Our first two days in Bolivia were a reminder, not that we really needed one, that Bolivia is different. While northern Argentina is poor and quite similar to Bolivia the closer one gets to the border, most of Argentina is a comparatively rich country. As is Chile; and we had spent our last four months in these two countries,
The transition to Bolivia started as soon as we crossed the border from La Quiaca in Argentina to Villazon in Bolivia. While we have no fear of border crossings anymore – oh what rookies we were back in October – the border crossing took an extra 20 minutes because of the lack of a customs official. The Argentinian immigration guy stamped us out of Argentina; but we had to wait 20 minutes for the Argentinian customs official to shops up. The Bolivian immigration was quick, but he only gave us 30 days in the country, while the Bolivian customs gave the Casa 90 days in the country. (A couple of days later we had to go to immigrations in Tarija to get our visas extended; the guy at immigrations was very friendly and helpful, but he only had a 30 day stamp, no 90 day one. No problem: we now have three 30 day stamps on our visas…)
The next transition came as we started driving: from Villazon to our first destination Tarija, it’s 184 km, which took us close to 5 hours to drive. We have not been on any road, no matter how small, in either Argentina or Chile, that is as bad as this semi-major Bolivian road. To get a feel, watch this video.
The first 130 km have barely any traffic, which is a good thing, as the road can be quite narrow with a few uncomfortable blind corners. It is nothing close to the worst road we have been on, but is still not to be taken lightly.
After 130 km, the road joins with the major road (used in a Bolivian sense…) that goes between Potosi and Tarija. The road climbs over the Cordillera de Sama, a beautiful stretch of road with absolutely stunning views, but a road that deserves respect.
Heading up towards the top of the Sama pass, we had to wait for 20 minutes for the road to be cleared of a truck, full of potatoes, that had come within inches of plunging a few hundred feet down the side of the road. The truck had started to go over the side of the road – the driver side rear wheels were in the air, and the truck was tilted at 20 odd degrees down the slope – but luckily the passenger side front wheel managed to stop the slide after digging a four foot long trench in the road. Underwear changes all around for the driver and the passenger.
Heading down from the top of the Sama towards Tarija, the road is fairly wide with enough room to meet a truck almost anywhere. But. The road is one lengthy downhill with no emergency runoffs – six months ago a bus ran off the road and 28 people died. And the road surface can be like talcum powder and the dust clouds are large, and they linger. Meeting a truck can lead to a few seconds of zero vision, not the most comfortable situation to be in on this road.
In the next post, our next two transitions to Bolivia: dogs and flat tires