With my upcoming trip to southern Bolivia and northwestern Argentina looming ahead of me, I’ve begun to do some basic research to plan out my trip as best as possible while still keeping in mind that planning will be almost useless and I’m going to have to use a “take it as it comes” approach, especially in Bolivia. My initial thinking only got me as far as the border, but I realize that I need at the very least to have an idea of where I want to go in order of importance, not only direction. My friend Pablo has loaned me his South America Lonely Planet guide (though well outdated) and I’ve been rounding up advice from those who’ve been there.
After listening to some recommendations, I’ve decided to do a combination of buses and trains in southern Bolivia and try (though potentially impossible) to only take day buses, for obvious reasons. I arrive in Salta (northwestern Argentina) on a Friday night around 10 pm. Though it’s very hard to gather information on the schedules in Bolivia, it seems like the train from Villazón (border town in Bolivia) leaves only on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 3:30 pm. That means I need to get to the border down in Argentina, La Quiaca, sometime before then. It looks like a direct bus from Salta to La Quiaca leaves a few times a day, with one option leaving around midnight and getting to the border by dawn. Though I don’t want to miss the scenery, it will make my arrival easy and safe.
Crossing the border could be tricky because of my citizenship status (damn you DNI, seriously), so I have to be prepared to put up a fight and ultimately fork over $140 in reciprocity visa fee as an American entering Bolivia. However, since everything in Bolivia is negotiable and I speak Spanish well, I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll find a way out of it, assuming my DNI doesn’t arrive before the trip.
The next step would be taking the train to Tupiza, where I’ve been told I can get a nice 3-4 day tour visiting intense scenery and ending in Uyuni, the gateway town to the Salar de Uyuni, the famous salt flats. I could also get to Tupiza by bus if the train is a no-go. Ideally, I’ll wind up in Potosí for a couple of days before working my way back down into Argentina to explore the northwest. I’m covering Bolivia first because it has the most potential for disaster, and I want to leave myself with as much time at the end as possible so I don’t miss my flight home.
In talking with people, they have given me warnings and from an outsiders’ perspective, it seems like you’d have to be slightly mad to go to Bolivia. It’s certainly not going to be a restful trip. But there’s something valuable to be seen which you can’t find elsewhere in the world, and it’s a frontier that I want to visit badly. So on I’ll go to Bolivia to find some kind of crazy adventure.