On the seventh of February, from Ushuaia at the very bottom of Argentina, I flew three hours north to Buenos Aires. The next day I caught a bus to La Quiaca, Jujuy Province, a town bordering Bolivia at the very top of the country. Carnival in Bolivia was calling!
The Balut bus took 31 hours to reach La Quiaca as rain, blocked roads and the Andes mountains took their toll. The Andes may have slowed the journey but they also provided stunning views.
A diversion caused by a blocked road in northern Argentina
A disused railway line next to a swollen river and an Andes mountain range
A cemetery near a town on the way to the Bolivian border
A person is about to negotiate their way across this pedestrian bridge
A wavy Andes mountain range in northern Argentina
Northern Argentina was my first high altitude of the trip (and my life) with the border town of La Quiaca over 3,400 metres high. The high altitude was noticeable, with symptoms including difficult breathing, chest tightness and, after even mild exercise, breathlessness.
We arrived to La Quiaca in the late afternoon, caught a taxi to the border and crossed both Argentinean and Bolivian checkpoints in the inclement weather. By the time we made it to Villazon, the Bolivian border town, the train to Uyuni had left. Carnival meant the next available bus ticket to La Paz or Cochabamba was not until the next day, requiring 24 hours in Villazon. This included a stay in one of the worst hotels I’ve had the joy to experience. Carnival also meant decorations everywhere, crackers exploding in the street and local men drinking copious amounts of alcohol.
Carnival fireworks in the Bolivian border town Villazon
This lady in Villazon sold the best empanadas ever!
Villazon street market stalls selling confetti, streamers and other decorations for Carnival
Going from Argentina to Bolivia, a number of differences were evident. In Bolivia:
- the people were shorter and dressed more formally including many of the women in traditional dress
- there were more indigenous people
- a wider range of imported products were available
- coca leaves became legal and widely sold
- Argentinean presidential election graffiti was replaced by Bolivian referendum graffiti
- meals came with the option of a spicy sauce!
A large sack of coco leaves covered in a traditional brightly coloured cloth, Villazon, Bolivia
People informally walking across the Bolivia-Argentina border at Villazon
The Bolivia-Argentina border at Villazon is delineated by a river. Some locals didn’t bother crossing at the official border and instead walked across informally in daylight within sight of the official border.
A Carnival offering to the spirits made of corn plants and drink containers, confetti and streamers, Villazon, Bolivia
The Trans del Sur² bus departed Villazon an hour late and after a breakdown, mudslides and lengthy roadside stops, it eventually arrived to Cochabamba a day later.
The Villazon-Cochabamba bus with Carnival streamers on its mirror negotiating debris strewn across the road following a mudslide
Crops and rock walls next to the fast-flowing river, Bolivia
Quinoa and broad beans were the predominate high altitude crops observed, with quinoa needing an altitude over 4,000 metres to grow.
Sheer cliffs between Villazon and Cochabamba, Bolivia
With slow and arduous bus ride now over, it was time relax in Cochabamba and get ready for Carnival.