A Travellerspoint blog

Salar de Uyuni

Bbbbbrrrrrrr salty!

semi-overcast 12 °C

After another bumpy bus journey across Bolivia, desperately trying to avoid the guy who kept chatting shit, falling asleep in my lap and generally looking like he was about to puke up in my face, we booked our tour straight away with the cheapest company we could find.

All was going well to start off with, we were taken to a train cemetery full of rusty old trains and heaps of rubbish, took some photos of each other dicking about and then hit the road for the Salar de Uyuni, the worlds largest and highest salt flat, and the remnants of some old old lake.

We stopped off at a salty old market in the dust where loads of Bolivians try and flog you stuff made of salt, and this is where paying bottom dollar backfired slightly. The battery of our jeep ran flat and we ended up waiting about for two hours in the dusty town 2 miles down the road from the salar. We couldnt even take those perspective photos that all the tourists take.

In the end though it wasnt so bad, as by the time we got to the Isla de Pescado (which is an island on the flats that has nothing to do with fish, but in fact has a couple of hundred cactuses on it) we were the only ones there.

So we walked around the island, saw some good views, saw what used to be the worlds oldest cactus (over 1000 years) until it got hit by lightning a few years ago and died. Gutted. Also, because we were so late to the island, we got to watch the sunset over the salar which was pretty awesome- the views on the salar are undescribably good. Miles and miles of white nothingness, its probably about as close as you can get to being on another planet without being an astronaught. So we took the typical photos, watched our shadows get about a mile long, and then drove off to the salt hotel where we stayed the night.

The salt hotel was pretty cool, it was made entirely of salt and was pretty warm cause it had an igloo sort of effect. After breakfast we set off again and were taken around all the coloured lakes. Not really that coloured though, just mostly different shades of blue. But a few of them had some flamingoes chilling out in them so that was cool. Saw an active volcano as well smoking away in the distance.

After the lakes we were driven across the desert and saw Cerro de Siete Colores (moutain of seven colours), which was nice, as well as a rock that looks like a tree. At the end of the day we arrived at our hostel by Lago Colorado, which was supposed to be red but was in fact a dirty brown sort of colour. Went and had a walk around the lake (in the freezing cold) to try and get a close up of some flamingoes, and saw some nice llamas and vicunas running around.

We woke up the next morning (if you can call it that) at half 4, so we could see all the geysers which are only really active in the morning. It was ridiculously cold, we had to hug our feet to stop them falling off. Sort of saw the geysers, but because it was so dark we didnt really see much of them, just loads of steam comming out the ground. Another hour or so in the jeep and we arrived at the thermal baths, where we debated getting in or not (because getting out would probably give us hyperthermia), decided that we would, and had an awesome half hour of being warm and watched the sun rise over the steaming lakes. By the time we got out, the sun was up so getting out wasnt too bad (although Sadies hair did freeze). Had a pancake breakfast and headed off back to Uyuni in the jeep, passing by the Laguna Verde (or green lake, and it was actually a bit green!), the Dali desert (which looked like a Salvador Dali painting) and some more unusual rock formations.

Overall a pretty good trip, some pretty surreal landscapes, and a lot of dust (again).

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Posted by St Martins 14:20 Archived in Bolivia Tagged events Comments (0)

Tupiza

Rawhides

We arrived at Tupiza bus terminal at about 4.30 in the morning having had minimal sleep on the bus because most of the journey was bumpy and down hill. We decided not to pay for a night in a hostel so with 3 fellow travellers we set up camp in the bus station and settled down for a couple of hours kip till sunrise. Didn´t sleep much so when we found a hostel it was straight to sleep for us. We got up and had a wander round Tupiza. Its a nice town surrounded by colourful rock formations and it feels a bit Wild Westy. Its actually supposed to be the place where Buch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed, while trying to escape from the po po by hiding out in South America. We walked up to a lookout over the town to watch the sunset and decided that here would be the perfect place to do some horseriding (James was slightly reluctant though, fearing great pain). We booked a full day with the people we´d met at the bus station... sounded like it was gonna be great!

In the morning we were kitted out with cowboy hats, chaps , bandannas and of course a horse. Mine was called Sanchez, James can´t remember the name of his because it was a silly name so he nicknamed it Marjorie. It was a really amazing day, the landscapes were amazing and we had to go across rivers on the horses, was like being in a Wild West film!

