Bolivia - Days 7 , 8 and 9

Trip Start Apr 21, 2006
Trip End May 01, 2006

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Where I stayed
Hostal Copacabana

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, April 29, 2006

Saturday, April 29th - Internet cafe in Sucre - 4:21pm

Day 7 - Salar de Uyuni (Thursday, April 27)

The next morning we visited the famous Salar de Uyuni, what most people that visit Bolivia consider the highlight of their trip. The place is the world's largest salt flat (12,000 sq km) and sits at 3650 m and covers. The place is truly surreal where some of the dry parts looks like you are driving through snow and others where you have about 10 cm of water over the salt, it seems like you are driving through the clouds as the surface perfectly reflects the deep blue sky and clouds. As the Lonely Planet describes it, the effect is truly eerie. I highly recommend that all of you visit Salar de Uyuni at some point in your life as you do not see this type of scenery anywhere else in the World.

We had lunch at the Isla de los Pescadores (Fisherman's island) in the heart of the salar. This island, unlike most others that you might have seen, is surrounded by the salt flat, so you do not see any water surrounding it. We had to pay 10 bolivianos to explore the island that has a well-organized track surrounded by cactus, some of which are 12,000 years old. Our lunch interestingly enough was served on a salt table.

After lunch, we visited the only salt hotel still standing, which was a few km from the Isla de los Pescadores. There used to be two hotels at some point and pretty soon there won't be any as the hotel, entirely made out of salt (chairs, tables, beds, walls, glasses, etc), is unfortunately damaging the environment of the Salar (mainly due to the toilets and cooking, where all of the wastes are dumped into the Salar).

Our next stop was the town of Colchani, where a small part of the 12,000 sq km of the Salar de Uyuni is used for salt production. Here we saw hundreds of small conical mounds that are later iodized to produce the salt for Bolivian consumption. Interestingly enough, none of the salt that Bolivia is exported, mainly due to the lack of its access to sea, which make the cost to export uncompetitive.

After Colchani, we made our way back to Uyuni, where we passed by the train graveyard, which were trains that have been simply abandoned just outside of Uyuni from the 1960's, so you now see nothing but rusted carriages.

Back at Uyuni, I exchanged e-mails with my new friends and while all of them were only departing to go to Potossi the next morning, I had decided to catch the 4 hour-long bus that was leaving at 7pm that same evening....

When I got to the bus station (just a plain old street where buses leave from), I immediately went to the better looking buses thinking that would be the one that I would take as the agent as sold me the tickets as the best ones from Uyuni to Potossi (they cost 30 bolivianos). To my surprise, the bus to Potossi was the actually the one that looked the worse and I could not help and remember one of Julieta´s friends comments that had said that the buses in Bolivia are actually worse than the ones in India. I don't know if I would go that far, but this one was certainly close....

This bus did not even have a luggage compartment, so my backpack simply got thrown into the roof. Luckily it was not raining! I took the first available seat that I could find and shortly thereafter a man in his mid-30's sat next to me. We soon started chatting and I found out that his name was Jorge and he worked in the mines in Chile, while his wife and two kids lived in Sta. Cruz. He worked for 30 days and got 15 days off to see his family. But since it takes him about 2 days each way by bus to simply get to his home. Jorge had also worked in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. It was interesting hearing how for him Sao Paulo was the most amazing city that he had ever been to. I guess it all relative!

So the bus left pretty much on time, but nearly 2km into the ride, it abruptly stopped. Breakdown number 1!!!! I could not help and simply laugh at the situation and was already thinking of maybe going back to Uyuni and grabbing a pizza with the other travelers and simply taking the bus the next morning. About 30 minutes later, the bus started again, but about 1km later it had to stop and the driver and two of his helpers had to get underneath the bus and try to fix the problem once again. And so it went on like that for the entire night, but after about 10 stops due to mechanical problems and about 10 hours later, I finally managed to get to Potossi around 6am...

Day 8 - Potossi and Sucre (Friday, April, 28th)

Not having slept much in the very comfortable luxurious bus the night before, I decided to treat myself and stay at one of the top-end places in Potossi where I could have a good sleep. So, I rented I ended up staying at Hotel Colonial, which was an old colonial house from one of the rich mine owners of Potosi that transformed his house into a beautiful hotel. This place was the equivalent to a 5 star hotel in terms of service with the beautiful colonial style decoration all around. And the cost to stay at this place was only USD 33 for the night. I woke up the next morning around 9am to have the wonderful breakfast that they offered, but quickly went to bed thereafter as I was still tired from the little sleep I got the last few days.

