Journey into Bolivia

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
Trip End Jun 21, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  , Uyuni,
Thursday, May 8, 2008

Up and ready to leave by 7.30am, the two of us, the two Polish brothers Kris and Pietr, Pietrīs wife Judy, Ayelet (an Israeli) and Jamie (a Spanish guy), making a total of 7, get picked up and driven by minibus to the exit point of Chile, right outside San Pedro. After we had all successfully got stamped out we carried on for an hour or so to the Bolivian entry point where we had a hearty breakfast and changed over from the minibus to the 4x4. With 7 of us plus the driver and cook, we were a little squished to say the least but at least we got everything in or on top of the roof. We were then on our way having passed through immigration and our first stop was to sign in for our National Park passes. It was here that we turned around and headed back to the Bolivian entry point as something was wrong with the car apparently. We couldnīt believe something had already gone wrong but as soon as we got back to where we started and the driver had a quick chat with a couple of border officials who must have thought the car was ok, we were back on our way again.

Our first stop was Laguna Verde, a big green lake, strangely enough. it was stunning but everything on this 3 day tour was stunning so I will stop telling you that and you can look at the pictures instead. After considerable more driving we stopped at Laguna Rioja and from there we carried on to see some more Geysers. There was the chance to go for a swim but we both declined seeing as we had subjected ourselves to the ice cold wind only the morning before when we had gone into the thermal baths. We stopped off for a couple of photo opportunities and unfortunately Henry who had tried to jump up onto a rock to take a really good picture dropped the camera in doing so. That was the end of the camera. Luckily one of the Polish guys we were traveling with had a spare camera which he let us borrow for the remainder of the trip to Uyuni so we didnīt loose out on any more photos. We then continued on our way in the 4x4 which seemed to be holding up fairly well so far and finally arrived at around 3pm at the place we would spend the night. Of course we were starving by this point and the lunch which finally arrived was gone in 10seconds flat. A small serving of instant mash, two small circles of dog meat and 3 pieces of cucumber and tomato didnīt make for a happy group. We soon pooled together though and had a couple of oranges and some biscuits which we shared.

The remainder of the afternoon was spent drinking coffee/tea trying in vain to keep warm before dinner was served which turned out to be much better (chicken and chips). By this point we were all freezing, the accommodation was basic to say the least, no heating, no hot water, no showers, no flushing get the idea. The dorm room we had was fairly large and kept no heat in at all, the beds consisted of a mattress with cardboard underneath for insulation and a few blankets and we were both wishing by this point we had sleeping bags not just cotton liners. With the temperature way below zero we shared a single bed to try and keep warm after watching a very amusing Spanish film on one of the Polish guys laptops which unfortunately run out of battery half way through.

Woken the next morning at 5am and we experienced the hardest way to get out of bed possible, the air was so cold and we had little to put on as we had to wear most of our clothes in bed. After a quick breakie we were back in the 4x4 where there was ice on the inside of the windows it was so cold. Our first stop was at a place called Tree Rock, in the middle of the desert where all there was to see was sand for miles, suddenly there was a small cluster of rocks, one which unsurprisingly looked like a tree. All freezing cold we managed to get out to take a few pictures and as we did the sun began to rise which was definitely welcoming. We then carried on across the Altiplano for the next few hours stopping off to see another 3 lakes (all which were frozen and we could walk on) and some which you could see the remains of some dead birds who had obviously not made it. Our last stop before lunch was a little way from a large Volcano which remains dormant and you can see smoke coming out from the top which was pretty cool.

Finally it was lunch time after more driving and we stopped off for lunch beside an old railway line which Chile had apparently built for Bolivia as a peace maker as they had taken all the coastal land. Lunch was rice, tuna and cucumber and tomato, not too bad but not overly imaginative either, hey what can you expect in the middle of the desert? The afternoon then continued with us all just in the 4x4 driving for another 3 hours until we reached our place to stay for the night after a quick stop at a small shop in a village where we could get any snacks which everyone of course did!

Our accommodation for the second night was still basic but so much better than the first night. The entire īHotel` was made from salt (apart from windows) which was really awesome. There was also a hot shower which although it only dripped was welcomed by us all as we had been covered in dust for the past two days as it came through the floor of the car (a quality vehicle). We also got our own rooms which was nice and although it was still very cold the salt blocks did seem to hold in a little of the warmth we created. After dinner (a very strange spaghetti dish which was so bitter most of us left some) and a bad bottle of wine we had bought at the little shop on route.As they had electricity from 7pm in the main room (Genius!) it meant we could charge the laptop and watch the rest of the Spanish movie from the night before which was so ridiculous it was untrue. Still quite early we watched Super bad (again for us but the first time for the others) before hitting the sack.

Another early start, woken at 5.30am and ready to go by just gone 6am our first stop was Inca Island for sunrise.  Inca Island is an island of cactus and other vegetation in the middle of a lake of salt. It was beautiful, and sunrise was a great time to be there.After following the arrows which take you all around the Island which gave us loads of great photo opportunities we had breakfast which involved cake which made a nice change to the flat salty rolls we were used to. We then spent the next 45minutes or so attempting to take numerous different perspective shots on the salt flats which turned out to be pretty cool. We then got herded back into the 4x4 and we were on our way across probably the most famous sight in Bolivia, the world's largest salt flat some 12,000 square kms.

Unfortunately we managed to break down twice as we were crossing the salt flats (both due to running out of petrol) luckily though there are numerous 4x4s all doing the same thing and both times cars stopped to help out if they had spare petrol. We made the most of the unexpected stops taking photos and chilling out. The second time we had broken down however our driver had  jumped onto the roof to replace the petrol by siphoning it from the can and just as he finished he slipped and fell landing on the open door and then on the ground on the top of his neck and head. What could have been very serious turned out to not be that bad but it was obvious the driver was in a lot of pain on his back. Finally we were on our way again and our next stop was the Salt Museum/Hotel. Here there were numerous statues carved out of big blocks of salt which was pretty crazy and somewhat touristy with a miniature Big Ben! Off on our way again and we stopped briefly at the salt mounds where local workers were busy farming salt and collecting it in big open topped lorries. A slow, cold process and one which wouldnt be exactly thrilling, we felt sorry for these people doing this day in and day out.

We finally made our way across the salt plain and we arrived in a small town which was basically a massive tourist trap selling anything you could think of made out of salt or llama wool. We didnt stop here long and then we were on the last part of our trip to Uyuni. We arrived in Uyuni at around 12.30pm and after a final stop at the Great Train Graveyard which was really quite eery. Uyuni is a small town situated in the middle of nowhere and originally blossomed as a railroad junction. Now however a couple of km south of town, by the railway to Chile, there are dozens of old, rusted locomotives, a few wagons and some other rubbish. We tried taking a few arty farty pictures and then we arrived in central Uyuni for a quick bit of lunch before the end of the tour. We said our goodbyes to our driver and cook not long after and spent the afternoon in Uyuni sorting out a bus to La Paz that evening and uploading the photos from the trip so we had them backed up. 8pm came and we started our journey to La Paz which was possibly the most scary bus journey we had experienced. Not only was it pitch black but the roads are less than smooth. 11 hours later we were ecstatic to have arrived alive in La Paz the highest capital in the world.

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