James, Laura and mutant bed bugs !!

Published: May 31st 2013
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So, we left you last at Donde Rita's on Monday 13th May planning to go camping for a night under the stars. We then got a message from our good mates James Mills and Laura Harris in Tupizia, Bolivia saying their flight home is booked for a week on Friday and they want to do the salt flat tour with us, which gave us until Wednesday at the latest to get to them and start the 4day salt flat tour from Tupizia, Bolivia to Uyuni also in Bolivia.

After spending hours on the Internet and reading the lonely planet back to front we had little information about the boarder crossings and bus times to go off.

Chile isn't like Argentina, they don't seem to have any bus company information or times on the Internet, even the companies that do have websites you can't book any tickets on unless your from Chile, for some reason. So we had to go on the information from one random traveller's blog off the internet and a small piece in the lonely planet saying a bus company called Geminis go from Antofagasta, Chile on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, back into Argentina to a place called
Salta and that way we could cross the boarder at a place called La Quica and from there into Bolivia to James & Laura. Although it would be kind of the long way round for us it seemed it was the only route that we could take.

We chose to sack off the camping that night and leave ASAP even though we were both thinking we would get stuck in Antofagasta but we agreed worst case scenario would be we could carry on north through Chile and go on the salt flat tour ourselves and meet James and Laura at the end for a short 2 days before they have to leave. We really wanted to do the salt flat tour with them though so we went for it.

That 2 day journey we embarked on was THE hardest and most painful thing we've done so far, a lot worse than the W trek and we nearly split up about 50 times but it was definitely worth it in the end. Being miles and miles away from home, hearing 'Eyup!' and seeing two of your best mates looking very well and getting to celebrate their engagement and hearing all their stories and tales about countries they've been to definitely made up for those 2 days.

I'll not bore you with the details but literally every frigging town we went to didn't have a bus where we wanted to go to next, although the town we left before insisted that it did. We ended up in a massive shithole in the end called Calama where we could get a bus the morning after into Argentina and onto James & Laura in Bolivia. To be fair Calama wasn't that bad, I'd liken it to a Bolivian waking up in a place like Scunthorpe although that night we did have the best sandwich anyone's ever eaten. Massive tea cakes / bread cakes (Barnsley market style, the size of your head) with either fish, steak or a burger on. I went for steak, Loz went for fish then on top of that was two fried eggs, tomatoes, cheese, ham, guacamole and chips. Mega monster!

We eventually got to La Quica, the border of Argentina and Bolivia at 6am and it was absolutely freezing as we crossed on foot to Bolivia and got a bus to Tupiza that I very nearly missed
after buying a bowl full of spicy stew and pasta from this old woman's stall and the bus setting off with Loz screaming at me out of the door with one leg on the bus and one leg off. I managed to leg it after it though and got the bus to stop with minimum spillage.

Although literally just over a bridge from each other the difference from Argentina to Bolivia was vast. Everything from the buildings, to the people, to cars, to goods in shops changed dramatically.

We got to Tupiza about 10am and Loz was complaining of a bad stomach although she said she wasn't sure if it was the altitude, the stew we'd just had or anticipation of seeing Mills & Harris. We walked into the hostal James & Laura told us they were staying at both giddy as kippers at seeing our mates. Then the woman on the desk told us they had checked out, we told her they couldn't have then she checked her papers and said that they hadn't checked out, they'd just gone for breakfast. So after we both nearly had a heart attack that we'd eventually made it all that
way in such a short space of time and they'd gone and left us we explained that we wanted to surprise them and get a room next to theirs. 'Oh a surprise?' The woman said. 'Ok when a they come back I say 'YOUR FRIENDS ARE HERE!' I was like 'no, don't say anything!' She said 'ok, when a they come back, I say YOUR FRIENDS ARE NEARLY HERE!' Again I told her not to say anything but I didn't hold my breath! Then after we'd had a shower the woman came running rough the hostal shouting 'Miguel!! Miguel!! Your friends are coming!!' And sure enough as we peeked through the window Mills and Harris were walking towards us getting the key out of their pocket for their room. They weren't expecting us at the bus station until later that afternoon so we all had a good laugh when we jumped out of our room next to theirs to surprise them. James had grown a beard far superior to mine whilst on his travels and after asking him how long he'd been growing it and him saying only 5 weeks, mine had to come off after giving it a go of nearly 2 months and it still looking shit.

We then went to the bar next door and drank the place dry of red wine and went to book us on the 4 day salt flat tour that left the morning after and bought a 2litre bottle of rum for £6 to take with us, totally ignoring the advice of not drinking whilst at altitude.

