Week 6: The Amazon & The Salt Flats, Bolivia

Trip Start Mar 31, 2014
Trip End Sep 18, 2014

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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosi Department,
Monday, May 12, 2014

Buenos Dias!

We've had a pretty hectic week this week (hence the long blog post), but a pretty awesome one too!

We started the week conquering 'Death Road' on mountain bikes, otherwise known as the World's Most Dangerous Road, a 61km bike ride down a rocky dirt road, along a cliff face, descending over 3,000m. Why in the world did we do that you ask? Well, apparently that's the thing to do in La Paz, and after speaking with plenty of people and pondering whether we had the guts or not, we were assured it was a lot safer than it sounds.

'Death Road' used to be the main route between La Paz and Coroico, until they built a new and safer road a few years ago. At points along the road the width is only 3m, and hence when 2 trucks are coming towards each other there is quite a lot of negotiation to do. Several hundreds of people a year were apparently killed with cars or trucks toppling over the side. However very few vehicles travel it nowadays, and it is more so an attraction for bike riding (with tour groups of course) than a thoroughfare.

After a long safety briefing we headed off for our first stage of the ride, a 20km downhill ride along tarmac to get used to the bikes. We then hopped back in the bus to avoid the 6-8km uphill section, and then began the proper death road component, approximately 35km. It was good fun, with great scenery along the way and several stops to take it all in. However by the end of it, our arms and hands were aching from the constant shaking from the dirt and rocky road. With a cold beer in hand at the end, we were satisfied with our achievement, although Sal was pretty clear that once is enough!

After the ride we had lunch at an animal refuge, which included a tour of the monkey sanctuary. This was a fantastic way to end the day before our 3.5 hour drive back to La Paz, as we saw several types of monkeys, with one being very curious to know what was (or wasn't) in Sal's pocket, making several attempts to climb up her leg and open it.

The following morning we flew from La Paz to Rurrenabaque to begin our Amazon adventure. If you thought death road sounds scary, you should have been on this flight! It was a short flight (40mins) in a small plane (19 seats), however the descent and landing was possibly the scariest we have both experienced. Suddenly out of the sky the plane nosedived towards the ground, and with a few beeping sounds coming from the cockpit we weren't overly confident we'd land safely, but thankfully we landed at this tiny airport (just a house) without much issue. Speaking with others on our tour who were on a flight a few days earlier they had the same type of landing, so it seems pretty normal and possibly due to the number of mountains surrounding this city.

The day's travel issues weren't over yet. We were picked up from the airport and taken on the 3.5hour drive (on a very bumpy dirt road, so not the most comfortable drive) to our lodge in the Amazon (on Yacuma River), however what should have been the last 10 minutes turned in to about an hour as we were bogged multiple times. It had rained prior to our arrival and due to a natural disaster in the area a couple of months back where it was severely flooded, the roads were not in good condition.

Our 3 days/2 nights pampas trip in the amazon was fantastic though! In the afternoon we went swimming with very playful pink dolphins, who would swim around us, splashing, nudging and biting our feet. In the evening we went caiman hunting in the pitch black, cruising along the river looking for their bright coloured eyes. The following morning we went monkey hunting, spotting several types and at one point having squirrel monkeys jump all over us, and then in the afternoon went piranha fishing. We both caught piranhas, though Sal was by far the most successful fisherwoman, catching 5 or 6 which we ate for dinner. We had an early start the following morning, going for a short hike looking for more animals (we found more monkeys and some pigs), and then spent a little longer swimming with the pink dolphins, before heading back to Rurrenabaque for the night.

We had almost a full day in Rurrenabaque before our flight back to La Paz in the late afternoon. There is very little to do in this small town, so most of the day was spent chilling in hammocks at the hotel. One thing though with this town is that everyone seems to own motorbikes, and even the taxi's are motorbikes. Of course no one wears helmets, and there doesn't seem to be much of an age requirement as we saw a young girl about 13 years old filling up her motorbike at the service station with her little sister sitting in between her and the handlebars. Wouldn't see that too often at home!

Thankfully everything that evening seemed to fall into place - our flight left on time and was not cancelled (cancellations are quite common with the amazon flights), we had someone from the La Paz hostel's travel agency waiting to pick us up at the airport with our evening bus tickets, we were able to grab a bite to eat and then make our overnight bus to Uyuni, and then once in Uyuni we were able to make the start time of our 3d/2n Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) tour. Phew!!!

After piling in to two 4WDs our Salar de Uyuni tour began with a visit to the 'train cemetery', where rusted trains have been laid to rest since the railway was closed down many years ago. We then had a visit to the salt factory and lunch before heading to the main attraction, the salt flats. They were pretty incredible - driving along an open salt flat, where all you can see is the whiteness of the salt and the mountains on the horizon. We stopped in the middle to take photos, famous for the lack of perspective, which is where all the famous salt flats photos are taken. We tried several of our own, and found they weren't as easy as we hoped, but we got the hang of it in the end and have several cool photos. We finished the day with a visit to 'fish Island', an island in the middle of the salt flats covered with cacti, before spending the night in a salt hotel (yes, a hotel made entirely of salt bricks).

The following day involved plenty of driving but also plenty of stops, including at some bizarre rocks formed from volcano eruptions (also with a view of a semi-active volcano), plenty of coloured lagoons filled with pink flamingos, and some geysers. And boy was it a cold day!! However we were able to recover from the cold in the evening after dinner as there was hot springs where we were staying....so relaxing! (Until we got out of course). Also worth noting along the drive: we saw a vizcacha, which looks like a cross between a rabbit, squirrel and kangaroo.

This morning we crossed the border into Chile, before the one hour drive to San Pedro de Atacama, where we are now. The warmer weather and hot showers have never been more appreciated!

Adios Amigos!

Mitch and Sally
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