A Travellerspoint blog

Wining and dining in Bolivia and Argentina‏

We left off getting the bus to Sucre in Bolivia which was a pretty short (11 hours) however butt-hurting ride. Sucre is beautiful, meant to be the prettiest city in Bolivia and you can see why. It´s also a UNESCO world heritage site. Neon signs are banned, and the buildings - mostly Spanish colonial architecture with pretty patios - are all required to be whitewashed yearly. It´s so clean too! Although 5 minutes away up the hillsides from the centre of town the painting gets more and more dilapidated and there will be the odd pig on the side of the road. We spent most of our time here eating really good food - my first taste of llama mmmm - and just walking around the city, up to viewpoints and then having early nights as we were all sick. We went horseriding with our guide with the broken arm - he assured us not from the horses - which took us through the hills surrounding Sucre and some of the surrounding farming villages. The only issue I had, as the horses pretty much sorted themselves out, was when the dogs would come chase us and Rudy really did not like dogs. We were lucky to be around on a Sunday and headed out about an hour away to Tarabuco where there are huge markets. That was fun, except for the old ladies trying to sell things that put on a sad begging face and drape the ítems in your face, no matter where you are or what you are doing. While we were waiting for our bus to leave Sucre I got my tragus pierced, because I am apparently having a quarter-life-crisis, and then we headed south to Tarija, Bolivia´s wine región. Woooh vino!

This was our first lesson going into the high season to book hostels in advance as we arrived at 5am and couldn´t find any that were open and/or had space so we spent several hours going from café to café trying to find one where wifi worked so we could find beds! We managed to find one eventually after looking like bums in the park for too long and they cooked a big delicious dinner at the hostel the first night to farewell the hippie who had been painting the wall mural. Tarija was larger than I expected, it´s nice though with tree-lined avenues, colonial architecture, paved streets, many plazas and fountains.

We did a wine tour which stopped at a few vineyards and then a few sights around the área, which is very pretty. We were all forced to try Singani, the 96% alcohol distilled grape spirit and the guide had a laugh telling the first girl it was water so she took a big sip. It is potent! We met a really funny Bolivian family on the tour, the Mum was in set-up-my-son mode. The second half of the day we had another tour which took us to a dam, a canyon, a waterfall and some town but nothing exciting. Plus we were so tired from drinking the first half of the day and then sitting on the bus in the sun.

This was the end of Bolivia for the time being. It worked out cheaper to get a taxi to the Bolivia/Argentina border and we thought it was going to be an easy day, cross the border, get a bus on the other side to Salta and relax. Not with ´AMERICANOS! ´. Stamp to exit Bolivia - easy! Scan bags - fine, apart from the swarms of bugs in the humidity. Then came the confusión...where do we enter Argentina? 1km away up the hill in the stinkng hot sun being eaten by insects. That was´t toooo bad. Then we got intercepted in line by THE DEVIL! He took the girls American Passports and told them they needed to pay for the Argentinian visa on the Bolivian side. We had researched but hadn´t found anything saying it´s one you need to get in advance. (I love being British). Anyway, they ended up having to walk back and forth between the 2 borders 3 or 4 times, being told different things each time and not fully understandig the problem as the Devil doesn´t speak English. Oh he was such an A**hole, I caught him smirking as he walked off. Renee ended up throwing her money at him in frustration at one point. They had had to cross back into Bolivia and get a taxi to the nearest town to find an internet café and pay for their visa online then come back. When they passed the baggage scan again, a nicer man asked ´Americanos? ´as he could see there was a problem, so it must happen a bit. Meanwhile, I - whose stamp took 30 seconds! - was waiting with all of our baggage, had this one policeman keep making me move with it all for no particular reason, had the cleaning lady throw her bucket of wáter over the path and then sweep it towards me and all of the bags as I tried to move them screaming ´UN MOMENTO!!!! ´to which she did NOT wait un momento. The Devils wife? I was so mad when I fell asleep/passed out in the heat and the policeman poked me to wake me...then tried to tell me something which I didn´t understand. I hated him at this point, until he walked away on his phone for a bit and came back having used google translate to tell me to be careful of the bags. So we became friends.

