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Published: October 10th 2009
And so to Bolivia - a big change from the places we'd been prior to this in South America. The poverty level was evident from the moment we crossed the border, however we were still greeted at each small street stall with a smile and a friendly run down of their wares (and without the high pressure sales techniques we'd experienced in South East Asia).
We had heard a few horror stories about the buses in Bolivia, and were a little anxious when we saw the state of the first bus we had to take to get to Tupiza... however it made it the 6 hours along very bumpy dirt roads in tact (as did we!).
We immediately loved Tupiza, it's relaxed and friendly and set in a lovely area. There are lovely little food stalls to have fresh fried anything on a night, and most of the restaurants do 'menu del dia' for 10 Bolivianos (about 90p!!) at lunchtime so once again we piling on the pounds! Our main aim for coming here was to explore some of the local countryside and book our onward journey to Uyuni. We decided that as we'd enjoyed our horsing around in
Cafayate that we would once again saddle up and ride 'em. We chose a five hour route (as we'd survived our three hour experience last time) and saw some lovely countryside right on Tupiza's doorstep. As this was a much more commercial enterprise (and a lot cheaper than Cafayate), the horses knew the route and led themselves (our 'guide' rode silently at the back). We really struggled to get them to do anything but walk one behind the other along the route (so no chatting side by side as we rode), they wouldn't even up the pace a little when we gave them a little nudge in the sides.
After a couple of days recovering from the nags, we headed off on a 4 day tour round Bolivia's South West corner, ending in Uyuni. There were four of us tourists, the driver/guide (Ruben) and cook (Rocky) in a Toyota Landcruiser. We had lots of leg room, even in the back, and were glad we paid a little more to tour from Tupiza, as those who toured from Uyuni got six people squished in the back. Our fellow tourists were a couple of juvenile delinquants from Holland, who turned out
to be a nice couple of lads, especially as their Spanish was much better than ours so they helped with the translation as Ruben only spoke Spanish.
Day one involved a lot of driving into what seems like an almost deserted part of Bolivia - every so often we caught a glimpse of a pack of llamas or donkeys to prove people do live out here somewhere. It was an amazing, if long and tiring day, made slightly longer by being stuck in the mud for half an hour, then getting a puncture as Ruben tried to speed along dirt roads to make up the time (more haste less speed????). We were told the lodgings were 'basic', however we were pleasantly suprised to find electricity and running water (no showers though)!
Day two was the start of travelling as a 'pack', we kept passing and meeting up with several other tours from Tupiza doing the same route, so it felt considerably less isolated. We got to see some lovely scenery again, beautiful lagoons (Lagunas Verde and Colorada) on the Chilean border, had a dip in the hot springs of Aguas Termales. Again, we were pleasantly suprised at the
accommodation, although sleeping at 5000m above sea level is pretty nippy!
Day three was day of the flamingos. Lots of lagoons in succession, with a good number of birds to snap (we did have to delete a vast number of flamingo shots afterwards!). The camera battery was holding out brilliantly, but we were getting annoyed with all the dust on the sensor - lots of Photoshopping when we get home we think!
Day four was when we reached the 'Salar de Uyuni', the highest salt flats in the World (just under 4000m above sea level - it used to be under the sea!). A vast expanse of, well, salt! We got up at the crack of dawn to watch the sun rise over the flats. Definately worth the 5am alarm call, as they are so big and flat, the sunrise is beautiful. We spent a while taking daft photos, then had a peek at the salt hotel (made of big slabs of salt), visited the area where salt is being collected for sale in Bolivia - by hand! After a short stop for lunch on the edge of the flats, in a town filled with tourist shops (selling
authentic hats 'Made in China', 100% acrylic!!!!), we headed into Uyuni for a good nights sleep.
After a couple of days recovering in Uyuni, not doing very much (as there's not much to do there), we got a bus to Potosi, the highest city in the World (over 4000m above sea level), and immediately felt the altitude. We were under the impression that this was a grubby mining town, made famous 400 years ago by the Spanish finding silver in them there hills, and importing a bunch of slaves to dig it out for them. What we found was a lovely town, with narrow cobbled streets that was a delight to stroll around. We spent a couple of days enjoying the town, then steeled ourselves for a visit to the mines. Now the silver is vastly depleted mining for other minerals continues in the same archaic conditions. The tours visit working mines, complete with tiny tunnels, rickety ladders and big changes in temperature. It wasn't something we felt we enjoyed as such, but it was a very worthwhile experience, particularly as we had an Irishman in our group who bought (legally) some dynamite that our guide blasted for us!
We're off to Sucre next, for a bit of big city living!
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