On January 14th 1976 I travelled south through Bolivia to Villazon, the border town for Argentina.
This was the second long bus journey I'd taken on the way from La Paz to Argentina. On the first I had crossed the bleak desert altiplano to Oruro and then passed the salt lake Poopo, where there were flamingos among the mirages. Most of this was dirt road. Eventually it had become more mountainous and there was snow on the streets as we entered Potosi. I spent two nights there, seeing the Casa De Moneda on a dull guided tour and preferring the Indian areas and the market.
This day to Villazon was a very long ride in the bus which turned out well. We left rather late, in fact it was 7.30 before we were actually out of Potosi, up the hill, almost climbing the Cerro Rico, where the famous silver mines are, and over bare hills. The valley became greener with a good deal of agriculture, and it continued that way for a long time, green fields surrounded by mud walls and strung out houses, the people more prosperous than the shepherds of further north. At one time we took on two Indians for Villazon, who seemed to be generally despised by the passengers, perhaps also because they'd been drinking or celebrating. Meanwhile in the back of the bus it felt like a community, albeit middle-class, everyone joking and talking, a woman from the Alta Beni, a talkative man with a little beard. We stopped in an even greener area at Camargo for lunch, a good meal taken outside. We passed through a region growing wine and figs, then climbed back into more barren areas with lots of cactus, flowering now in a range of colours. After the turning for Iscayachi we passed smaller lakes and cattle. Then there was a big descent to the river at Tojo, really magnificent in grey dusty mountains and failing light. We stopped for supper on the porch of a hotel at Tojo and then I dozed the last two hours to Villazon, where we arrived about 10.45. It was drizzling and Villazon was a muddy town. With others from the bus I found a bed in a communal room for 25 pesos at the Residencia 10 de Febrero.
In the morning I walked up and down the main street, looking for a good exchange rate. I had a farewell saltena, the Bolivian pasty, and was lucky, as I only found sandwiches on the Argentina side and I had to wait several hours for a bus to Jujuy.
|The border at Villazon in 2005: Picture by Lakerae, CC|
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