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Published: November 22nd 2005
nutritious and delicious. it was chewing a can.
Ok, so we’re back in Bolivia. We’re in Uyuni this time, which has pizza, pool tables, but NOT atms. Here’s how we got here:
We left La Paz for Iquique, but didn’t get such a good deal on the bus trip. Also it turned out that the bus wasn’t going to Iquique, but to Arica. We were fairly surprised by this when we got to Arica and were told to wait and hour and get on a different bus. So we waited and no bus came. Turns out the bus we had tickets for had flat tires or something and we were all transferred to another company. So, despite setting out at 6am, we didn’t get to Iquique until about 10pm.
It was too dark to look for a hostel, but luckily we had made friends with an Aussi surfer who had a brochure for a hostel that would pick you up from the bus station. Turned out to be the nicest place we’ve stayed since leaving Canada, and not that much more expensive then the cheap-o places. So picture this: hostel with a kitchen so new that is has a microwave, free internet, large tv with cable, cool
This was our bus from La Paz to Iquique.
art on the walls, clean bathrooms, and it´s across the street from a California-style beach. Needless to say, we found it hard to leave, or do anything more interesting than sit on the beach. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of the place (Iquique Backpacker’s Hostel or something like that), but it’s easy to find if you walk along Arturo Prat Road which goes along the beach, until you get to Amunategul road and look for the large Hostelling International mural, visible from Arturo Prat.
One day we rented bikes and went into downtown Iquique, which was exciting. They seem to have a thing for one-way streets. Iquique has lots of neat old buildings (Georgian) and antiques for sale on the street. There were also lots of neat little stores full of clothing (Chile considers itself part of Europe, so lots of scarves) and shoes. The best place we found was a store specialising in vintage junk and jewellery from the U.S. I got some earrings and a ring there. When the sales lady heard we were from Canada, she said “oh, we get stuff from Canada too, look at this” and showed us a purse which had “Smoking Lily,
San Pedro. I lost my hat and had to chase after it off of the path. I could have been fined, but it was all worth it for the hat.
Made in Canada” printed on the inside. For those who aren’t boutique clothing store fans, that’s a very small shop in Victoria. Made our day.
Eventually I got a cold from too much swimming and Mike got a “mild” sunburn so we said goodbye to Iquique and took a bus to San Pedro de Atacama. That turned out to be the same day that a large earthquake hit the area, but we didn’t feel it and had no idea it had even happened until the next day.
San Pedro is small, pretty and touristy. There must be more tour agencies per square meter there than anywhere else. We managed to find a hostel with a nice outdoor kitchen and so avoided the shockingly overpriced restaurant food. Can’t really recommend that place (Casa del Cochamba or something like that on Gustavo Le Paige road) as they were pretty disorganized and tried to get me to pay twice and have many many sings posted about their various rules (the funniest being the no immoral actions in the bedrooms rule). Also, for some reason, in San Pedro (in the middle of the world’s driest dessert) they have trucks that spray water
Iquique. This place was literally about 100 m from our hostel.
on the roads to keep the dust down. Just like Zambonis.
While in San Pedro we went on a tour to Death Valley, the salt caves and Valley of the Moon. That was very interesting and we got to walk/slide down a very large sand dune. The next day we left on our 4-day tour across the desert and salt flats to Uyuni, Bolivia and back.
We were packed in a minibus for the trip across the border, and then separated into jeeps. We shared our jeep with three French-speaking Swiss guys. Turns out I’ve forgotten a lot of French and a lot more has been replaced by Spanish. Even still, we had a good chain of translation going with one of the Swiss guys being able to speak Spanish. The driver would say something in Spanish, which the Swiss guy would say to me in French, and I would then say to Mike in English. “Ya, that’s what he said, we’re sleeping in an igloo!” We saw all the stuff that everyone sees on this tour: white lagoon, green lagoon (from the copper), red lagoon (from the algae), volcanic geysers, other tourists, wild llama things, rabbits with
yup, it's green. Heavey metals will do that.
long tails, weird rock formations, old volcanoes, flamingos, colourful mountains, lots of salt.
One of the neatest things was the Salvador Dali landscape. Apparently the tours pass right by where Dali came to gain inspiration for his paintings. And it really does look just like a Dali painting, so really he was more of a landscape artist with a thing for clocks than a surrealist. Unfortunately our pictures don’t do it justice.
The salt hotel was also pretty neat. The floor is made of ground-up salt, and the main building is made of salt bricks. The tables and chairs are also salt. To my disappointment, the bathrooms are not made salt, but they redeem themselves by having hot showers.
Driving across the road-less desert was pretty fun too, and took on a Mad Max feel when our driver started racing the other tour jeeps to the hostel.
The whole thing went pretty well accept that I got sick (from the tour food of course, you’d think they could give you clean food!) and our driver was drunk starting 8:30am on the third day. Luckily one of the Swiss guys was able to take over the driving.
ok, really they were bubbling puddles of steaming volcanic mud. Refreshingly, no safely barriers.
So, I can’t really recommend the tour company (Pamela Tours) even though similar problems are reported for all companies as far as I know. Actually, despite some bad reviews, Colque Tours seemed to have the best guides, food, and jeeps.
During the tour, and keeping in mind the not-so-sober driver and the food that made me sick, we decided to just do three days and stay in Uyuni. We weren’t able to pay for the whole tour in San Pedro, as the only ATM wouldn’t accept my card. The guy at Pamela Tours assured us that there were more ATMs in Uyuni and we could pay the rest once we got there. “Mucho bancos automaticos!” It’s obvious now that that guy had NEVER been to Uyuni, as it’s the middle of nowhere and our ATM search produced only amused Bolivians. I had to get an advance on my visa, which was expensive but thankfully pretty easy.
We have a really nice hostel here (Hostal Marith), clean with laundry sinks and only 3 dollars (20 bolivianos) for a double. It’s nice to be back in Bolivia. Uyuni is a small isolated place, but it seems that enough travellers come
It´s like you're cruising across the arctic tundra (in actuality the world's largest salt flat) and you come upon rocky island covered with cacti. Truly bizzare. They grow 3 cm/year and some are 10 m tall.
through here to keep several pizza and internet places in business, so we won’t be suffering too much while we wait to see if Mike’s glasses turn up. *Update* they are lost forever. Damn.
So, we’ll be off again soon either to Potosi (the highest city in the world, in terms of altitude) but also cold and with little oxygen or Salta, Agentina, nice climate and with lots more oxygen. Hard to pass up the opportunity to buy the “highest city in the world” t-shirt though, and there’s an old silver mine there that has historical significance, AND you can buy dynamite in the market. Decisions, decisions….
Bye for now and see you in Argentina,
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