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Published: August 9th 2007
Today we arrived in Potosi, the highest city in the world, standing at approximately 4050m, after a dusty 7 hour bus ride from Uyuni. Alas no longer the luxury buses of argentina; here we mixed with locals (plus the obligatory group of Israelis), in fact rather too close for Lukas' liking. Half way through the journey, a couple of natives sporting typical bolivian dress were squeezed onto the bus, and ended up literally sitting on Lukas, which is apparently acceptable practice in these parts. Unfortunately said typical Bolivian dress had apparently been worn unwashed for the better part of this millenium - a rather unsavoury smell pervaded their locality.
Ok, rewind to the last few days in Uyuni, southwest bolivia. We spent 4 days in the region. The first day we awoke too late (after the long train journey from the border) to get on the 'Salar' tour for that day, so we had a day of relaxation, or more like acclimatisation. Uyuni is about 3650m above sea level, and coupled with the intense sunlight, this caused extreme tiredness and general grotty feelings all around. Judging by the size of its market Uyuni is by local standards a bustling metropolis.
We did stroll to the edge of town, along dusty dirt streets lined with derelict and half built houses. Edges of Bolivian towns seem to be where people dump their refuse. We briefly admired the 360 panorama to the salt flats in the distance, and also photographed a local who appeared to be in deep meditation, only to find out that he was in fact taking a dump, before returning to the centre.
The following day our Salar (i.e. salt flat) tour started at 10am. In fact the tour (fyi. Esmerelda Tours) was to more than the nearby Salar de Uyuni (the largest salt flat in south america i'm sure) but also took in about 400km of terrain south towards the Chilean border over 3 days. We had a group of 6 + a driver, Rodrigo, and a cook, Sebastiana (Rodrigo's mother). We all fit pretty comfortably in our 4 x 4 Toyota. The others were 2 americans (who we'd met earlier in Villazon), and 2 belgians. It was a great tour, though I have to say there was rather too much driving involved. To pass time we had a bit of a sing song culminating in a slightly
less than harmonious Bohemian Rhapsody. Other exciting time-passers were Dan's 'Name your 5 favourite ...' games which helped to pepper the 'Belgian Monologues'. Of course I should talk about the highlights of the tour, which included the stop on the 'island' in the middle of the salt flats; llama steaks, well in fact llama pretty much everything; flamingo-filled lakes; volcanoes in every direction; reaching 5000m just about; lots of local animals like llamas, vicunas and ostrich like birds; strange rock formations; jumping through geysers; and hot springs. There were some low points too, like 5am starts on the last day, 2 punctures (well ok this added to the adventure of the tour) and Lukas' day 2 illness that wiped him out. On the final day we said goodbye to our American friends at the Chilean border (i made a brief illegal excursion into Chile) and picked up a Japanese guy called Jyunichi for the return to Uyuni. This allowed me a rare opportunity to flex my japanese muscles, and soon I was giving him renditions of every j-pop song I know, much to his bewilderment. Finally we got back at 7:30pm, on tenderhooks with no spare tyres left. Who knows
what would have happened if we'd punctured again and been stuck out in the middle of freezing nowhere in the dark.
Finally I should mention the dust. Horrible dust, everywhere amd especially bunging up your nose. It makes you appreciate England's green and pleasant land.
Anyway Potosi, the city, was founded on mining - the surrounding mountains apparently used to contain huge reserves of silver, though recently these have beem mined out. Still the mining continues with other precious metals and minerals in the region. It's possible to visit a working mine, and that's what we've got planned for tomorrow (assuming that Lukas' diarrhoea eases up!!).
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