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Published: October 5th 2011
Our hostel in Humahuaca had excellent heating. As good as it was it had left us unprepared for how cold it was outside – cold enough for me to consider a jumper. Here, though, adversity is a business opportunity – the hot empanadas the lady at the bus station were piping hot and fantastic, if perhaps a little salty for some.
Getting the bus to La Quiaca, the last town on the Argentinian side, was pretty straightforward. 28 pesos (around $7) for a 2 hour trip. Once there it was a simple matter of grabbing a taxi to go the couple of ks to the border itself – it can be walked, but... we took a taxi coz we're lazy.
It took a little while to get out of Argentina – the queue wasn't huge, but it also wasn't moving. Entry into Bolivia was easy, and we got our 90 day visa stamp. This was disappointing, in a way. We had been told (that is, read in in the Lonely Planet) that it was 30 days only, so we had planned accordingly, and left our entry into Bolivia later than we might have liked. Had we known we might
have spent longer in Bolivia – if nothing else it was going to be significantly cheaper.
We were on our way to Tupiza
, and we knew that there was no ATM there, so we had to find that in Villazon, the town on the Bolivian side. Villazon was typically Bolivian – casually interesting, if you can imagine what that means. That is, there was a lot going on, but nothing out of the ordinary. People sitting, chatting, others out shopping, a bike race finishing or starting in the main square. It was also cheap- the bus to Tupiza was 15 pesos each (about $2), and our three course menu del dia was similarly priced.
The bus station in Villazon was basically a wide bit in the street, inhabited by street vendors, bus ticket hawkers and dogs. The buses making the run to Tupiza were just brilliant. Our bus rolled up with the rumble of a massive diesel V8, like something out of Mad Max, with more clearance than a monster truck. And it needed to be tough.
The country we headed through was awesome. Broken, red, brown, dusty and much of it with no particular road. Well,
there was one, but it appeared that there was a massive capital works project on – it was all roadworks.
Tupiza looked like its name suggested – a no nonsense sort of place, but with a friendly feel. We were already noticing how much friendlier Bolivians were compared with south of the border. From here we booked a 4 day tour of the Salar de Uyuni, and we had one more day to kill. We hunted around, a little bit. Well, not at all actually – we booked a horse ride for the next day from the hostel we were at.
I suspected at the time, and still do, that my dad's and my love for Westerns, both in paper and celluloid, meant our keenness level for the 5 hour horse ride through the desert far outstripped that of our fellow travellers. Still, I think we all enjoyed it.
We were met my a child in the morning. Short, skinny, he sidled up in his baggy shorts and flat brimmed cap on sideways, and greeted us with a laconic “buenos dias” He could almost have been Mexican. We figured he was the kid designated to take us
to where we would meet the guide for the trail ride.
He was, in fact, the guide. No more than 14, he was pretty cool but did seem to have difficulty putting his hat on straight and pulling his pants up – a growing problem among the youth of Latin America.
We were each issued with horses – our guide had a donkey. Klaire ended up with a slow and dependable mare called Esmerelda, I had young Gaucho. We each got a dodgy leather hat to wear – none of the safety gear apparent here, except of course for some basic chaps to stop the thorns and sticks going through the stirrups and stabbing the horse. What followed was a good five hour ride through the the dusty red canyons around Tupiza. This was the sort of country Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rode around in, before they annoyed the Bolivian army by sticking up a mining payroll. As Ché found later, annoying the Bolivian army can have tragic consequences.
And it was beautiful country. Narrow box canyons leading to shady oases, long dry washes hemmed in by low dry hill, the occasional arroyo leading off
into the desert with faint game trails leading the eye deeper into the wilderness.
Keeping pace with us for most of the day were a bunch of gung ho Israelis, all of whom had a lot of trouble sitting a horse. Even so, they were constantly urging their horses into a canter, and then bouncing around in the their saddles like so many sacks of potatoes. Arrogant and irritating, they caused Israelis to go straight to the top as the most arrogant annoying bunch of youth. It may just be the fact that they are youth, but I don't think so.
If I may say so, an excellent day out, and very easy on the hip-pocket.
We returned home to pack for our salt flat adventure, and bid a sad farewell. It was the end of the line for my reliable Dalponte futsal shoes.
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