Where we're going we don't need roads

Trip Start Jun 08, 2012
Trip End Aug 16, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Nadine:  My friend April had arrived in Chile to come and join me for a 2 week vacation, and I asked her if she would like to guest blog during her holiday which she got really excited about as took her back to the time she travelled and kept a travel blog back in 2006, so the next couple of entries are over to April!

April:  After 35 hours of travelling and a missed connection in Santiago, I finally landed in Chile and got my private pick up that Nadine arranged for me to take me to the cute hostel we were staying in. Nadine was waiting outside for me and after a few massive hugs and 30 minutes it felt like we'd see each other yesterday.

We had no choice but to hit the ground running because of my tight schedule and Nadine had spent the whole day trying and failing to get herself, Anna and I on the same salt flats tour starting the next morning. In the end, we were all screwed over a bit and had to book on to separate ones but we hoped we'd see Anna along the way.

Once that was sorted, Nadine told me of her awesome star gazing trip they'd done the night before and I wanted to go so booked myself on. It was really fascinating to learn all about the stars in the Southern Hemisphere. I've missed being able to see the Milky Way! We also got to look through 10 different telescopes including one pointed at Saturn!

I was fading fast when I got back but they convinced me to come for just one drink with them. I just needed 10 mins and my first pisco sour and was back in the game.

We all got up early, packed our stuff up and said our goodbyes to Anna, arranging a place to meet her at the end of the 3 days. We were sceptical about her tour company actually picking her up so were excited to find her at the border crossing.

My friend Naz lent me a trekking watch of his that tells you a bunch of stuff including the altitude. Nadine & I were excitedly checking this on our bus ride and watching us climb higher and higher.

Getting out at the Bolivian boarder was a shock to the system. We'd climbed to 4000 meters and the wind was strong and bitingly cold! This was also our breakfast spot and there was a table laid out of a basket of bread, butter and tupperware containers of sliced cheese & sliced ham which was conveniently placed on top of the cheese (you´re welcome vegetarians!). There was also coffee & fruit juice. We helped ourselves to food & drinks then wandered around taking photos. Thankfully I'd kept my 2 coats on.

I was definitely feeling the effects of altitude. I felt out of breath doing anything including just walking a few steps. My head spun a little and I felt dizzy often. It was sorta like just getting back on your feet after the flu where you are just a bit weak & have to slow down. Thankfully I had no queasiness or headaches that were too bad.
After getting into Bolivia we split into groups of 6 and got into our jeeps for the rest of the trip. Nadine & I were paired with a couple and her parents from Belgium. The parents spoke little English but the young couple spoke excellent English (and Spanish from living in Mexico for 6 years).

On our first day we stopped at Laguna blanco (white lake), Laguna verde (green lake) and a hot springs. The views were incredible and what an experience. We were even lucky enough to catch Anna's group in there and got to join her for 5 minutes.

When we got back in the jeep, Clemente, our driver offered us our first try of coca leaves, which we gladly accepted. I wasn't sure about the instructions & pretty much just popped them in and started chewing. This was a massive mistake and after a few minutes I knew something was wrong. My leaves completely disintegrated in my mouth along with a lot of saliva. I didn't want to swallow them so just had to uncomfortably hold all that in my mouth until we stopped at the geysers. Later on, we got another go which was more successful.

We stopped at our first hostel and realised we'd be sharing a room with everyone else from our jeep. Needless to say, it was slightly uncomfortable to be staying in a room with a family. I was also really scared of being freezing. Recalling times in Africa where I was wearing all my clothes and still very unhappy because I just couldn't get warm. I didn't want to relive that. Thankfully we were able to rent sleeping bags so we all jumped at the chance.

After we were all settled, Clemente took us back out to the breathtakingly beautiful Colorado lake. Nadine & I messed around with photos - got some awesome jumping shots & also set up the SLR for some remote control shots. We laughed & giggled all the way through and finally headed back up the hill (which nearly killed me) and I had to stop near the top to catch my breath & take some more snaps.

We all survived the night which got down to -15 and even woke up warm. I didn't sleep much at all though ´cause my head was pounding. Some of the other girls not on our truck were really suffering from the altitude, throwing up all night, so we were thankful that we weren't suffering that badly!

We were up early and set off for a treacherous day of driving.

We stopped at the arbol de peidra (stone tree). Nadine & I thought it was quite cool but we were having more fun playing around & trying to get jumping shots.

After we left there, we were driving along & suddenly Clemente stopped. He walked around the car & confirmed we had a flat tyre. We all got out to jack the car up and let Clemente fix the problem.

We drove to the altoplano which had 4 beautiful lagoons and stopped at each of them in turn before having our lunch at the last one. After lunch we drove more of an insanely bumpy road to some rocks that was the view point for the Uturuncu volcano.

That night Nadine and I got our own room at a salt hotel which was really cool to stay in. There was salt on the floor and unfortunately dinner was meat and chips but the meat was really tough and Nadine didn't fancy chips so ended up eating just an apple for dinner. They turned the lights  in the communal area at 8pm so we had no choice but to go to bed early. We just watched family guy on my tablet in bed and had an early night, getting ready for our early start to make it to them salt flats for sunrise!

Clemente was quick off the stick at 4:55 and bombed it up to the salt flats. As we were driving, the sun was starting to rise and we didn't know where we were heading for. Soon we got to a rock covered in cacti randomly in the middle of the salt flats. The sun was very close to rising so Nadine & I hot footed it to the top. Nearly killed me with the altitude but we made it just in time and we found Anna there too!

On the way down I hurt my knee so it took quite a while to get down trying not to bend it with any weight on it. We stopped at the bottom & Nadine dug out her prescription anti-inflamatories and we sat down for breakfast. We ate cake, yoghurt and bread for breakfast and set off for the beautiful part of the salt flats. We buddied up with a lovely Irish couple for a lot of the shots that needed to be lined up and had a laugh with them. We played around doing the perspective shots and as usual we were the last back in the car after taking photos. Nadine apologised to Clemente on our behalf for being slow and he sweetly joked back, that's ok, sometimes I'm a little slow too. (We figured he was about 65).

When we left there, the last thing on our tour was the train cemetery (lots of old rusty unusable trains). Nadine couldn't care less but I liked it.
Finally, we got dropped off in Uyuni and met Anna at the train station. Unfortunately there's road blocks all over the place in Bolivia for political reasons so the train wasn't running and we were forced to take a night bus we had heard wasn't very safe and we'd been trying to avoid. We booked on and did what every backpacker does when they're killing time before a bus - charged things, got online and ate food!
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