So we did the 4×4 trip from San Pedro to Uyuni.
The first day we stopped at some thermal baths (though I question the actual origin of the heat source), saw some geysers and some lagoons. One of the Chilean girls on our trip suffered from altitude sickness pretty badly on the first day but she and her friend took endless shit selfies everywhere we went so she deserved it.
Karma and all that.
The second day started with some dodgy rock formations, a couple of small towns selling quinoa beer and some more lagoons. Saw some rhea, some vizcacha and many more llamas. We spent the night in a hotel made of salt. The beds and walls were made of bricks of salt and there were signs up saying ´don’t lick the walls´ which we obviously did.
Day three is the grand finale, Salar de Uyuni. You head out really early in the morning to see the reflection of the evening rain (thought the reflection was pretty poor for us) and then head up cactus island which is actually a fossilized coral reef to the interest of any geologists and then go out onto the salt flats to take loads of those perspective photos. Here’s the video which The Social Mercenary shared on Facebook. Otherwise google it. The salt flats are a highlight, they´re pretty amazing.
Strangely enough though, the tour actually ends at the ´train cemetery´ which is a couple rusty and scavenged trains just outside of Uyuni. Uyuni is a shit hole of a town so we took the first bus on to Potosi.
Potosi is a good introduction to Bolivia;
it´s fairly high altitude, it´s got a massive market, it’s cheap as f**k and the food is terrible. All Bolivian food is meat and two types of carbs, usually rice and potatoes. Vegetables are scarce and vegetarian meals are usually just more carb heavy or something like two carbs with an egg on top.
By chance while we were in Potosi they were having their miner’s carnival. There was music, dancing and kids shooting a kind of silly string foam stuff at gringos so we bought some and fought back. Several children were hospitalized.
Potosi exists, and has done for centuries, because of the silver mine which overlooks the town. Mine tours are popular but it is an active mine so we expected it to be sad and didn’t go down. We asked people about it though and we were right. The miners work 14 hours a day as self-employed workers I archaic conditions. The tour is gritty, to say the least. On the positive side, you can buy yourself a stick of real, live dynamite as a souvenir or you can give it to a miner when you’re down there.
A combination of altitude and food poisoning forced Andy, and therefore myself, onto lower Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia.
Note: the bus ride from Uyuni to Potosi gave me a constant four hour orgasm. Anyone with a vague interest in rocks or volcanoes should go to Bolivia just for that bus journey.
Moving on: Sucre.
Sucre is a great place to spend a little while. It’s clean, it’s cheap and it’s got a strong gringo scene which normally means the food is a bit better. There are lots of things to do from Sucre, some of which we took advantage of. So we did a horse riding trip on one day but, as I should’ve expected really, the horses I don’t think were kept in the best of conditions and half of the tour was walking through downtown Sucre. While I did feel very Hot Fuzz riding into town on a white horse, I can’t really recommend it.
What I can recommend is the DINOSAUR PARK! Which was pretty cool…
It has the largest, most abundant horizon of fossilized dinosaur footprints from sauropods, theropods and ankylosaurus. And you can just go up and poke it. When we said we were geologists the guy even encouraged us to break open some rocks because he said he found a fish scale once. The cliff face was exposed due to cement mining on the hill and the fossils were only saved because they moved out of the good limestone area for cement. Although the mining has stopped there, the site is still used by the company to store and move cement around. The site is applying for world heritage status and we really hope it gets it because it needs better protection.
We also hit up the liberty museum in Sucre because we heard the Bolivian Declaration of Independence was in there so we went along.
Here´s how the tour went down:
[Enter the old parliament building, quite small with blue walls and a gold area above which used to have a choir or something? Anyway, the declaration is in a glass cabinet between the stands]
Tour guide: And here it is, our declaration of independence.
Guest: Is it actually the real thing?
Tour guide: Well, this wouldn’t be a very good Liberty museum if it weren’t, would it?
Guests: Woah, wow, amazing!
Tour Guide: So it´s a really good copy.
We did some Spanish lessons in Bolivia because they’re like £2 per hour but we only did an hour a day and you really need to be doing about 4 hours a day if you want to actually learn anything. In any case, Sucre´s a pretty cool city to be in.
From Sucre we thought we’d try and see a bit of East Bolivia so we went over to Samaipata.
The main attraction here is the El Fuerte ruins. It´s a fairly large site, the central focus of which is a sandstone outcrop which has been carved into and the ruins of some buildings. The site is advertised as Pre-Incan but the Incas actually went over and carved their own religious symbols into the rock and built all the buildings so there’s not much there that’s actually Pre-Inca.
From Samaipata one can either head back up into the Andes to Cochabamba or head further East to Santa Cruz. We went to Santa Cruz. We regret going to Santa Cruz.
The city has recently exploded in population but the city hasn’t changed with it so the town centre is ridiculously under proportion. It´s like a city of all suburb and no centre. Just don´t bother, basically.
We took the 21 hour bus ride up to La Paz and passed through Cochabamba on the way (although I was asleep). Basically the city has a Cristo Redentor statue the same as Rio but 33cm bigger. Now, I don’t care if it’s slightly bigger, it´s not Rio, is it?
La Paz. It´s big and it´s hard to breathe.