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The horses were pretty much just following each other to start with, not really listening to us at all, but as the day went on we started getting the hang of it a lot more- and by the end we were getting them to gallop and all sorts. About halfway through, Sanchez was being a bit naughty, so the guide swapped horses with me and my new one (nameless) was much better. There were quite alot of horses out that day and they all like to be infront so there was alot of galloping and pushing infront of each other... was a bit scary at some points. My horse decided it was gonna be infront of everyone and went off the track and did a massive running jump to get infront of the others.. nearly fell off but managed to hold on. James´ horse was awesome (except for some wind problems) and must have really liked James because it was very obedient with him.

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We stopped for a break and i realised that all the gallpoing had pretty much ripped my trousers right in half so on the way back i might as well have been riding it naked... not good for the bum!

So all in all had a great day, lots of horses, lots of views, and lots of aching muscles today!

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Posted by St Martins 07:54 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Potosi

sunny 8 °C

After leaving Sucre, we arrived in Potosi, the highest city in the world! It was apparently once the richest city in the world as well, because of a big mountain across the road that was and still is full of silver. The main reason people come here is to visit the mines which contain this silver, which are no co-operative mines. This means that any old Bolivian can pick up a spade and crawl up into the mine and try and get lucky, without any safety precautions.

We took a tour with a man called Willy, who used to work in the mines from the age of 12. The conditions are pretty shocking for workers, cramped spaces, noxious gasses (not where we went though) and alcoholism means that the average life span of a miner is mid-30s. It really highlights the poverty situation in Bolivia- this is actually the best paid work (they dont recieve wages, but sell any silver they find) around, and when the price of silver is high they can expect to make around 100 bolivianos (a tenner) a day. At the moment, the price isnt high, so they´re making much less.

So our tour started with a trip to the miners market, where you go to buy coca leaves and drinks for the miners as a sort of present to say ´cheers for letting us come and watch you work yourself to death´. On the way, Willy told us that the town used to be split into two zones, one for the Spaniards (the richest part), and another for the indiginous slaves who were made to work the mines. There were also a lot of African slaves made to work the mines, but they were kept in a jail on the other side of the mountain to keep them from escaping (the indiginous slaves couldnt escape because they forced to bring their families and small children to Potosi). Apparently something appauling like 3 million slaves died in or because of these mines in the colonial period.

After buying some presents (and some dynamite), we donned our mining costume and miners hat and headed down a tunnel into the mine. Willy showed us a devil (or Tio) carved out of the rock, to which the miners leave coca leaves, cigarretes and alcohol so that he will allow them safe passage in his mine.

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After some scrambling up and squeezing through some tight gaps, we met Willys friend Pablo, who had worked in the mine for 30 years and had had a chat to him about the conditions. Pablo had 10 children (apparently they had no TV), thus making it incredibly difficult for his wage to support them- meaning that his teenage sons come in the mine to help make more money. Its kind of like a vicious circle.

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We also met another man, who was about to start a 24 hour shift with no breaks and no food. The miners just chew shitloads of coca leaves (the base plant of cocaine) to stave off their appetite. We tried this as well, but aside from a tingly face and slighlty stimulating sensation, all it really does is leave you with a disgusting looking mouth.

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After a few hours of scrambling round, watching people working and seeing different parts of the mine, Willy took us outside again and, to our childish delight, blew up some dynamite we had bought earlier.

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Posted by St Martins 12:44 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Bolivia

Santa Cruz, Samipata, the jungle and Sucre

sunny

Second time lucky, don´t you love it when a computer deletes something you´ve been writing for half an hour!!

Soo, after a very bumpy ride up the Ruta-Trans chaco in Paraguay we got to the border crossing in the middle of nowhere... my favorite one so far! It consisted of a corrigated iron shack, a man, a dog and a stamp. It was very bizarre. After the formalitys we headed in to Bolivia. The first town we went to was Santa cruz... We checked in to possibly our favourite hostel so far mainly because it had a pet Macaw and a pet Toucan. They were great, i´ve never been a great fan of birds but now i am! At about 6.30 Lorenzo the Macaw would wake everyone up by squawking ´Hoooollllaaaaa´as loud as he could and then when you went for breakfast Simone the toucan could hop by your side pecking at your toes. Santa cruz is a nice town with a lovely Plaza but theres not that much to do. After a 3 hour bus ride and just as many buses we arrived at the Zoo (3km away from town) which was awesome because of the free-roaming Sloths. we were lucky enough to see one at the bottom of the tree doing his business (they only leave there tree to do go to toilet) so we sat with him and gave him a little stroke! He was awesome... they have such cute faces!
After a few days of doing nothing much (except being amazed at how cheap bolivia is (we had dinner for 70p)), we went to Samaipata, a nice little town in the highlands. Our hostel was very nice, we had our own private balcony overlooking the mountains (for just 4.50). There was quite a lot to do around Samaipata, so on one day we visited some waterfalls and got some photos of us standing underneath the water and falling over and stuff.

