Bolivia's highlights - Salt flats,Deserts & Mines
Jul 17, 2014
|Our last entry was on Saturday 5th July and we were in La Paz.
We joined Scott, Herma and Sebastian and went to a Dutch owned restaurant where the Holland v Costa Rica football match was showing. Unfortunately the room which had a large projected screen was very full and airless. We decided to say our goodbyes and abandoned the restaurant at half time. We watched the remainder of the match in our hotel room which defiantly turned out to be the right decision as the match went to penalties.
We would like to congratulate the Dutch team on making the semi finals and hope they win the completion.
On Sunday we left our hotel at about 12 noon. This was the kick out time and by this time we had said goodbye to the last few members of our last tour who were hanging around for connecting flights and one who had been the the victim of a bag theft and was trying to replace her passport, which didn't prove at all easy over the weekend.
We carried our backpacks the 500 meters or so to our new hotel and were very happy as we managed to book in immediately. We then went bag shopping so that we could leave some of our luggage at this hotel while we tour Bolivia. We found a small market and a lovely old lady with a variety of bags. As the bags were for the sole purpose of securely containing a few items while we travelled we were meant to pick the cheapest we could find. This involved a little lighthearted haggling and the lady seemed happy she got a very good price and we were happy we had paid about £10 for two lovely cloth bags which Helen now wants to bring home, having surprisingly, for once, enjoyed this shopping experience.
We met up for our tour briefing in the evening and then went for a meal at the same Dutch restaurant. We had a delightful goulash that was a pleasant change from South American cuisine.
On Monday we started our new trip with a city tour of La Paz, with our guide Julia.
We were driven to a small gorge at the edge of La Paz called Moon valley which had unusual clay formations. It had been named moon valley after Neil Armstrong visited and said that it looked like the surface of the moon. After this we were taken to a lookout point that gave panoramic views of the city which has grown to totally fill and spread outside a large mountain valley.
We finished our tour of the city with visits to the main square, a colonial street and the witches market which was named by the Spanish as this alley was where the local shaman got their lotions and potions.
We then had a lazy afternoon just locating a local supermarket to stock up on snacks for our journey.
On Tuesday we started our tour, leaving La Paz shortly before 8am and having an eleven hour drive to the town of Uyuni from where we would start our tour of the worlds largest salt flats "Salar de Uyuni".
Our journey was split in two with our first transport being a mini bus which took us out of the La Paz valley and up onto a high plateau. We drove about half way on tarmac road and then transferred vehicles, climbed aboard two 4 wheel drive Toyota land cruisers and set forth on the dirt road section of our trip. We quickly realised that this vehicle is the workhorse in the Bolivian deserts with Toyota commanding 99% of the market and the odd Lexus making up the numbers. Unfortunately after about an hour our vehicle managed to get double rear tyre punctures. Our driver had to borrow the spare tyre from our second vehicle and this delayed us a while but gave us an opportunity to take a few photographs. While driving we heard the shocking news that Germany had beaten Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup.(Hurrah!)
We arrived in Uyuni at about 7pm and this was just after we saw a spectacular sun setting over the desert.
We noticed the drop in temperature when the sun disappeared and this was a promise of cold nights to come.
The following morning we had a late start and headed into the salt flats at about 10.30am. We had a short drive to the railway graveyard where we met other tours clambering over very old steam trains that were covered in graffiti. This was a great place for photographs and all the group were happily snapping away for some time.
We then drove to a small town where we had a demonstration of how the raw salt is ground down, mixed with iodine and bagged up for local consumption. The iodine apparently helps prevent thyroid problems among the population. There was the usual tourist market and we purchased a very small piece of rock salt as a momento from Bolivia. We then took a long drive into the centre of the salt flats where we took a load of photographs using the salt flats and a variety of props for optical illusions.
We had a picnic lunch and then stopped at a small island covered in large cacti which gave an elevated position looking onto the salt flats and then drove to our hostel where Nigel and a few others got a lift to a nearby village to watch the remainder of the world cup semi final and saw Argentina beat Holland at penalties.("Boo")
On Thursday we continued our tour of the salt flats and entered the desert. We came across one of the few trains that cross the desert which was traveling at a crawling speed. We drove to several salt lakes, some of which had flamingos and quite strangely a strong smell of processed fish sticks. We reached a height of about 4,500 meters and one of the group went down with a stomach problem which was probably a result of the altitude and the mixture of food we've been eating. In the afternoon a strong wind developed which reduced the air temperature considerably so we only got out of the Land cruiser to take the odd photograph. There was a great cloud formation (lilincular?) with saucer shaped clouds filling the sky. When we finished for the day we had a bit of a lottery as to where we would spend the night. Our drivers first choice was full, their second choice didn't have enough room but luckily as the light faded we arrived at their third choice, it had enough room and a great rustic feel about it so we eagerly moved in. The only heating this building had was a central stove in a communal area that was fuelled with dried moss. This was the only fuel and combustible material available in this area of the mountains. The beds were made of blocks of salt. We played cards until the electricity was shut off and all slept fully clothed as we anticipated a very cold night with the possibility with the windchill of a temperature of -20c.
