All aboard the vomit bus (¡a San Pedro de Atacama!)

So, we cheated. I hold my hands up, it’s just not cricket, we’ve let the side down. To the disgust of backpackers everywhere; we took an expensive domestic flight instead of a long distance bus. I can feel the embarrassment, the shock, the naked hatred in the eyes of our fellow travellers when they ask: ‘so how did you get from Patagonia’s southern tip to Salta (in the north) so quickly?’ 

We might’ve been able to claw back a modicum of respect if we had somehow secured a impressively cheap fare, but no, it cost 350 smackeroos per person. 350 smackeroos. A  sum to boast about it ain’t; in fact I must be a masochist to even document this shameful episode. But on the plus side, it cut a journey of 4 days down to around 8 hours, so I can live with the shame.

Salta itself wasn’t particularly interesting, so two nights and the next bus out seemed logical. For some reason, I had no idea that to get from Salta to San Pedro in Chile would mean crossing the Cordillera de los Andes. The Andes is a notoriously high mountain range, and plateaus at something like 4500 metres for the crossing we were doing. This is by far the highest I had been and was not really prepared for it.

First I noticed a slight headache. But I had been feeling a bit ill the day before, so I put it down to that. My stomach began turning a little too, but again, I hadn’t been 100% so I chalked it down to that. Finally when we crossed the Argentine border and were driving at snow level, it started to dawn on me that we were pretty high. I consulted the Lonely Planet. Sure enough, this crossing was considerably over 4000 metres…..

Aaahhh! So that would explain why people had been forming a line to be sick in the toilet! Some unfortunate lad was kept waiting too long and some vomit dribbled down his chin and onto the floor next to me. I gave him a plastic bag and he nodded his thanks, his mouth still being full of his regurgitated lunch. The downhill to Chile was almost unendurable, but thankfully I made it through without revisiting my last meal.

I learnt two things from this trip: firstly, don’t drink beers the night before hitting altitude… and second, for the love of god, never, ever, EVER book the two seats next to the toilet on a south american bus. The smell coming from that thing was worse than all the portaloos in Glastonbury put together!

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