Where do I start! Tears, tantrums and a lot of time wasting! This is the frequent occurrence when dealing with the bus system in Bolivia!!
We wanted to go from Copacabana to Uyuni, The Salt Flats. We knew we had to go via La Paz, all good! But we didn’t now we’d end up spending a night there and wasting an entire day and missing out on our 3 day tou in Uyuni. Here goes the story.
We arrived in Copacabana on 2nd November and then went to Isla Del Sol for 2 nights. At this time however we enquired about Salt Flats tours in Uyuni and transportation there. We had learned that we could go from here all the way to Uyuni in an overnight trip and then do our 3 day tour. Great. We’ll buy tickets and negotiate when we get back.
No! Lies. All lies. And this is a regular occurrence in the lovely country of Bolivia. I spent 2 hours walking up and down a hill walking into every bus and tour company there was asking could we get tickets from Copacabana to Uyuni…… No was the response. Not only this but whilst I was running around town, my friend Jess was researching the route and came across some very interesting information. “A blog post identified that we would have to get out of the bus at a lake on the way to La Paz, go by ferry across the Lake whilst our 3 tonne bus goes across the water with all our belongings on a ferry also. I’m sorry WHAT!!!!!!! None of the companies mentioned this when I was asking about “direct from Copacabana to La Paz” Are you kidding me? Where in the world is there a “direct bus” that has to cross a lake by ferry MINUS it’s passengers! Who would think to ask this question? But in Bolivia…. These are the questions you MUST ask.
Hot, bothered and frustrated I finally came across one that would do it. More than I wanted to pay but it would have us arriving in Uyuni the next morning, via La Paz that night and leaving by 4pm In the afternoon. The conversation to get to this point is quite interesting:
Me: “So this is a direct bus to La Paz”
Me: “It goes straight to La Paz without stopping?”
Me: “So you don’t have to cross a lake at any point on that bus journey?”
Senora: “Oh yes, you cross the lake?”
Me: “So it’s not direct?”
Senora: “It’s direct via the lake. All the buses go via the lake. They have to. This is the direct way to La Paz”
Case in point Bolivia!!!
So anyway, buy the tickets. Skip with glee. Tell Jess and at 4pm we head up to our bus. Hand the man my ticket and no…….. this is not a ticket… this is a RECEIPT! This was not the first tie this thing had happened to us. It happened in Peru forcing us to buy a new first class ticket and forego our pre purchased ticket! ARGHHHHH!
Luckily I had time to RUN down the hill and find the senora who conveniently had my tickets sitting on her desk! What are you doing to me!!!!
She was very sorry, came with me to the bus and assured me I would have no problems in La Paz. Oh might I mentioned as I ran up the hill I thought I’d lost my phone and flipped out! Luckily it was in my bag.
We got on the bus and it took me half an hour and 3-4 ranting blog posts to calm down and laugh about it. But I knew this wasn;t the end.
Despite my begging and pleading I had only a receipt for my La Paz- Uyuni journey and I also had to call a man “Javier” when we reached La Paz to arrange our bus for 9pm that night. I had a bad feeling….
After 3 hours on the bus, and now at 4000m Altitude, we were weary travelers and ready for our overnight bus. Jess suffers badly from the altitude sickness and was dreading the stay in La Paz. I had to hunt for the ticket office, they knew nothing about it, found another with similar name – explained again I don’t have a ticket but a receipt and that this bus company isn’t even here! WHAT!!
I get cash out, huge notes so no person in the station will give me small change to use the phone. Eventually I get a lady to cooperate and I use the phone to call Javier….. to learn that our bus is TOMORROW!
I was at the end of my rope! After getting over the shock, I tried to negotiate another bus, I tried to get a refund and tried to understand how the hell this had happened. I expressly booked the ticket for today. He tells me he told her it was full and that there were only seats tomorrow but she had not managed to pass on this message – despite my begging and pleading for a ticket and not a receipt, she’d still forgotten to pass on this VERY important piece of information. I ended up a fuming, crying, shaking mess on the phone and my Spanish was fast going out the window. I was beside myself. How could this system be so unbelievably disorganized and unreliable and how the hell are we ever going to get around this country.
A tanty followed, informed Jess of the situation who was hell bent on going after Javier for our money, and then a resigned phone call to make plans for the following night.
Luckily Jess knew about Loki Hostal in la Paz and even had the address so we could head there for the night and rest our exhausted bodies and brains.
So… bus travel in Bolivia. It’s so common, it’s so available, it’s just SO unreliable. Allow 1 or 2 days either side of plans and if you are on a tight time frame then beware.
Bolivia, you are beautiful – but damn you frustrate me!