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The next day we went to Amboro park´s cloud forests which was a lot of fun. We had an awesome guide who showed us puma tracks and spectacled bear tracks. He was really knowlegable and would stop every 5 minutes and pick up different leafs for us smell which smelled of chicken curry or eucalyptis or somethings else awesome. At one point he heard monkeys in the distance and when we listened they sounded very far away and then all of a sudden our guide started calling them in Monkey language! It was amazing we could here them getting closer and closer until they were right there in front of us. They looked a bit annoyed that they´d come all that way to check out what they thought was a monkey when infact it was just a bunch of humans. It was a really good experience... If you ever go on a tour make sure your guide can talk monkey.

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This was our view for lunch! It was amazing!! ^

This was our view for lunch! It was amazing!! ^

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We decided to do some volunteer work whilst we were in Bolivia at a Animal Refuge called Ambue Ari so we headed back to santa Cruz to pick up some supplies then headed into the jungle. We arrived after night fall so it was very dark with all the noises of the jungle. The refuge has no electricity or phone lines or anything. We slept in the office on our first night as we arrived late and it was a great night. Falling asleep with all the animal noises was great. In the morning we found out that unfortunately they didn´t have any space for us on camp and as we were only there for 2 weeks we wouldn´t be able to do any work with the animals. So we decided to leave and do some volunteering somewhere else along the line. We´re planning to do some in Peru which should be great.

Now we´re in a city called Sucre which is really nice. Lots of white washed buildings and terracota roofs. Wé´ve just been wandering round explorong all the streets and markets. Today is election day and easter sunday and apparently Bolivians love their politics and their religion so tonight should hopefully be a big celebration!

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Posted by St Martins 13:04 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Concepcion and Rio Paraguay

5 days on the rickety old Aquidaban

sunny 35 °C

So after Ybycui, we stopped over for the night in Asuncion, and treated ourselves to a great big dinner. The next day we got on a bus to Concepcion and after 20 mins onboard read the section in the Lonely Planet that said there are no cash machines in Concepcion. We spent the whole 8 hour journey (thanks to a flat tyre) worrying that we´d have to come all the way back to Asuncion for a bit of cash, but luckily after a quick search we found an international atm no problems. Ive never been so happy about the unreliable info in the guide book. The first night we stayed in a particularly shitty room by the bus terminal, and kept getting bitten by ants, but the next day we hopped in a taxi (which was a horse and cart, no shit here, and actual horse and cart- with a crazy paraguayan shouting and squealing at the horses, it was brilliant) and checked in to a slightly posher hotel with air conditioning, English TV and a swimming pool- what a treat.

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So after a few days in Concepcion, we boarded the Aquidaban, a cargo boat that takes passengers up and down the Rio Paraguay. This boat was crazy, its full of people who just ride it back and forth selling fruit and bread and stuff to all the ports that the boat stops at.

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The front of the boat is full to the brim with loads of weird cargo, from stereo systems and motorbikes to chickens and pigs. Despite the fact that the Rio Paraguay is in the Paraguayan section of the Pantanal, we didnt see a lot of wildlife (did see loads of big birds and an iguana though!) but it was a lot of fun because it was so untouristy and so unlike anything we´re used to. The journey to Bahia Negra and back took us 5 days and nights, and we spent most of this time seeking shelter from the ridiculous heat and buying drinks off the vendors on board the ship (who had huge ice coolers). At night, most of the locals slept on hammocks downstairs, but we had hired a camarote (small cabin) upstairs. This was a bad idea, the camarotes were ridiculously hot due to the lack of ventilation, and at night they sprang to life with cockroaches. The hammock area downstairs seemed much cooler.

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So after a few days chatting to locals and being generally sweaty we are now back in Concepcion. Last night on the boat was really stormy- loads of rain and loads of lightning, was pretty fun- spent a long time talking to locals (my spanish vocab is getting much better, I can probably understand 30% of conversations, more if they speak slowly and clearly) while drinking beer and trying to barricade the windows up. Weve just checked back in at the nice hotel and spent most of the day watching TV in an air conditioned room. Its very nice. In short, the Aquidaban: not for the unadventurous. Next stop Filadelfia, en route to Bolivia...

Posted by St Martins 14:01 Archived in Paraguay Tagged travelling_with_pets Comments (0)

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