4 hours later and we were ready to go, with our taxi driver Jose who had seen the girls doing laps and drove them up the hill the last time for free. There were no buses (well planned) so we got him to drive us 4 hours away to Salta which was actually pretty cheap. He got us through the many pólice checkpoints without a hassle, talking his way out of having them check our bags each time (assuming drugs often come in from Bolivia) and lent us money for snacks and wáter as we had no pesos. Even though I was ready for him to drive off with all of our stuff at each petrol stop (they often make you get out of the vehicle when filling up over here...this was our first time experiencing this) he ended up being so nice ´ok my darlings ´and even assisted us with our first money Exchange on the blue (black) market as you get so ripped off with the USD by the official rate. We were so nervous about this before arriving but you are almost halving what you get if you do it properly. So it was a drive-by transaction and he even gave us a lesson on how to differentiate fake notes from the real ones.

Salta is a nice town from what I saw - about 10 minutes. We stayed at a hostel 1/2 hour out of town surrounded by farms and with stunning mountain views from the POOL (needed for the heat). it was free to stay here as they are still finishing it off so even though some days there was literally no food and nowhere else to go except back to town until mid-afternoon it was worth it. We pretty much lazed around the pool the whole time, slept in and had fun times at the bar. We did have to leave the pool área one day and get a make-myself-feel-better slushie when the Argentinian girls showed up in their thong bikinis. Ummm does gravity not affect them? The boys were very happy when we brought their attention to it so we all sat outside with our perve-glasses on. Well, mostly us 3 girls, while downloading butt exercise aps we were sure we would use daily until Rio.

We decided we couldn´t work at this hostel due to the fly problem. I´ve never seen so many! Amongst them sandflies we would later find out as bites started appearing. One morning was weird waking up in the room to our Brazilian roommate playing the didgeridoo and then offering us LSD (don´t worry I said no). Only in South America. Luckily he checked out that day. We met some good Friends here, a bunch of guys motorcycling from North America down to Ushuaia, the Southernmost point in South America, and have since run into lots of people (mostly other bikers) who know them as by now everyone was on a similar route to us. This is fun when arriving somewhere like Buenos Aires and meeting people from La Paz etc.

Next destination was Cordoba, supposedly a 12 hour overnight bus trip. About 8 hours in we woke to hear the sound like an aeroplane engine (if you were IN the engine), drenched in sweat as the air-con had carked it and had to leave the bus and wait for another, slightly crappier bus. This bus NEVER worked properly. For several hours we drove at a snails pace as it kept overheating and then we would have to stop for 1/2 hour. It was equally as hot on the bus as off by now. Finally it died for good and no amount of wáter bottles could fix it. So then we waited on the side of the road for 2 hours - found a service station that sold beer and enjoyed this with an old Bolivian couple - for another bus to arrive. Cama class. The fancy class with only 3 seats across and even wifi so that I could let Couchsurf host #2 know that we would be late as 12 hours turned into 23!

Humid Cordoba is Argentina´s 2nd city, it´s really nice with lots of fountains, a few rivers passing through and beautiful buildings. You feel like you could be in Europe. And there is Subway. Couchsurf host #2 apartment was really centrally located and nice...he was nice and sweet as well but this was to be our last couchsurfing attempt as what we saved on accommodation we spent on dinners and drinks trying to avoid him at the apartment as we are finding that hosts are possibly people who.....lack social skills? His family were over for lunch one day visiting from Germany and we briefly met them - they were AWESOME! We tried to get to Alta Gracia where Che Guevara grew up but were too late for the bus that day so saw The Wolf of Wall Street instead and then lied about the time were were getting a bus just so we could get out of there and the awkwardness and instead spent an extra couple of hours at the terminal. We didn´t want to sit around and watch him ´play ´the guitar any longer. By now we were already noticing many Argentinians dislike of Americans and to be honest, weren´t loving most in return. ´Where are you from? ´- ´United States ´- *grunting noise* ´and you? ´- ´Australia ´- ´Oh! AUSTRALIA! Wow ........ *conversation with me, ignoring the girls completely*.

Next - Mendoza for some wine time! Hailey and I wasted no time getting out and looking for some good restaurants. Here they sprawl onto sidewalks and the atmosphere is great. Mendoza is another lovely city with plenty more tree-lined avenues (needed to escape from the sun) plazas, fountains, parks etc. I read that there are so many plazas in Mendoza as in the 1800´s the city was flattened by a huge earthquake so now they are all evacuation zones. Wondering if that is why all of South America so far love their plazas. OMG. Good. Wine. In. Argentina. Is. So. CHEAP. At. Restaurants!!! HEAVEN. And then there is the steak! We definitely splurged on meals throughout Argentina.

