First experiences in Bolivia

Trip Start Nov 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 27, 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, January 28, 2006

Right now we´re in Coroico, in the lush forested lowlands northeast of La Paz, with two main missions in mind: to shake off a chesty cough I (Gill) picked up last week and to bring the Pod up-to-date with our goings-on since we left Argentina and entered Bolivia at the beginning of this month.

Almost a month has passed since we crossed the border into Villazon, Bolivia´s border town. The day of the border crossing began in chaos - the 5am alarm hadn´t registered and panic ensued as we realised we had 15 minutes to get out of bed and get ourselves to the bus station to catch the bus for the 3 hour trip to the border. The border crossing itself, by contrast, was uneventful and without too much trouble we found ourselves at the ticket office at Villazon train station, well and truly on Bolivian soil. We could tell we were in a new country - many of the women had their dark bowler hats perched high on their heads, with colourful knee-length pleated skirts, woolly knee-high socks, pinafores and dark hair in two plaits to their waist. Almost all carried either a baby or bundles of belongings in colorful stripey blankets tied onto their backs.

We had plenty of time to take it all in - that day we spent a total of four and a half hours in the queue for train tickets which from time to time descended into complete anarchy, with much shouting and fighting for places in the queue. Were we not determined to get ourselves onto a train (our first in South America and a source of great excitement for Raymondo) we would have given up earlier, but we persisted and after several attempts we managed to get a pair of tickets getting us to where we wanted to go. We were elated. However, by the time 3am came around and we found ourselves still sitting on the infamous train after 10 hours of rattling along at 20kmph, the elation had faded a little. We eventually rolled into the teeny town of Uyuni at 5am and dolefully tramped the freezing streets until we found a bed for what remained of the night.

Uyuni is an isolated town whose existence in its current form is almost totally down to tourism. Uyuni is a short drive away from the Salar de Uyuni, the biggest and highest "salt lake" in the world. In its former life the Salar was a great sea, and over the years it has dried out into an enormous expanse of salt, just like frozen snow. It´s a unique spectacle, unlike anything we´ve seen before. Right next to the Salar, but many hours´ drive away over rough tracks, are multi-coloured lakes, gently smoking volcanoes and hissing and bubbling geysers, and the good people of Uyuni make their living from taking jeep-loads of tourists to experience it all.

We hope the photos capture some of the magic.
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