Border Crossing, Chile to Bolivia

It’s pitch black outside. Five am to be exact and I’m not sure if I arranged the right taxi to the right bus. I arrived late last night to this very strange hostel that is somehow trying to be fancy and cheap at the same time. The receptionist didn’t speak English and I only speak a month’s worth of Spanish. Somehow I arranged a taxi to a bus to Uyuni, what bus specifically I am not sure. I am slightly anxious because I’ve read that the bus only leaves twice a week and if I miss this one I will miss meeting up with my friend. I understand enough Spanish to know that all the receptionist tells the driver is that I need to be dropped off for the bus to Uyuni. No other specifics.

I thought I was going to the brightly lit bus station nearby but we drive right past it. After about ten minutes he stops on what seems to be a dark empty street. The driver is trying to explain something to me about the bus and I don’t understand. The bus is parked in a garage behind a barred gate in the dark. It looks very sketchy. But the sign says Uyuni and driver yells at me “aqui, aqui!”.

The bus attendant tells me to put my bag under the bus. Somehow my bag doesn’t go under with the rest and ends up in the last portal with some random giant feed size bags full of who knows what. I get on the bus and pick a random seat. A lady sits next to me and offers some of her blanket. Everyone has blankets, I didn’t get the memo. I’m glad I planned on getting to the bus so early, we take off 15 minutes before we are supposed to and I hope that I’m going to the right place. I fall asleep.

I wake up and we are swerving through a valley on a dirt road that looks very unsafe at a speed that seems very unsafe. I check my GoogleMaps dot to see that we are going in the right direction and I close my eyes again. When I wake up again we are in a very strange town in the middle of the flat desert. There are only a few railroad tracks and partially abandoned buildings. We drive through slowly while the bus attendant gets on and off to drop off small bags of food on some doorsteps along the way.

We arrive at Chile’s immigration office but they are not open. We wait. Finally they decide to open and we file one by one getting our exit stamps. Back on the bus for the short drive to enter Bolivia. By now a few more buses have caught up to us. We get off and again get in line. The immigration office is just a very small office trailer on the side of the road. The officer is concerned when he first sees my US passport but relieved when he sees my visa. I’m thankful my friend harassed me into getting it before I left New York.

SEE ALSO: How to Get Your Bolivian Visa as a US Citizen

The border is just a gate of one horizontal bar. Locals are selling food and drink and people are walking back and forth across. Customs goes through the bags under the bus. They are suspicious of the feed bags. They take them all off the bus and make the bus attendant open one. I can’t quite see what is inside but it looks like fabric of some sort. Everyone has their smoke break before we file back onto the bus. A Bolivian woman a few seats forward notices me and asks where I am from. She offers me some of her food and water and any help I may need the rest of the ride. Customs let the bus keep only one of the mystery bags. We leave the other two on the side of the road.

We’re off again and I fall back asleep. When I wake up I am being nudged and asked for my ticket fare. I had forgotten to find out how much the fare was ahead of time I have just enough pesos, my last 10,000. As I hand it over a wave of relief comes across me and I relax completely for the first time in eight hours.

SEE ALSO: 48 Hours in San Pedro de Atacama