Instead of a tour, we got a bus to Maipu and hired bikes for the day for $6 from Mr Hugo. I had the BEST day. Wish I could do it all again. We just got a map and rode around to whichever Bodega´s we wanted (ran out of time for the Olive Oil farms). It was 40 degrees so we were some of the only idiots...i mean people... biking around. My favourite winery was this 100% organic one - you can drink as much as you want and not feel bad - where all bottles are hand labelled and bottled and we were able to simple the most expensive bottle which you usually wouldn´t as the owner had opened it up the previous day and with no preservatives it needs to be consumed within 24 hours. We helped. This was our first stop and we were already struggling in the heat. Plus, being dressed for bike riding in dresses and thongs made it easier. Not. We soon realised we were continually being followed by a policeman on a motorbike and worried that as an Argentinian he was going to target us for not wearing helmets. But as we held up our map looking lost at one point he came over and asked where we wanted to go then told us just to follow him. From this time he had him for the rest of the day. He would wait outside the bodegas and then ask where to next and lead us there. It was great when, as after a few wines you lose respect for time, we realised we were running late to return to Mr Hugo and Renee was sick and struggling so the entire way back he blocked a (the only) lane of traffic so that we could follow him back and told us not to worry about going too slow for the cars. SERVICE! He delivered us to Mr Hugo and explained our tardiness. A group of other people who had returned were sitting around Mr Hugo´s and all cheered when we arrived with the policeman, by this point we had forgotten this was not normal.

Until now we had managed to avoid doing our own blue market exchange - the biker boys did it for us in Salta - but it was time. We had our escape plan all worked out haha but all you do is walk down one Street in particular and men with bumbags see you are a foreigner and start saying ´CAMBIO (change) , cambio, cambio´until you pick one. He will then take you into a shop - ours was a jewellery & handbag shop - and disappear behind the counter and come back with your money. Done. Easy. And then he will help you find the bus stop.

We took a day bus to Santiago as had heard the drive through the Andes is beautiful and it WAS! And this border crossing back into Chile was easy, I asume because Argentina is happy to get rid of the Americans. Although it was funny that they kept bringing the sniffer dogs past us in line, SO many times we were laughing in the end, it was as if to say ´come on are you SURE you don´t smell any drugs on them?´. Snow capped mountains, vineyards, pisco plantations. Through these mountains you realice how miniscule you are on the earth. We had the best seats - front row so with extra leg space and full front window views (the driver is downstairs) so we were very please with how everything was going, bus timing and connections working out perfectly etc. until Hailey got pickpocketed at Santiago bus terminal with the few hundred dollars she´d just exchanged and more from the ATM we had just been to. We are sure we know who it was - 2 girls - and possibly how it happened - an older man who was trying to tell her something in Spanish...this could have been him being involved to distract her or him trying to warn her as they were hanging around for a while. Argh! So annoying. But we had plenty of hours to put together this theory, heading to Pucon in Chile´s Lake District.

Posted by neerg_08 18:58 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina salta bolivia mendoza cordoba sucre tarija maïpu tarabuco wine_region Comments (0)

Death Road, Lake Titicaca and The Pampas

Some love and hate in Bolivia

After piling into one of the mini-vans that transport people around La Paz – with all of our luggage to much huffing and puffing and one Hail Mary – we arrived at the bus stand to take us to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. We were confused when a few hours into the trip we arrived at a water crossing and were forced off the bus as it was loaded onto a barge which seemed to be just old, rotten looking planks of wood on some tyres. Luckily that was just for the bus and we crossed on another boat. We carried on to Copacabana and followed a girl that met us at the bus stop with a free taxi to a hostel. I´m sure we do everything you are not supposed to. Another nice private room for $5 a night each, with a lovely rooftop terrace with fantastic views of sunset over the lake.

Copacabana beach is pebbly and lined with duck pedal boats and Bolivian families having picnics and playing games. We went for a hike up Cerro Calvario which looks over Lake Titcaca and Copacabana town, which looks much bigger from up here. Halfway up the hill is a statue – Mirador Sagrado Corazon de Jesus – which is located between the twin hills San Cristobal (male) and San Barbara (female). The path follows 14 stations of the cross and leads to a very spiritual place at the top where there are ceremonial tables, crosses and boxed in shrines where people come to light candles and pray for loved ones ill and passed.

