bolivian border, stupid national police, and a broke down train

Humahuaca Travel Blog

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Got up and headed north to the Bolivian border. Eric chased some llamas, and we saw these very colorful mountains, which looked marbled and warped as if each individually colored layer was tipped on its side, then to its other. We stopped at La Quiaca to meet the rental car guy, so we could drop off the car. He was nice enough to take us to the border where we once again met up with the Israeli´s from Salta. We crossed the border, which is a small, dirty, dried river bed, and took a cab up to the train station. Our bags didn´t quite fit in the trunk and the cabie left the trunk open, which we were afraid someone would grab our bags and run. We were okay though. Right at the border, their was lots of street vendors, most of them Quetchwa (spelling is wrong) women in traditional garb-pleated colorful skirts, aprons, and hats that sit on top of their heads with their hair in long braids. We sat at the train station for quite some time waiting for the ticket office to open, and this is where we met Fanny (pronounced Funny), who was from the Netherlands, and Jason, who was from England. When Eric and I left the train station to find food with one of the Israeli´s, Shlom, he made the comment that these women were "concentrated" as they are very short in stature, but very wide. When we came back, the line had already formed for train tickets, and we were in the back. A national police officer was "helping" the ticket agent, but he was causing more confusion, pulling people out of line after lying to them about being out of tickets to certain destinations. We finally got to the front of the line and asked for tickets to Uyuni, and we were immediately kicked out of line because there was supposedly no tickets left to Uyuni, Bolivia. We got back in line, to try to to to Tupiza instead, and the ticket agent asked us why we didn´t want to go to Uyuni anymore!!! We ended up getting first class tickets to Uyuni for 150 Bolivianos each ($18). The train ride started off at a pretty low elevation and climbed steadily up to Uyuni at 3668m. All along the train tracks were tiny villages and homes made out of clay bricks and thatched roofs. We stopped at several of them to let others on, but at one stop, the conductor informed us of a problem witht he engine, and that another engine was coming from Uyuni to tow us there. It was 3 hours before the engine made it to us. We decided to watch Robin Hood (yes the cartoon) on my ipod, right about the time the Quetchwa woman behind me sat on the floor between our seats, pushing my seat so I couldn´t recline. There were 3 of them in the 2 seats, and the little boy was sleeping in one of them. After about an hour of being uncomfortable, I finally convinced the woman in my mangled spanish to go sit in one of the empty seats. Halfway through the movie, we went to the dining car for a change in scenery and to stretch our legs. Justin was already in the car, stiing with someone. We joined them and met Tiago, who was from Portugal, and was traveling alone. Fanny, Jason, Tiago, and us three all wanted to do the same salar tour from Uyuni, which worked out perfectly. As we finally got off the train at about 5 in the morning, we had been on the train for almost 15 hours. We were immediately met by 2 women who we didn´t know, but they were taking us to hostels. The hostel we wanted was full. It was cold, we were tired, and we didn´t know why we were following these women, but they brought us to another hostel. Yet, there was a catch. They were from a salar tour company and tried to strong arm us into booking with them right then. We finally had enough and said that we would decide in the morning. Our room had no heat, it was 2 degrees celcius, and the bathroom was a unisex, outdoor cement structure. We pulled out our sleeping bags, put them under the blankets and went to bed.
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photo by: Paulovic