Brrrrlivia....frozen lakes, snow and flamingos???

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 14, 2010

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hello to all our faithful followers,

We just finished a 6 day side trip to Bolivia.  We were walking the streets in Puno, Peru and saw some pictures of huge salt plains, volcanoes, steam geysers and some crazy landscapes and figured that would be a neat place to visit.  Puno is within a few hours of the Bolivian border and getting in seemed quite easy so what ta hell!

We were in Puno for 3 days and visited the floating islands of Uros.  The islands are part way onto
Lake Titicaca and are made of reeds that have decomposed and have formed a floating mass of soil.  Some local people have lived on the islands for hundreds of years and live in houses made of the reeds.  They raise livestock on the islands and do a lot of fishing.

Brrrlivia....What an interesting 6 days it was.  We left Puno for La Paz, Bolivia (considered the highest capital city in the world, although Sucre is the legal capital of Bolivia....weird country) and that turned out to be interesting on its own.  At one part of the bus ride once we were in Bolivia, we all had to leave the bus, hop on a boat and then get ferried across a small channel of Lake Titicaca.  The bus had to get ferried too on this longer flat deck boat with nothing but big wooden planks to drive on.  The weight of the bus caused a bit of a dip in the ferry so it looked angled down.  I am sure they have been doing this for quite awhile without any bus reckages on the bottom of the channel but it sure looked funny. 

La Paz was a very interesting city.  The heart of the city is located in a massive valley with houses built up each and every slope right to the top of most of them.  It was really interesting to see as we came down the main road into the main part of the city.  There are also a couple of big snow-capped mountains that we could see closeby so that added to the scenery of the place.  Then there was the street activity.  Nothing like we have ever seen.  Up and down a lot of the streets are people with their small stalls lined up selling their goods.  Produce of all kinds, shoes, gloves, hats, CD's, all kinds of drinks, confetti, you name it......then you add in all the people walking the streets looking and all the vehicles and you get a conjested, mess.  There was one part of the city close to our hotel where 5 streets met up in one circular area lined with all the street sellers.  It was really neat to walk through there.  Lots of noise from all the horns that drivers in Peru and Bolivia (and other parts we are sure) incessently use to communicate to other drivers and pedestrians.  We ended up spending 3 days in La Paz and had a great time.  We were only going to spend one night there but we had another interesting situation happen.

We were at the company office of our busline to head to Uyuni, Bolivia (a 12 hour overnight bus ride) and it was about an hour before we were ready to depart that the busline manager came in and told all the tourists that the bus had been cancelled by the police due to dangerous conditions.  He said that there were people blocking the highway and that they could possibly come onto the bus and rob everyone of all the things that they had.  Great, now what?  A lot of the younger tourists were trying to book the bus for the next night without knowing any details of what was going on.  We decided to sit tight in La Paz for another day or two and find out what was going on and what was our best options.

We found out the next morning that the situation was not as bad or exaggerated as what was going around the night before.  Basically, what had happened was that the federal government had proposed new minimum wages but they were not high enough so there was a lot of worker protests and they blocked some of the major highways leaving La Paz.  In one of the more remote areas, they got into some somewhat heated clashes with police (ie. throwing rocks, dynamiting hills trying to block the road with the rock debris) and we saw this on TV.  We also found out that the protests were only happening during the work week when they would cause the most disruption.  Our cancelled bus was on a Friday night so we rebooked to Uyuni on the Sunday night.  All went well without any issues.  Traveling in a developing country does not always go as planned...

The bus ride to Uyuni was long, bumpy and cold.  For only about 4 hours of the 12 hour trip was on a paved highway.  The rest was on a dirt road that doesn't see a lot of maintenance.  The back stretches of the Chinchaga Forestry Road might be in better shape.  The road was so bumpy that the bus stopped for 10 minutes right on the edge of town (at the Welcome to Uyuni sign) to serve us our breakfast consisting of a small pack of yogurt and a small package of multi-colored sugar cereal.  Ten minutes for breakfast that was it and then it was less than a 10 minute drive through town to get dropped off at the bus station. 

