Posts Tagged ‘bus travel’


(Early March 2009)

Tarija is in wine country and to get from here to the border town of Villazon is a spectacular bus ride around the mountains. It took a little longer than anticipated.

I purchased a ticket and boarded the 10 a.m. bus just as it was leaving the station. No time to buy water or snacks. However, the bus broke down half an hour into the journey. We were in a lovely resort sort of area and I was able to get something to drink. Unfortunately, it took two hours to fix the problem with the front wheel. Repair completed – the bus travels with a crew – we were on our way again and 10 minutes later we reached the unpaved road to Villazon. The route is scenic – how I love mountains  – and, at times, it is somewhat scary!

After four hours with many curves and bends the bus broke down again. This time the problem was at the back wheels. At least we were on somewhat straight flat ground at this point. It took three hours to fix. We boarded the bus again and continued on our way. Neither of the repairs were actually tested.

We were soon winding our way around the mountains again and half an hour later it was dark. We stopped and our driver negotiated with an indigenous family to sell us some food. Being quite behind schedule we were now driving at what seemed to be a rather fast speed – on a dark winding mountain road. Many trucks were pulled off to the side. Soon, we too, came to a stop. There had been a landslide.

The bus crew started clearing the rubble. The truck drivers and  passengers watched. A few eager passengers helped. Once the road was reasonably clear, and everyone was off the bus, the driver accelerated up the road. The bus got stuck at the top. The driver started backing up and everyone scooted out of the way. A little more rubble removal was necessary. And some scrambling as a small truck came up the hill from the other side. It couldn’t go very far though as our bus was in the way. Enough of the debris was now cleared that the driver could back up and shift over to the side. A little more effort clearing the road and the bus made it over. We walked up and over and got back on board.

By now we could see a lot of lightning in the distance and soon after it was raining. We arrived in Villazon just after 10 p.m. Amazingly, the bus driver and the crew didn’t seem the least bit daunted by these obstacles. Just another day in Bolivia?

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Cochabamba is not really a tourist destination, although, apparently it is a prosperous city. It has a population of approximately 517,000 and was the first place in South America where I saw blonde-haired residents.  The climate is wonderfully warm; it’s actually hot and humid and I’m enjoying it, particularly after the rain and cooler temperatures in La Paz!

It’s easy to notice the contrasts between wealth and poverty here. Parts of it are very gritty and the streets are lined with disabled men and impoverished women propped up against buildings with babies lying on the pavement. A few blocks away is a crowded and busy business square. Here men sit at tables sheltered from the hot sun by umbrellas as they put their typewriters to use. I’m not sure, but I suppose they are independent business service providers. A little further north is a lovely tree-lined boulevard with upscale restaurants and cafes.

I liked the city and stayed a couple days. I gave my camera a rest and didn’t take any photos. I now regret this!

My next destination was Sucre. Bolivian buses are not particularly comfortable and they lack washrooms. I was squished into the seat with a large Indigenous woman  who kept falling asleep, dropping her hat, and wakening abruptly to pick it up, brush it off, and look at me accusatorily. Along the way we picked up other passengers and the bus was full; however, the driver allowed two young women and a baby to take a spot in the aisle. Their night was certainly more uncomfortable than mine.

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My reason for heading to Riobamba was to get a ticket for the Devil’s Nose train ride. The tickets were sold out but I was able to purchase a bus ticket to Alusi and board the train there for the infamous switchbacks. We had to stop to clear a boulder from the tracks and while it was being moved there was a small landslide a little further up the track, which also had to be cleared. This is a tourist train and we took turns riding inside and on top of the coach. It was a great ride!

I spent a little time exploring Riobamba as well. It has a more relaxed vibe than Quito. I took in the volcano views from Parque 21 Avril, savoured the taste of  incredible ice-cream and watched the police chase a thief on foot. I chatted with a local who had lived in Britain for five years, married a Polish woman there, but was now back in Ecuador awaiting an immigration hearing. I wish him luck.

Sidenote about bus travel – Even with all the fog, cliff edges and roadside memorials long-distance buses in Ecuador are efficient and an enjoyable way to travel. The country is small and it doesn’t take long to get from one destination to another. Passengers get on and off all along the route, as do people selling food and various items. There’s lively music or mediocre films, the scenery is rural and mountainous – agricultural crops planted patchwork on the hills result in lovely patterns and colours.

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