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Published: June 24th 2010
With a new emergency travel document, we hopped on an overnight bus to the town of Uyuni. Nothing could have prepared us for the cold we felt on the bus or for the freezing temperatures we were to experience over the following nights. It was baltic, despite the five layers of tops, leg warmers, leggings, woolly socks and tracksuit bottoms!
We arrived into the tiny town of Uyuni at 5am and it wasn't long before we had a tour organised to the salt flats. Our group was quite European, made up of a Spaniard, Italian, Belgian, Portuguese and Irish! Our driver/guide/cook took us off to the spectacular Salar de Uyuni in his little jeep. This place is huge, covering 12000 squared kilometers. The salt beamed white as snow and with the sun shining down from the clear blue sky, it was breathtaking. We spent hours on the salt flats, walking around, exploring what once used to be islands on this huge lake and then watched a fabulous sunset. That night we stayed in a salt hotel.
The following morning, we were up at the crack of dawn to set off in our jeep away from the salt flats, to discover more
of Bolivia's beautiful landscape. Over the next couple of days we saw volcanoes, lagoons and lots of amazing wild life. We watched the sun rise over spurting geysers and dipped in the hot spring baths to warm up from the icy four degrees celsius outside.
Of course it wasn't all fun and games over the three days; now that would just be boring. Our jeep troubles began on day two, when, in the middle of the dessert, it just wouldn't start. We all hopped out and after a good push we got it going again - minor glitch. However, the troubles continued the following morning. We set off at 4am in the pitch black and as we drove along the unpaved roads towards the geysers, the bumpy ride proved too much for our jeep and the connection from the battery to the lights failed. In the meantime, we came across a broken down car in which two ladies and a child were stranded. They were trying to cross over to the Chilean border, (in the middle of the night - ask no questions) so we packed them into our less than road worthy jeep and drove to Chile.
we arrived at the border we got a flat tyre, so the boys changed that between them while the girls chatted and looked on. The flat tyre was replaced by a bald tyre! Now I know I don’t clain to know much about cars but I do know that's not too safe.
Once we reached the border we found an Austrian stranded there, looking for a lift back to Uyuni and like the good Samaritan's we are, we took him along with us. All of these little problems were just warming us up for what lay ahead. As we were motoring along the dirt road on our way back to Uyuni, car coming against us, the bonnet opened, completely obstructing all vision. When we shouted at the driver to stop, we discovered that the brakes had failed! Our lives flashed before our eyes before he managed to regain control by dropping down through the gears.
All in all, it was an amazing tour, but we were happy to get back to Uyuni in one piece. It was time to say goodbye to Bolivia; we just made a quick stop in Tupiza to watch an uneventful and uninspiring Portuguese match before
continuing on to the Argentine border.
Entry into this country wasn't quite as smooth as it has been into others. Some attention was raised by immigrations about this new emergency travel document but thankfully after a bit of a delay and having our bags searched, they let us through.
The difference between Argentina and any of the other South American countries we've been to was immense. Everything from the nice, comfortable buses, organised stations, timetables running to schedule, clean streets, paved roads; it was a world away from what we were coming from. The chaos that we had become used to and had grown to love was missing. It would take us a while to get back into the swing of this organised society. However, the scam artists will never leave us. We were charged for putting our bags onto the bus and then charged again to take them back off!
Our first stop in Argentina was the city of Salta and of course, the first thing we did there was head straight for some delicious steak and red wine, the start of a trend that I think will continue on right through Argentina.
We timed our arrival perfectly to
the World Cup and joined in with the Argentine's celebration of their four, one victory over Korea. The atmosphere was electric and the screams grew louder and louder as each goal was scored. After the match, the crowds spilt into the streets, waving flags and beeping horns. We walked around town to soak up the atmosphere only to discover that there was a town festival taking place that day. Thousands of men, women and children, dressed in old fashioned clothes led a parade on horseback. There were street performers, balloon sellers, food vendors and a big stage set up right in the centre of town. It was a fantastic time to be in Salta.
After another juicy steak we made our way to the bus station where our eighteen hour bus ride to Mendoza awaited us. Word had it that DHL had released my passport and that it was en route to Santiago, Chile. So, once we arrived in Mendoza, we immediately made enquiries as to how to get there only to find out that the border crossing has been closed indefinitely!
Mendoza produces 70% of Argentina's wine and with the vineyards only an hour away from the city centre,
we took a bus to Mr Hugo's for a 'Bikes and Wine tour' of the area. We met a lovely group of people out at Mr Hugo's and after a few glasses of wine we all headed off together to visit the wineries of Maipu. We cycled around a lot and did even more wine sampling before stopping off for a big bbq by one of the vineyards and then heading back to Mr Hugo's for some of his own homemade wine. We stayed there for quite a few hours until Mr Hugo kindly walked us to the bus stop and put us on the bus back to Mendoza. Fun times.
After a few days in Mendoza, eating steak and drinking wine, the Chilean border reopened so we took a minivan to Santiago. It was a spectacular drive up through the snow covered Andean mountains and what made it all the sweeter was that my passport was waiting for us on the other side.
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