The worst border crossing we’ve ever experienced
The worst border crossing we’ve ever experienced

The worst border crossing we’ve ever experienced

We’ve all had poor experiences on the road. Buses that break down, delayed flights, awful border crossings and miserable hostels. But there are a few terrible experiences which stick out like a sore thumb. This is one of them.

We’d spent too much time in Bolivia – not to the extent that our visas had expired, but too much given how much travelling we had left to do compared with how much time we had left.

Overall, we’d spent 4 weeks slowly making our way through this incredible country and it had surprised us in every way possible. It was beautiful. We’d taken a step back after a crazy few months in Colombia and Peru, and our Aussie mates Hannah and Daniel had travelled the whole of Bolivia with us. It was amazing. But the time had come to cross over into Argentina.

Salar de Uyuni
Salar de Uyuni – where we’d spent our previous days

We were excited for what was ahead – Argentina was one of the countries I was looking forward to the most. But we had a long way to go.

After completing our three-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding area, it was time for a night bus to Villazon – the Bolivian side of the border.

Buses in Bolivia were some of the worst we’d experienced. It was a surprise every time the engine actually switched on. Dented, scratched and often with a huge crack in the windscreen. Not exactly road safe. Nevertheless, we were on a backpacker budget, and boy were those buses cheap.

Our night bus to Villazon was no different. Over-packed with too many people, screaming children and animals, it wasn’t ever going to be a comfortable journey. We departed around 9pm and were due to arrive in Villazon at 4am. The bus set off at a reasonable pace, and we all managed to nod off – apart from Daniel who had managed to bag the broken seat.

Salvador Dali rock, Bolivia
The Salvador Dali rock – Bolivia

We were rudely awoken at about 1am to the sound of people shouting. God only knows how, but the bus had managed to get itself wedged sideways on the cliff edge. The shouting came from a man trying to instruct the driver on how to turn around. It wasn’t the first time we’d genuinely feared for our lives on a South American bus, so we sat tight as we watched the bus driver shift the bus closer and closer to the cliff edge in an attempt to turn around. Twenty minutes passed before we’d safely made it.

Fast forward a couple of hours and we arrived in Villazon at 3am. An hour ahead of schedule. That never happened. And it wasn’t welcomed. It was another four hours until the border opened, it was -6 degrees outside, and the facilities at the bus station were all closed. We set up camp on a couple of benches and sat shivering for a few hours. Absolutely dying for a wee, a couple of us headed outside into the pitch black for an ‘Inca wee’. It was freezing. It was terrifying. And we were knackered.

We made it until 5am before we were all too restless, freezing cold and fed up. We decided it might be a good idea to head to the border crossing to see if we could get over a little earlier. After flagging a lone taxi down outside the bus station, the ten minute ride was spent asking the driver to continually turn his heating up. Ten minutes felt more like one, and before we knew it, we’d arrived at the border.

Our border crossing buddies
Joelle, Hannah, Daniel and I during happier times at Machu Picchu

The Bolivian side of the border consisted of a small, single building. From what we could see 100m down the road, the Argentinian side looked much more substantial and comfortable. Nevertheless we could see seats indoors on the Bolivian side, and were looking forward to getting warm.

Or not. The door was locked and there wasn’t a soul to be found. The cold began to get to us that badly that we dropped our bags at the side of the road and began to run sprints back and forth to keep warm. At about 5:45am, a security guard turned up. Warmth at last! We asked him to let us in so we could get warm, only to be met with a “no.” We asked him if we even needed an exit stamp for Bolivia, or if we could continue over to the Argentinian side. “Si”. Great, thanks mate.

The Villazon border
The Villazon border – image by Stevage

The following hour remains to be the longest hour of my life. It dragged. And dragged some more. The queue on the Argentinian side got longer, and longer. Where was everyone coming from, and how do they have an exit stamp already?

Nevertheless, 7am eventually arrived and Mr Arsewipe opened the doors to the border at 7:02am. We checked. After glancing at our passports, he waved us through. No exit stamp required. We were then met with a 40-strong queue to get through the Argentinian side, despite having been there since 5am.

Despite it all, we were through and finally into Argentina! We’d checked online before arriving and were sure all we needed now was a short taxi ride to La Quiaca, and then a four-hour bus to our final destination of Salta. Knackered, well in need of a shower (it had been three days) and starving, we arrived in La Quiaca just in time for a bus departing to Salta half an hour later. Our bad luck had ended! Or so we thought…

It turns out SOMEONE had read the information online incorrectly, and it was actually ten hours to Salta. Another ten hours before we’d be in a hostel and able to shower. 

Bolivian streets
The Bolivian streets we were leaving behind

Thankfully, the bus was incredibly comfortable. Not-so-thankfully, we were pulled by the police only a short while in, and the entire double decker bus load was ordered to get off, and collect their bags for inspection. An hour later, we were back on the road and FINALLY en route to Salta. 

We made it. And never have I been so thankful for a shower and a bed. At the time, it felt like one of the worst experiences of our travels. Now, it’s a story to tell. We’ve all been there. 

If anything, it taught us to appreciate the small things in life a little more, and we were incredibly thankful for every smooth journey which ensued.

It is experiences such as this which help to shape us and appreciate the infrastructure in the country we’re from. Public transport in the UK seems like a doddle now. Yes it’s too expensive, and yes it’s often late or cancelled. And it does make me giggle when I hear people complaining about a five or six hour bus or train journey they need to make on comfortable and clean transport. It’s a much bigger world out there.

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