members of the captive group in an attempt to infiltrate the group or steal some of the females. They have left two of our male monkeys with serious injuries and we have set up a watch to ensure that those monkeys that do not sleep in cages are safe from from first light until the spider park volunteers arrive at 7:30. After a quick check to make sure that all was well, I sat in the rain shelter and watched the trees materialise from the darkness and the sky lighten to a muted grey. The watch was uneventful. The rain kept the monkeys, friendly or otherwise, away until 7 am when several soaking wet monkeys decided to crawl up under my shirt and chitter happily in the warmth. When my watch was over I made my way through the park saying goodbyes to the people and animals. I had a big lump in my throat as I walked across the death bridge one last time and waved goodbye to the park.
I left with 6 other volunteers. Somehow, we managed to fit the seven of us, a truely remarkable amount of luggage, and one very large sombrero into a small cab which took us to the bus terminal where we caught a (slightly) less squished mini bus to Cochabamba. Going to Cochabamba was the first mistake that I made on my farcical journey south to Mendoza. I quickly learned that the best way to get to Argentina was from Santa Cruz (10 hours back past Villa Tunari). The next bus to Santa Cruz didn´t leave until late in the evening but there was a bus to the border town of Villazon leaving in 10 minutes. I bought a ticket (for 11 $ CAD), hugged my friends goodbye, went to the toilet and headed for the bus. At the first sight of that dirty, rusty monster, I almost abandoned my ticket. The bus was decrepit even by Bolivian standards. I had a feeling that my 18 hours on board were going to be hell. There was no movie, no toilet, and no room. I couldn´t find anyone to put my backpack in the underbelly of the bus and it would not fit in the overhead bin. I shoved it under my seat as best I could, depriving myself of a precious 20 cms of leg room.
The following are excerpts from my journal of the journey:
January 2nd, 2008
2.5 hours in. The bus ride is already becoming unbearable. After 2 nights of limited sleep, I am tired and I am cranky. I can´t find a halfway comfortable position and despite piling on all of my easily accessible clothing, I am freezing. There is no heat. I am very unhappy. I am very unhappy and I am only 2.5 hours in. Oh God!
6:15 pm
I am definately not in Villa Tunari any more. The landscape passing by outside my window is stark and frigid. There is a chill seeping into me- a feeling I have not experienced in Parque Machia. Is this summer?
The bus driver has jacked up the Bolivian guitar music to nightclub volume. Not even in Oruro yet. The girl in the seat next to me is purloining more and more of my space by the minute.
6:25 pm
Back in llama territory.
8:30 pm
Leaving Oruro. Things are looking up. During the break, I managed to use the bathroom, buy some bread, recline my seat a little and rearrange my bag so I have a bit more leg room.
8:31 pm
Things are looking down again. I overheard that we are expected to arrive in Villazon at 11am tomorrow not 8 am as I was told when I bought the ticket. That is 21 hours on this @#!€ bus. Only 6 have elapsed.
January 3rd, 2008
7 am
During the night, the bus ride became unbearable. All of my muscles cramped and spasmed, my head ached from the quick assent (Villa Tunari 300m, Potosi 4000m) and my throat was parched from my illness/lack of water (I had carefully rationed the water to avoid the pressing need for a bathroom break. Worst, though, was the cold. The bus had no heating and the leaky windows offered little protection from the chill of the thin air. I had packed my silk sleeping bag liner for extra warmth and lay completely entwined in it like a cocoon.  It helped but not enough.
I kept looking at my watch and time seemed to stretch and slow so that it passed imperceptibly.
At 1 30, I was in agony. I wanted to scream, to lash out, to move to stretch, to jump off that god forsaken bus. I took drastic action. I managed to pull my rucksack upright from under my seat and wrestle out my sleeping bag from where it was packed at the very bottom, a taskthat took nearly 15 minutes due to my lack of space, and wiggle into it. Warmth spread through me and I attained a state as close to comfort as possible given the situation. I dozed and miraculously the sun eventually rose marking the end of that long torturous night.
