Hola from Bolivia
WARNING :- I apologise for the toilet talk in advance, but this is Bolivia so if you are disturbed by that kind of language then wait for the next page.
Well in order to get to Bolivia I had decided one of the quickest routes was to get a bus from Salta back to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and then do a 3 day tour across the salts flats as some of the previous people had done when I met them here 2 months ago (where has the time gone ??). The bus left at 7am and by 5pm I was at the Chilean immigration having my bag searched and they then let me in. I noticed a huge pile of papers so is there really any way to check which country I´m in ?? Any people not carrying on to other Chilean destinations were then left to walk in to town. Luckily I knew the way. I tried to email my old Hostal La Ruca but the email had bounced and sure enough it was full. Now that I have been travelling around a bit San Pedro and Chile seems really expensive for South America. I paid too much for a room but knew it would be my last night for a few days where I would have the opportunity to have a hot shower so sometimes needs must. I then went to Estrella del Sur to book my 3 day trip. There was one place left for the next day leaving at 8am so I booked on. Time to grab some food, water, Bolivianos and have an early night. I managed to get left with only 5 Chilean pesos which I have since given away…so not a bad day at all !!
I awoke the next morning and went to the tour office. There were 12 of us and we were led straight to a minibus. Ummmm… I thought 4wds were the order of the day. Especially as in Salta there had been a piece on the TV about an Orange flood alert for Bolivia. Relief, these were only to take us to the border, once there and having paid some money to the officials we transferred to 2 x 4wd. The first truck consisted of 3 couples, Brazilian, Chilean and Czech. Our truck contained an Aussie couple Sue and Jeff, an Austrian Alex and 2 German girls Franziska and Jenny and of course little old me. Straight after we were allowed in the country we were given breakfast, always a good way to welcome you. Everyone apart from myself, Jeff and Sue were doing 4 days and driving back to Chile, the girls especially were worried about the political situation in Bolivia, more on that later. After breakfast first stop was at Lago Blanco (white lake). Yes the water really was very white and it also had some flamingos on it. We were hoping for a viewing of their mating dance but no such luck !! Around the corner was Lago Verde (Green Lake, although it looked more aquamarine to me). This was indeed even more spectacular and not only was there a huge build up of salt crusts at the edges it was also foaming away. Next it was time for a stop at some thermal pools. I have to say I have been a little bit spoiled since New Zealand and these just didn´t do it for me so I watched most of the people go in instead. There were some other groups there as well so we got some good bum flashes from a group of Brazilian lads.
The next thing I have realised is I am back in the world of stinky toilets. I´m not sure how I´m going to cope when I get home. I just hope I remember that I can put the paper in the toilet and not the bin next to it for a change. Yes first long drop in a while was undertaken before lunch, actually it was quite clean but you have to pay for every toilet here whether they are clean or not. Let´s just say there´s been a couple of times when “al fresco” is the recommended way to go. After lunch we headed to Sol de Manaña, it´s a 4950m high geyser basin with boiling mud pots and sulfurous fumaroles. Then at around 4ish we reached our first nights accomodation. Someone told me that a lot of the buildings in Bolivia are unfinished because if they finish them then they have to pay some kind of completion tax. This one didn´t look like it owed any money to the government. Our jeep shared a dorm and it was a lot better than I´d been expecting. I was the only one not to have a sleeping bag but there were so many covers on that bed there was no way I was going to be cold. The bathroom consisted of 2 toilets (1 sort of flushed), a whole in the ground and a sink. We were given a warming cup of tea before heading out to see our final stop of the day Laguna Colorada. This lake was a red colour due to the minerals, it had huge amounts of flamingos on it and salt crusts. We spent about an hour walking around and admiring the views. Sometimes when you´ve been travelling for a bit you get a bit “oh another lake”, but this was truly stunning.
Time to go back to our accomodation and have dinner. Impressively we were given soup, followed by pasta and a bottle of wine per jeep. You are not supposed to drink at altitude but I figured it would help me to sleep. It had got extremely cold outside and torches at the ready we were in bed by 9ish as the generators were due to be switched off so we wouldn´t have any light. As I got in to bed I made the fatal mistake of saying “Ooh, I don´t usually sleep very well at altitude”. I got under the blankets and felt like a fish gasping for breath due to the lack of oxygen. That soon subsided and I waited for sleep to come…and I waited….and I waited !! Altitude does affect people different ways on different occasions. After over 3 hours my bladder (which has been really good on this trip) felt like it was about to explode. At that moment Sue and one of the other girls got up to go to the toilet. I waited for them to come back swapped torches and then went myself. In fact we cannot stop going, we want to go all of the time and for ages. Has there been a secret liquid store our bodies have been carrying around that we weren´t aware of ? Back in bed my bladder discomfort has now been replaced with what feels like air. Oh god, this really is uncomfortable. I feel like I could win the olympic gold medal in farting. But I´ve got to be discreet (blankets muffle), I know some people are asleep but there are too many people moving around for everyone to be asleep. That´s it. I will just have to lie here until day break. If only I had known Sue was going through exactly the same thought process in the opposite bed.
Next morning I eagerly consume my pancakes (yes, they have Dulce du Leche in Bolivia !!) before we hit the road at 8am. We head first to Arbol de Piedra a rock that the wind has blown in to a tree like shape. It´s warmer than I thought it would be so that´s good. We spend maybe 30 minutes or so looking at the various rocks and the bonnet of the jeep is up (not a good sign). The morning is spent driving through canyons filled with rabbits and then we stopped at Lake Honoa for lunch. This has a gorgeous snow capped peak (see above) and we were lucky to have a lot of llamas there. Lunch was gorgeous tuna fishcakes in the ecolodge. As the builders only laid one brick whilst we were there I think saw it may be finished some time near the 22nd century. They were far to busy dancing around to music to build a hotel.
