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VOSA bus company

The bus ride from Buenos Aires to Salta

There are a ton of bus companies that will take you to Salta, plus a train that will take you to Tucumán, just 4 hours south of Salta. If we had organized ourselves better, we would have taken the train, just to have a new experience. But it only leaves Mondays and Fridays around 9:30 am and we haven't been getting out of bed until 11. By bus we go. You can choose from 3 types of beds on most buses: semi-cama, or half-bed, which only goes back what a regular bus seat would, about 120*. The cama ejecutivo, or executive bed, goes down about 150*, and the cama-suite goes down the full 180*.

All of the buses are double deckers. So cool! We got the first row of seats on the second level, with the whole windshield as our window. Unfortunately it rained the entire time and it's really just farmland from here to there, but it was awesome riding up so high.

If I did it again, I would pack all of my own food. They serve one hot meal, dinner, which was a pasta dish in an aluminum container. Everything else was cold- lots of sweets and carbs. You can get a glass of wine with dinner. Our "bus"-boy, haha, was always in a rush and never came around. There's one bathroom, worse than the bathrooms on the Pullman de Morelos buses in Mexico. If you have to do number 2 I really don't know where you're supposed to go.

Our tickets were 436 Argentine pesos, which is about $80 USD. I think all bus rides suck, and having your chair go back a few extra inches isn't worth $15-20 more. We paid with a credit card, and it looked like almost all agencies accepted credit cards. No Casa Hoy teacher discount though.

We left around 6:30 at night, and if you have to travel long distances in Argentina it's definitely worth going at night. If you're lucky you'll fall asleep.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 13:42 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Picking a Tour Provider for your Salt Flats Trip

We went with La Torre

Unfortunately Lonely Planet really doesn't give you, in my opinion, a good idea of what to expect on the salt flats trip. But of course, we didn't do annnny research beforehand. So if you're reading this post, you're doing your research. Good for you.

There are two cities you can start from- Uyuni or Tupiza. For Tupiza, Lonely Planet recommends several companies. For Uyuni, they don't offer any suggestions since the market there is huge and always changing. Since we were already in Tupiza and wanted to head north afterward, we decided to look around. The primary reason why you have to do your research is because there have been several fatal accidents in the past 4 years. A good company will have experience, be able to show you a full menu, give you the complete run-down of all of the places you'll visit and not pressure you to book with them. Go with a company that gives you a good vibe, is honest and that has staff that is happy and able to answer all of your mundane questions.

We visited 3 companies, all on the Lonely Planet list. Valle Hermosa is just a few blocks from the bus station. They have 18 years of experience and lots of great recommendations posted on the walls around the office. The only thing was that they did "encourage" us quite a bit to leave a deposit, and we hadn't seen any other companies. They wanted to charge 1295 bolivianos. Tupiza Tours is "the first and the best," although the guide says they've gotten mixed reviews. The lady that explained everything to us was not smiley (you know how important that is for me) and wasn't eager to answer our questions. They were charging 1300 bolivianos.

The last company we visited was La Torre Tours. The lady that assisted us was friendly, and started off by telling us about the horrific accident that happened a few years ago where 2 tour vehicles crashed head on at full speed on the salt flats. (Tupiza Tours denied the occurrence of any major accidents). The lady at La Torre Tours also admitted having fired 2 of their drivers 3 years ago for drinking problems. Her honesty freaked out Carlos a bit but since I already had a vague idea of potential problems I welcomed her frankness. We decided to take a few hours to think on it.

Another thing you can do, besides researching online and reading my lovely posts, is talk to other travelers around town. Most people are willing to share their tips and opinions with you. Plus you might meet people you want to travel with. Remember, tour groups should be no bigger than 4 travelers, and 5 is pushing it. Plus the driver and cook. Trip vehicles are SUVs and they're top heavy, so if you have 6 people plus all of your luggage on top it can be dangerous. Ask for pictures of your vehicle and make sure what they give you is what they showed you. All drivers are supposed to be mechanics, too.

We decided to go with La Torre, after meeting several other groups that had done their research and were going with them. It's all about the good vibes. And here I am, writing this blog AFTER the trip, alive and well. La Torre is smaller than Tupiza Tours, but their drivers only work with them. The drivers also own their own vehicles. La Torre gives most of the $$ to the driver so he can pay the cook and gas, etc. The company provides employees with health insurance and other benefits. If they can't get a group of 4 together, the company pays the difference so that the driver still get his $$. The idea is that if customers are happy there will be more work and that the business should go well for everyone in the company.

