This morning, we finished our tour of the Salar de Uyuni and of south-west Bolivia. We stepped out of our dusty Land Cruiser 4WD, we transferred into a minibus, and we made our way to the Chilean frontier (having already technically left Bolivia two days ago). Our first of many introductions to the differences between these two countries, upon crossing the border: the first sealed, properly signposted road that we'd seen in a month! Chile really is a very, very different place to Bolivia. It's like stepping into another dimension.
Woahhh… a real road… I almost forgot what they look like.
After about 20 minutes of travelling literally across country in the minibus, along a path of dirt that barely passed as a road, we suddenly hit this amazing tarmac route. It was, as the driver explained, not a Bolivian road ("ahhh... finally, it all makes sense!" :P); it was the highway between San Pedro de Atacama (in Chile), and Salta (in Argentina). There isn't a "road", as such, between San Pedro and Bolivia; not by "non-Bolivian road" standards, anyway. Well, after that, it was smooth sailing along the road, all the rest of the way to San Pedro in Chile.
Even after just one day here in Chile — and only in the north of Chile, mind you, where things are apparently "fairly primitive" compared to the south — I've noticed some huge differences between the two countries that I've been in today. Here are just some of them:
- Prices are fixed, are advertised in writing, and are high in Chile; they are none of these things in Bolivia
- People don't constantly shout at you in Chile, insisting that you buy whatever crap or disgusting merchandise that they're offering, unlike in Bolivia
- People look (and smell) European in Chile, unlike the largely Aymara population of Bolivia (and the largely Quechua population of Peru, for that matter) — sometimes, it's hard to tell whether a fellow person on the street is a local or a gringo
- It's absolutely impossible to understand a word that anyone says to you in Spanish, in Chile, due to the fact that everyone in Chile talks extremely fast, mumbles every word, and constantly uses local slang; as opposed to Bolivia (and Peru, for that matter), where the Spanish is slow, textbook, and easy to comprehend
- Chile is not a country where everything is at insanely high altitude, is bloody cold, and is devoid of a coastline
- You can actually trust the street directions, the prices, and the tour advice that the locals give you in Chile
- Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere in Chile
- The locals seem to have teeth in Chile
- Concepts such as "architecture", "paint", and "safe construction" actually exist in Chile
- Chile has (accurate, as an added bonus!) street signs
- Women don't suddenly become round (from all the baby-making, I guess), lose their teeth, smell really bad, dress in layers of stockings and cardigans, carry random blankets filled with potatoes (or a baby — I can never tell which) on their backs (because they haven't invented backpacks in Bolivia either, you know), and scream at you to buy their empanadas, from the ages of about 25 to 75, in Chile; they do in Bolivia
I'm sure I'll discover more, similar, differences between these two countries, as I continue in my travels. Like I said, it's like stepping into another dimension.