The morning after at 8am we were off on the salt flat tour in our home for the next 4 days - a Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4 that we took to naming Jean-Claude. The driver we had was a burly Bolivian bloke called Freddie who had a mouthful of gold teeth, tattoos all over his hands and a gob full of cocoa leaves and next to him in the front seat was our cook/godsend for the duration, Nilda. We booted it out of town and up the dirt track over boulders and rivers and had 2 near death experiences in the first couple of hours when a couple of trucks were coming the other way to us as we were going round a blind bend with a sheer drop at the side of us. We all absolutely bricked it but it must be the norm over here as Nilda didn't flinch at all and Freddie just carried on as normal. Thankfully though those first couple of hours were the only real hair-raising moments and the rest of the tour was class as we burned rubber through the vast dusty land. The views were brilliant and we passed wild llamas and other wildlife, one llama even blocked our path and wouldn't let us past without a photo or two!

Nilda's food on the tour was absolutely amazing she got up at 4am every morning to cook our food for the day, on the first afternoon we had a vegetable stew with rice then when we got to our base camp for the night we had a 3 course meal of veg soup, steak and chips and fruit and I spent the whole night farting like mad with James saying he had actually missed me up until that point. The morning after we woke up to a massive breakfast of cereals and bananas and toast and walked out of our bunk to 2ft of SNOW!

Nobody could believe it, even Freddie and Nilda were outside taking pictures with us as they couldn't believe their eyes either. It was absolutely bucketing it down and everything we were meant to see that day like the multi coloured lakes and volcanoes were just covered in snow and we were unable to see a thing but we did have a laugh bombing through the thick snow in Jean-Claude. One 4x4 even got stuck in the snow as we had to turn back from our route as it was getting that bad. We decided to sack off the sight seeing for that afternoon, prey for better weather and head for the natural hot springs that we all jumped into after rolling in the snow first. It was class but we could only spend 20mins in them as they were full of sulphur and any more than 20mins and apparently you'd end up looking like Freddie Kruger!

We then headed for our camp that night whilst driving past hundreds of flamingos fishing in the snow. We got to camp and Nilda got the brews on and biscuits out and we got the rum out and playing cards and nicked all the biscuits from this other French group that were in the camp with us. We got the iPod out and stayed up playing cards with a massive debate on the rules between James and me (I'm telling you Mills, king changes direction!) we eventually stumbled to bed and during the night I got up to go to the toilet and saw what I thought were mutant bed bugs in my sleeping bag - bright neon green flashing bed bugs crawling all over my sleeping bag. I watched them for ages before getting up to go to the toilet and putting the experience down to too much rum at high altitude. We got up for breakfast of pancakes and jam and opened the curtains to see that it had snowed even more! As Freddie was backing Jean-Claude out of the camp I started to tell the gang about the mutant bed bugs that were in my sleeping bag last night, James laughed and said that he had got up for the toilet and saw the same things then realised it was just the static electricity that was crackling together. So much for my Bolivian mutant bed bugs I'd been watching for about an hour!

We pounded through the snow that
day past all sorts of weird volcanic rocks that just looked like they'd come off Mars and hundreds more flamingos and llamas and stopped for dinner sheltered by a canyon that had loads of chinchilla looking things that kept running up and nicking the roast chicken dinner Nilda was getting ready. We then headed for our camp that night that was a hotel completely made of salt. Salt walls, salt roof, salt tables, salt beds even a salt bar! We polished off the rum and got the cards out (I'm telling you James, king changes direction!!!) and Nilda cooked up a storm of spaghetti bolognaise with cheese then we went to bed early as we were to get up at 5am the morning after to watch the sun rise over the salt flat desert.

The salt flats are incredible. It's like I'd imagine to being stood on the moon with just a white dusty, weirdly hexagon shaped floor for as far as you could see - 4,086 square miles of salt and Freddie told us that the salt was 20mts thick for the entire desert! That's a lot of salt.

We then headed for an island in the middle of the desert that was full of cactuses, one of which was the tallest and oldest cactus in the world at over 850 years old, it was frigging massive! We then got off the island and had breakfast of homemade cake (I never once saw an oven?!) and cereal and headed back to the vast salt flats past big cracks in the floor that you could see the formation of the crystallised salt then we pulled up and had a laugh taking some cool pictures and playing a game that Freddie made up where we all got blind folded and had to do our best to walk in a straight line, it sounds easy but nobody did it, some veered to the left, some veered to the right and Loz actually did a full circle and ended up where she started! At first I was a bit dubious to being blind folded in the desert by Freddie and I made him promise he wouldn't rob us blind whilst we were doing this and he didn't so were all good.

After that we headed for a town called Uyuni where our tour ended and we got out and said our
goodbyes to Freddie and Nilda and got the next direct bus out of Uyuni as it was 10times more of a dump than Calama!

