We got up at 4:45 am, cold and tired, having slept barely a few hours. We packed in the dark. I brushed my teeth quickly and decided to skip washing my face with some expensive French product, for once. The water was freezing and of course, no hot water.
We got to the bus station sleepy and cranky. Once the “use of bus terminal” fee paid, we had just enough bolivianos for a bottle of water. We boarded the bus, still dark outside, leaving La Paz behind us. Crossing the Andes, again, to Chile.
I was wearing pretty much all of my clothes: thick socks, pants, a tee shirt, a sweater, the jacket I bought in Perú (which, according to Feng, makes me look like a “biker chick”), and a scarf I bought in Bolivia. I put the sweater’s hood on and adjust my Ipod headphones, in a desperate attempt to block the noise from outside. I must have looked like a moody teen.
The bus climbed in the mountains. La Paz is already almost 4,000 meters above sea level, and we were going higher. We passed through dirty suburbs, houses half destroyed or half built, dirt roads, people sleeping in the streets. The sun rose above the mountains.
We entered Bolivia’s highlands, dry and dramatic scenery. A few patches of grass here and there and miles and miles of flat land. In the background, huge volcanoes, above 6,000 meters high, their snowy peaks contrasting with the crisp blue sky. Amazing. Lamas, flamingoes, volcanoes, more flat land, and not a single village to be seen.
We reached the Bolivian border after a few hours and everybody got off the bus. We were under strict instruction to not bring any drug (duh) and fruits and veggies to Chile, as the bus co-pilot repeated many times. “Nothing animal or vegetal”, he started yelling in the bus, a few kilometers before the border. Everybody nodded, but suddenly, many passengers were opening their bags and discovering mate de coca, coca leaves, weird leaves mixtures etc. It took forever to clear them. We just waited in line, to get our exit stamp from Bolivia.
We drove a few more kilometers and reached the Chilean border. What a scenery! The border crossing is almost 5,000 meters above sea level, with mountains and volcanoes in the background. We left our backpacks with the police (searched for drugs), got our Chilean entry stamp, we back for the bags, X-ray, some more searches and finally we were able to go take pictures.
We were on top of the Andes… and now, we had to go down. Arica, our first stop in Chile, is an oasis in the middle of the desert, close to the Pacific Ocean. It took over 6 hours to finally be a sea level, 6 hours of closing our eyes as the driver, probably tired, was pushing the bus to its limits, each time closer to the cliff. The road was extremely narrow and we feared we would not make it.
Of course, we did. And sweaty, tired, and hungry, we arrived in Arica, our first Chilean city.