Thursday, 22 November 2012

Well that was Bolivia!!!

We are now in Argentina but the last week in Bolivia for me was the best of the trip so far. We left lovely Sucre in a taxi, fairly cheap but the driving was terrible!! We had an overnight stay in Potosi, the highest city of its size in the world.........air please. It is the centre of silver mining in Bolivia and the mine has a sad air about it. The miners still work in Victorian conditions and the Spanish used thousands of slaves to extract the silver, including black Africans who were enslaved and died beacuse of the cold and then once the Spanish realised they weren't the answer to their desire to get the silver out they resettled in Coroico. Guayasamin, the famous Ecuadorian artist, painted a haunting picture of the Bolivian silver mines. We were only there overnight and didn't visit the mine.

The centre was nice with lots of colonial buildings and the square was occupied by miners, stopping some of the city centre traffic. Its called a paro and is the South America way to protest!! We got up early and headed to Tupiza on the bus. We checked into a nice family-run hostel called La Torre. Tupiza is a lovely little town but our main purpose was to sort out our 4 day trip to SW Bolivia. We booked through the hostel and knew we were sharing our trip with 2 French Canadian women ,Francesca and Aline. Spent a quiet day in Tupiza , which has a Pizza restaurant on every corner including one called Tu-Pizza!!

We set off at 8 o'clock in our jeep with our driver Elvis and his mum nancy, our cook, and they proved to be an excellent combination. Elvis was a lovely friendly, patient soul and a really good driver and his mum Nancy was so organised. The set up of these tours is there are 4 people in the jeep and a guide/driver and they carry all of the food and a cook to prepare it. There were 3 other jeeps in our group. 

The first day we drove through awesome scenery, colours changing every 10 minutes . We stopped for lunch and Nancy had prepared a lentil stew, rice and salad the first of many lovely meals.There were llamas all over the place, with coloured ribbons to determine whose flock they were. When we got to the National Park the office was closed and we eventually hit a blockade........after much discussion they let us in, and we were the only people in the park for 3 days!!

We knew our accomodation was going to be BASIC and it didn't disappoint.........we payed a bit extra to have a room to ourselves but we still shared one sink and 2 toilets between 20!!

The next morning we set off at 8 and visited the lagoons in the park, green, blue, colorado and all in fabulous settings and full of flamingos. One area is called the Dali desert as there are natural sculptures that the man himself could have created. We had a soak in fabulous thermal pools and then a beautiful lunch overlooking the pools. In the afternoon we visited the geysers, blowing off huge clouds of sulphur. Becuase of the paro we had to return to the same 5 star hostel and it had been a long day and I was shattered............and then Elvis said we need to get up tomorrow at 3.30AM to "escape " from the park and avoid getting blockaded in!!

It is cold at 3.30 on the altiplano and we set off in the dark, there are no real roads, just tracks and we were driving up a riverbed at one point. We crossed a stream and then we had to walk up a hill , as driving was going to be too difficult loaded with people. Our jeep got across the stream but got stuck in sand on the hill!! It took about 90 minutes to get it sorted, meanwhile we had to build a fire to keep warm, we then got lovely pancakes for breakfast and by 7.30 we were back on track.

It was another long day, we visited the valley of the rocks with funky shapes etc, the black laguna which was very peaceful and then had lunch with views of the mountains of Chile. At his point a French couple from Toulouse lost it as we were in the middle of nowehere and no place to sit in the shade and relax and have have to wonder sometimes.........and it wasn't sunny!! The area we drove through was a quinoa area and we bought some beer but it was only just okay. We visited a cemetry where the bones of small local people were placd in hollowed out volcanic rocks. Our final destination was a salt hotel on the edge of the salt flats near Uyuni. It was made from blocks of salt and the kids (in their 20's) took great delight in licking the walls!!

We paid extra to get a room on our own and it had ensuite and a after 2 days with just a sink. Dinner was again delicious a veggie lasagne. We had a bottle of wine with it!!

Another early start, 4.30 for a 5 Am departure but this was to me the highlight of the whole trip ..........the salt flats. We were up in time to see the sunrise on the flats and then went to isla de pescados ( an island covered in ancient cacti). We had breakfast and then drove through the flats which are just stunning............white as far as the eye can see.

Our trip ended with lunch in Uyuni ( not a very pleasant spot) and we said goodbye to the Canadians and we set of back to Tupiza. We got back about 5pm tired but having enjoyed a fabulous trip and it only cost is 130 pounds for four days. We had a lush bacon pizza and then got sorted to head off to Argentina.

We left Bolivia on Monday and travelled to the frontera( border) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Lovely friendly people, fabulous scenery, not too touristy and cheap but on the downside, everything is slow travel, service etc but all in all loved the whole experience.
The 5star Iowa suite

llamas of course

Maflingos.....a Harris in joke!!

Sunrise on the Uyuni salt flats

Chris on the salt flats

If the kids can do it so can I !!!

Next instalment..........don´t cry for me Argentina......sorry couldn't resist

Buena suerte

Norma xx

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