In the centre of town at the very beautiful Catedral, cars line up daily to be decorated with streamers, flowers and sprayed with champagne for the vehicle blessing known as La Benedicion de Movilidades´, asking the Virgn de Copacabana for protection. The Virgen de Copacabana is a statue encased in glass in the church only taken out for special fiestas, otherwise it is believed catastrophic floods will occur. This statue is so highly regarded that Copcabana in Rio de Janeiro was named after this Copacabana because of it. We were lucky enough to see the statue paraded through the streets when we were sitting having our morning coffee at a café. We heard distant drumming and trumpeting and eventually up the street marched hundreds of people throwing confetti and flower petals and the Bolivian navy marched through and then finally the statue was paraded by. Lucky us. We do think it´s funny Bolivia has a navy, but I suppose they want to protect whatever borders they can now. I loved Sergio´s explanation that while Bolivians party for Carnival and other celebrations, Chile takes their land and that is why they have no ocean border now.

We thought we bought a day tour to Isla del Sol and while this sounds greedy to expect for a few dollars, that is how it was explained. So we were confused when we arrived by boat on the island and found we had to walk the entire length of the island (4 hours in the scorching sun…which we were not dressed appropriately for) to meet the boat to return to Copacabana. So in fact, we would not just spend the day cruising around on the boat, docking at important sites and boarding again the lazy tourist way we have come to enjoy. All we had was the boat ticket. We had to try and follow other people who had been on our boat to find a guide, and thankfully a girl in our group spoke Spanish and English and could translate for us. We tried to miss a few sites we weren’t interested in but without a ticket you could not pass and you had to pass to get across the island. Then there were several check points you had to pay a ´toll´ at to get past… ¨for the children¨ in the end we were so hot, sweaty, sore (thongs are not hiking shoes) and burnt we were yelling ¨WE JUST WANT TO GET OFF THIS ISLAND!!! WE DON´T WANT TO USE YOUR PATH!!!¨….looking back, it was a beautiful day, a beautiful island with Inca ruins and the island was one of the most important religious sites in the Andes as the place the sun and moon were created. Crystal clear water along the shores, ancient sacrificial tables, important history, and surrounded by the endless azul ´ocean´of Lake Titicaca – but we hated it at the time. At least we can appreciate it now and appreciate it even more as we did not stay on the island because as we arrived at the far end we met people arriving with their big backpacks and saw the hill they had to climb (at this high altitude) and how unaware they were that this would be necessary.

I also like to think that being in such a spiritual place was the best place possible to hear of beautiful Grandma passing away and I was happy that if I couldn´t be home with everyone there was a place I could go and feel that I could say goodbye and have some sort of farewell. Hailey & I trekked up Cerro Calvario again with some candles and flowers and had a lovely little ceremony for Grandma and all loved ones we´ve lost. It was really nice and then we sat on the end of a rock with a beer overlooking the lake and watched other families celebrate loved ones too, throwing bungers at each other and spraying alcohol around. Then we tipped some alcohol onto the ground to officially end the ceremony – an offering to pachamama (mother earth) so that your prayers are heard – and sat there for sunset.

Now the tone of the trip changes from this spiritual, sightseeing journey to a drunken, party holiday for the festive season. Bar dancing, countless bloodbombs (the official Loki shot, red bull and grenadine dropped into a glass of red bull…you will not escape without many), bars lined with shots and then set alight, many mangina´s in the bar (again,mostly Australian boys), forgotten nights, lost articles of clothing after clubs, wasted days…but you never have to feel ashamed the next day as everyone else at this hostel was always just as drunk or more so.

We spent a week in La Paz, so that we could be at a good hostel for Christmas and they really did do a nice day. We had a proper Xmas dinner and the bar was decorated sooo nicely and the staff were amazing and made it really special and as homely as possible for everyone. At 12 on the dot my birthday celebrations began and for some reason it seems tradition amongst backpackers to buy the birthday girl THE. Most. Disgusting. Shots. Possible! I awoke with a stiff feeling face and when I looked in the mirror I was covered in UV paint. Hmmmmm. I remember singing Enrique Iglesias songs in the taxi on the way home from a local bar where the manager would not let us buy any drinks all night and instead just kept bringing over his own trays of flaming concoctions. Just another night in La Paz.