I should say at this point that anyone wanting to do the salt flat tour should definitely go with Tupizia Tours, after hearing horror stories of drunk drivers and bogus company's Freddie & Nilda were class cooking up a storm and letting us have our music blasting whilst off-roading.

We decided from Uyuni to head to Bolivia's 2nd capital city called Sucre known as the Blanco City because of all its big bright white buildings. That bus was at 8pm and as we got to Uyuni at 1pm we had a few hours to kill so we went to a pub and ordered some pints and some pizzas to pass the time and didn't get charged for the pizzas so we legged it onto the bus!

We got into Sucre around 4am with everyone dying for the toilet and the bus station being closed. It seems you can forget about having toilets on buses in Bolivia, which can pose certain problems when your on them for over 8 hours! We all relieved ourselves round the
back of the bus station then headed into town to find a hostal that would let us in at such unholy hour. James and Laura scoped one out that would let us in and despite them quoting one price then charging another when we checked out a few days later it was quite nice.

We all then got our first shower in nearly a week and went to bed. After we woke up we booked on a waterfall walk for the day after with a company called Condor Tours, a non-profit organisation with all the money going to the local orphanages. We could have done the walk ourselves if we had any directions but decided to go with Condor as in their headquarters was a cafe that did some unbelievably nice big pasties for 80p and they also gave us a packed lunch on the trek so we were bang up for a pack-up of pasties whilst on our walk. When we got to the Condor place the morning after the woman said that along with our Bolivian guide, Elvis, there would be a volunteer that would be coming along for the walk too. As James and me were purring over having some more pasties for dinner a tall American man in his 60's introduced himself as Rick, a volunteer that would be joining us for the day and gave us our packed lunch that we were to have once we got to the waterfalls - a salad.

James was having none of it though so went and bought 2 pasties to compensate.

Rick was the kind of bloke that anyone from anywhere could take to. He was a Grandad from Iowa of 7 grandkids and had a company that made herbal products and spices that he had sold in the U.S a few years ago so spent his time travelling round the world to wiered and wonderful countries helping out where he could. He was good friends with the owners of the Condor company and was in Sucre to organise a litter pick-up of the local area a few days after our walk. It seemed he knew absolutely everything about everything but never came across as big headed or know it all'ish and never looked to impose himself on our group trying to tell us things we didn't want to know, a really top, top bloke. Just an old boy that fancied a walk and meeting new people. Even James took to him after his first impression of giving him a salad! Rick was also a decent music fan and was into his blues so him and me chewed each others ear off about practically everything the whole way there and the whole way back. It was baking hot as we were walking and also plain to see why Rick was organising a litter pick-up as it was strewn all over the hills and along the paths and the river had a fair few plastic bottles floating in it aswell. I said something like how can the local people have something as beautiful as the landscape they live in and be so stupid to go and chuck crap all over it. Rick said that it wasn't that they were stupid, just totally uneducated. He said that as Bolivia is the poorest country in South America it has a real problem with basic education. Education on litter, the prevention of spreading diseases and simple rules of the road virtually don't exist. I went on to tell him how bad the roads were when we were in South
Africa, he said that it figures as the Bolivian and South African government are similarly bad. He said no matter how many times you see these adverts on the telly asking you to send money to places that need it, it all boils down to bad government, good government can keep people rich and bad government can keep people poor. He said the richer the country the less litter there's likely to be, there'll be less diseases and fewer road accidents...simple really.

The water at the waterfalls was absolutely freezing so I was taking my time getting in when James ran past and bombed in the deep bright blue water and not to be outdone I followed, then we both climbed up some rocks at the side of the waterfall and bombed in, even Loz and Harris braved the cold water before we stopped for our salad.

On the way back at the top of a big hill we walked up was a little shop where James bought a coke and the woman opened the glass bottle and poured it into a plastic bag and put a straw in?! We later found out that this is because the shop will get some money back if they return the glass bottles. For me this seems a bit backwards that they get some money back for recycling the glass bottles, then putting all the pop they sell in plastic bags?! I suppose again though this is another uneducated example of how backwards things can be.

We got back that afternoon and as we only had a day left with James & Laura we went to paint to Blanco City red.

We wanted to carry on drinking when the last bar we were in shut at 2am so we asked if we could buy a bottle of rum from behind the bar. The bar woman said it'd be cheaper for us if she ordered us a taxi to take us to a 24hr booze shop then onto our hostal, which is what we did and so we got the iPod out for a bit of a carry-on.

The day after we all had our last hungover breakfast together then said our goodbyes to Mills & Harris as they were heading home and we were heading north to La Paz. The goodbyes got cut short for me as I was
bent double with belly ache and the infamous South American trots. (I never fail).

