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Published: February 17th 2008
I have been in Bolivia for a little while now and it dosent disappoint. I entered through the la Quinca/Villazon border towns. I had spent 5 days in Argentina and it very nice it was too. It was a nice change from Brazil and in comparison a lot cheaper. This was lovely little bonus at this later stage of the trip.
Im not entirely sure what I did in Salta, Argentina. This is the problem with relying on a brain. I guess I did a bit of altitude acclimatisation. I liked Argentina a lot and one day i shall be back. This is the reason I didn’t head further down to Buenos Aires. Anyhow I quite like the idea of a Chile/Argentina Patagonian trip of the bike kind sometime in the future. It has all the right ingredients I suspect.
Upon leaving Salta I headed to La Quinca which is the on the Argentinain side of the Bolivian border. I think this is the 1st place I felt a little bit out of breath doing the most menial of tasks. Someone had told me to steer clear of Villazon (Bolivian border town) This was a little un fair on
Boliva because upon walking over the invisible line I was greeted by Bolivan chaos, lovely stuff! Its strange to cross a seemingly invisable line from the most developed country in Latin America to the least developed.
I love Boliva. Its by far the best country I have been to on my travels so far. As a general rule of thumb they seem to lack clarity in there thought process. For me this is a very endearing quality and one which I can relate too. Its either that or they are more bothered about making the most there life´s. The best example of this would be when I walked into a shop to buy a few beers. I say walked into but you cant really do this in Bolivia as the shop is just jam packed with anything and everything, no particular coherence. On asking for the beers the response was “sorry I cant reach them” There was no malicious tone in her voice, she really just couldn’t be overly assed to clamber over a few boxes and up a ladder. However she did send me to her friends shop next door where the beers were a little more accessible.
I love the chaos and want to laugh but having been in Bolivia for a few weeks it really is the norm.
From Villazon I got a train that snaked around the Andes to a place called Tupiza. An absolute bargain at 2 pounds . Tupiza is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid met there demise. Nice bit of pub quiz knowledge there. Apart from that there was nothing really to do or see in this town, or so I thought. In Tupiza I came across a carnival celebrating the drowning of the devil. As with most Latin American things of this ilk it lasted a solid 3 days. This was all good fun I even got to wave the flag. The Bolivans celebrate all this kind of things with what is basically white spirit. They drink to get absolutely sozzled, really sozzled. To point where my family is your family and my house is your house. This final night culminated in going to what must be the coldest nightclub I have ever been to. Its no suprise really when the place is 3000 metres in the sky. To this place it was totally appropriate to where thermals,
woolly hats and fleeces. It was a little different than an average nightclub, nevertheless mucho fun.
From Tupiza I booked myself onto a trip that went through the Bolivan part of the Andes and ended up on the Salt flats of Uyini. This trip was amazing and we found ourselves in some really isolated spots. Places that had one car between a community of 250 people. Its weird because these places really are the definition of nothingness. Its crazy to think peope actually live there. It really is just an arid dessert where nothing really grows. All they seemingly eat is Llama which coincidently is very cheap at about 4 pounds per animal. Funnily enough I had the idea of buying one and trekking along with it, sadly time is an issue.
One of the strangest things about this trip was just seeing locals walking around in the middle of nowhere herding along a few llamas. There really was no habitation for miles but they were merrily walking along with a huge lump of coca stuffed in there mouth. Another thing that seemed to be a frequent occurrence was people just cycling from village to village. Bare in
a bloke handing out leaflets demanding the return of the falklands. Thank god he didnt realise i was english, could have got a bit hairy
mind that the average village was seperated by a solid 100km or more. Also add to the equation the temperature which was rather cold when the wind chill was taken into consideration. All in all these mountain people come across as seriously hardy folk.
On the last day of the tour we ended up at the salt flats which are just miles and miles of unobstructed pristine whiteness (maybe not a word but it will do) That was that for the tour really. Not a huge fan of tours really but these places would have been just totally un accessible if I had not been with the tour. As it was I was with a good crew so it made the whole experience fun.
Once the tour had finished a few of us got the bus straight out of Uyini because it’s a bit of a hole. We went to a place called Potosi. The bus strip was quite possibly the most South American experience I have had so far. First of all the bus was 3 hours late and then on top of that it really didn’t work so well. This bus was so oversubscribed it was
amazing. I had a baby lying across my lap and then also a baby asleep underneath my seat and all the aisle was taken up by people with no seats. This would have been bad enough for 12 hours (official duration of the trip) however it took a solid 20 hours due to various breakdowns. We ended up rolling down the hill into the bus station whilst doing bunny hops. This was pretty funny as the lights only work when the ignition is on so we looked like some funky disco rolling into town. It didn’t draw many glances because I suspect this is the norm
Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4100 metres. Just walking up little hills can be rather exhausting. However my moaning pales into insignificance when you see the Bolivan army doing there morning runs through the streets of Potosi singing in full voice. I feel ill just watching it.
Potosi is a city of contrasts really. It underwrote the Spanish economy for 200 years with its huge silver reserves. The Spanish really did use and abuse this place. As of now millions of people have died working in these mines,
75% of deaths in Potosi are related to mining in one way or another. Upon entering the mines there working life on average lasts for 10 - 15 years. Its quite horrific to see little kids down there who are no more than 14-15 and thinking that when they are 30 or so there job/life will have pretty much hit a brick wall. There miners pension kicks in when there lung capacity reaches 50%, re assuring $15 dollars a month.
Tomorrow I think I am heading off on a bit of trek around the following countryside for a few days. It all Depends if I can find some cheap walking boots. Today was un successful in that sense due to some rather large gringo tax that various shop owners seemed to be implementing, swines.
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