The altitude plus the car fumes make it a choking city and I just couldn’t get to like it. It´s definitely an up and coming city though. They’re currently building a cable car system which will act like an over ground underground and there are definitely nice parts to the city although El Alto is a bit of a shit hole. We did the death road mountain biking which was a pretty cool day out but for those who are interested, I wouldn’t bother with the expensive companies, the cheaper ones are just as good. After that, I headed to Oruro for the biggest carnival outside of Rio and Andy, who didn’t fancy a big party, stayed in La Paz to drink and party.
Ok so I was massively underprepared for carnival. We had been offered to join a group in Sucre who were spending like £150 on the whole weekend but I thought it would be better to just rock up and see what happens; I´ll point out here that Rio carnival costs like a grand for the weekend. Anyway, I got the bus pretty early in the morning and the parade was already underway when I arrived at about midday. I didn’t have anywhere booked to stay the night but I had a sleeping bag and was willing to just see where the night would take me. I stood and watched the parade for a while before buying a seat for like £25. The parade is pretty great. The costumes are intricate, the dances are interesting and the event is huge. While sat down I talked to some Bolivians behind me and was informed that the parade actually goes on all night and for most of the next day until people get too drunk to stand.
It started raining and got very cold and although we were under a tarpaulin stand, everything got wet and I did not have enough warm clothing with me. A different group of Bolivians took pity on me and bought me a scarf and coffee but I was coming to the end at about 2am. At 3am two Bolivian guys attempted to take me to a strip club and so, in short, I bailed and got a bus back to La Paz at 4am. Carnival was quite an experience but it was also quite an experience, if you know what I mean.
Ok, to backtrack a little bit, the first night in La Paz we were in a party hostel and met a guy there who told us about Huayna Potosi, a 6083m mountain north of the city which he wanted to climb but needed a group to climb with. I was not hot on this idea for a number of reasons but Andy was sold. Despite being one of the easiest 6000m mountains to climb in the world, it still requires crampons and an ice pick and is very weather dependent. After I got back from Oruro we waited around for a few days to see if the weather would be suitable for the climb and once it was, Andy decided he would do the climb and I decided against it.
Ok at this point I have some very important advice for anyone going to Bolivia: don´t go near the dogs.
It´s like Chile in that dogs are everywhere but unlike Chile, they are not friendly, they will bite and they might have rabies. A friend got bitten by a dog and had to stay in La Paz for a week getting daily injections. The bite then got infected and she flew to Santiago for more shots. I can´t imagine anything worse than being stuck in La Paz for a week with an infected leg.
So I left Andy in La Paz and moved on to Copacabana. Bolivian Copacabana, that is, on the edge of Lake Titicaca. I ate some cheap trout (which still came with two carbs and no vegetables) and enjoyed the small, colourful town for a day before taking a boat over to Isla del Sol on the lake. It takes a good day to hike around the island and one can spend the night on the island and if you have time you might as well because it’s pretty cheap, like £3.75 for a private room. The island isn’t massively impressive and while there are a number of ruins to go and see, there is no information there so I have no idea what I saw.
With that, it was on to Peru for me, two months of the trip done.
So I feel I should talk more about Andy and I going our separate ways. It was agreed between us when we first organized this trip that we would go off whenever we wanted to do different activities and it was perfectly amicable. Andy had been worried about budget since Argentina and was getting more and more homesick, I don’t think he´ll mind me saying. Because of this, he had already decided he would rather spend a month working in a hostel in Cusco and then fly to North Colombia to go up and see the Panama Canal before starting his volunteering on Galapagos. It was imperative to him that he retain maximum budget to be spent going around the islands and so we weren’t going to be travelling together much longer anyway. The budget was pretty much equal by the time we hit La Paz and I think I was also becoming harder and harder to travel with. I didn’t enjoy Bolivia nearly as much as Chile and I was getting pretty restless, wanting to move on to Peru. We have met many many lone travellers going round so far and I don’t believe you are any more or less likely to get pick pocketed or even mugged in a group or by yourself. Andy and I will probably still run into each other either in Cusco or Arequipa and I will update you all with his travel experiences as well as my own when I write for Peru, Colombia and Ecuador.
The current plan for me is to hit up Machu Picchu, head north through Peru then backtrack down to Lima, fly to Colombia and then go south into Ecuador to start my volunteering. After that I’ll do Galapagos and the jungle before heading home at the end of June. I have extended the amount of time I will be volunteering for from 4 to 6 weeks because I didn’t spend as long in Chile or in Bolivia as I had planned. I am therefore half way through the number of weeks I will actually be travelling for.
Two months through and 6 months is starting to feel like a long time to be away for. I speak to a lot of people doing less than 6 months and some people doing more but in general, if people do more than 4 months they are doing America or Southeast Asia etc in the same trip so that they are not spending so long on one continent. For the route I am taking from Argentina to Colombia, 4 months seems like an adequate amount of time if you don’t mind skipping a few things. Of course I shall update this kind of thought process along the way.
I actually don’t have any taxidermy for you this time! Really sorry, if Bolivia had a natural history museum I didn’t find it. I think instead I’m going to ask other travellers for their craziest moments in South America stories and do a bonus blog them. I´ve got my story lined up so we can all look forward to that.
In a bit,