Uyuni & Tupiza, Bolivia

Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
Trip End Jan 06, 2011

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

We left very early for our 6 hour bus ride to Uyuni. We had pizza in-house at our hotel as it was the best option for food - and yes it was delicious. There are an inordinate amount of pizzerias in South America... a bit like the Irish Pub phenomenon. The restaurant even served pancakes for breakfast which was a great change to the usual 'American' breakfast of bread and cheese. To be perfectly honest, this was one of the better places to be served food, as an American owns the hotel. The reason for my pleasure surrounding this place is that I asked for a grande coffee, and that's what I got. I know that may seem like a strange reason, but the amount of times we have asked for a coffee in a mug and were told that it simply wasn't possible is outrageous.

We had drinks at the Extreme Fun Club and the photos tell the full story. It is a crazy traveller thing to do as this is the base for the Salt Flats and only travellers stay here. They obviously need some entertainment for backpackers. You can also get your name on the wall if you can drink a concoction of about 10 drinks in record time. We thought we would leave that for other tourists to conquer. The walls of the pub are filled with photos of others that have mastered the art of photography on the salt flats, and gave us some inspiration for the next day.

On the Sunday morning, we set off to see the Salt flats. Stopping at the train cemetery gave us an excellent photo opportunity with beautiful skies and rusty, salt damaged trains. Bolivia had a massive fleet of trains at one point, but many lines have been decommissioned as the use of trains has significantly declined over the years due to the faltering economy. We stopped at the local 'table salt factory' (for want of a better term), where they manually process the salt and add iodine. Hard work for little money once again. 10kg of raw salt is processed and sells for 3 BOB (something ridiculous like $1). Seeing how many people scrape by on such little money reminds me of my travels to Africa - especially Malawi - where people earn minimal wages, but are still happy and helpful and enjoy their lives regardless of material possessions. 
Our next stop was the infamous salt flats and to a salt hotel - yes, you guessed it - a hotel made entirely of salt bricks. You could only go through the salt museum if you bought an item or used the bathroom (which cost a fortune too - the only place for miles to go to the toilet, so they were charging top dollar for the privilege). We were in a jeep for our tour of the flats, and at one point, the jeep bonnet popped up - sending off a range of shrieks from the girls in the car. No roads, no traffic on the flats - the driver didn't even flinch... slowly stopping the car and slamming the bonnet back down and proceeding as if nothing had happened. Aaagh - good old Bolivia. Truly the place where anything goes and there are simply no rules, which makes it all the more interesting to visit! Eventually - our photo opportunity on the flats arrived. The photos are always interesting - since there is nothing but flat plains, there is nothing to add perspective to a photo and therefore people have started becoming quite creative in their shots. It is also renowned for nude photos - which we saw in one of the restaurants. Us girls opted out of that option this time.

Lunch time came and it was time to drive to the 'island' in the flats. There are loads of tourists there obviously, and I met a South African couple from Cape Town who were really nice people. I kind of wished they were staying the night in town - as by this point it would have been a nice to have some alternate conversation and have some more South African interaction. They were leaving early the next day though to start the 3 day bus trip to Chile from Uyuni.

On Monday 13 September, we rose at 4.45am for the bus ride to Tupiza. It was freezing – we had to wear all our thermals as we had to walk through town to the bus station. We arrived at the bus station to small room of locals waiting for the bus, also rugged up - and a gas heater fired up. There are stray dogs everywhere - we have noticed this through all of South America so far, and they follow you around, but are not aggressive at all. At 4.45am we had something like 5 dogs following us - all nicknamed 'Rabies'. Catching the 'chicken bus' to Atocha wasn't as bad as expected only taking a meagre 4 hours. It was freezing on the bus and therefore I had no catch up on sleep. This is going to sound terrible, but luckily we had no smelly locals on the bus that day... Meg had her fair share the bus ride before. After much discussion on the topic, it turns out that Bolivians don't use toilet paper. So - without saying anything further - you can imagine what poor Meg had to put up with, and the reason we were very happy not to encounter that again.

We stopped in a little village called Atocha for an hour or so, and Sharyn and I (being the two coffee addicts on tour) went in search of a hot coffee to wake us up and warm our bones. My Spanish came in handy – Donde es bebe caliente?" (Where is a hot drink?). We were kindly directed to a little shop with an old lady who made us coffee with a coffee liqueur – it was massive, hot and delicious - and Sharyn and I were very happy for our well spent 50c. Our next bus was a total of 5 hours to Tupiza from Atocha. The long bus rides are so common now that we are very used to entertaining ourselves by sleeping, watching Spanish movies or simply staring out the window grateful to not be at work. 

On the Tuesday, we went horse riding for 3 hours in the place that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were finally caught by the US Marshalls after multiple train robberies. They got greedy and wanted to rob one last wages train travelling through Bolivia – but only got a fraction of what they wanted and were then caught at the border. The story goes that one of them (not clear which one) shot his partner and then shot himself rather than survive a trial and the imminent jail term.

The scenery here is breathtaking and I managed to get the most amazing horse, he was very kind to me – trotting, cantering aand galloping at a whim and not hurling me into any passing thorn trees for a laugh. Fantastic horse ride – and the mountains and the pancho we were wearing made us all feel like real cowgfirls. Well - we were all walking like cowboys the next day... and Jo had been thrown off her horse when the local dogs decided to take on the horse. Luckily for Jo, the only injury was a badly bruised thigh. 

In Tupiza there are no real restaurants other than 5 pizza and pasta places – all the same chain – so we had no choice but to eat at them 4 times. Same place, same food, same bad service. Priceless! But a memorable time for us all - laughing every time we sat down to the same old same old. At one restaurant, I asked for a Corona. They were out. I then asked if they had the local beer, and the waitress, peering through the window, announced they did have it. Two minutes later, she strolled in from the shop across the road, where she purchased my beer to on sell. Brings back the memory of Peru when some of the girls ordered chicken, and the waiter disappeared for a bit and walked in 10 minutes later trying to unsuccessfully hide the bag of chicken he had just gone to purchase for us.

Bolivia has been an interesting country to visit. It is still very rural, very very poor, but exceptionally beautiful with lots of tradition and culture still alive. We considered it so poor and still so far behind the times that it could be called a 4th world country (as opposed to 3rd world, which is now considered politically incorrect – 'undeveloped' is the correct term). The strange thing is there are numerous gaming arcades with a lot of young people playing for hours, internet cafes galore - one where they built a double storey inside to cope with the demand. So Bolivia is very far behind the times on most levels, which is actually quite nice and refreshing, and at the same time the youth are moving to games and internet with gusto. A place of contrasts.

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Daniela on

Love the Salt Flat Photos!!!!!

Caitlin on

I still have mixed feelings about Bolivia

Very creative Salt flat photos, like the Kinder joy one best!

Happy travel to you and the other girls....

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