We did a 3 day tour from Uyuni and we left about 3 hours after we got into town.  There wasn't much to see in Uyuni so we checked out a few tour operators, grabbed a quick breakfast (alapaca steak, eggs, fries, the freshest squeezed orange juice you can imagine and coffee......does it get any better??).  The three days were amazing.  The salt flats (Salar de Uyuni) were really neat.  10,000 square kilometers of white salt.  All the tours take the groups through the salt flats with 4X4 SUV's and at 100km/hr it looks like you are driving on a frozen lake back home in the spring.   The salt is up to 50m deep in some areas and the locals harvest it in a couple of ways.  They either scrape up the loose crystals, dry them, add iodine to make it edible and bag it up or they cut out bricks and use the bricks to make walls of buildings.

In the salt flats were big rocky islands that had huge cacti growing on them, similar to the cacti
that you have seen on Looney Tunes with Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner.  Very cool.  Stayed in a hotel (building) made almost entirely (except for the roof) of salt.  Salt bricks to make the walls, tables and chairs and salt crystals for the floor.  A neat experience.  We even had a hot shower at night.  The next day was an amazing day.  We saw some really neat landscapes.  Multi-colored rock formations, many large extinct volcanos and one barely active volcano.  We drove through a high altitude desert at over 4000m with recent snow on the ground, saw pink flamingos standing in lakes that were almost entirely frozen over and saw a bunch of steam vents or geysers.  They were really neat to see and were well worth the 4:30am wakeup in the -7 C or so.  Yup, you read that right.  It was pretty cold that night.

We were quite high up again in altitude, nearly 5000m and in the mountains so it got very cold.  There were 6 of us tourists on the trip (2 from the Netherlands and 2 from Britain) and we all shared a small room with 6 beds (well 5 beds and one that was more shaped like a fruit bowl....lucky Mike!!  It was like the bed was curling up and snuggling me all night.  Everyone slept with a couple layers of clothes, socks and touques to stay warm.  4:30am couldn't come soon enough actually.  Our SUV had a frozen radiator pipe so we didn't have heat in the vehicle for the first 30 minutes till the engine finally freed up the frozen pipe.  Then we got a flat tire and our guide was nice enough to let everyone stay inside while he changed the tire.  The whole point of getting up that early was that we had about a 90 minute drive to the geysers and they are best seen just before sunrise when it is still very cold and the steam in very visible.  We got some great pictures and they were really worth the effort to see.

It was a 3 day tour and after the geysers and breakfast we got dropped off on the Bolivian-Chilean border where we hopped on a van and had a crazy ride to the first major town along the way.  We dropped nearly 2000m of elevation in about 30km and there were 11 emergency runaway lanes along the way.  Our ears were popping all the way down.  From there we took a bus to Valparaiso, Chile......ahh, but that is our next blog......stay tuned!!

Meal of the week:  Cream of corn (creama de maize) soup in Puno, Peru.  Fantastic!!  Honorable mentions: although you can eat this pretty much anywhere in the world, we had a delicious and hot supper at the Star of India, restaurant in La Paz.  Samosas and Naan bread were great but the highlights were the Chicken Madras (Mike's) and cocky Kim's Chicken Vindaloo.  If you are able to eat the whole dish of Vindaloo (it has 35-40 Bolivian chile peppers), you get a T-shirt.  It was blazing hot and tasted more like peppers and not like a Chicken dish.  Needless to say, Kim didn't scoop up one of the shirts.  One other dish that was interesting was a Black Potato soup.  It was a creamy soup made of purple (black) potatoes.....not too bad but more interesting than tasty.

Take care everyone......

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Bill on

It is good to see you two having unique experiences. That makes the trip more memorable, We enjoy sharing your trip vicariously through your postings. Continued good fortunes in your travels!!!

Jackie on

Wow, looks amazing you guys. We are loving the blogs!

corri on

Aaaaamazing!!!! Keep safe.Luv ya!

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