We were both really sad to see Karen go! But really looking forward to our next part of the trip, Argentina and Brazil! But first we had to get across the boarder from Bolivia to Argentina.
The lady working at Red Planet who we did our salt flats tour with had booked our bus tickets for us to the border for a small fee. However, she told us that there were no tourist buses, only a local one that left at 8pm and would arrive between 6-7am.
Before our bus journey even started we knew it was going to be a painful one, as we were surrounded by locals who always take the whole content of their homes with them on buses, and always have really loud phone conversations (Dom Jolly style) and play awful music through their phones. No one ear has headphones. But that wasn't the worst of it! The bus was so old and rickity the windows rattled loudly in their frames, so much so they kept rattling themselves open! Considering it was between -5 and -10 outside and no heating in the bus it was pretty dam cold! Needless to say we pretty much got no sleep, maybe 10minutes in between having to shut the window again!
And still that wasn't even the worst of it! We arrived in the little Bolivian border town of Villazon at 3.45am! Not 6am or 7am!!! The border didn't open until 6am and it was well below 0!! We looked for a cafe or anywhere warm to wait whilst being hounded by an old guy who wanted to sell us over priced bus tickets to Salta. There were no cafes anywhere, just a bus load of locals who all seemed quite happy to sit in the streets for 2 hours in the cold! We would have paid anything for a cup of tea and warm seat at that point.
After waiting on a street corner for an hour, jumping up and down trying to keep our circulation going, the bus station opened. Although there was still no where to sit or buy a hot drink it definitely helped with our morale, and felt a little warmer. The locals also piled in with their ridiculous amount of luggage, pushing us out the way as if we were invisible. Other travellers have called the Bolivians 'less chatty' but we think this is just a polite way of saying 'rude'. There's definitely a cultural difference in South America due to things like not smiling (no one smiles - not even the children! It feels very odd to smile at someone and they just look at you blankly. Even when you greet each other with buenos dias!) But they go even further than that in Bolivia and act like every stranger is invisible and rarely even exchange greetings.
We watched one women wrap her baby up in her bundle sack (all women carry a brightly coloured sheet on their backs knotted into a sort of sack and carry all sorts of things in there, from babies, lambs or that nights dinner!). The way she flung the baby over shoulder onto her back was something really incredible to see, its a wonder the baby didn't go flying!
Just before 6am we got a taxi to border control, as it was still dark and we had no idea where we were going. We changed our Bolivianos to Argentinain Pesos and waited until 6.20 for the offices to open. A few stamps later and we were in Argentina!
We got a taxi to the bus station as we still had no idea where we were, and booked the first bus to Salta, the next big town with easy links to Buenos Aires. It didn't leave until 8.40am and all the cafes were shut!
We were pleased to finally be on our way...or so we thought! 10 minutes down the road we had to change buses for no apparent reason. This meant everyone collecting all their bags again (and as always the locals had a lot of bags!) Then having to tip them to be put on a different bus. We were not impressed!
After a 7 hour journey we finally arrived in Salta. We tried to book our bus to Bueno Aires but a powercut meant that the cash machines were down and we didn't have enough money on us. Lots of people at the bus station were promoting their hostel,although none were pushy about it and were all really friendly and helpful. We chose one and got a free taxi ride there.
Once we'd showered and got money out we headed back to the station to buy our bus ticket, and then straight out to try the famous Argentinain steaks! We Googled 'best steak in Salta' to make sure we went to a good restaurant. The most popular one definitely seemed to be 'Jacks'. As this is Argentina, restaurants don't open until after 8pm and don't get busy until 10pm! We were early, but they let us sit down for drinks while we waited for the BBQ to heat up! We ordered a bottle of red wine from Salta and a Bife de chorizo (described as rump steak) for two. When it came it was definitely the biggest steak we'd ever had, even when halved! It was also the tastiest and most tender steak we'd ever had! Amazing! We left the restaurant feeling very full and happy, a steak dinner was just what we needed. And at £15 (including the bottle of wine) it was a bargain!
The next morning we wondered round Salta, heading first to the main square. For some reason they had a military show on, with officers in traditional uniform on horseback parading round.
Salta was really only a stop over to get elsewhere in Argentina, but it is actually a really nice city. The colonial buildings are really pretty, we walked round different markets and weekend street activities, all in glorious sunshine! Bliss! It was so nice we decided to have a beer and steak sandwich in the main square soaking up the sun. But this was no ordinary steak sandwich this was an Argentinian steak sandwich! Amazing!
Unfortunately our sun bathing had to end and we headed to the bus station to catch our bus to the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires!