From Argentina to Bolivia and the Salt Plains

Trip Start Apr 03, 2006
Trip End May 29, 2006

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Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Hello again!

Its been a few days since our last update but we are back on the map after a very exciting 4 day trip from Tupiza to Uyuni in Bolivia!

First, weīll start from where we left off with the trip from Salta, Argentina to Tupiza, Bolivia. To cut a long story short, it involved a 7 hour bus trip to the boarder, a couple of stamps in our passports, and a 3 hour bus journey on another bus to Tupiza. Before setting out, it was one of those journeys that seems a little daunting and was the main subject of conversation around our hostel in Salta between all those travelling North into Bolivia. This was due to all the stories you hear about Bolivia and its petty theft and its poor transport. However, as is normally the case, the reality turned out to be a lot easier and indeed more fun than the theory!! The overnight bus to the border was comfortable enough (even for John!), the border crossing took less than half an hour with no baggage check and we managed to find a bus leaving for Tupiza 20 mins after we got to the bus station on the Bolivian side. Finally, the Bolivian bus was also fine apart from an unexplained wetness on Johnīs seat when he went to sit down which we all found very amusing!!! Therefore, by midday we got to our hostel in Tupiza (Hostel Mitru) which much to our delight, had a swimming pool and great rooms with TV and on suite showers (is this REALLY Bolivia??). We chose Tupiza as this is the first place in Bolivia where to can start a 4x4 tour of the Bolivian mountains, including the world famous Bolivian Salt Plains, the biggest in the world! The tour was for 5 people per 4x4, so the two of us, Amy, Sally and James (see the photos attached!) made up the group. Ondrej, who was also travelling with us booked onto another tour.

The salt plains trip...... The tour of 1978! (we are all 27 and born in 1978)

Day 1 - Our 4x4 arrived (see photos) with a lovely Bolivian man and wife, whose jobs were to be our driver, guide and cook for the tour. Then to our surprise, at the boarder of the town, their 5 year old daughter, Jael, sneaked on board! An interesting addition to our tour party but she was so funny, cute and well behaved that we all agreed that she added something special to the trip! On the first morning, we quickly climbed to over 4000m, an altitude which we stayed at for most of the next 4 days. This in itself was a source of great amusement as we found ourselves light headed and our balance was worse. However, we later found out it also left us short of breath and prone to crazy dreams - symptoms easily worth the experience and sites!

The day was filled with many beautiful sites, better explained with pictures(see attached) and we ended the day in a small village at 4200m. It was very small with no more than about 20 families. There were obvious signs of Bolivian characteristics, most obviously their height (typically no more than about 5 feet tall - John received many smiles and stares for his height and size!!!) and their clothes, with the women wearing bola hats!!!! Very amusing.... They were very welcoming and we quickly started a game of basketball with the locals!

Day 2 - An early start saw us on the road by 6am! The day was filled with many more stunning sights such as volcanic landscapes, guisers, and a swim in a hot springs pool (see the photo attached, simply stunning views!!) not to mention many mountain lakes! We eventually arrived in a remote hostel after a 12 hour trip, the same altitude as the night before. Another lovely meal later and many games of "sh*thead" with Amberīs cards, we were all ready for bed. A which venture into the cold night to look at the stars being our last task of the day.

Day 3 - a lie in to 7am was permitted. Our first stop was at a lake which was the home of 10s of 1000s of Flamingos! A beautiful sight first thing in the morning with the sun low in the sky. Also at this lake was a heard of Llamas bathing, which made for a fantastic photo! Then, we reached the dessert with some great sights.... The day ended at another remote village on the edge of the salt plains. We were invited to a party at another 4x4 groupīs hostel up the hill from ours. They were all Israli and were very welcoming. John took his guitar and traded songs with a couple of Israli guys and Amber and Amy enjoyed some good banter with them until it was time for bed and we left, John a little light headed from a couple of cheeky glasses of wine!

Day 4 - Undoubtedly the best day of the trip, the day was saw the Salt flats!! By 5am we were on the road! Its worth mentioning our driver at this point. He had a reputation of being fast and constantly overtaking other 4x4 drivers in the mountains. At the same time he was an extremely good driver and very keen for us to be first to each stopping point on the tour out of the ten or so other 4x4s. As a result, we enjoyed most of the 4 days on our own and got the best sleeping quarters each night! This morning, however, his speed and punctuality REALLY paid off! We were first to leave as usual and found ourselves driving through a lake about 1 foot deep for an hour, a very strange experience in the dark!! Then the sun started to rise over the horizon, and we saw a small island emerge in the distance. The lake ended and we were driving on dry salt and the low sun showed a sea of white all around us. It was a race against time to get to the island and climb it before the sun came over the horizon. We made it with minutes to spare and looked down to see all the other 4x4s in the distance, stopped on the salt ground for the sunrise. We were the only ones to have made it!! The sights were quite simply among the best and most unique we have ever seen and we hope the pictures we took do it justice! It was one of those experiences you will never forget and we were all speechless.

The rest of the day was spent driving across the 2000 square km of salt, stopping at a salt hotel and a village on the far edge of the salt plains for our final fantastic meal before we got to our final stop, Uyuni.

Hopefully not too long winded an account, but we thought it worth sharing!

We found a hostel for 20 Bolivianos per night (1.30 pounds sterling) which has a nice sunny patio to relax in. The girls went for a walk and returned 2 hours later a little tipsy having found a rather good happy hour and drank a few caiparinhas!!! Giggles all round. A spot of dinner and a relatively early night in a proper bed!

Now we are now in Uyuni until tomorrow when we take a bus to Potosi (Wednesday) then a bus to La Paz overnight, arriving Thursday.

Bolivia is indeed a crazy place as friends have told us before we came, but its a great and unique kind of crazy that we would not have missed for the world! Life is relatively basic, taken as it happens and planning is not really a way of life in stark contrast to Argentina which makes it all the better.

Ok, this update is long enough!!! Hope you are all well, we have really appreciated the responses both via e-mail and posted directly onto this site, please keep them coming!!!


Amber and John xx
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