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Published: January 26th 2013
The landscape started to change a little bit on a way to Tupiza. The soil started to look a little bit reddish and different vegetation appeared out of nowhere. Tupiza region is said to look like an American wild-wild west, however we cannot judge as this part of the world is still ahead of us to discover. We stopped only once on a way for some ‘almuerzo’
and toilet and even though there was a pretty decent restaurant with FREE banos, majority of locals from our bus went straight to the hard shoulder and just did their business. What the hell? Even woman, who are usually shy of such situations, would lift up their vast, multi-layered skirts and just squat on the ground. Well, maybe in our society it is called ‘private’ business but definitely not here. This is why this place smells like a giant urinal. We noticed that already in Tarabuco but did not think much of it. You cannot make a rule of one thing, right. Let’s just say it was not an exception.
For some reason we imagined Tupiza
to be something different than what we saw. It was really, really small, looked undeveloped and poor.
Normally, places that serve as major tour-starting point are filled with modern establishments to care for homesick tourists. Don’t get us wrong – we liked it much better that way. The only thing that was beyond our understanding was the number of Italian restaurants around. Does it make any business sense to offer exactly the same product or service as literally everybody in town?? Daaaa!!! No, of course not. It is needless to say that if you don’t like their pizza or ‘kind-of’ pasta you can only eat Bolivian dishes, which are not easy to find and are also pretty poor option.
Well, we were in town only to take a long awaited 4 day tour to Uyuni. Many people recommended to do it from Tupiza as this way you experience so much more, see many more exquisite landscapes and generally get more for your money. However, backpackers must be aware that it would hit their budget … hard!!! We decided to stay in a rather expensive (as for Bolivia) but really gorgeous Hotel Mitru
, with fabulous buffet breakfast and swimming pool access included in the 120B/18$ price. I still was not up for any trekking and wanted to
get better before we would take a tour. Tupiza Tours - the biggest and the oldest agency in town was located in the same building as our hotel. We have heard so much good about them that we only went to check one other agency. As prices and itinerary was pretty much the same, we booked it with Tupiza Tours
(4 days, 1300B/190$pp without entrance fees).
We got ourselves some snacks, coca leaves, and extra water (just in case) before we were ready to go. We got to share our jeep with a lovely French couple – Phil and Chloe and we hit it off immediately. We were warned that we might not be able to get into the Sol de Manana National Park
as villagers were striking to get more income from all the tourism that is passing through their villages. Apparently protests are just such a normal thing in Bolivia. They just go out, barricade streets and hope for better. We did not like that prospect however there was very little we could have done about it at the time.
The first day was a magnificent adventure of riding through massive canyons, valleys and mountain tops.
Tupiza region is just breathtaking and we can now understand what others meant by saying that one misses much if taking a tour from Uyuni. We also drove through little villages and farms and landscape together with vegetation were changing every hour or so – incredible. At lunch time we learnt that we actually share services of our lovely cook with another team, because they had to bring an English speaking guide with them. It was fine by us, the more the merrier. We met 3 more Australians (a couple and a doctor) and 1 very loud, yet funny, Italian guy. It was mentioned to us that we would be sleeping in a very basic accommodation but when we arrived in San Pablo
village we discovered how basic. It was all fine as people who offered us their house where really kind and besides it might have been very important part of their income to have us around. We thought it was a great way of helping local communities, really. Not that agencies have any other choice but nevertheless nice.
The second day we were supposed to drive into the National Park and we all our fingers crossed as
we really eagerly wanted to see the magnificent lagoons and flamingos in the wild. One of the guys from the other jeep even suggested to bribe them with 50-100$ so that we can get in. Yes, we could all chip in but this kind of thing does not create the right behavior towards tourists. However, we were lucky!!! There were no barricades and no protests but also nobody at the ticket booth. Why would they work in a time of strike? This way we all got away with paying 20$ fee and were about to see something incredible. We visited some ancient Inca town on a way that took us to the elevation of 4800m already. Wow, that was high. We felt great though – chewing coca leaves really helped us although not everybody wanted to do so. That was when two guy in the other car got really ill (including doc who did not want to chew leaves) and poor them, they did not enjoy themselves from now on. This is a thing about altitude sickness – everybody has different reaction and tolerance for it. It does not matter where you are from and how fit you are, it
just happens. What we can really recommend to everybody is not to just take the tour during a first 5-7 days after arriving in Bolivia. Really, take time to adjust as otherwise it is a waste of money, time and opportunity to see something amazing.
