Published: June 7th 2009June 2nd 2009
Getting ready to go...
Jonny (our guide) on top of our 4x4
9th May- 27th May 2009
An early(ish) start and we were off towards the Chilean-Bolivian border where we all had our bags searched for apples and other fruits, luckily they didn't want to take our chocolate or Luce's needles...thank goodness. Then, it was a quick ascent to high altitude at one of the Bolivian border crossings where our 4x4 jeep driver, Jonny, loaded our bags onto the jeep and the four of us (Luce, Rach, Daz-our new friend from our Chile trip, and Daphne-a new found addition to our travelling band) hopped in ready for our 3 day trek...already it was quite chilly.
The next 3 days were awesome and almost indescribable. We drove through, over and around; barren sandy landscape, active volcanoes, borax lakes, flamenco habitats, huge chunks of lava and rock, geyers, hot springs, cacti, salt flats and a necropolis (due to another moment of poor translation we thought that Jonny was sending us to meet and take photos of some of the locals, as all we understood was that they were 'well dressed', we were quite surprised to actually arrive at the local village's necropolis or cemetary where some of the graves and skulls were indeed
Into the volcano!
At 5,000m, we couldn't stay here for very long!
'well dressed'!). The highest altitude that we reached was approximately 5,000m and on the first night we slept at 4,300m (and really felt the lack of oxygen, thankfully we were given coca leaves and tea to try and stop the effects of the altitude), the temperate at night dropped to -10, this felt quite cold in accomodation where there was no central heating as well as quite large gaps under the doors and in the roof! Driving this way to Bolivia was amazing and the terrain quite rough, at least 2 of the 4x4, from our group, gained a flat tyre or broke down for some unknown reason but thankfully our guides knew what they were doing.
On our last morning we rose at 4am, dressed in almost all of our clothes, from our hotel made of salt (but NOT on the salt flats) ready for the highlight of our trip, the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats of Uyuni) which are the largest in the world (120km by 180km2). By 6.30am we had reached our destination ready to watch the sunrise, words fail us to describe what it was like...one of the best experiences of our whole world trip.
Volcano in Bolivia.
On our way to the Salar de Uyuni.
After the sunrise and many photos we drove to an 'island' of cacti which is in the middle of the flats where we saw many of these 'spikey friends', some of which are over 800 years old, and had breakfast. Soon it was time for our Salar de Uyuni perspective photo shoot which you will be subjected to on our return.
On arrival to the small town of Uyuni we (the four of us) decided to make a quick getaway to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, on a local bus, but at the expensive end of the scale (7 pounds for an eleven hour, unheated, bumpy journey...there were blankets though!). La Paz is one of the higest cities in the world, 3,660m, and we once again felt slightly breathless. On our first stint there Rach and Daz decided to take some Spanish lessons, Luce was going to explore with her camera when these occured but unfortunately had to take to her sick bed for 4 days after eating some sort of salmonella sandwich (we think). Roles reversed and Rach became a nurse, making sure that Luce swigged disgusting rehydration salts at regular intervals and became well versed in
the line 'Have you checked your sugar level?'.
For Luce's recovery period and after Rach's linguistic hard work we decided that a recouperating trip to the Bolivian Amazon Basin was in order. However, the flight was not quite as relaxing as we imagined but apparently better than the 17 hour bus and the scenery was spectacular. On arrival to Rurrenabaque we were surprised to be met at the 'airport' and taken to our hammock filled hotel. Where we read properly for the first time about the ecolodge we were visiting and discovered that we had accidently 'splurged' and were going to the world famous 'Chalalan Lodge' (featured in the National Geographic!). Not only is Chalalan environmentally friendly but all of the profits go back to the local community and all the staff are from the local village. Therefore worth a little bit more money!
Our five hour boat trip (see picture) deep into the Bolivian Amazon was fun and picturesque. Over the next three days we saw; the world's largest rodent ' Copiwana', king vultures, howler, cappacino and squirrel monkeys, watson birds (aka stinky birds), mackaws of varying colours, tarantualas, red broket deer, tree frogs, a smoking jungle
Banos in Bolivia
Rach and Daz pay 5 Bolivians (5p) to pee!
frog, a common night jar, suznum toads, humming birds, black cayman and the highlight...3 (of different species) amazon tree boas, plus many other creatures which we can't name. We loved our time in the Amazon and to top it all...it was warm!
On arrival back in La Paz we decided to take a trip with our new Canadian buddies, Jen and Trin, to the Tiwanaku archaelogical site (Bolivia's oldest) to see Andean ruins which are much older than the Inca ruins in South America. It was very interesting.
After at least a week of education and relaxation we decided that it was time for a bit of adrenaline fuelled fun, egged on by Ludi and James our friends who we first met in Chile (our threat to see them again once in Bolivia did happen), we decided to do something we swore we NEVER would, downhill mountain bike 'The World's Most Dangerous Road' (aka 'Death Road). Starting high in the cool air of the Bolivian Andes, the steep and bumpy La Paz-to-Coroico road plunges down almost 3,600 meters on its spectacular 64-km path to the lush, sub-tropical Yungas and the sleepy town of Coroico. In places the road
or shall we call it a dirt, gravel track is no wider than 3.2m and still it is used by some local public transport and not at a slow pace. It took five gruelling hours to bike from the start to the finish with some up hills (at 3,200m this is not an easy task but we did it!) and a number of snack breaks, which were well needed. Needless to say it was a difficult yet exhilarating day with a free t-shirt and chilled beer awaiting us at the end. Although our time on the road was not over, since we were then driven back up it, this gave us time to think about what we had just riden and see some of the wreckages and memorials on the road, these were a sober reminder of what can go wrong...(check out...http://www.ssqq.com/ARCHIVE/vinlin27b.htm)
(At the) Copa copacabana was our next stop, but obviously the Bolivian one on the banks of the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. We spent three days soaking up the relaxed atmosphere, walking the Isla del Sol (where we were harrassed by small children using llamas as a barricade to try and get Luce's
An active volcano
Can you see the smoke!?
emergency coke...they were lucky not to be swung off the island for that), browsing the shops and eating fresh and very cheap trout (1 pound 80 for a full meal and beer). Whilst in Copacabana we met with two new travelling buddies, Mandy and Jamie, with whom we formed a travelling band for our next destination...Peru.
There are more photos below