At midnight on the 9th May we took a bus from Salta to La Quiaca in Argentina, the border town with Bolivia. After waiting for half an hour for the Bolivian border to open (it´s an hour behind Argentina) we passed into Bolivia and could see an instant difference between the 2 countries, although both were absolutely freezing at 8am and about 3400m! The women give it away as so many wear the tradional many layered skirt, tights, sandals, shawl or blanket round their shoulders and of course the bowler hat!
We had decided to make Tupiza our first stop and after 2 and a half hours on a jam packed bus travelling on bumpy, dusty roads we arrived. The town centre is very small but it´s lovely, hardly any traffic, market stall after market stall selling the same fruit and veg and hills of red rock in every direction. We´d planned to just stay a couple of nights but having forgotten to go to the bank before midday on Saturday we were stuck there until the banks opened on the Monday morning, when we could join the queue for a cash advance.
This didn´t prove to be a problem
though, especially when we bumped into friends Jonathan and Claire again who had exactly the same ideas as us - horse riding followed by a 4 day tour to the lagunas and salt flats.
The horse riding was great fun and the scenery was stunning. This is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid country, they were finally caught and are supposedly buried in a town not far away although the graves have never been identified.
It was then to the market to stock up on socks and gloves for the next 4 days as we had been warned it was going to be really cold.
And oh my god it was soooooooooooo cold! We left in our jeep at 9am the following morning, Claire and Jonathan, us 2, our driver and guide Benjamin, and our cook Marisol. We drove up steep winding roads to El Sillar (The Seat), our first photo stop, and the views and scenery were amazing. We were also pleased to notice that we were ahead of the other 5 jeeps that had left from Tupiza, which Benjamin assured us was good as we would have the pick of the accommodation that night. We had
a long day driving but had great views and Marisol gave us a lovely lunch surrounded by llamas.
We did get the pick of the accommodation that night, a room with 4 beds and thankfully lots of blankets in a house belonging to one of the local families. However, at 4200m we didn't get a great night's sleep...at all! The village, San Antonio de Lipez, was originally located an hour or so away. The then occupying Spaniards had treated the villagers as slaves and only left once they had stripped the area of all it's valuable minerals. The village became haunted as so many villagers died during the Spaniards stay and after a massive snow storm in 1993, which saw lots of villagers and animals die (and also tourists airlfted out of their jeeps), the villagers decided to move to their current location. We drove through the "ghost town" the next morning and it was an eery sight. The next day was a long day of driving stopping for lots of photos and also to pick up an old local man who´d been walking since 1am and was still 2 hours away in our jeep from his village! Along
the way we saw the bright green Laguna Verde (but not for long as the wind here was immense!) and the fumeroles, and we also had a much needed dip in a 40 degree pool in the middle of nowhere.
The second night we stayed near Laguna Colorada at about 4300m and we absolutely froze......! But as the sun came up the next morning the views of the lake with it´s red water and flamingos were brilliant. We had a really bumpy day´s driving, stopping to see even more flamingos, weird rock formations and foxes hoping for leftovers at the lunch spot. We got our first glimpse of the salt flats as we neared our last night´s accommodation, a slightly warmer place where the beds and floor were made of salt!
We had another early start the next morning to get onto the salt flats for sunrise. The salt flats are a whopping 12000 square km in size (about the size of Switzerland apparently), the largest in the world , and a crazy sight which looked like snow. After watching the sun come up and our enormous shadows appear, we ate a good breakfast at Fish Island where there
are the most enormous cacti, before heading back onto the salt to try and get some clever pictures, not all of which worked! We eventually arrived in Uyuni, our final destination, that afternoon after visiting a couple of small villages and the local train cemetary.
David had been getting gradually more ill with a chest infection since the second night and so once in Uyuni we found a nice hotel and although we had planned to leave straight away, we ended up staying 6 nights! It´s not a very interesting or big town but while we were there we saw at least 3 or 4 parades and marching bands and everyone we met was really friendly, including the woman who ran our hotel who constantly asked after David. We also received the very exciting news that baby Noah John Bernard O´Neill had arrived and so we had a new nephew! Congratulations to Anna, Kevin and Josie, we´re really looking forward to meeting him.
David finally perked up when, after 3 days in bed, a visit to the local hospital resulted in an injection of god knows what in his bum! And so on Thursday 22nd May we finally
One of a million llamas we saw
and apologies, but the animals on our last blog are apparently not llamas but are guanacos.....
left Uyuni on an overnight bus to La Paz.
La Paz was a real surprise, because we liked it! At 3600m the highest capital city in the world is bustling with market stalls, minibus taxis going in every direction (someone leans out of the window or door and yells where they´re going so you can jump in too), menacing looking shoe shine boys who all wear black balaclavas etc. The city is 500m below the edge of the canyon it lies in and the view from the top of the city with snowy mountains in the background is amazing. We also took a very touristy open top bus to the south of the city and the Valley of the Moon for more great views.
After a couple of days in La Paz we moved to Copacabana, a pretty town at the edge of Lake Titicaca from where we visited Isla del Sol, the site of the main Inca Creation myth. We then said goodbye to Bolivia and crossed into Peru to spend a couple of days in Puno, also on Lake Titicaca. On the shores of the lake is a ship called Yavari which was built in England
in 1862. It was made into around 2200 pieces and shipped to Arica (now Chile), from where it was put on a train before being carried by 200 mules and 1000 men over the Andes to Lake Titicaca, an amazing journey which took 6 years, especially as Puno is 3800m above sea level. The ship is now a museum and is being restored with the hope of sailing on the lake with passengers next year. From Puno we also took a trip to Sillustani to see 15th century Inca and pre-Inca funeral towers.
It was then finally time for us to go to Cusco which we were really excited about. And we´re still here now, and it´s gorgeous. But our trek to Machu Picchu is another blog....!
Hope you´re all okay.
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