We were driven from a lagoon to a lagoon, all of different names, colors, sizes and shapes. It got quite boring to be honest after the 10th
one but the best one was kept till the end. The only thing we could not get enough was sight of flamingos. There are 4 different kinds of them living in the park and they are all graciously stunning. Our driver first rushed to the Huayla village
to secure our accommodation and then we could spend some time the astonishing Laguna Colorado
, which was enlisted for 7 wonders of the World but not chosen by public. What a view that was, we cannot even explain. We just stared and stared and smiled. It is truly magnificent. This was the first place that we encountered so many other tour groups. The closer you get to Chilean border and to Uyuni, the more people you are going to see.
That is why the rushing for a hostel. We had another fine evening, ate great food and played cards till late at night. It started to be really cold and even at the thought of shower we cringed. Good, cause there weren’t any till the next day!!!
The third day was also filled with lagoons, canyons, flamingos and little villages but we really enjoyed geysers, which we could get really close to. We managed to see some wild animals (rabbit, desert fox, vecunias ) and loads of lamas. They are so cute and reminded us of camels, actually. We also had a stop at hot springs where we witnessed panic attack of some girl. She could not grasp air and thought she was suffocating. She scared the shit out of many people. Again, the effects of altitude sickness are sometimes unpredictable. That afternoon we had to rush because getting first to a good salt hotel was very crucial. Our driver made sure we come first so that we could get the one and only 4-people room and secure line to shower. As we found out later others had to share their room even with people from other tours –
we were lucky. Taking a hot shower after 3 full days was also something haha It felt so good on our skin. Before arriving at the hotel we managed to stop in a village and but some wine and bear for the evening. It was the last one to share with our new friends so we decided to splash 7$ for a bottle of red.
I cannot say it tasted bad but weird, different. Then I remembered a documentary I watched last year about taste buds at certain altitudes. One of the British Chefs (I think it was Heston Blumenthal) actually proved the fact that it is not a plane food that is bad but our taste buds work differently at high altitudes. The salt hotel we were staying in was at the edge of the Uyuni Salt Flats
which meant pretty high up. It was surprisingly very comfortable and …. warm. I spent the whole evening sitting in just my sandals and I did not feel cold at all, while in the other hotels it was just freezing. Probably the wine helped as well haha We had a blast but had to go to bed early to be
able to get up for sunrise … again. No shower for days, altitude sickness and no sleep for 3 nights … this trip is not for everybody, I suppose.
We only had one more place to see really - salt flats and it really looked incredibly beautiful with rising sun at 5:30 in the morning. Although I just hate doing anything before breakfast and my coffee we climbed the cactus mountain (45min, 15B/2$) for the best views of Uyuni flats. Again there was a fight for space because this is a spot where all tours take their breakfast. Madness and it was not even in the high season. We could not believe that some of the cactuses had more than 1800 years (they grow 1cm a year) and they just randomly sit there on the island in the middle of white wilderness. How come nobody ever destroyed them? People in Bolivia use them to make furniture etc It was really bizarre but stunning view was one of its kind. After that we only had some silly, touristy stuff to do – photos with the white background of us doing funny things. It took us probably 2h to go through
all of our ideas – some came up great and some were silly, but overall great fun.
When they dropped us in Uyuni, we were not surprised by its looks. We had read that it was quite unappealing as for such major tour hub. Sounds similar to Tupiza actually. We had to kill few hours while waiting for our night bus but we still had a company of Phil and Chloe so it was fun. They were headed down to Chile and we were going to Cochabamba next. Good stuff always has to come to an end…. Additional Note: We already made a review of Tupiza Tours online but we can strongly recommend them for this particular trip. They are experienced; they know what they do and how to do it to make it right. With all the horror stories you hear about agencies dealing with Uyuni tours it is important to choose wisely. We cannot stress enough how important experience is in this area. On our second day we met people stranded in a canyon because the car suspension broke and they could not move on. Tupiza Tours sends another car in an event like that
and we did not see those people in a village where they were supposed to arrive at night so maybe they were forced to sleep there – scary. Our driver drove in a very safe way, stopped whenever we asked for it and tried really hard to spot animals on the way. As I already mentioned he always made sure we got best accommodation available (they are not to be reserved and work on ‘first arrived, first served’ basis). Our cook was fabulous too. She was getting up every day around 3 am to cook us fresh lunch, made us snacks, gave us lollypops and food was plenty and delicious, really. We thought water allowance was enough as well and we know that people often complain about this.
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