Oruro is a fairly nondescript altiplano town, but the roads are such that almost everyone travelling in Bolivia passes through. Our memories from 2012 are mostly of going to the market in the morning and having our first ever api and bunuelo. Oruro is also the town with a huge Carnival celebration in February, though, and it seems they also do it up big for Christmas. We got to Oruro around 7 after a 4 hour bus ride from La Paz, found a hotel at which to drop our mountain of bags, and wandered out into the streets. We found blocks and blocks of streets closed to traffic, and in the plazas, food, performers, lights, and a long long line to talk to Santa and have your picture taken with a stuffed polar bear.
The next day we had the morning to walk a bit before getting our truckload of stuff to the train station. They looked a little surprised when we checked in 6 huge bags, but they let it go. We lightened the load a little by eating more of the food from the UMSA Christmas basket, had our last tucumanas in Bolivia, and were on the train at 2.
The train pulled out exactly at 2:30, the only transport we have found in Bolivia that leaves on schedule. We were in no hurry for that to happen, though, as we were entranced by a succession of vintage music videos. You owe it to yourself to spend a few minutes with Donde Estan Tus Ojos Negros?, which is like a message from a parallel universe. I still have it running through my head, and I’ve learned to play it on guitar. Look for it at every gig I play in 2017.
The train goes through lots of empty land, some of which used to be near Lake Poopo (pronounced POE-OH-POE), which was once the second largest lake in Bolivia but is now almost gone, a victim of water being diverted for irrigation and mining. Here are some views – one has flamingos.
We had supper on the train (there was even a vegetarian option! OK, it was egg, rice, and fries, but still) and watched four movies with varying levels of interest before drifting off to sleep. A few of us woke up in Tupiza, where the train switched tracks, and where we bought such good humitas in 2012. (At 4am, the humita lady wasn’t in the station.) About an hour after sunrise we pulled into the station at Villazon, at the Argentine border.
We got a station wagon cab that stuffed our wagonload of baggage into the back, leaving the hatch open, and drove the mile or so to the frontier. We hadn’t had breakfast, but figured it would make sense to try to get through before things got busy. Two hours later, Paul was still in line and the others were guarding our herd of backpacks. Two hours after that, Paul was in process of paying the fines for overstaying our time in Bolivia (it was worth it),Leticia was in another line, this one for entrance into Argentina, and Anna and Zeke were somewhere in between, protecting our pile of pertenencias. After that, it was one more line, in which our small army of bags was scanned. The trunk with the padlock attracted special attention, and they asked what was in it, but didn’t open it. For the nth time officials couldn’t understand why we had so much stuff, and for the nth time we explained that we were (more or less) moving house from Bolivia to Argentina.
Once across the border, it took our usual shuttling operation (which takes at least three people big enough to fight over a bag or scream bloody murder if necessary) to get the bags down to the taxi stand, where a succession of taxi drivers looked at our tired hungry faces and our small shipping-container sized load of stuff and decided they wanted nothing to do with us. Eventually we got to the bus station, where we got a bus for a few hours later to Jujuy, left the bags to fill the office of one bus company, and went to find some lunch. It was 2pm by the time food arrived, barely averting a meltdown into a puddle of low-blood-sugar induced misery.
And after that it was better. We got to Jujuy around 9pm, after a bus ride that included two or three stops by customs officials. Only once did I have to get off the bus and explain what was in the trunk with the padlock (dishes, clothes, books). We figured that after a night of sleeping on the train, we’d all be tired enough that we’d sleep soundly during a night on the bus. And that mostly happened, and as day broke we bore on southward toward Cordoba. For the first time, they weren’t happy about our epic stack of luggage and charged us extra (about $4 total). We got to Cordoba around 3, found some food in the bus station, and within an hour were on the bus to La Falda. I was looking forward to this part of the trip – I still remember well the ride from the airport with Felipe in 2007 when we came to spend a year here – but I fell asleep and missed most of it.
Before too long we were in La Falda, where I went and found two taxis willing to take our mule-train worth of stuff to the corner lot were Pat and Hector’s new house is, and where Leon and Louisa live in the old house. We got in around 6:30pm on December 18th, 52 hours after the train left Oruro, and 75 hours after pulling away from the apartment in Pasaje Gasco. It felt good.