We then decided it would be a good idea to mountain bike down the road known as ´The World´s Most Dangerous Road´ a.k.a. Death Road. It was awesome! We started early in the morning as it was a couple of hours drive away, through the finally quiet streets of La Paz city and up the surrounding snowcapped mountains to a car park where we got acquainted with our bikes – mine was Evil Santa - and passed around a bottle of 96% alcohol to sip, pour on our bikes and then onto the earth to ask for Pachamama´s protection. Pachamama appears to be an alcoholic. Our guide was great and as we started on an asphalt road to get used to our bikes he stayed at the back with Renee and I and chatted to us so we concentrated less on pooping our pants as trucks and buses flew by and more on removing our white-knuckle grip on the brakes. It was a shame I couldn’t move any part of my body and more fully appreciate the beautiful scenery of the surrounding mountains, but I chose life. I was just getting used to riding and was able to release the brakes from time to time when it was time to board the bus (except the overachievers who wanted to ride the extra hour – this part was up hill so most of us chose to eat our chocolate bars and bond on the bus…we had a really good group of people) and head for Death Road. Arrrrghhhh toilet stop por favor? Talk about nerves.

You start up in the dry bushy mountain tops and as you descend it becomes more humid and tropical. It is really beautiful scenery when you can appreciate it, but as we were always at the back we never had much time to stop before starting again, as the rest of the group had already been waiting.but on Death Road, I felt no need to go any faster than I felt comfortable and the guide was constantly fixing my brakes as I don’t think I let go once. He also warned that I would suffer from ´prison butt syndrome´by the end of the day as I also didn´t lift my butt off the seat the whole time. But it was my cramping hands that were more the problem. We road through waterfalls and creeks – a time I did actually have to speed up – and dodged ´baby skull rocks´ which commonly knock people off their bikes and when we finally made it to the little village at the end were warned to look out for dogs and children as they also often knocked people off at this point. I ignored many high five requests because of my inability to remove my hands from their moulded position.

When we made it to the end we celebrated our lives with a beer and then went ziplining which was a lot of fun, in Superman position (so that braking was not my responsibility), 350m high above the bush and rivers below. We then piled into the back of a truck to take us to meet the rest of the group at an animal sanctuary but as we were running late (ahem…not our fault for being too slow) we only had time for a shower and food. Up until this point we hadn’t even thought about how we would get back to La Paz, but I had specifically screamed throughout the day ¨thank god we are on bikes not on a bus¨ as the road didn’t seem so narrow for us on bikes. WELL, how did we have to get back???? Along The Worlds Most Dangerous Road…on our bus. Luckily a small 20 seater one but it still took several beers on our bus party to calm the nerves. We stopped under one waterfall , mid-creek, and they opened the doors so we could look out and there was about 5-10cm between the edge of the bus and the edge of the road and the vertical drop. So this is when we started to hear the death stories of Death Road. At its peak there were about 300 deaths a year. There is now a new road but vehicles still use this one and it sucks when 2 vehicles meet in opposite directions, trust me. Here cars drive on the right hand side but on this road they switch so that the driver is at the edge of the road.

We heard about a truck who had to reverse to give way to another car and it´s tray was filled with 100 or so people and as it reversed its wheels slipped and it went over the edge, killing them all. We hoped we would never have to reverse along this road…stay tuned for the trip to Rurrenabaque. Especially in the wet season remains are usually never recovered as the vegetation grows over so quickly.

A sad story was of a man whose wife and children died when their taxi went over the edge. He quite hit job and became a human traffic light to stop this happening to anyone else and relied on food and money donations. At one stage there were about 10 human traffic lights like him. Anyway, we made it back safely! Hurrah! Never again would we drive along Death road. Surely once is enough right?

The next day we set off for our bus to Rurrenabaque and our Amazon pampas tour. We had been warned, for our sanity, to fly (about $70 and one hour), but for $15 who could resist a 20 hour Bolivian bus ride. We thought that the ´for our sanity´ may be due to bumpy roads or the long journey and we can handle that fine. Nope, it is because after using the ´new´ road it merges back onto Death Road. Not the one officially used for the bike tours, but the same width, the same vertical drops, the same scary sh*t where you end up laughing because you are so scared and do begin to lose your sanity. Hailey was practically sitting in the lap of the old lady next to her, Renee had her eyes closed but I was at the window seat and couldn’t help but look as the edge of the bus appeared in line with the drop over the edge. And then, when we thought it couldn’t get any worse – we had to reverse!!! It was horrible. I was on the very back seat so the back wheels of the bus were in front of me – because of this, at one point reversing I was actually OVER THE EDGE OF THE ROAD!!! We swore we would get the flight back – until several days later we thought ¨ah, we did it once let´s just bus it´. The bus trip was bumpy and dirty. Ah Bolivia. And hot, especially arriving in the humidity of Rurrenabaque even at 6am. I was excited when there were no taxis – it is a town of mostly motorbike taxis – so we each got to squeeze on one with our packs and zip around town to the tour office.

