Does Basil Fawlty run a Bolivian tour company, because I think I just went on a trip with them!!

Published: April 4th 2006
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Have just completed my first week in Bolivia and to say that getting around this country has been eventful would be an understatement!!

After crossing the border without the slightest hitch, I boarded a bus to head north to the town of Tupiza. After hearing horror stories about the state of Bolivian buses I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the vehicle - an assigned seat and a reasonable amount of legroom - although there was a definate whiff of piss coming from the aisles!!!. However, this was all to change as, after narrowly missing a fish-tailing truck heading the other way, we proceeded to have a blow-out at top speed. Luckily we ground to an unceremonious halt on the road, rather than in the scary looking ditch!! Anyhow, the conductor hitched a ride back to where we had come and a new bus was whistled up with only a couple of hours delay!!

Jacked-up vehicles has become a theme of my time in Bolivia and it continued with my four day tour of the Salar de Uyuni and Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa.

The agency I went with seemed pretty good, their guestbook was full
Our high quality jeep!!Our high quality jeep!!Our high quality jeep!!

Honestly Luis, you can't mend it on the side of the road. "Tranquilo, Tranquilo". Grrrrrrrrrrrr
of rave reviews of the great food and the friendly guides. However, about four hours into the first of four days on the road an innocuous looking bump lead to our right rear wheel literally shearing off!!! Even though I'm not much of a mechanic myself, I could tell that things looked pretty terminal. Integral and very important-looking pieces of metal had literally snapped apart, and the bemused face of our driver Luis didn't inspire any extra confidence!!!

Our truck wasn't equipped with a radio, and no other jeeps were expected to pass through, so Luis set off on foot to find the nearest village with a radio, and rustle up some help. As darkness fell it became clear that we would be spending a night out in the open!! One of the guys had a tent, so me and him kipped in there, while the rest of the group tried to make the best of it sleeping inside the truck. Everyone had a pretty rough time of it, and it got very cold during the night - our tent was covered with ice when we awoke.

Anyway, at about 6.30am the replacement truck arrived and the Sun
Sunrise (apologies of you're getting bored of them!!)Sunrise (apologies of you're getting bored of them!!)Sunrise (apologies of you're getting bored of them!!)

What a surprise, another sunrise makes it into my photo collection!!
came up to warm our aching bodies. However, the cowboy's that were our tour company hadn't finished monkeying around, as they insisted that the wheel could be mended and we would be on our way in the original truck. "Tranquilo, tranquilo", (be calm, be calm), was their stock sentence, as we tried to point out that there was no way we were getting back into that truck and we wanted to carry on in the replacement. The guides and mechanics insisted that the replacement truck wasn't suitable to complete the rest of the journey, and that they would have the original truck fixed, "no problemo".

A couple of hours later they deemed the original jeep ready to go again. We all clambered in and set off. Fifteen minutes later, surprise surprise, the wheel sheared off again and we ground once more to a halt. This time the Bolivian's admitted defeat, but miraculously in that fifteen minute journey the replacement truck had gone from being unsuitable for the trip to being our saviour and the vehicle we would continue in - hmmmmmmmm!!

We set off in the replacement with a fresh driver, Oscar, and he gently nursed the truck
Arbol de PiedraArbol de PiedraArbol de Piedra

Me posing with the Rock Tree. I thought it was one of the highlights of the trip to see this bizarrely shaped rock rising majestically from the otherwise barren altiplano.
to were we would be sleeping for the night. It was a basic Hospedajae but it had actual beds with layers upon layers of blankets, and semed like heaven after our previous night's sleep!!

We later found out that the replacement truck was from 1982 and was so old that it had been retired from service with the company and wasn't supposed to do the trips anymore!! However, it made it to the end of the trip (just about), and we got to have some good experiences and view some great scenery along the way:

We played exhausting, high altitude football with the local kids in one of the tiny villages where we stopped for lunch, and we visited the Pueblo Phantasm (Ghost Town), a large mining settlement that had been decimated by an incurable plaugue, which led to the villagers fleeing and the town now lies in ruins.

On the third day we visted Lagunas Blanca and Verde which were both very cold and windy, and I bathed in the "Hot Springs" next to the former which were decidedly lukewarm!! I don't think I've ever towelled off and changed as quickly as when I left those
Bus to TupizaBus to TupizaBus to Tupiza

This could be a common sight for me in Bolivia!!!

