San Juan is a small town. Really small. It wasn’t too difficult to find a hotel the night before – it was the only 2 story building in the 2 block town. “No electricity, no heat, no breakfast…but we can get you hot water in an hour,” the guy said in Spanish. SOLD! We needed a shower.
We’d probably been better off in the bus. The room was COLD and the ‘hot shower’ was just a trickle that required hugging the shower wall to even get a drop. We slept in layers and layers of clothes, I had on my hat and mittens and we were still cold.
The next morning we woke to more snow. What had been a completely brown dirt town, was now covered with a couple inches of snow. They said it hadn’t snowed in 5 years. Jason went down to the bus to make coffee and heat up the bus.
Since our plan was to get to Chile, I went to a tienda to spend some of our Bolivian change. Tiendas in Bolivia are often really just the front room of someone’s house. You call out at the door, and someone comes out to serve you. The lady made a pile of Oreo cookies and suckers for me and then asked if we were the people with the car. Small town. Still, the biggest settlement for 100’s of kilometers.
We had originally considered driving south through Lago Colorado from here, but we knew by now the conditions there were terrible. Now, we just wanted the most direct route to the border. When the snow stopped, we inquired about the roads, the border… all the questions we could think to ask. As usual, we got the go-ahead, so we took off.
Half an hour outside of town, the snow was deeper and the dirt road disappeared. Jason got out to take a look and try to determine where the road was. I wasn’t convinced. When he got back in I said, “I’m about 5 minutes away from crying, and it could get ugly. I think we should head back.” I wasn’t sure back to where, the icy hotel, through the salt flats, back to Uyuni. We had brought an extra 40 liters of gas for the entire trip across this wasteland, and if we turned around now we might not make it. We considered just camping right there and waiting it out.
Even though we think we’re in the middle of nowhere, only ten minutes later, a truck with Chilean plates comes up behind us. Karma.
This guy said he knew the way (guided by mountains) and he said to follow him. We would follow for a while, stop to look around and determine which side of which mountain to be on, then continue. Another car must have been following our tracks and caught up to us after while as well, so there were three of us idiots out in the blizzard.
Amazingly, there were only a couple of missed turns. The guys would get out and look around and say the mountians didn’t look familar and we would turn around and try another route. At some points, it was a near white-out, but the Chileans weren’t deterrred. When we finally pulled into the border station I got out and kissed the guy that had been leading most of the way. I’m not sure what his wife and mother thought, but I was so happy to not be stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Existing Bolivia was no problem. It took five minutes to get stamped out, pay a 15 B ‘exit fee’ and hand over our car papers. Bode hopped out and threw some snowballs – he’d been in the bus all day and hadn’t complained once. I’m not sure he’d even noticed that we were driving in a blizzard.
500 meters down the road we get into Chile with a full search of the bus. They actually made us remove everything and take it into their ofice. One person searched all the stuff and another searched the bus. Nice folks – just very thorough. They confiscated our veggies, meat and honey. They also gave us the news that the road ahead was closed. Chileans close roads, Bolivians don’t.
They told us we’d be stuck in Ollague for 3 days.