Tupiza to La Paz

Trip Start May 31, 2008
Trip End Jul 31, 2009

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

´Wild wild´ - as Will Smith once rapped... yes, this place is more Wild West than you could hope to imagine.... So much so that Tupiza was the scene of Butch Cassidy and  the Sundance Kids last stand... so you can perhaps imagine the cactus and  barren landscapes, the oppressive heat and freezing morning chill... the red rock mountains and jutting rock formations that define the backdrop of the town, punctuated with white dashes of salt rock hlls... it's breathtaking environment and similar only to places I have been such as Uluru or Kata Tjuta in the Red Centre of Australia.
You join me on the local bus from Tupiza to Uyruni, as Jim, Mandy and I chew on the cocoa leaves kindly provided by an old local women we sat next to on the bus to help alleviate the altitude headaches we have (currently roughly 3,300 Km high and rising) whilst listening to repetitive beats on our MP3 players... the leaves give me to the focus to write on what would otherwise be and intolerable bumpy journey with no windows out the front due to a strange configuration of the bus which seperates the driver from the passengers (perhaps to hide the cliff edge twists and turns we take through this barren landscape).
I last wrote from Salta, Argentina which was really nothing other than a nice hostel with a friendly bunch of backpackers (specifically Jamiee, Leigha and Louise, two Canadians and a Kiwi) who were my friends during my stay. Typicaly we played table tennis and drank wine, Jamiee and Leigha joined me for my first run in Argentina, up to the very scenic hill in Salta which offers awesome views of the city. But alas, Salta was just that, just another city on a trip to South America which has thus far offered just that... cities. Not why I am travelling.
THIS is why I am travelling, as we BELT along dirt road at inappropriate speed towards our destination. The type of landscape we cross is best defined by the facts... 220 odd Kms in roughly 8 hours. "It's gripped! Lets off road!" (The Fast Show anyone...?). Actually all the roads in Bolivia are supposed to be like this, so making progress towards my final country of Peru is going to have to be as accurately judged is possible.
Tupiza was an AWESOME litlle town, a sweet little market square, a fabulous location for the 3 hour horse ride Jim, Mandy  and I took into the surrounding country. I am almost a horse riding convert and would definitely say it's the only way to see the amazing landscapes which surrounded us, the slow pace and minimal carbon footprint seeming fitting after the fast pace and grime of the cities I have been in until now.
So - the Salt flats of Uyuni are in front of me, where I plan to stay for long enough to do a one day tour and then on to La Paz from where I hope to do a three day amazon mission.
A few random final observations...
It's BLOODY cold here on a morning, our border crossing was perverse in the temperature change from Argentina, getting off the bus at 6am it must have been literally freezing which was a BIG shock for all (I whipped my coat out in record time!).
First impressions of Boliva - third world and POOR. The standard of buildings and merchandise being sold here reminds me of India and it looked as though some buildings were made of mud brick like in Ladakh.
It's CHEAP here. About one pound ten for a big beer and about the same for a local meal. It's a relief to my bank account for sure!
Finally, the Spanish seems to be spoken slower here and the people look really native Indian indigenous... makes you feel like you REALLY are travelling... WAY HAY (chew- chew... ;)
I write part two of this blog on another bumpy bus. This time I am alone, having left Mandi and Jim in Uryuni... and am en route to La Paz after only just over 24 hours in Uryuni itself.
Have been super efficient with our time here, after arriving we shopped around for accommodation and then a tour for the following day. A special mention here must go to Hamahn from Mendoza who befriended us at the border and who hung out with us from the border to Tupiza and then to Uryuni.
Hamahn works in a hostel in Mendoza and having a Spanish speaker with us definitely helped make things less stressful with things like getting the bus at the border (a REAL split second decision for me after being informed by some fellow travelers that the train I had intended to catch wasn't running that day... it was definatley one of those moments where I found myself thinking to myself 'what the hell am I doing, I'm not sure if this is right at all... oh well... here goes nothing´) as well as doing some useful translations for us with the locals on the bus as well (who thought we were from Argentina for some reason?).
Side note - the bus I am just shook so hard I thought a wheel had fallen off! BTW - I must mention that the bus from Tupiza to Uyuni went across a part of the map in the Lonely Planet that doesn't actually have a road on it! The 220 Kms actually took us about 7 hours and at one point the road was so bad that the driver had to move into the desert as this was actually better than the road itself!
OK - so Uyuni itself... I booked a 1 day tour to the Salt Flats for today yesterday evening after finding a hostel... MAN it was cold in town and everyone was freezing despite wearing all their clothes (with local hats and gloves sellers doing a brisk trade!). After a rubbish meal in a Western restaurant (a bit of a rip off at nearly 5 quid) and a good nights sleep Mandy, Jim and I packed our bags and booked our bus tickets for the onwards leg (theirs for Thurs night) and then set off for our separate tours to the same destination (theirs being a 3 day tour). The tour itself cost about 13 quid for me, for the full day including a steak dinner!
First off was the railway graveyard (with only one track in the country the number of trains there was surprising), followed by a small town which we were taken to with a museam (consisting of salt sculptures) - really this place was just an excuse to sell us tatty souveniers, followed by a working Salt mine (above ground), a Salt hotel (made out of Salt bricks) and then to Corozan Del Salar, the main destination for the day, WAY out in the desert of a former lake which over many years ran dry and turned into Salt planes. Seriously, it's a strange place, like a winter wonderland mixed with the Sahara desert, a barren scorched white nothingness for miles and miles until, as you approach the focal point for the day, a large formation comes out of the distance to reveal an oasis of brown rock covered with lots of actually quite beautiful Cacti (is that right? Cacti?).
After I'd climbed all over the ragged rock (which had an entry fee of one pound fifty due to it being a national park) I had my dinner and then got involved in taking photos with my fellow tourists, some Koreans, a Japanese girl, a Kiwi and an Aussie. The fun of the place is in taking trick of the eye photos which play on the lack of distance or foreground due to there being nothing but white sand and blue sky. Hence the ability to fight strange monsters the same size as you or to sit in a wine glass in just your knickers and bra as two girls on another did! There were also some awesome shots to be had by simply jumping into the air which I was encouraged to do by the Koreans and which, due to me not tightening the belt on my baggy trousers, caused me to tear a massive hole in the front of my cargo pants. The result of this was a photo of me jumping in the air with what looks suspiciously like a massive vagina (photo to follow) and also me commissioning a Bolivian man at the tourist building to sew my trouser front back together for 5 Bolivianos... about 50p. It felt quite surreal sitting there in my Superman undies watching his steady hand thread my crotch back up!
I hope that this bumpy bus ride is the last I must endure in Bolivia. I hope to fly to the start and from the finish of my Amazon tour, thus avoiding a gnarly 20 hour ride but whether this will happen depends on whether we have a dry day as the landing strip is a field! With it being rain forest obviously this is not guaranteed, but I'll be keeping my fingers crossed!
For now... Ciou... Roberto

PS - I post from La Paz where I arrived in one piece!
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