A Travellerspoint blog

Bolivia

Salty Goodness


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Our bus arrived into Uyuni earlier than expected…we had to get off the bus at 5.30am and it was bloody freezing! Luckily we were met from the bus and taken to a local restaurant for some breakfast. 2 hours later we were sent on our way to find the tour office (being solo now we were getting a very different experience compared to the comfort of our group tour, where everything was done for us).

We trekked over most of town looking for an ATM and probably went into every shop to kill some time, but finally 10.30am rolled around and it was time for the tour to depart! We were in a group 11 across two Toyota Landcruisers, the one we were in looked like it was on it last legs, but still in we piled and off we went.

The first stop was a train graveyard, where old trains had been dumped 50 years ago, now rusted and covered in graffiti they have become a popular tourist attraction for all tours heading out to the salt flats. The place was heaving – of course pretty much every other person was trying to get that perfect Insta photo. It actually became more entertaining to watch the Asian tourists decked out in Bolivian ponchos take a million photos of themselves in front of the rusty trains, than look at the trains themselves. What made it even more amusing was that it was raining pretty heavily, but that didn’t deter them.

From the trains we headed to a salt factory, where most of the houses are made from salt blocks that they have carved out from the salt flats. We learnt about the process of drying the salt, grinding it and adding iodine to purify it, so it could be bagged up and sold/used as table salt. Bolivia has 2 main seasons – wet and dry, we were visiting in the wet, so of course it had been raining all AM, to ensure the houses don’t dissolve the locals have to build much longer roofs to keep the salt blocks dry. We actually had our lunch in a salt hostel, which was surprisingly warm inside…although the food was pretty average.

After lunch it was finally time to head onto the salt flats. I don’t think we have seen anything like it before, it was an infinity of what looks like a marble floor. It felt like we were in heaven, as the salt flats had a 5cm layer of water on them, so the clouds above had a perfect mirror on the ground below. Our guide said we needed to put flip flops on when we got out of the cars, given how cold it was we expected the water to be freezing but it was actually like a warm bath! We spent ages taking the classic salt flat photos as the weather had cleared up finally. When we got back in the cars and the salt water dried our feet looked like they have been encased in a salt scrub, the salt was everywhere and when it dried on our clothes they turned hard and crusty. Just what we needed as we then had a 2 hour drive to get to our hostel for the night.

The next morning it was a 6.30am start as we headed through the Bolivian outback to explore the landscape. Our first stop was a quinoa field…which was actually just a distraction when our car broke down. Our driver managed to patch up whatever was wrong but shortly after we made another impromptu stop in a small village while he attempted to fix the car again. 30 minutes later and we were on our way, with what seemed to be a botch job repair, as for the rest of the day the car was filled with petrol fumes which made us all feel sick.

We were slowly making our way down to the border crossing to enter Chile, but had what felt like a million amazing landscape opportunities along the way. One of the first was Rock Valley, a 4100m above sea level valley of volcanic rock formations…which of course Lynden had to climb (even with his broken arm). Along the drive we saw wild ostriches and hundreds of flamingos at Laguna Colorada, we had a picnic lunch surrounded by snow-capped mountains and then the rain was back. Just as we were reaching the national park, rain turned to hail and then into an epic lightning storm, which we ended up get caught right in the middle of. We could see the lightening hit the ground around us and hear the thunder crack directly overhead…it was half exciting and half terrifying.

On the other side of the storm we stopped in a volcano crater (4900m above sea level) and got to see the geysers blowing steam and see sulfur mud pits bubble. It smelt like rotten eggs and even though there were danger signs, our guide reassured us it wasn’t that dangerous, as the sulfur was mixed with water…so we could walk around them and take photos!?!

We arrived at our hostel just before dinner where we discovered they had a bar and hot springs. Unfortunately they only had red wine, so Lynden had to drink mine and then he headed down to the hot springs (with his cast wrapped in a plastic bag) with some of the others in the group to relax. There was no way you were getting me back outside into the cold after I had warmed up, so I curled up in bed and got an early night.

On day 3 after a pancake breakfast (where we discovered the amazingness of Dolce de Leche aka caramel spread) we were back on the road again, driving through the empty desert and taking in the beautiful views of the mountains around us. We made one short stop at the Green Lagoon (which wasn’t green) to take a few final photos, before we headed to the Chilean border. Well the border crossing was certainly an experience! In the middle of the desert was a small brick building and nothing much else either side or around it. We queued up in the freezing cold for about 20 minutes where a man behind a desk stamped our passports (without looking to make sure they were ours). We then sat waiting in the car for over an hour for our bus to get into Bolivia from Chile. Once onboard we drove 10 minutes through no mans land and joined a queue of 12 mini buses, where we sat again for another hour. Eventually we reached the front and were signaled inside of what looked like a giant drive through garage, once inside the doors in front and behind us closed and we were in the dark. Off the bus we got and into a room for our Chile entry stamp, then to security where they patted down our bags, asked if we had ‘fruta’ and sent us back to the bus. The garage doors reopened and we were free to go and we had officially arrived in Chile.