On Friday we had a very early start rising at 5am. The temperature had dipped well below zero during the night and some of the group had suffered a cold, sleepless night.
This was the final part of our jeep tour and we had a long day ahead of us.
We initially drove in darkness to our first sight which were a series of bubbling mud pools and steam vents which we admired as the sun rose over he mountains. Then we continued on to a emerald green lake that had been coloured by arsenic deposits.
One of our group managed to break through the frozen mud on the shoreline and received freezing wet feet for her troubles. We finished our tour with a brief stop at a thermal pool before turning back towards Uyuni. We had a brief stop at some limestone rock formations before arriving back at our hotel in Uyuni at about 5pm. There we had much awaited showers and later pushed our way through town festivities for a group meal in the evening.
On Saturday we took a local bus that was of a surprising quality and much much better than the chicken bus we had used in Belize. We headed to Potosi which was about a 4 hour journey. Potosi is the highest city for its size in the world. We arrived in time to book a mine tour for the next day and we watched the World cup 3rd place play off. We have been following the Dutch team and anticipated them beating Brazil.
On Sunday we took the local mine tour as we had a free day in Potosi.
Five of us had signed up for the tour and were kitted out in protective suits, wellington boots, helmets and lamps. Helen had done a similar tour 16 years ago and immediately recognised how more professional the set up was.
We were shown around the miners market and bought a stick of dynamite as the usual gift to the miners we might meet. We went to the processing plant that reduced the ore into a muddy paste, but as Bolivia doesn't have a smelting plant they have to transport the dried paste to other countries to remove the precious metals that include silver,zinc and tin. As it was Sunday our guide felt that we may have the mine to ourselves and luckily this was to prove correct. The passages were very small and had us bent double for most of the 2 hours we were in there. The air was quite stale as you got deeper and the temperature increased as we got to a maximum depth of about 600 meters into the mountain. It was quite evident that if people had been working in the mine the conditions would have been significantly worse for us. We left our gifts for the Monday shift and were happy to get out into the fresher air. As a result of this brief journey into the their workplace we all have a great respect for the Bolivian miner.
We just had enough time to grab a quick lunch before settling down to watch the World Cup final. We decided to support Germany as they are our European cousins. Three Argentinian men joined us and were very vocal whenever their team came close to scoring. However when Germany's winning goal came late into extra time the Argentinian's became very quiet and one disappeared only to return with very red watery eyes. We both think Argentina would have won if the game had gone to penalties.
On Monday we took another local bus which was also of a surprisingly good quality and arrived about 4 hours later in Sucre the capital of Bolivia. We had a short walk around the centre of the city and a rather disappointing encounter trying to book a days mountain biking with a tour company that clearly had no business sense.
To drown our sorrows we had an impromptu evening of drinks, going from bar to bar that had a happy hour with four of the group. We left three of them to their own devices at midnight when it was clear they were looking for a night club.
One other lightweight joined us for the return journey to the hotel.
We definitely made the right decision as we later learnt the three "dirty stop outs" had returned at about 5.30am.
So our free day in Sucre was spent planning our USA leg on the internet and recovering from a hangover.
We had planned to walk to a high viewpoint over the city and visit one of the many museums but decided to have a nice relaxed lunch where we got a debrief of what the three party animals had got up to, which will remain our little secret. ("What happen's in Sucre, stays in Sucre")
On Wednesday we arrived at the Sucre city airport and booked in for the short flight back to La Paz, unfortunately our flight had a 2 hour delay so we played cards to pass the time. We had a short transfer to the same hotel in central La Paz and then began planning our little jobs, going through our kit and throwing away items to ensure we meet the international flight weight limits. We had a rather tame final dinner together as several of the group had early flights the next morning.
Today is Thursday 17th July and we have now finished our tour, said our farewells to the group and have a final day in La Paz before leaving Bolivia. We had a weak Internet connection in La Paz this entry will have a few more photographs. (updated with more photographs on 19/7/14)
Tomorrow we have a very early start for our 8am flight to Lima and then our connecting flight to Miami where we will start the final leg of our "Around the world" journey in the USA.