I piled off the bus into the sub zero temperatures of La Quiaca wearing nothing but a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. It was 4am, pitch black and utterly freezing.
Just a few hours earlier I had been in the sultry climes of Salta, Argentina, but the bus climbed 2, 300 meters during the night and now I was shivering to death and my teeth chattered like crazy. I had no warm clothes to speak of, and there wasn’t an open café, bar or shop in sight. When travelling in Bolivia, always carry a blanket.
I had no choice but to head for the border and hope that there was an office open or a café or anything. So I headed out into the pitch black armed with nothing but my Lonely Planet guidebook map and a wind up torch.
Hours later the border opened and I raced into Villazon to the nearest shop, “I need a cardigan!” I yelled. The old man looked at me, he passed me a white and beige striped woollen cardigan, “Baby alpaca,” he said, “80 Bolivianos.” I was in no mood for bartering, and my constant shivering greatly weakened my bargaining position.
Villazon is a desolate little place. It’s only purpose seems to be to serve the border, and sell overpriced cardigans to tourists. I headed straight for the bus station and picked up a ticket to Tupiza, £3. I met some farmers from Norwich and we sat at the back of the largest, reddest death trap I’ve ever seen. It was an antique leviathan made of rust, broken glass and low grade plastics. All the windows were forced open and the floor was encrusted with gallons of vomit. But £3 is £3.
The road gave way to a gravel track with no discernable route through the barren wasteland. The bus bounced and lurched from side to side, sending us all flying off our seats into the air even though we never exceeded 20mph. The tunnels through the mountains were so tight that when the bus leaned from side to side you could hear the roof graze on the rock face. We were left in no doubt that we had left Argentina.