7:33 am
During a break in an unidentified town, I took the opportunity to roll up my sleeping bag. In it I found my change purse that had inexplicably disapeared 2 months earlier when I changed residences in Villa Tunari. It had over 200 Bolivianos in it (enough to sustain me for a week in Bolivia).
8:40 am
The road is no longer paved. Too bumpy to write more.
2:55 pm
The border was a nightmare. Not that it took an incredibly long time or that I had any trouble but the combination of lack of sleep, lingering illness, dehydration, and altitude, plus the complete disorganisation of the crowd made me want to scream and cry in frustration. I held it together and while the wait was long, I was asked no questions and my bag was not searched. On the Argentinian side of the border I breathed a sigh of relief.
I was pressured into buying a ticket to Salta while in Bolivia ( I was told it was very difficult and more expensive to buy the ticket on the Argentinian side of the border). I was skeptical but tired enough to hand over my money anyways. Once across the border I wandered to the bus station and relieved my bursting bladder. I am sitting in front of the bus station now I just hope my bus comes.
7:53 pm
So, the bus may have come in time but I failed to take into account the TWO HOUR time difference between Bolivia and Argentina (even though I crossed a north-south border). My bus left before I made it to Argentina. To make it worse, while I was waiting for my bus I watched a bus direct to Mendoza pull into the station and leave. It doesn´t go again until tomorrow. I bought a new ticket to Salta and am now on the bus heading south.
11 pm
Our bus was stopped for a random passport and bag check. Everybody had to get off the bus and get our bags from under the bus. Mine was the only bag on the bus that they didn´t bother to take off. They told me they didn´t want to search it and to line up in the passport line. I stood in the line for 10 minutes before they waved me out of the line and told me to go back to the bus along with the rest of the tourists. I watched, unmolested, while the south americans had everything taken out of their bags and searched. I am glad that they didn´t search my bag. I would be embarrassed by the amount of oreos and lollipops in there ( I stocked up before crossing the border).
January 4, 2008
2:30 am
Just as I thought I was going to kill my seat partner for encroaching on my personal space (the story of my whole trip) he got off the bus and I had a glorious 1/2 hour of semi comatose almost comfortable sleep.
The bus rolled into Salta just before 2 am. I considered getting a hotel but I noticed a bus leaving for Tucuman. I bought a ticket and hopped on board. I have the two front seats to myself and it is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
6:25 am
Am arrived in Tucuman. No buses to Mendoza today. FUCK! I am so tired and so frustrated. All I want is a bus ticket to Mendoza. I am losing terribly at this amazing race. I should have started in Santa Cruz!!!!
Maybe I can get a bus to Cordoba and from there get to Mendoza. Could be it better to be stuck in Cordoba or Tucuman?
7:15 am
I am defeated and in tears. Nobody has a seat to Mendoza. Nobody has a seat to Cordoba. Nobody has a seat  in remotely the correct direction. And everbody here has been extremely less than helpful as I have gone from ticket window to ticket window asking for advice and help. I have taken refuge in the bus station cafe to pull myself together enough to make a decision. I will try one more time and then I will find a hotel with a shower, a bed and a television. Just finding a hotel seems an insurmountable task... I want to sleep my troubles away on a bus to Mendoza. No hay, no hay, no hay.
9:35 am
Over breakfast I regained some control. I bought a bus ticket to Mendoza for tomorrow night. There is no point in running around getting stuck in Cordoba. A hotel will cost the same as the bus ticket and be a lot less frustrating. I wandered aimlessly around a supermarket for a while but I didn´t want to buy anything. I almost decided to walk into town but realised that in my state this was a poor decision and hailed a cab. The cabbie was very nice and took me to a hotel. Now the only decision before me is sleep or shower... I am still wearing the same clothes I wore two days ago for monkey watch but the bed is so soft...
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Villa Tunari
photo by: RainyDayToast