Within 25 minutes we had gone from the icy cold of the Chilean border to the hot and sunny town of San Pedro de Atacama. We fell in love with the place instantly, but unfortunately we only had a few hours here (just enough time for a burger and to buy a shot glass) before it was time to get back on another bus and move on.

Next stop a quick flight over to Santiago.

Posted by sdyzart 18:01 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains skylines animals birds honeymoon travel bolivia south_america mrandmrs

Tragedy in La Paz


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We arrived into La Paz around 3pm and found the border crossing was suprisingly easy. The security check was blasé, they asked if we had fruit, patted our bags and then sent us on our way. Whilst on route to our our new hotel, we had to say goodbye to our Peruvian guide, Jesus, as he wasn't allowed to work in Bolivia (#country_conflict #war).

We got into our new hotel (which absolutely stunk of varnish, so bad we had to change rooms as we both could hardly breathe), dropped our bags off and headed into the "English" pub next door for a feed as we were starving. Whilst we were in the pub, our new tour guide, Ruben, described the optional activities - of course Lynden heard 'Bolivian Death Road' and signed straight up...which given his track record with injuries, it probably wasn't the best idea. I passed on the mountain biking, but signed us both up for the city tour the follow day.

The next part of the blog is written by Lynden...

Woke up at 5.30am, met the rest of the crew in the foyer at 6am. Our group had 6 in total (4 girls, 2 guys and 3 of those were Aussie). We made our way through the city and after collecting our protective gear and driving for an hour, we arrived at the top of the Death Road. After a quick briefing we were ready to start heading down the 63km road, where we would go from 4700m above sea level to 1200m. To start with we headed down a tarmac road (slowly at the beginning, while we got comfortable, but quickly picking up pace). The views were amazing and the adrenaline certainly got pumping. That high up, our hands were freezing and going at a fast speed was definitely intense. After 45 mins we got back in the van to take us up a steep hill (there was no way our lungs would have got us up there on the bikes at that altitude). 30 mins later at the next summit we moved on to the original Death Road, which consisted of loose rock, pot holes, winding roads, waterfalls, stream crossings, more amazing views and about a million photo opportunities. It was thrilling, scary, intense and definitely a ride to remember.

90 minutes later we stopped for a rest and snack and had the opportunity to zipline, obviously I did it. And me being me, I decided to do it 'superman' style (harness on my back, face first). Regretted it for a second, but as soon as I was over the edge, flying over the Bolivian rainforest, my inner superman kicked in and I loved it.

Back on the bikes we continued for another hour and a half and then tragedy struck...

Coming into the SECOND TO LAST corner, I was going a bit too fast, trying to keep up with the tour guide (he was showing off), I hit a pot hole as I went around the corner and lost control of my bike and accidentally put on both brakes, causing me to go flying over the handlebars with the bike crashing on top of me. Joey (the other Aussie guy with us) was a tad too close and crashed into me and also went flying. I knew I had broken my wrist and Joey knew he had broken his collarbone. We dusted ourselves off and all of us got back into the van and headed to hospital (an 1.5 hour drive), where doctors confirmed after X-rays we had in fact broken the bones we thought we had. Luckily for me, I was put into a cast (not my first time, but my fourth time) but unluckily for Joey he required surgery and a plate to be put in. The hardest thing was having to tell Stacey that I was in hospital and I had broken my wrist, but she took it well, met us at the hospital and was surprisingly sympathetic.

Back to Stacey now...

I refused to give Lynden a sponge bath and we both agreed we would not let this ruin our honeymoon. In true Lynden style, instead of taking the painkillers he had been given, he decided beer was a better option and that we should go clubbing with the others in our tour group, as it was our last night together. The evening started with a curry, then back to the English pub for a few drinks (Lynden ended up with quadruple whisky and cokes, as the Bolivians can't measure their spirits) and after a round of 'never have I ever', 11 of us were heading to a nearby hostel for a rave/disco/par-tay. Many shots and drinks later, we found ourselves all dancing on tables, until around 3am when Lynden fell off the table and hit our friend Dries in the face with his cast, as the party was wrapping up, we all agreed it was time to go home.

6 hours later we had to go on a city tour and good god did we regret signing up for it. It was agony, plus the tour was terrible too. We took a cable car up and down, went to the witches market where they sold all sorts of pills and potions inc llama fetuses and some weird aphrodisiac formulas and visited Valley of the Moon...which was a lot of natural limestone pillars and according to Neil Armstrong it looks very similar to the moon. We walked around like zombies and then 3/4 of the way through we called it quits and left - we didn't have the energy or patience for anymore. After a nap, some water and a couple of paracetamol, we finally felt like humans again and joined our group for a final farewell lunch.

A few hours later, it was time to say goodbye and part ways with everyone, after what felt like a bucket load of tears we grabbed our bags and headed out solo to the bus station.

Next stop Uyuni for 3 days exploring the Salt Flats.

Posted by sdyzart 12:35 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains honeymoon travel bolivia south_america mountain_biking death_road mrandmrs

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