We met participants along the way who were traveling with Tupiza Tours (several groups, actually) and Valle Hermosa. The general consensus is that all of the companies are great - responsible, good food and overall an enjoyable tour. We highly recommend going with a tour group from Tupiza if your travel plans are flexible. Upon arriving in Uyuni we met a group of travelers who had just been ripped off by a company that tried to fit 8 people into a truck. Plus all of the vehicles we saw didn't look as nice and new as ours (we had a Toyota Land Cruiser). And don't try to save a buck, it's not worth it. Any problems you have, make sure to speak directly with your driver or another group if you have safety concerns. No drugs, and your driver shouldn't be drinking at all. You probably shouldn't either too much with the altitude.

If you go with La Torre, ask for José and Augustina. They were responsible and sweet. Just be sure to shop around- pretend like you're looking for a doctor to perform heart surgery. It is that serious.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 18:40 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Volunteering Enriches Your Travel Experience

We've been on the road for almost 3 weeks now and I've never felt so disconnected. In part it's because we've been traveling around places that Carlos already knows and staying with friends. But I'm way too nosy to be with regular travelers. Even though the people we met were helpful and answered my myriad of questions, all I could think was that if I had been volunteering I would have had a whole gaggle of brains to pick.

When you volunteer with Casa Hoy, you're not only provided with severals e-mails with travel and country information but also an orientation the first day with historical details and any other necessary cultural info. And throughout your participatory trip, you have access to knowledgeable, very experienced staff. Because even if you stay in a hostel, you don't realize how much of a disconnect there is. Lonely Planet can only give you so much information when they're covering an entire continent.

Even simple things like when and what do the locals eat, what is the school system like, and do people actually dance tango- those are questions that I wasn't able to answer because no one is going to admit that they only eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and listen to Shakira. Oh wait, that's me. But if you asked me about the United States, I might not tell you that because I want you to see the "typical" culture. For example, in Argentina, people might tell you to go eat 2 pounds of meat at a parrillada and take a few hours of tango lessons. Which people may or may not do on a regular basis. With Casa Hoy, you're going to be served what a regular Mexican family eats daily, and of course we'll recommend some great restaurants that locals frequent. You can learn salsa, or you can go to the bar I go to.

The real cultural wealth comes from your volunteer experience, obviously. If you're working with children you can ask them just about anything (except about their personal family situation if you're in a foster care situation). They teach you all the cool, new words and games and make sure you know the popular songs and fashion statements. If you work on an environmental project, you will learn about politics, lifestyle, eating habits, recycling. People welcome and expect questions, and are usually eager to talk about their areas of interest.

The Lonely Planet guide now has a volunteering section and even a volunteer guide (which Casa Hoy is in!!) If you're planning out a trip, take some time to find a place to work, even just a day or two or a few hours out of your week. It'll make your travel experience 100x better and even Lonely Planet will be impressed by the wealth of cultural knowledge you'll gain.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 18:29 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Argentine versus Mexican Spanish

Here is a quick collection of words that are different in Argentine and Mexican Spanish. If you're a native Spanish speaker, usually you can figure out these regional differences. But for speakers of other languages, one word and you might lose the whole story.

Argentine - Mexican - MY American English

Pileta - Alberca - Swimming pool
Colectivo - Ruta/Pesero - (Local) bus
Omnibús - Autobús/Camión - (Long distance) bus
Alfajor - Galleta - Cookie
Volud@/pelotud@/Che - Wey - Dude/Bro
Viejos - Padres - Parents
Gaseoso - Refresco - Soda/Pop
Subte - Metro - Subway
Torta - Pastel - Cake
Yanqui - Gring@- American person
Palta - Aguacate - Avocado
Fósforo - Cerillo - Match
Anána - Piña - Pineapple
Choklo - Elote - Corn
Ají - Chile - Chile (pepper)

There's tons more; I've only been here 2 weeks so if you have some you'd like to share, write me and I'll update the post.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 18:55 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

South Pass, Shoulda Dunnit

Wish we had known this much earlier in the trip: If you're planning to spend more time sightseeing around Argentina, or you have a bigger budget, definitely consider getting the South Pass. It's a service that's only available for foreigners (not Argentines). That seems a bit unfair, but considering all of the other prices are jacked up for foreigners you might as well take advantage.

The South Pass covers 5 one-way trips (I think there are more options for more trips, this is just the main idea) around Argentina for $310 USD (under 31 years of age). The concept is that for about the price of a round-trip ticket to some far-off city, you can make 5 trips. Most major cities in Argentina, or at least places the that tourists want to hit, are pretty spread out. With the South Pass, you can start in Buenos Aires, go southwest to Bariloche, north to Mendoza, north to Salta, northeast to the Iguazú waterfalls and back to Buenos Aires. Normally just a round trip ticket to Salta would be almost $200 USD.

You can find more information online, like always. It's a real steal if you're planning to travel long distances around the country, and the guy at the bus station almost convinced us to drop a month's worth of travel money on the tickets. That's how good the deal is. Sigh. For next time.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 19:01 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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