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Travelling 02/02/10-02/08/10 Round the world in 182 days

Salt, mines and high lands...Bolivia

BOLIVIA | Thursday, 25 March 2010 | Views [2241] | Comments [1]

We have now spent about 10 days in Bolivia, and it has been an entirely different experience to both Brazil and Argentina.  After Salta, we headed on a night bus to La Quiaca - a small town on the border of Argentina and Bolivia.  It was an interesting experience arriving in a ghost town at 6 am in the freezing cold and pitch black.  But as a large group of intrepid travellers, we all dragged our bags across the town and went through the two passport controls (one on the Argentinian and one on the Bolivian side) in convoy.

Having entered Bolivia, the three of us plus 2 Swedish girls we had met in Salta decided to take the bus to Tupiza - a small town on the way to Uyuni. There we spent 2 days doing pretty much nothing.  Tupiza is a microscopic town in the midst of incredible, mountainous scenery, with very little to do, but a surprising number of gringos, most of whom are in limbo before heading to the salt flats.  Given the low level of activities to partake in in Tupiza, there were a ridiculous number of identical "Italian" restaurants, all with the exact same interior, menu and incredibly slow service.  So along with pretty much every other traveller in the town, we spent the 2 days there switching between these restaurants and sampling as many items from the menu as possible, as well as getting some washing done, another Arsenal match for the boys, and purchasing some Bolivian woollen treats.  Luckily, we were in a nice hostel with very comfy beds (none of which were bunk-beds...what a novelty).  So we were more than happy when it was time to move on to Uyuni for our tour of the salt flats.

On the bus on the way to Uyuni we met a group of 5 Israelis, and we decided that once we had met our 3 friends (the group of ex-Nottingham students) we would all go on a salt flat tour together as a group of 11.  The bus journey was a rather interesting experience...having driven for about 10 minutes, we stopped for half an hour in order for one of the tyres on the bus.  The journey from then on in was less than comfortable, as we navigated the dust tracks that somehow qualify as roads in Bolivia and attempted to make ourselves comfortable in the decrepit plastic seats.  Luckily, the scenery was spectacular and we had fantastic views of the Bolivian countryside.

Having arrived in Uyuni (another fairly godforsaken little town), along with the Israelis we wandered round the numerous tour agencies in order to find the best company for our salt flat tour, and desperately attempting to negotiate on prices.  Finally, we settled on a company, found a hotel and settled in.  Plans to meet up with our friends (Ben, Ben and Claire) that night were fruitless, but we had a good meal, and comfy beds in the hotel ensured a good nights sleep.

Having managed to coordinate meeting up with the others the next morning, we all set off on our 3 day salt flat tour.  The 6 Brits were in one jeep, which was driven by our driver for the duration of our trip, Fernando, and accompanied by our cook, Sylvia.  The whole first day was spent on the salt flats - an awesome expanse of 12,000km of flat, white salt as far as the eye can see.  We drove around the flats, stopping occasionally to take the obligatory "perspective" photos (due to the flat land, if you place an object or person in the foreground of a photo, anything placed a few meters behind appears incredibly small and you can therefore get interesting photos by playing around with the items in the photo...), as well as for a good lunch rustled up by our beloved Sylvia.

Having finished the salt flats for the day, we headed to a hostel (having been rejected from 2 previous ones due to lack of space...we were modern day Mary and Josephs for the day) in the middle of a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. 

The next day was spent visiting the 5 vast lagoons in the areas surrouding the salt flats.  All the jeeps from all the salt flat companies follow the same route, and so we met up with lots of other travellers at every stop along the way.  Luckily that night, as opposed to the previous one, was spent in a hostel with all the other groups, and so we had a good night chatting to the others, eating another good meal, and desperately trying to keep warm (this was the only place where we really felt the cold that everyone had threatened would be a big issue whilst on the salt flat tour)

On our final day, we were woken at 4.30am by our faithful Fernando, and in the bitter cold and dark were driven to see some geyzers (pretty impressive, but we didn't spend too long looking at them as it was too cold to get out of the car for a long time), and then onto another lagoon and finally to the hot springs...where we spent an hour or so enjoying beautifully hot fresh water in the middle of the Bolivian mountains.

And so our tour came to an end, and we were driven back to Uyuni.  We then departed on yet another Bolivian bus (slightly nicer than the previous one, but still a rather interesting experience) to Potosi - the world's highest city.  Here you really could feel the thin air, and any walking or climbing of steps resulted in shortness of breath.  We stayed in a sweet hostel (named after Jesus...how appropriate!) having been unable to find space anywhere else.  Potosi was a fairly nice town, the main feature of which is a large mining history, and a multitude of tours which can take you down the active mines to see how they work.  We joined one such tour on our last day in the town, although Claire and I decided (definitely a sensible decision) not to go down the mines due to claustrophobia.  But the tour was really interesting, and our guide worked down the mines so was very knowledgeable about their history and the lives of the miners.  The mines in Potosi have a well-established history, and produce vast quantities of silver and zinc.  We visited a refinery and the miner's market, where the miners head every morning to pick up tools and dynamite for their work.  Then we headed to one of the mines where, all kitted out, the boys all headed down the mines whilst Claire and I (pretty horrified at the thought of even entering the first bit of the mine, let alone going down 4 levels and having to crawl on hands and knees) waited in the bus reading magazines!  An hour and a half later, the boys re-emerged, having had an amazing time meeting the miners, watching them set up the dynamite for extracting the minerals and seeing the intricacies of the mines.

Having completed the main activity in Potosi, the 6 of us then moved on to Sucre.  We have now been here for a couple of days, the vast majority of which has been spent in a great bar/restaurant/cinema/pool/internet place called Joy Ride, which is specifically catered to the traveller type.  We attempted to venture elsewhere, but a lunch ordering at another restaurant which resulted in waiting an hour and a half for food, which eventually came freezing cold and with entirely raw chicken and so had to be abandoned, resulted in us returning yet again to Joy Ride.  So we have now been to the same hangout about 6 times, and I am sitting here now as we avoid the rain outside and give in to our obsession with this place and the good food/drinks

Tonight we leave for La Paz, where we will spend our last few days as a 6.




Even skiing at 3,400mts still doesn't quite match the heights you've been to but the fact I struggled fighting with David George at that altitude was perhaps more down to the excess personal baggage I was carrying after eating 4 meals a day that the lack of oxygen. It all sounds amazing Em and your writing is so evocative I feel that I'm almost with you! xx

  Cary/Father/Abi Mar 28, 2010 5:58 PM

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