Bienvenidos a Bolivia!

Trip Start Feb 21, 2006
Trip End Sep 11, 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

We spent Easter, and our last few days in Argentina in Salta; a lovely city but unfortunately I got sick and didnīt feel like doing anything, the weather was crap and much to our disappointment they didnīt have any Easter parades.

When I recovered however it was time for a new chapter in our travels - Bolivia. After a few weeks in Argentina, which until the economy crashed in 2001 was relatively well off (by SA standards) and likes to consider itself part of Europe, we had got used to the civilised-ness of the place - luxury buses, a reasonable choice of European-inspired food, big flash supermarkets, clean toilets, plentiful ATMs, etc. Even the northern parts of Argentina which are quite a bit poorer than, say, Buenos Aires, were not adequate to prepare us for what was to come. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America and everything is so much more rustic - roads arenīt generally paved (making for long, dusty bus trips), hot water and in some places even electricity are luxuries to be rationed, the toilets are dire and the food is certainly nothing to write home about. But despite all that it is a fabulous country and set to be one of favourites. The scenery is mind-blowing, the people are friendly and have a great sense of humour (once you get to know them a bit at least), and it is so different from anywhere Iīve ever been before. The population is largely indiginous and a lot of the women still wear "traditional" costumes of big skirts, bowler hats and long plaits, carrying their children in brightly coloured blankets tied around their shoulders (although actually the outfit they wear was imposed by one of the Spanish kings in the late 18th century and was based on the clothes of Andalucian peasant women). It is a fascinating place.

We crossed the border at the crack of dawn after an uncomfortable overnight bus trip during which I got my first taste of altitude sickness and neither of us slept much. The Bolivian border town, Villazon, is a bit of a hole but we ended up having to spend most of the day there - luckily we found the one hidden ATM in town as we had foolishly spent our very last centavo in Argentina, not realising that the banking system in Bolivia isnīt quite as advanced as we were used to. Irritatingly all the buses in Bolivia seem to leave at the same time so we couldnīt get out of there until at least 3pm, but in any event we decided to catch the train (which left about the same time). It turned out to be a worthwhile decision - the train was packed, hot and dusty but the scenery was fabulous and it made a nice change from buses.

We finally arrived in Tupiza, filthy and tired, and decided to "splurge" on or accomodation, getting a nice hotel room with a lovely clean bathroom and use of a swimming pool for about the same price as a crappy dorm room in Argentina - we were in heaven! Lucky for Dave it was a nice room as he ended up with my cold and spent a lot of time lying in bed watching football while I wandered around the town trying to find things to do. Sadly there wasnīt much there other than a proliferation of pharmacies and photocopy shops (no, I donīt know why) and a food market with dodgy looking meat, veges and stalls selling all sorts of bits and pieces - certainly nothing even resembling a supermarket or western-type shop. We did manage to cook one dinner for 50p though - you certainly wouldnīt manage that at Tesco! Amusingly there were traffic lights at a few of the intersections but they didnīt function as there werenīt anything like enough cars to warrant them; instead the streets were filled with pedestrians, men pulling carts full of all sorts of goods, bicycles and the inevitable stray dogs.

Tupiza is surrounded by amazing landscape which is the main appeal of the town, so when Dave had recovered we set off to see some of it on horse back. Poor Dave, who had never ridden before, was given the slowest, laziest horse ever but despite that we had a good day feeling like bandits riding around the wild west - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (apparently) met their end in a town nearby. The scenery was incredible - similar to Cafayate with vibrant red hills and crazy rock formations but even more wild and remote. After 5 hours we staggered off our horses, tired, aching and sunburnt, and headed straight off for an early night before our Salar tour the next morning.
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