What NOT to do at the Argentinian border

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, November 17, 2007

There was a train from Uyuni to the Argentinian frontier at Villazon.  But by the time I made it to the train station in the morning (Erin was still sleeping), there was only one ticket for 2nd class carriage.  The 1st class was over twice as much.  I wasnīt even carrying that much money.  Although I wouldnīt mind taking the first class ticket and sending Erin to 2nd class, I doubted that she would appreciate it.  So I bought 1st class tickets to Tupiza, three hours away from the border.  I figured we could catch a bus from there for less money.  Unfortunately, the train arrived and the bus left at the same exact time, from different place, at four in the morning.  We would leave it up to fate.

We relaxed in Uyuni for the day and then got on the train, which was actually on time.  It was pretty comfortable, although it looked exactly like the second class carriage.  But the guy gave us a pillow and blanket and a little goodie bag with cookies and yogurt.  We pulled into Tupiza a little before four in the morning.

We wandered down to the bus station and got the last bus out to Villazon for a lot cheaper than the train ticket.  So far so good.  Three hours later we pull up to the border town.

I admit weīve become rather complacent over the past couple months.  Mostly because weīve never had a really bad experience with a tour agency.  So although I rebel against the idea of being pressured to buy just after arriving in a new city and without shopping around, sometimes its just easier.

The guy could see us on the bus (we were the only tourists) because he actually got on the bus yelling "turistas, turistas, are you going to Salta."  We told him we were going to Buenos Aires and he took us to the office.  The guy explained the Buenos Aires ticket.  Itīs a long ride.  It was about 7:30 in the morning and he said there was a bus at 9 that would arrive in Buenos Aires the following day around noon.  He said it was a bus-cama (sleeper bed) and the bus ticket included 3 meals.  He also said it stopped at the travel agency and would take care of the border crossing as well.  He said the tariffs were fixed for the bus companies.  The price agreed with the guidebook and seemed fair.  So we got a ticket.  He said we could go get breakfast and then come back.

We wandered down to get giant fried dough bunuelos and coffee from a street stand.  Then we came back to wait.  It was probably about 8 when two girls got up and started asking where the bus left from.  They told them flecha bus left from the other side of the border.  We had flecha bus tickets.  So the guy led us down a couple blocks to the border where we were stamped out of Bolivia relatively quickly.  Then we waited in the Argentinian line forever.  The girls were in worse shape than us.  They had tickets for 8:30.  We were way past that.  It was 9 by the time we made it across the border.  Then we had to get to the bus station.  So the guy put us into a taxi.  We made it to the bus station and didnīt see a flecha bus, so we thought we might have actually made it.  But we hadnīt.

We went to the ticket counter and she took out "ticket" as payment but not as a reservation.  She picked new seats for us.  They were not bus-cama like the guy had said.  And the bus left at 4 in the afternoon.  We were stuck here for the day. 

We actually didnīt get it that bad.  We paid 10 pesos commission for a 170 peso ticket and lost some time.  A bunch of tourists who were going to Salta had paid 50 pesos for the 8:30 bus.  They got a ticket that involved a local bus transfer and came to about 30 pesos total.  It left at 11.  The greatest part was that you couldnīt just hop back across the border and yell at them.   

Another important note that travellers should be aware of, and that Lonely Planet should mention.  Once you cross the border to the Argentinian side, for some reason that boggles the mind, there are no moneychangers.  Not a single one.  Fifty moneychangers on the Bolivian side.  No moneychangers on the Argentinian side.  How does that make sense.  We had been rushed across the border and then got stuck, so we had to exchange money at luggage storage at a bad rate.  He was really apologetic about it.  He almost wouldnīt do it because his rate was so low.  I had to beg for it.  We had a great lunch though.  It included big chunks of bread, two big and delicious empanadas, a chicken and potato/beet salad plate, a big bowl of soup (and more bread), and a dessert cup.  It cost a little less than $3.  One of the better meals on the trip. 

Oh yeah.  And we only got one meal on the entire bus ride.  It was probably the strangest dinner ever.  It involved a thin sliced-bread ham and cheese sandwich, a roll with ham and cheese on it, a PASTRY (sweet cake!) with ham and cheese on it, and a lemon tart thingie.  We stopped at restaurants for lunch and breakfast.

So the lesson here folks:  Donīt trust travel agents.  They lie.  And if you need a Argentinian bus, go to Argentina. 

To make it even more perfect, our first real "scam" was on our two month travel anniversary. 

In any case, 28 hours later we made it to Buenos Aires.  It really wasnīt that bad though.  I actually slept through the night and until 9 in the morning.  Thatīs very unusual.  And we got free water and coffee.  Most importantly, we actually got to Buenos Aires.  It could have been a lot worse.

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