Breathless in Bolivia and the Salar de Uyuni

Trip Start Sep 15, 2007
Trip End Jun 2008

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hello again,
So.....   We'd loved it in Argentina and we were glad that we'd taken other peoples advice and added it to our itinerary. However after spending about 6 weeks or so exploring Argentina from top to bottom (or rather bottom to top) we were ready for a change.  Argentina is pretty well off by South American standards and for the most part it is pretty westernised so we were therefore excited but a little apprehensive about entering Bolivia which is one of the poorest countries on the continent.  The border crossing was very smooth.  We simply had to cross a bridge from one side of a town into another on the Bolivian side.  The difference between the two sides was immediately striking as the Bolivian side was clearly much poorer than the Argentinian side. We were expecting to see some differences but we weren't quite prepared for such a clear distinction between two halves of what was essentially the same town.  In a similar vein after alighting refreshed from our comfortable, spacious Argentinian semi-cama bus we were then ushered amid a mob of ticket salesmen onto a beaten-up shed-on-wheels heading to our chosen destination of Tupiza along an unsealed road.  We were at least glad we weren't on the bus next to ours which seemed to be getting a tune-up from a screwdriver-wielding 6 year old boy.
Anyway, we made it to Tupiza thankfully on time (we'd heard numerous stories of long delays and detours) and despite having a mild headache due to the altitude (about 3000m) we were very excited about being in a new place.  We'd met an English / Welsh couple (Vicky and Matt) on the bus and we decided that after acclimatising for a day or so we would take a jeep tour together of the surrounding area that was home to the famous Salar de Uyuni, a massive salt flat left over from when there was a sea here some tens of thousands of years ago.
Still feeling a little breathless we began the trip a day or two later which was to last 4 days and 3 nights.  The trip turned out to be a great success despite one or two problems.  The scenery was beautiful.  The first day had spectacular red coloured rock formations, the next hot springs and volcanic recgions, the third more thermal activity and coloured lagoons that were home to hundreds of flamingos and the final day was the main showpiece of the Salar de Uyuni which really has to be seen to be believed.  Hopefully the photos provide some insight to it's size and beauty. 
Gladly our guide and cook were extremely nice.  Vicente had the patience of a saint as we could only communicate in pretty hit-and-miss Spanish and Porfi the cook had some amazing cooking skills meaning that she somehow managed to bake a cake for us on the camp stove.  The only slightly bad point was when we were sitting in a field of really cute llamas complete with little pink pom-poms dangling from their ears only to have the sudden realisation that what we were eating wasn't spicy beef...  I tried to apologise to the poor beasts but I'm not sure if they spoke Spanish or Quechuan.  The guides only seemed bemused.
We also had a good time with our new friends who seemed to be living parallel lives to us meaning we had plenty to talk about.  The only problems we had were the altitude and the cold.  The first night we slept at just over 4000m and whilst Iain slept like a baby (as usual) the rest of us were kept awake all night with blinding  headaches, breathlessness, palpitations and nausea.  Unfortunately, whereas Iain, Matt and I gradually began to aclimatise over the next few days, Vicky took a rather bad turn for the worse the next day when after reaching the dizzy heights of 5000m she was up all night with altitude related 'stomach flu'.  Luckily the next night was spent at a mere 3500m meaning we all slept a little more soundly so we could all enjoy the Salar on the ultimate day.  We actually thought we were on top of things when we reached the end of the tour in the town of Uyuni at about 3700m until we had to say goodbye to our friends somewhat abruptly so that we could rush off to spend the night with our ensuite.... It seems however that the worst was over and the pair of us nodded off about 7:30pm and only just woke in time to get a quick breakfast and catch the bus to Potosi where the famous silver mines of Cerro Rico awaited us.
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