Nothing goes smoothly in Bolivia

Published: November 13th 2012
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Todos Santos at my houseTodos Santos at my houseTodos Santos at my house

There is a glass of water and food for my hostmums
Remember the blue ice cream from my last blog? Yeah...turned out everyone who ate it got sick. I was well on Monday, but on Tuesday I could feel my stomach working hard. I had my very first interview though, so I had to dress up and go to a German school where I met with some students and teachers. I felt awful and sometimes couldn't concentrate on what people were saying, but I had to pull through. The interview was very interesting. I am writing about BOLMUN CAFF, a Bolivian simulation of the United Nations and it was amazing to talk to these people. What I like about my own MUN experience is that you gain self confidence and learn a lot about politics. In Bolivia people are usually very shy, but these teenagers (16-18 years) were completely different. They were exactly how other people who have been in MUNs. They spoke loudly and cofidently with the confidence being just right (not an arrogant way). So after my interview I was more than happy!

When I wanted to go to work in the afternoon though I felt really bad and there were no trufis (strike again!), so I decided to just stay home and relax. My hostmum prepared household remedy which was Coca-Cola mixed with flour. It decided disgusting, but helped me right away, so I felt better the next day. I found out, however, that my volunteer friends have had the same fate with two of them even ending up in the hospital!

We decided to postpone our planned Salar de Uyuni trip and leave one day later to give everyone time to get better. Since I was one of the better ones, me and Carlein took care of getting tickets there and plan a bit more. We had 8 people (of which 5 were sick and one in the hospital) and I was texting around to get everyone full name and passport number. Later on it turned out that wasn't even important for the tickets, cause the lady was confused by our gringo names and just typed in whatever. When we finally met at the bus terminal Thursday night a Bolivian friend was standing there with a Canadian girl. She was like "This is my friend Nicole and she needs to go to Uyuni.", so now we were 9 people (all international again, of course).

The trip had many obstacles (as always). We were told to go to Potosí first where there were many buses just waiting to bring tourists to Uyuni. Pustekuchen! There was noone! First we had to go to a different bus terminal which was on the other end of the city and then they told us it's closed, because it's Día de los Muertos, a national holiday. Every other driver said Uyuni was to far away and hey wouldn't take us there. After one hour we finally found someone (it was 8am), but we were more people than seats, so we had to squeeze with 17 people into a car designed for 14 (Bolivian way, in Europe no more than 12). After 3 hours we finally got the first glimpse at the Salar and arrived in Uyuni.

There we had obstacle number two: There was no gasoline in Uyuni hence no tours were leaving. Also they told us all the drivers were drunk anyways because of Día de los Muertos, so it's risky to leave. Since we had travelled 13 hours to get there we decided to do the 3-day-tour anyways and called the office to get one day off. We asked the operator what we could do the rest of the day in Uyuni (it was like 11am) and he said "Nothing. Relax." Well, that's just great! We walked to the cementery to see how Bolivians celebrate their holiday and hung around there for a while.

(Dia de los Muertos (or Dia de los Difuntos) means Day of the Dead, which in the Catholic faith is also known as All Souls Day. In Bolivia it takes place on November 2 after the celebration of Todos Santos (All Saints Day) on November 1st. Prior to this day, both the public and the city governments begin preparing the cemeteries for this holiday. Usually the city governments begin cleaning and fumigating the cemeteries while individuals and families hire bricklayers and painters to repair and paint individual tombs and family niches. On Dia de los Muertos indigenous customs mix with Christian (Catholic) religious beliefs. Families visit the tombs of their dead with a feast, which they prepare the night before. They spread out the feast in the form of a picnic, setting places for their dead relative at the “table” as they wait for the souls of the dead to “arrive”. If the dead person is a child, a white tablecloth is used. Black or dark cloth is used if the dead is an adult. The table is also adorned with candles and photos of the dead. Some believe the dead return to Earth to see if they are still being remembered by their families and friends. Often families hire bands or take other forms of music with them. They also pay children to recite prays at the tombs. Many believe God takes pity on the prayers of children or the poor, more than on the prayers of those who are not in need. Families sometimes also sing or hire someone to sing. Many people don’t take the feast to the cemetery. Instead, they spread out a feast at home and guests who visit are offered all the favorite foods of the dead. Many believe death is not separated from life. So they await the dead to show themselves. It is said the dead arrive at noon, and depart at the same time the next day so at noon on the next day, another great feast is held because the dead need a lot of energy to return to their world. (from

Afterwards we were like. "Well, there's nothing more to do. Let's go and drink!" In my Lonely Planet there was a bar called "Extreme Fun Pub" and they suggested to try the "Sexy Llama Bitch". So that's exactly what we did. We didn't expect the drinks to come in such funny glasses which were responsible for the name. I took me a while to drink out of it because I was laughing so hard. Then we went back to our hostel to drink some more (although it was forbidden. So bad ass!) and went to bed to be fit for the big trip.

We started with the train cementery which was really cool, but stuffed with tourists, so it was hard to find a place where noone would get in the picture. Later we got to see the Salar which is incredible. i don't have words to descrive it, so I will let the pictures speak, but really you just have to go there yourself one day. We saw many wonderful places during the next three days and the landscape changed every hour. We went from salt lake to rock desert to volcanoes to lagoons filled with flamingos to hot springs to grassy neverending landscapes. It was definetely worth all the trouble and everyone should do this tour if he has the chance. The only thing that sucked were the hostels, because it was freezing cold at night and even the 5 blankets didn't help. So you should definetely bring a sleeping bag. The big attractions, sleeping in a hostel entirely made out of salt turned out to be of little pleasure. It was cold, there was no hot water (although it had been promised to us) and for some reason noone from my room could sleep. Nevertheless we all returned to Uyuni more than happy and only had to tackle the 13 hour trip home.

We got on a bus going to Oruro and since it was a bumpy dirt road noone slept too much for the next three hours. that added up to three days with little to no sleep for me, so all I wanted was to get into my huge bed in Cochabamba. At 5.30 am we had to find a bus going there from Oruro, but there was only a minivan. So we squeezed again with 9 people in a vehicle designed for 7 and had 4 very uncomfortable hours. Finally in Cochabamba I didn't even have time to sleep, because only a nap wouldn't have been helpful in my state, so I only showered and ate lunch before going to work.

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