On the bus, heading south to Argentina. We left La Paz for Oruro, then the train overnight to the border town of Villazon, arriving at 7 am. Riding the last train line in Bolivia was an interesting experience, even though the reality did not match the amenities advertised. The seats did recline to varying degrees, but the cold wind emanating from the windows as we traveled through the altiplano prevented us from getting much sleep. As advertised, we were served a choice of hot dinner at our seats by bow-tied waiters, quite a change from the lurching buses we have been traveling on without even a restroom. I was impressed at the cleanliness of the train until I happened to see what happened to the trash swept up at intervals: out on the track it went. Nevertheless, the relaxing rhythmic sound of the train running along the old tracks all night, with a bowl-full of stars above and deserted plains all around us, was something to remember.
After arriving at Villazon, we crossed the border and took the next bus heading south. Traveling all day through northwestern Argentina gave us a chance to see the changing landscape. From the altiplano, we descended 3000 meters or 9000 feet, to a familiar 1100 meters in altitude. The first change I noted as we descended was vegetation: a wide variety: first, cactus in the dry Quebrada mountain range, then hillsides covered with hardwoods of all kinds. Further down, we traveled through fertile river valleys filled with cropland bordered by willows and the ever-present yellow-flowered perennial, rudbeckia, here growing to plants over 10 feet tall.
In La Paz, both the lack of public resources and the climate mitigate against green spaces. The Prado, the main street running through La Paz, has a park down the middle, where palm trees (amazingly prospering at that altitude) and green grass are growing, along with flower beds with hardy autumn flowers: petunias and marigolds. On weekends, Bolivians stretch out luxuriously on the grass and take a snooze, or play cards or chat. These are among the only green areas available in the city. It is quite a change to see hillsides covered with trees and fields of green crops growing.
The general level of prosperity is much higher in northern Argentina than in Bolivia: good paved roads, even highways, many private cars, and well-dressed travelers are everywhere. All the little towns we pass have playgrounds, green parks, well equipped football fields, and much more foreign investment than we are used to seeing. Pedestrian streets with antique streetlights and restaurants appealing to the middle-class traveler are in evidence.