After lunch we broke down more or less straight away. However, as everyone can fix cars here the jeep was back on the road in no time at all. We then stopped at a smoking volcano. The drivers told us to take some photos, which translated meant we need to fix the jeep again. After this we start seeing salt everywhere. The road is flat and I´m happy to say that our driver is slower than the one in front. Then….ahhh!!!!!!! We skid……it´s quite a good skid, in fact we feel like we are rolling on to one side and then thank god it stops (do they have anti roll bars in Bolivia ?). Great skid mark in the salt though and finally the butterflies in my stomach subside. Our driver then goes slightly slower. We stop at a military checkpoint (I think I´ve now been to the toilet 20 times today) and both jeeps have their tyres changed. That´s the spares all gone. The soldiers seem to have nothing to do so just look on. The base looks like it´s really the teletubbies house, or am I just a bit La La !! Must be the rounded walls to protect them from the wind. Tyres changed we stop in a village called San Juan. We think we´ve arrived but no it´s time for a few more engine tweaks. The drivers swap jeeps and we have Carlos. He is a maniac, it´s getting dark, he finally puts the headlights on and then we are on a bumpy dirt track and being told we´ll be there in half an hour. We were told that an hour ago….then whack !! We go over a bump so hard that I hit my head on the roof. It hurt but it didn´t bleed and thank goodness it didn´t break my sunglasses (which were in the travellers position of always on the top of the head, of course), I´ve lost enough of those already and let´s face it what damage could one more little bump do to me. (It did hurt for about 5 days afterwards though). Finally, 12 hours after we set off we arrive at tonights location – a salt hotel. The floor is salt, the walls are made out of salt breeze blocks, I even have a salt bed. There´s a salt bar and a salt dining room too. As we wait for dinner we are entertained by 2 local boys dressed in sequinned ponchos. One played the pan pipes and the other very young one just does the same dance to every song. We all chip in with some coins for their efforts. Dinner is served after 10 and I just have a little bit and some more wine. It´s Pique Macho a Bolivian dish which contains meat, sausages, chips, eggs and anything else that´s left. We decide on a 5am start so we really need to get to bed so we can get up again. Hurray…I fall asleep straight away, maybe a salt bed is the way to go.
I´m up at 4.30am and we all set off. It´s freezing cold and dark. We literally drive on to a road in the middle of some water. Sue doesn´t look too pleased. Probably because we don´t know how deep it is. Suddenly we stop, it´s sunrise time. It was ok as sunrises go but not that great a one, at least now it´s time for coffee and cake. I am so cold. After coffee we drive off the path and slowly through the water (it´s not coming in the car so that´s a good sign). Gradually the water becomes shallower and underneath we can see hexagon shapes of salt. In fact it stretches for miles. After another hour or so we stop, put on our flip flops and get out. It is amazing and I´m so glad I´ve gone from Chile to Bolivia and not the other way. Otherwise you´d see this first and the rest of the trip would not be as good a build up. The mountains are reflected in the water, in fact everything is reflected. After various photos we try do make a few optical illusions. I have a good one looking like I´m coming out of a bottle of water. Sue looks like she´s eating the jeeps. I would loved to have seen the salar with no water on it aswell but as the world´s largest salt plains they are pretty amazing !! The salt looks like huge square crystals, or in my dreams diamonds. Time to get back in the car (but of course not before we had to pee !!). It must have taken us 3 to 4 hours to drive across it in total so that gives you some kind of idea of how large it is.
After that we stopped at another salt hotel but I liked ours better. Then one final lunch of spam (I´m amazed it was quite nice) in a local village. Considering they live near such a huge tourist attraction the village was extremely basic, I now feel like I am really in Bolivia. Last stop of the day is Uyuni. Again extremely basic around the outskirts of town. We were taken to the railway cemetery, lots of rusty old engines with funny spanish graffiti written on them and the girls took it in turns to play damsel in distress across the railway lines. We said brief goodbyes to the rest of the group and then Sue and Jeff decided to come with me to Hotel Avenida. First shower in 3 days…yippee !! Hot water !! We went out to sort out our next journeys. I´m off to Potosi and they are heading straight to La Paz. My bus was leaving at 10am the next morning so I went to relax for a while before meeting up with them again before dinner. The cash machines aren´t working so I changed up my emergency dollars. Wow, I want to photograph everyone. It´s like walking around Mrs Ben town. All the women are wearing bowlers hats with two long plaits and the children are sooo cute. Unlike Asia they don´t really like having their photo taken so I´ll just have to be very discreet. No I can´t pluck up the courage to do it just yet….
I met up with Jeff and Sue later and we went for dinner at the Cactus restaurant and ate llama. I know I´ve had alpaca before but think that could be my first llama. I have to say it was delicious. Well, sadly it is time to say goodbye to Sue and Jeff, hopefully we´ll catch up in the UK later this year. The Salar is definitely a Bolivian highlight and definitely do it from Chile to Bolivia to save the best until last.
Plane = 18, Bus = 78, Train = 2, Boat =16, Sunglasses = 7, Mosquito Repellant = 8, Books Read = 17 1/2 (couldn’t get on with Faulkner), Bags lost and then recovered = 2.
Take care all