Bolivia Part 1

Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 22, 2012

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Over the last week I have been on a whistle-stop tour of Bolivia in ten days ... part 1 - Sucre to Uyuni!

One thing I forgot to mention about Argentina was my trip to the Recoleta Cemetary where the national icon Evita is buried. It's a strange place as it is very built up, it didn't feel like a cemetary at all except that there was a funeral taking place as we were trying to find Evita's resting place and no matter which way we went as tourists with our cameras we kept coming back to the real life funeral we were desperately trying to avoid.

So .. Bolivia! Bolivia is VERY different to Argentina. The flight from Buenos Aires to Sucre was really scenic. Once I arrived I got a taxi to my hostel and a local man and his small daughter also got in the taxi as apparently we were going the same way. I managed to hold a conversation in Spanish, yay! I stayed at the Hostel International which was pretty awful. A few pounds here gets you your own room, albeight a small and dirty one with a shared bathroom. The problem was that the hostel is 20 mins walk from the centre and the staff didn't speak any English.

There didn't seem to be anybody English speaking at the hostel so I went off to explore Sucre the next day. Sucre is a Unesco World Heritage sight so all the buildings are preserved as they were a hundred years ago, it's all beautiful white buildings and old churches. I was intrigued by the number of local women going about their business in traditional dress, flared skirts, very long hair in two plaits tied together with ribbons or pom-poms and black hats sitting on top. They all seem to be plump with red cheeks! There was some kind of protest going on in the main square. It felt like I'd gone back a hundred years into a wild west movie!

Bizarrely one of the main tourist attractions is the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world, just outside Sucre, so I took the 'dino truck' with the other Gringos in town and went to see what it was all about. Even more bizzare, the footprints are on a vertical 'wall' of rock. The guide explained that obviously the footprints used to be on the ground but due to tectonic plate activity over the years the ground has been pushed up and now the footprints are vertical!

The next day I took the bus south to Uyuni, the jumping off point for my trip into the Salar de Uyuni, the famous salt lakes. The buses in Bolivia and a bit different to those in Argentina! We stopped once in the 7 hour journey, at a kind of restaurant/shack. I followed the locals looking for the bathroom, which turned out to be the field behind the shack. It was pretty disgusting - lets the say that a lot of people have used this 'bathroom'. But the moon-like scenery on the journey was amazing, the winding roads were mostly rubble (it was a bumpy ride!) and there were some worrying large boulders dangling precariously around each corner. I love this kind of travel! Uyuni is quite a miserable, grey little town and there is no reason to hang around here. My 'package' booked in Sucre included my own room in a guesthouse, freezing cold but with a TV, luxury!!

The following morning I joined a 4x4 trip onto the Salar de Uyuni, the whole reason for coming to Uyuni. And it did not disappoint - first we visited the 'train graveyard', even more Wild West. Then we hit the world's largest salt flat at over10,500 square metres - a very strange, other-wordly experience at around 3600 metres above sea level. The salt 'lake' consists of up to 20 metres of 'brine' of sodium cholride, lithium chloride and magnesium chloride in water, covered by a solid salt crust of up to a few metres. Looking into the the small holes in the surface we could put our hands into the water and find beautiful white and pink crystals growing underneath. It's a truly
beautiful place - a completely white surface in contrast with a bright blue sky and intense sunlight during the day. Despite the number of tourists visiting it was possible to drive out into the middle of nowhere so that no other jeeps were in sight.

There are some 'islands' in the centre of the Salar which are interesting as they are covered in cactus and are actually the remains of volcanoes that were submerged in the lake and therefore you can see fossils and algae on the rocks. Climbing up to the top was a challenge - I'd had a couple of days in Sucre to acclimatise to the altitude but even climbing a couple of flights of stairs at my hotel left me breathless. We had a picnic lunch out on the Salar, then took the obligatory comedy photos involving a bottle of water :) Visiting the Salar was an amazing experience and has already made the trip into Bolivia worth while - next stop the highest capital city in the world, La Paz!

More photos from Bolivia here:
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