One of the major sights on the tour is the Laguna Colorada (Coloured Lake), which is an enourmous mirror lake surrounded by mountains and inhabited by masses of flamingoes. We were there in the early morning sunlight, and when the flamingoes took off and flew en-masse it was a great sight.

One of my favourite sights was the Arbol de Piedra (Rock Tree), a strange, wind eroded rock in the middle of the altiplano that looks like it might topple over at any time. Needless to say it didn't (despite our best efforts!!).

The obvious highlight of the tour was the Salar de Uyuni itself. The largest and highest salt lake in the world, its the main reason we were willing to bump along in a decrepid jeep for five days. On the final morning we were out mega-early to watch the sun-rise over the Salar. Unfortunately, the sky had clouded over quite a lot and so the sun-rise was a bit of an anti-climax!! However, as the Sun rose the clouds burned away and we got to experience the Salar in great weather. The first stop was for breakfast at the Hotel de Sal, a
The future of Bolivian football!!!The future of Bolivian football!!!The future of Bolivian football!!!

The tough tackling kids of the altiplano.
building made (except for the roof) entirely of salt. We were sitting on salt chairs and eating off salt tables!!

Fuelled by breakfast we were then ready to experience the Salar properly. Its like no other landscape i've ever experienced, but it wasn't quite what i expected. I thought that standing in the middle of the Salar you would be able to see nothing but white salt stretching in all directions and melding with the horizon. However, because on some sides the Salar is surrounded by high mountains, if you look in those directions you can gain some sort of perspective. However, this is easily solved by just looking in a direction where there aren't any mountains and when you do that you really don't know where the ground finishes and the sky begins. Its a really amazing experience.

Because this incredible whiteness streches so far, its very difficult to judge distances which is quite a strange feeling. It also creates the opportunity for taking lots of silly photos - which we did with aplomb!

I also managed to pick up another travelling scar when trying to complete a one-handed handstand on the salt flats. I wasn't
Pueblo PhantasmPueblo PhantasmPueblo Phantasm

The ghost town we visited.
entirely succesful, and fell over backwards scraping a huge chunk out of my forearm. Wearing a T-shirt while trying to do this handstand was probably not the best idea as a salt graze is, unsurpisingly, quite a painful thing to experience!! The phrase rubbing salt in the wound has never been so appropriate!!!

Overall, it was a poor tour with a dodgy company (Valle Hermosa Tours based in Tupiza). But our stomachs were kept placated as the food was sensational throughout. Our cook Elizabeth was amazing (never has the case for a mail-order bride been so strong!!!), and we made the best of it as a group and had some fun. I'll definately be looking back at this tour as an "experience"!!!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 13, Displayed: 13


Road to NowhereRoad to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere

We got used to these kind of views as it took our battered jeep an absolute age to get anywhere!!!
Mirror LakeMirror Lake
Mirror Lake

I have to admit I can't remember the name of this lake that we passed!!!
Hotel de Sal (Salt Hotel)Hotel de Sal (Salt Hotel)
Hotel de Sal (Salt Hotel)

We took down a good brekky here after a dawn start got us onto the Salar.
Know your limits Mark!!!Know your limits Mark!!!
Know your limits Mark!!!

After a succesfully completed handstand, I got cocky and tried to do a one-handed version, with painful results!!!
Strange going on in the SalarStrange going on in the Salar
Strange going on in the Salar

It seems I gained some balancing skills.

5th April 2006

gotta love the tranquilo attitude
I loved that trip when I did it. People have been known to die from the cold when they get stranded on the salar. It has one of the highest daily temperature variations in the world i think. I think I might have even had the same guide as you when I did it. His name was Luis and his girlfriend (at the time) was our cook. With great food too, my favourite was chips with eggs and pieces of steak and other stuff. They were both young and we had similar problems of several flat tyres and getting stuck in sand etc along the way.
6th April 2006

album front cover
if you ever make it as a muscian (and althought the hair is coming on i think the musical talent probably needs some major work for this to happen) you have your debut album front cover right here! great pointless jumping on a salt flat. beautiful!

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