4x4 trip into Bolivia

Trip Start Jan 11, 2012
Trip End Aug 09, 2012

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Monday, March 19, 2012

If we were to produce a highlights reel of our South American adventure, the Atacama Desert would certainly feature prominently. Even with so much of the continent still to be explored, it seemed difficult to imagine how any forthcoming experiences would be able to surpass the Atacama for its uniqueness. As it turns out, we were only 1 dodgy border crossing away from a completely different kind of incredible experience, although no less unique. Next up on the agenda was a 3-day 4x4 journey across an array of spectacular landscapes to Uyuni in Bolivia, country number 5 of our trip.

The journey started by getting to know some of our travelling companions while standing in a queue at Chilean immigration for about an hour. There would be 17 humans from 6 different countries departing on the trip from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, but more on them humans later. After successfully obtaining an exit stamp from a textbook emotionless immigration official, we continued on to the Bolivian side of the border. This is where the border crossing became a bit more interesting. In the event that Julius might read this and accuse us of being agents, we'd rather leave out some of the finer details of our border drama, but basically our passports were temporarily confiscated by a rather corrupt border man. Fortunately our driver came to the rescue by reclaiming our passports and informing us that we'd be able to obtain Bolivian entry stamps in Uyuni. He seemed very relaxed about the whole issue, claiming that the border official merely wanted some form of "facilitation fee", but that didn't really change the fact that we would spend our first few days in Bolivia as illegal immigrants!

We quickly decided that there was bugger all that we could do about our immigration status until we arrived in Uyuni so it was best to forget about it all and enjoy the journey. That didn't take much effort. As soon as we bid our farewells to the border we were immediately in complete awe of the dramatic scenery.

Joining us in our Land Cruiser were Amanda and Nick, an Aussie/Brit couple and their hilarious third wheel (fifth wheel for the journey), Sam. The other 2 Land Cruisers carried a few Germans, some more Brits and Aussies and a Frenchman that had definitely strummed a few chords on the old guit once or twice in his life. In all we couldn't have asked for a more entertaining crew. From drinking games, "extreme" photos and rock throwing competitions to singalongs, French-British banter and human pyramid building, our entire journey was filled with all sorts of entertaining experiences.

From the start of the trip it was clear that we were going to be driving through some pretty remote and extremely barren territory. There were no roads, no buildings, no pollution, no other humans, just vast desert, colourful lagoons, snowcapped mountains and miles and miles of untouched nature. The scenery was breathtaking. There were moments when we all couldn't quite comprehend the magnificence of the setting. Words, particularly words typed by this plonker author, don't come close to doing justice to the remarkable scenery. Again we have to rely on our photos to better describe some of the landscapes.

On our first day we visited a hot spring, a couple of lagoons, some flamingos and a few geysers. In between all of this our Land Cruisers effortless ploughed across the desert, proving once again that Mr Lynch and son are a tad loco when they try to convince people that a Land Rover is "the best 4x4xFar". Please. Whether it’s the deserts of Dubai, the potholes of Africa or the South American outback, the Land Cruiser rules supreme. I'm expecting Toyota to give me a free one after punting their product on such an established and highly reputable media source as this blog.

Our first night was spent at the brain-tearing altitude of 4400m above sea level. Sir Edmund Hillary probably used to enjoy a quiet jog with the lads at such an altitude, but for the rest of humanity that sort of elevation generally results in a few sour faces. Fortunately the ringleaders of our group managed to lift the spirits of the team by instigating some non-drinking drinking games. The lack of alcohol was probably a blessing in disguise as the additional pain to the brain the following morning might have been somewhat unbearable. Then again, we would never advise anyone to attempt to play any of the more basic drinking games without any alcohol involved. Trying to decide whether a card is red or black is just downright ridiculous unless there's a shot of vodka waiting for an incorrect choice!

Day 2 involved a whole lot more driving, more lagoons, a rock that looks like a tree and some more drinking games. This time with alcohol. And not just any alcohol but some delicious Singani which is basically a much cheaper version of Cape to Rio cane. Mmmm. Cheap cane + 3900m above sea level = sore brain. Sore brain, but loads of entertainment, particularly since our French musician, Fred, somehow stumbled upon another crazy talented French guitar player in the middle of the desert. So Fred and his countryman strummed away while the rest of us attempted to sing in tune. Don's voice was magnificent as always.

On the final day of our trip we first visited a train cemetery which was far less emotional than the more conventional kind of cemetery; and then headed for the highlight of the journey - the Uyuni Salt Flats. Now this is where the incredible scenery became even more remarkable. Again photos will do the flats more justice but the landscape was like nothing we have ever experienced. We spent several hours on the flats gazing out into the white nothingness and of course took the opportunity to capture some of those ridiculous photos that have become an inherent component of the salt flat experience.

So an incredible trip ended in the uninspiring town of Uyuni where we did indeed manage to obtain those elusive entry stamps, albeit after paying a small "fee". With our immigration status upgraded from illegal we headed straight to the nearest pub for a celebratory drink and then boarded an overnight bus bound for La Paz. Our first glimpse of Bolivia had been extraordinary, the 4x4 trip was definitely our best experience to date, but Bolivia still had a whole lot more to throw at us...
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John/Jannie/Box on

Amazing, There is no doubt Wa that the 2nd best...........starts with Land... Those rivers looked awesome - were there any fish in them? Dunes , somehow you are letting the good family name down- you know that a bottle of alcohol is an essential 'medicinal" first-aid requirement in any back pack.Sharpen up my girl.
Can't wait for the next Skype ... Lost of love XXX Pop

Stephen Bishop on

hey chap and chapette... just caught up on all of your entries and pics i missed out on over the last month. looking AWESOME and am very jealous. love the fact you managed to squeeze in some gunners time when you demolished 5pur2!

all the best for the rest of your journey, i will keep checking up on your blog. great pics and enjoyable reading... michael palin eat your heart out!

lots of love from sunny (and now chilly) south africa.

Michelle on

Missing you guys xxx

Natti on

Sick with jealousy!!!!! No wonder you were raving about the trip! Not sure who to praise for their photography ability but the pics are STUNNING! Love you both. Cant wait for the next update xxx

Uncle Ali on

Hey you guys, I'm sitting here in Buenos Aires after a mammoth 14hr flight from London (or short compared to your bus journeys!) catching up on your travels. This is where it all began for you so a pity we can't join up for a steak n malbec! Your photos are brilliant & I have enjoyed reading all your humorous tales! You both look well & relaxed which is a testament to your adventure. Enjoy, take care & lotsa love x x

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