We were to get a night bus to La Paz that night that took 15 hours and after finding out on the way to Sucre that Bolivian buses don't do toilets I took a diarrhoea tablet that, I'm not messing, gave me JUST enough time and I got to the hostal in La Paz and spent 3 days either on the bog or in bed bent double with Loz nursing me with takeaway pizza.

I told myself one night if I felt that bad in the morning I was going to the doctors.

I woke up though feeling a bit better so we went to mooch round La Paz and tried to find out where the wrestling was that we'd read about whilst on the bus a few days earlier.

La Paz is the worlds highest capital city and you can definitely feel the altitude whilst walking round. I've got to say though I don't know whether its because I was ill and we didn't get chance to see a lot of the city but I thought it was a massive shit
hole. It did have some charm but overall the place was the dirtiest place I've ever been to and the constant foul stink did nothing to sway me to thinking otherwise.

We asked at our hostal how much it would be to go to the wrestling and the guy said he would charge us $80 bolivianos (£8) for a ticket in and the bus there and back. Well, that day as we were having a mooch we got a bus for 30p each so we thought we could save ourselves some money and just turn up at the wrestling off our own backs. So we got the address off the flyer in the hostal and headed for a laugh at some Bolivian wrestling.

We were the only non Bolivian people in the crowd, it only cost us $10 bolivianos on the door (£1) and it was absolutely class. A full-on old knackered wrestling ring in the middle of this little amphitheatre complete with massive speakers that we were sat smack next to that kept blowing up and cutting out and constantly playing 3 songs full whack to get the crowd going that consisted of the crazy frog song,
a techno remix of the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme tune in Spanish and the theme to Rocky. We got some jelly from the woman walking round selling it before the main event that cost 10p and I got sat next to my usual nutter who was jumping up and down and shouting before anything had even kicked off then the M.C announced something in Spanish that ended in 'CONAAAAAN THE BARBARIAN!!' Then this massive Bolivian bloke walked out in cycling shorts and furry raving boots with a loaf of bread under his arm to rapturous applause from the growing crowd and presented the loaf to some old woman before gingerly climbing up and bending the ropes to get into the ring.

As the Barbarian was warming up (stood chatting to a bloke in the crowd whilst rubbing his shorts) the M.C announced something else that everyone missed as the speakers blew up but out came this smaller stocky bloke in black trunks to massive Boo's who was yelling 'Fuck Off!' to everyone and giving the crowd, that included small children, the middle finger whilst entering the ring. We could see why this bloke was so unpopular. He even appeared to bribe the ref of the match who kept having sly digs at the Barbarian whilst he was down and never counting when the Barbarian had the bad guy down for a pin. For all the very funny play acting it seemed to get a bit more real when the Barbarian picked the bad guy up and slammed him out of the 6ft ring and onto the concrete floor. The crowd loved it though and it was obviously part of the show as the bad guy then got the Barbarian in the head lock, much to the disgust of an old woman on the front row who chucked an orange and a bottle of water over him. The Barbarian managed to wriggle free though, but then the ref pulled out a length of 4x2 timber out from under the ring and passed it to the bad buy who smashed it across the Barbarians back. The old woman again went hysterical as the Barbarian had a proper big mark across his back. You dont get that in WWF. The bout finished with the baddie winning on a dubious count-out and several more wrestlers and matches panned out in much the
same way with Loz and me absolutely rolling round laughing at both the wrestling and the old woman on the front row.

The wrestling finished and we got the bus back to our hostal for 30p making the evenings spends come to a whopping £1.60, so we told ourselves that we could afford to eat somewhere nice on our last night in La Paz.

We read about a few nice places but when we got a taxi to them they were all shut, remembering that you can chalk off doing anything in South America on a Sunday we ended up all dressed up in Burger King and spent nearly £13 on burgers and chips.

Again that night I spent rolling round the hostal running from the bed to the toilet and even had a close call the day after when we headed out to buy our bus tickets out of La Paz to Copacabana (not the Barry Manilow one) which is where were heading next to cross into Peru to head to Machu Picchu.

Copacabana is on the worlds biggest and highest lake called Lake Titikaka, with Bolivia on one side of the lake and Peru
on the other. There's islands in the middle of the lake which is where the Inca empire apparently began, the Incas being the dominant indigenous civilisation of the central Andes (Bolivia, Peru & Ecuador) and the largest empire in pre-Colombian America and you can take a boat to the islands that still has about 2,500 people living on them. That's more than Sheff Utd get at home.

That's it from us for now, again thanks for reading and thanks to James & Laura for spending their last week and a bit with us, it was ace seeing you both again, we had a brilliant time and we can't wait for the wedding!!

Hope your all good and well, pray the 'Bolivian Belly' gets better for this island trip!

Mick n Loz


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