Around 2pm, I checked out and toured the city for a few hours, but decided to leave for Sucre that same evening since my time was coming to an end and everyone told me that Sucre was the most beautiful city in Bolivia and had a great night life.

So around 5:30pm, I took the bus from Potosi to Sucre. This time I sat next to a person that was not talkative and chose to sleep the whole time. However, next to me there was a young mother traveling with her two young daughters that were very cute. Since the mother had only bought one ticket for herself, one of the daughters actually sat on the floor right next to me. I offered her to sit with me, but she soon took her mom's blanket and simply laid over it and fell asleep in the corridor of the bus. I was a bit shocked by that, but I guess she was used to that and throughout the night I just tried to make sure that nobody stepped on her.

After 3 and half hours and around 9:30pm, we arrived in Sucre without any problems this time. I hopped on a cab that was the oldest vehicle I have ever been on so far (1960), but that managed to get me safely to downtown Sucre close to where all the hostels were located. At 10pm, the streets were packed with people and most of the shops were still open. Sucre is known as a college town, where Bolivians from different parts of the country come to go to University here. I also could breathe easier here as the altitude was much lower at 2780m, especially after coming from Potossi, at 4100 m, and Bolivia's highest city. Since I had not made a reservation for any hostels in Sucre, the first two places I tried were completely booked. On my third try, I ended up finding a decent room at Hostal Copacabana with my own private bath and a hot shower.

As I was starving, I simply left my luggage in my room and headed out to find a nice restaurant to eat. I ended up stumbling into a restaurant called Mezza, which ended up being the best restaurant I have been to in Bolivia so far. This was also an old colonial house that was transformed into a beautiful restaurant with 16th century paintings, carpets and furniture throughout. The waitors were also very professional and for 100 bolivianos, I had a great Bolivian reserve cabernet and one of La Paz's (not Sucre) typical dishes, called pollo al ahi (also popular in Peru), but that also accompanied two other dishes.

After having this great meal, I decided it was time to enjoy my Friday night, so I asked the cab driver to take me to a place where a lot of the young people would go for drinks and listen to music. I ended up going to a place called Bibliocafe, where there was a live band playing and where they had great caipirinhas and mojitos. As I was ordering my drink, I met this American girl that was in Sucre studying Spanish. She introduced me to her two Swiss girl friends that were also there on the same program. As is my luck, the American girl liked me, but I ended up being interested in her Swiss friend that I found more attractive and interesting. I don't know if the American girl noticed that, but all I know that they ended up leaving shortly after she realized that I was not interested in her. The bad news was that she also took her two Swiss friends with her just when I had bought an extra caipirinha to give it to the Swiss girl.

So, after having the two caipirinhas (my plan was only to have one since the other was for the Swiss girl) and the mohito I had before those two, I was feeling quite good and quickly looking around to find some girls to chat to. There were some nice looking Bolivian girls, but they were all with some guy already. In the corner, there were many other tourists that looked like they were all together. I was wearing my Che Guevara shirt this night, so as I saw one of the tourists in that group also wearing a Che Guevara shirt I used that as the line to make friends with them. The guy ended up being Argentinian and quickly introduced me to the rest of his group that consisted of another Dutch guy and three cute girls from Spain, Holland and Norway. Later on a few other Bolivian girls joined us and we all ended up going to the club. The club played a wide variety of music from house and techno to latin pop and hip-hop. I ended up meeting a nice Bolivian girl from the group and ended up having a long-night only getting back to the hostel at 6am.

Day 9 - Sucre

Today, I woke up around 11am (with a slight hangover) and have been touring Sucre. I went to the main market and had a filling lunch for only 2 bolivianos. Hopefully, I will not get sick from that food! The city is quite different in the daylight and now I understand why people consider it the most beautiful city in Bolivia. The city with about 225,000 habitants and at 2790 m above sea-level was declared a Unesco cultural heritage site in 1991 due to is beautiful colonial architecture throughout the city that are still intact.

I will explore the city some more today and tomorrow I am planning to go to a neighboring town called Tarabuco, about 65 km southeast of Sucre where you have the famous Sunday market, which features high-quality ``artesania`` from Bolivia.

I am now going to go to a travel agency to buy a plane ticket from Sucre to Sta Cruz for my flight on Monday.

To be continued....
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