Some salt with that?

Trip Start Mar 07, 2009
Trip End Apr 08, 2010

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La Torre Tours

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, October 5, 2009

30th September 2009:

Both woke up in Villazon, Bolivian border town with Argentina, feeling a bit rough, Ang especially because of the increase in Altitude. We were at 3500m above sea level which in itself is okay but we came up on the bus from 1000m the day before so not really any acclimatization going on. The hotel was surprisingly nice but it was always a one night deal as we had to get the twice weekly train to Tupiza, in fact the twice weekly train to anywhere! Luckily we we able to check out at noon so we grabbed some lunch and killed a couple of hours before catching the 1530 to Oruru. The train was nice and comfortable, full of gringo´s, including some annoyingly loud and drunk Aussies whom unfortunately we would see a lot of in the coming days. The scenery was great the whole way to Tupiza, about 3hrs. When we got there the place was packed with hosteliers and tour guides holding out cards and leaflets for digs and tours, the station even had to put up a fence to keep them back as we got our bags. I guess it was to be expected with the small frequency of trains coming in and the cut throat competition. So we ignored that lot and headed up the street to check out some hostels, the third was a winner as they gave us a nice discount and were very friendly, plus they had cable TV!
The hostel had an attached tour operator and the tour of South West Bolivia, including the famous salt flats at Salar De Uyuni, sounded really good and after they told us an English speaking couple had already signed up we did the same. We were keen to have an English speaking group (4 per tour) because my Spanish is crap and Ang didn´t want to be translator all week so we figured they would be up for paying extra for an English speaking guide (the driver and cook, we were told, speak no English).
The next morning it turned out that this couple had not actually paid up and in fact had not arrived at the hotel so instead we were paired with an French woman who speaks brilliant Spanish! I was devastated, not enough to shell out for the English guide though as this doubled the price so naturally I was concerned about sitting in the back of the jeep in ignorant silence whilst everyone else had a gay old time. Anyway we did not let this deter us and we had a nice easy day acclimatising and I managed to change one of my flights to allow Ang & I to spend a bit more time together before we go our separate ways in mid November. We also managed to get some cash which was no mean feat as there was no ATM in town. We were almost ready to accept we would be fleeced at the only money exchange when we discovered we could get a cash advance at the bank, off our current account, for only 5 bucks, score. We also both decided to take a drug for altitude, called diamox, just for a few days as we were about to embark on a jeep tour to in excess of 5000m ASL, and you don´t want a blistering headache and insomnia when there is all this great stuff to enjoy.

2nd - 5th October 2009:

Next morning after a hearty breakfast we set off on the 4 day tour. My fears were correct initially and I struggled to get involved with the banter but I gradually grew in confidence and I my Spanish improved dramatically as the tour went on. The group consisted of Ang & Myself, Chantalle the French woman whose Spanish was great and her English good too. Also there was Daniel (21) the guide and driver, he spoke almost no English but this improved on the trip, and the same for Cecilia the 16 year old chef! Again not much English but together we all helped each other improve. As we stumbled through the formalities, how many brothers & sisters etc, it turned out her dad is a bit of a Casanova, she has 24 siblings, and her old man has been married 16 times! I asked if this was normal in Bolivia and alas it is not, in fact she has only met 8 of them. I thought I had a big family.
The trip was ace. Days 1 to 3 we saw some crazy rock formations as we climbed to over 5000m. We saw deserts, mountains, cactus´s, Llama´s, deer type things, rabbity kangaroo things, stinky sulpher geysers, red lagoons due to copper, green lagoons due to something else, thousands of flamingos, strange situations with hot lakes with ice on the sides, salt covered lagoons, a couple of volcanoes. Basically the most varied landscape I have ever seen in a year, let alone a few days. Some times it was scorching, sometimes freezing. All food was provided so we stopped in the desert each day, normally at the same place as other tour groups, there are loads doing this trip, some better than others. On day 2 when we were lazing about in a thermal pool chatting to an Irish couple they said their driver kept telling them to take a minimum of 20 minutes at each photo stop, each time they returned to the jeep they noticed another beer missing from the crate. By this time, midday, he was steaming drunk. They had no seat belts and the back doors didn´t open from the inside. Apparently he got quite the hump when they asked him to slow down. We got lucky as there are a lot of cowboys doing this circuit, we have seen them since and it did improve luckily, although they did have to survive on tins of tuna and an apple while we were eating like kings, bummer.
First 2 nights we spent in dorms in local villages on the route, nice comfy beds with 3 course meals plated up. Some of the other groups didn´t even sit down with the guides but we made sure we ate together and had blast. 2nd night I even had my first independent chat with a local dude, all basic stuff like where I come from, how long in Bolivia, my name & future plans etc but my Spanish was definitely coming along, still crap though.
The third day we saw the crazy colored lakes and really got to experience the vastness of this place, really impressive. Got serious gut rot after lunch though and spent most of the afternoon with my head out the window, more antibiotics required! Despite this we managed to get to the hotel without me soiling myself and it was worth it as it was made entirely of salt, beds, tables, & structure. Not the toilets luckily otherwise my backside would have corroded, and the beds had mattresses on of course.
The next day was the creme de la creme, the Salar De Uyuni. We were woken up at 5am to get our things together and head straight out in the Jeep to somewhere near the centre for the sunrise. I cannot express in words how massive this is but it is basically a lake formed of about 40m of layers of water and thick crusts of salt. It is dry season so the top layer is salt and is a brilliant white with weird hexagonal shapes caused by wind, really incredible. After sunrise we had a picnic breakfast next to cactus island which gave us a chance to stretch our legs with a nice climb to the summit. Only about 30m I expect but at this altitude (3600m), still hard on the lungs. We were lucky enough to see a baby ostrich type thing as we ate brekkie, though some morons from another group tried to climb all over it, nob heads. Breakfast as usual was outstanding, a sponge cake with dulce de leche sauce and tea.
After this we found a quiet spot on the salt to spend some time creating some crazy píctures before we went to another salt hotel for lunch. Bumped into a lass we shared a tour with in Mendoza about  1000 miles away in Argentina, small world. Arranged to meet her and some others in La Paz next week. After which we were dropped into Uyuni and said a fond farewell before we arranged our onward bus tickets to Sucre.
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