Salt and Pictures

Trip Start Jun 04, 2009
Trip End Sep 06, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, June 29, 2009

Well we have reached Bolivia and it is completely unlike anywhere else we have been so far but if possible more impressive and breath-taking. When we reached the Argentinian-Bolivian border we had an adventure just to get across into Bolivia.  We had been told that they are on heightened alert for cases of swine flu and if they have suspected any cases of flu from a member of a tour bus they have quarantined the entire truck for weeks!  This was pretty bad new as by the time we were reaching the border about half of us where suffering from colds, me included, and we were on strict instruction to not cough or sneeze once we were out of the truck.  This proved to be impossible as our border crossing took 2 hours due to the two incredibly bored Argentinian police officers who instead of just stamping passports wanted to chat up every girl in the group and try and lure them back to their houses.  However by playing along with their games we did seem to manage to distract them from the fact that we were all diseased.  By the time Steve got to the window one of them had a new game of playing songs to him on his mobile and getting Steve to guess the artists!  Nothing like taking pride in your work!

Once we finally all got through unscathed and through the Bolivian border check, which took about 10 minutes, we only had to look around to realize that things were very different in Bolivia to what we had been used to.  Most obviously to us was the quality, or lack of, roads.  Where we had been used to driving on tarmac roads since we started the trip we were now faced with dirt tracks and a lot of bumping around as a result.  On our first day we traveled 200km in 12 hours but the scenery more than made up for the less than comfortable journey with canyons, deserts, mountains and llama's to keep us ooing and ahhing for the majority of the trip.  We had one minor set back on the first day when a truck coming the opposite direction on the dirt road had broken his gearbox and was stuck blocking the route so we had no choice but to try to cut round but ended up getting stuck in the sand off the road.  Steve and the other boys got to working quickly with the shovels though and dug us out to get back on the road again in under an hour.  The whole route we only saw one gas station where we pulled in for a fill up during lunch.  They only had one toilet and it was for men only, they wouldn’t let any women use it so it was back to bushes for us again, but with a lot more caution as it’s more likely to be a cactus here!

We stopped for the night in a town called Trapiza which was the last stand off for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid but due to the road conditions we only got to the hotel at 9.30pm completely shattered and leaving at 5.30am so no time to look around.  We did stumble out to a local restaurant for dinner though and were pleasantly surprised when we translated our bill for 60 Boliviano’s as only 6 for a meal and drinks for four people!  Another 200km the following day got us to Salar de Uynai home of the Bolivian salt flats, a dried up lake that is now salt covering an area of 12,000km2. 

We were so impressed with our accommodation here a very smart hotel with our own en suite room and a very nice pizza restaurant in the building.  Bolivia isn’t know for it’s cuisine especially and so there are no local delicacies as such so we allowed ourselves to have a pizza for a treat.  As it happens it’s the highest place in the world to make pizza and has specially designed ovens to cope with the altitude as well as being the only place in the world to serve spicy llama pizza.  Speaking of altitude we had now made it to 3660m and everyone was coping in different way’s.  We learnt our lesson by trying to run up one flight of stairs to our room and collapsing at the top!  We’ve got no choice but to adjust now though as we’ll be heading on up for the next couple of weeks and getting to a peak of 4650m soon enough.  Of course with altitude comes the cold and we’re down to -10 degrees now so all the layers are out and we’re not missing the tent so much anymore.

Our day at the salt flats was one of the best so far, we again treated ourselves to a slap up breakfast at the hotel of fry up and pancakes with maple syrup as well as a few cups of coca leaves tea to help with the altitude, before jumping into 4 wheel drive vehicles for the day.  First we visited a salt mine and looked at all the local crafts made from salt blocks and llama wool, then we headed right into the flats to a place called fish island which used to be completely under the lake so is covered in petrified coral and now cactus.  Here we had a lovely lunch laid out for us of chicken, pasta and plenty of salt!  Then we had to get to work fast to try to create some of the trick photography that is possible on the salt flats as there is no sense of perspective.  It was a lot harder than we thought!  I’ve put up some of the more successful pictures but you’ll notice that they mainly feature me as I couldn’t get the hang of it to take ones of Steve and have been suitably shamed as a result.  One we got into our stride though we started having fun with it and using our imagination so I hope you appreciate the effort (doing karate kicks and cartwheels at altitude really takes it out of you!)

After the photo shoot we went up fish island and saw a panoramic of white stretching out to what seems like infinity.  Then we saw something very odd.  In the middle of all of this nothingness Steve and I fell back from the group and spotted an animal – and not a small one.  It looked a bit like a kangaroo crossed with a rabbit but also sporting a snout like nose, our guides had previously told us nothing lived out here except birds so we have claimed it as a discovery of a new species and named it the Snout-Faced-Kangabit.  I’m sure he’ll be on the news anytime soon.

On the way back we stopped to see a hotel made entirely out of salt and then finished outside of town at the train graveyard where we were treated to a panoramic sunset over the edge of the desert and the salt flats.  A lovely way to finish the day and even better top it off with another pizza and death-by –chocolate (I wish food wasn’t so cheap here, I had such good intentions for when we finished camping!).

Today we are heading to a silver mining village but there is some concern we won’t be making it at all as we have broken down three times already, once for an hour due to the hydraulics, once for 20 minutes due to the gas tank spilling out (as someone has pinched the cap) and most recently for 2 and a half hours for the hydraulics again which is a pretty long stint in the desert!  With any luck we’ll get there though and we are in good hands so I have faith but if we don’t make it and this laptop has been found in the Bolivian desert I think all of us would agree, it was worth it!!

Lots of Love,

Amy and Salty Steve
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