For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I don’t enjoy long bus journeys etc so I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the 12 hour bus ride to Chile but this 12 hour journey turned into 30 hours of drama and an experience I’ll never forget.
We left our hotel in Salta at 6am to get to the bus station which was pretty painful although we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that our bus was a 5 star, spacious double decker bus with seats that go back so far that I thought I may actually sleep! (I’m not very good at all at sleeping when travelling.) Everything started absolutely fine and I managed a surprising 45 minute nap once we got into the mountains. When I woke up, the cloudy morning had quickly turned to a stormy morning so I sat at the window, fascinated by the thunder and lightening and torrential rain. As we went on, the storm got worse and worse until we stopped the bus and waited for a bit. I couldn’t see what was happening because the windows were completely steamed up but I could see that there were blue flashing lights and I knew something wasn’t right.
The next thing that happened was that the bus driver did an impressive turn in the road and we were heading back in the direction we had come from. As I wiped my window, I could see people wading thigh deep in muddy water in hysterical tears and I wondered if their home had been washed away by the heavy rain. Then the driver came upstairs and announced that we were not going to make it to the Chilean border and we were heading back to Salta. We hadn’t been driving for long when we stopped again. At 10:45 we stopped again near the town of Volcan and we soon noticed from the bus that there was a huge river going across the road.
There had been a landslide. But not just any landslide, Argentinas worst natural disaster in 40 years!
We were told that we would be sat there for another 8-10 hours while they clear the 4 cuts in the road so as the rain lightened, we went for a wander down the road to see the extent of the damage. It later turned out that there were 8 cuts in the road, 4 people had died (as well as a lot of cattle) 5 people were missing and many more people were injured. Although most of us had packed lots of food and drink for the trip, a lot of people in our group were relying on the 2 snacks they gave us (which turned out to be a breakfast and a lunch) so Kike and two other guys from our group walked to the next town to get the last of the bread and water and some meat and cheese and cake for us all. Who else can say they’ve had a picnic, sat on a motorway in the middle of the Andes?!
By this time we had started to see some of the rescue missions taking place. The guys originally walked the wrong way and saw two of the dead being carried down in body bags as no ambulance could make it up to them. We also saw a lot of police arrive and eventually, a digger to clear the dirt and rocks off the road. As we wandered down even further, we saw where the road was meant to meander down the mountainside but sections and even whole corners had been completely wiped out!
After spending a lot of time outside, playing games and watching gossip girl, we were told that we would have to spend the night on the bus as it was too unsafe to try and move. We drove back to the police station where the forest firefighters had brought up mattresses for the young and old and we were given another few snacks, a bottle of juice and a bottle of water; most of which I think was just provided by a local man who wanted to help.
The next day was all very surreal. We had moved closer to the damage again while I was asleep and we were given breakfast and hot and cold drinks. Slowly they took 6 bus loads of people down past the damage in 4×4 cars, fire trucks and military trucks. As young and fit people, we stayed til last and eventually got down seeing the overturned car, dead cattle and destroyed houses on the way. The bend that was completely covered was still not clear but the vehicles we were in could drive in the mud around it. We were met by more busses who gave us a lunch for the journey and got us back to Salta.
Overall, a pretty weird experience to be caught up in. It’s so sad to hear about those that were injured by the slide and the 1000+ people who have had to evacuate their homes but it was nice to see how calm and positive everyone stayed, how much aid we were given by both the government and locals and every decision that was made had our safety as the main concern.
As compensation for missing San Pedro de Atacama, G Adventures kindly paid for an excursion the next day and we got to visit Cafeyate which is, according to trip advisor, the number one thing to see in Salta.
Cafeyate is a small town surrounded by what can only be described as geographical porn. If you like rocks, tectonic plates, erosion etc, this will be heaven to you. We got the bus around 7am and went for a long journey stopping many times on the way to see amazing natural rock formations (yes, I am sick of buses now. Yes, I am also on another bus whilst writing this).
Our final stop before Cafayate was a winery called Desvario in the Tierra Colorada region. There are 35 wineries in the Cafayate area but we went to this particular one as it is one of the few organic wineries in the world. Where it is sat, receives an extra 2 hours daylight a day which means that the Torrontes grapes are some of the finest. The small business produces an incredible 80,000 litres of wine a year and we were fortunate enough to be able to taste some. We tried two whites and two reds and I was a big fan of both the whites! After a delicious three course lunch, we went to one more stop and then slept the whole way home.
The road that we wanted to use to get to Chile will not be fixed for another 3-5 days so we’ve had to change our plans and get 3 buses and 2 taxis from Salta to Uyuni, Bolivia and skip Chile. I’m gutted to miss out on stargazing in the Atacama Desert but I would rather be safe and spend more time in Bolivia preparing for altitude – even if that means doing this 36 hour journey…
I didn’t think I’d ever write about being caught in a natural disaster and wine tasting in the same blog! Although, I never expected to be writing about being caught in a natural disaster ever!!