From Paraguay to Bolivia

From Asunción, there are two ways to reach Bolivia: through the expansive western part of Paraguay called the Chaco, or going south to Argentina and then back north into Bolivia.

The former option would have been the adventurous one: you can read stories of people hitchhiking or doing this stretch by bus: battling scorching heat, unpaved roads, hordes of mosquitoes, and plenty of delays. At best, it’s an 18 hour journey, and through a relatively barren countryside. Some of the only people here are found in the Mennonite (German) colonies in the area.

Maybe it’s that after 10 months of traveling, I’m not into that kind of adventure anymore, or maybe I would never have done it anyway–but I chose the easier way through Argentina. I spent a night in the beautiful city of Salta as a layover. Here are the pictures (chronologically) from the entire journey, which comprised three buses and one train ride.

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Spraying down the wheels at the border crossing.

Argentina is very concerned about things entering from Paraguay. In addition to sanitizing the wheels of the bus, they also had about four military checkpoints, every 10km or so, where soldiers would enter the bus and look for suspicious objects, sometimes with the help of dogs. After about a 7 hour ride, I arrived in the city of Resistencia, Argentina, and immediately caught the next bus out to Salta.

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My best bus meal so far! Very hot chicken with rice, ham and cheese sandwich, alfajor, bread, and a drink! Argentina is also just about the only South American country that serves meals on board.
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A brief stop in the beautiful city of Salta, Argentina.
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Leaving before sunrise the next morning. And a funny habit of taxi drivers in the taxi rank here: they shut off their cars and push them by hand, until they’ve picked up a passenger.
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The incoming bus from Bolivia seemed to be carrying tons of agricultural products. A friend had told me that he had seen Bolivian police board a bus and confiscate all of it, which brought the farmers to tears.
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Argentinian countryside.
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A town along the road where every single house had a picture of Che Guevara or other Marxist leaders. You might have to click on the picture to zoom in.
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All of a sudden, a protest! I was glad to see the driver hand them a 50-peso note (just under U$4), since I’ve read that protests can hold up buses for over 24 hours, and I was already out of water by this point.
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Finally, arriving in La Quiaca, the border town. There are absolutely no signs for how to get to the border crossing, but luckily I had the map downloaded. In this picture, a band was rehearsing some really cool music.
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The railroad line I would eventually board, but on the other side of the border. Trains used to run into Argentina, but apparently stopped for political reasons.
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Crossing a colorful footbridge into Bolivia!
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The plaza of the Bolivian border town of Villazón. Of course, power had been cut for 6 hours midday, meaning I had no way to get cash out. I did have a U$20 bill, but only few exchange houses accept anything except a crisp, new, $100 bill, so I had to settle for a worse exchange rate.
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A slide on top of and tunnel inside of a Komodo dragon! Where was this during my childhood?
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Again the same railroad tracks, but still not part of the active railroad. This area seems to have been converted into a market.
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Finally, the train! I think it’s pretty impressive that it exists, given the abundance of bus companies, and lack of trains in South America.
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As we departed, this dog was super intent on keeping up with the train. It stuck with us for a while before giving up.
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Like in Foz do Iguaçu, a soccer field in the middle of nowhere! Also, you can see the relatively flat countryside in the first part of the ride.
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Gradually getting hillier, and the train makes wide curves to keep inclines low.
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And eventually, it’s mountainous!

With that, I ended up in the city of Tupiza, Bolivia! I was happy with my decision not to cross the Chaco–and also out of breath from having ascended to 2850m (9350ft) from basically sea level.

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