We had time for a wet wipe shower at the tour office and then into the 4wd for the pampas tour. After very bumpy 3 hour ride we arrive at the Yemani river and spotted some pink dolphins before even boarding the boat. Then we met our guide – no English even though we booked an English tour – but to be fair he didn’t speak AT ALL really so everyone got the same deal – and hopped into the boat to make our way to our camp in the pampas. Ok, so we booked this tour cheap cheap, knowing it was not ideal season for pampas as the water was high so animals may not be so easy to spot. And we were well aware that we would get what we paid for. And that is sadly not an eco-tour. When our guide - who I cared so little for i can’t even remember his name – spotted some little yellow monkeys in the bushes overhanging the river, he RAMMED our boat into those bushes to get close, pulled out a banana (just tampering with nature, ahh) and fed them, let them jump all over him, let anyone in the boat do the same etc. etc. I think this is when we started hating the pampas and our tour group. After driving around in our little motor boat, creating a lovely haze of fumes and noise pollution, to spot alligators (camens….are they the same or different?) we arrived at our camp, a collection of rickety wooden rooms connected by a boardwalk because…..our camp had a resident alligator, Pepe. When the boat pulled up onto the SHORE he was there waiting, lurking in the water. Amazon diva Nicole started here and I refused to help unload the boat of anything but my own bag because Pepe was about 3m away!

We went to another island for sunset and met another tour group who told us about a crazy camp with an alligator, one of the biggest you will see in the pampas. Yep, our camp! Then the sun set and the mosquitos came out and we were sweating and you cant go to the toilet without your butt getting bitten and you cant shower really because you need to put your clothes on so quickly that you are still wet and if you decide to wet your hair to cool your body down it will stay wet for 2 days and you will get the worlds itchiest scalp and you will go alligator searching at night in the dark with a guide who can´t tell you what to do in a dangerous situation and when you arrive back Pepe´s red eyes are staring at you and there is a bat in your room….soooo I looooooved the pampas you can tell. And there was a couple and their kid from VALPARAISO!

Other activities included piranha fishing, which ended up with us being stalked by several alligators and shitting ourselves about the smell of raw meat on the boat. I also asked if there were pink dolphins in this area as I didn’t want to nab one and of course was told no….1 minute away as we drove off there were several. We ´swam with pink dolphins´ but as soon as our noisy boat chugged along they of course bolted. We were also told there were no alligators in this area then turned the corner and there was one on the shore. Here, while waiting for the stupid kid to have enough swim time a massive storm hit and I remember seeing Hailey´s face and it really sums up the entire experience. On NYE we went anaconda tracking, so had knee high gum boots with holes in the bottom and while Australia counted down to 2014 I had cow manour smelling muck seeping into the top and bottom of my boots, then fell and had some splash into my mouth. I think at this point I had an outburst of ¨AT HOME THEY ARE POPPING CHAMPAGNE NOW!! I HATE THE PAMPAS!!!!¨. then the guide found a rattle snake and decided to stat poking it with a stick for our amusement.

We sat around the campfire for a bit that night but Hailey and I were last to arrive and so our backs were facing the water and every time I turned around Pepe´s red eyes were there, we hated our entire group, and decided this would not be NYE so we went to bed at 10:30 because if you aren’t awake for it, it never happened! We headed back to Rurrenabaque on new years day (the official one) and we ignored our groups invite to meet up for dinner that night. Yep, we were THOSE people. We had planned to meet up with a couple from one of the other groups for a NYE repeat, as they went to bed early too so we went for dinner & drinks first and then when the club we planned to go to was closed we had to follow any music we could hear as it was 11:55 and at 11:59 we burst into a cement room of a local bar (with possible brothel upstairs) and all screamed HAPPY NEW YEAR! To some confused looks. We spent the night drinking cheap, warm beer, sweating to the point our clothes were absolutely drenched, salsa dancing with a couple of 60 year old Bolivian men. Better than in the pampas.

We arrived at the bus station the next day and encountered for the first time the problem with rocking up without a ticket – no seats left. We were devastated as were well & truly mentally prepared to leave this place. Back in Chile, a French girl had told us when in Rurrenabaque if we need help, ask for Luis and everyone knows him and he can help with anything. We had completely forgotten about this. Then, as we were begging the bus people to let us sit in the aisle or anywhere, a man (or…an angel?) turned up and asked what we needed. After much back-and-forth with several bolivianos here and then to get the job done, he managed to get us 2 seats and the promise of a 3rd temporary seat to be set up in the aisle. Well, although this never appeared, we did get 2 seats so for the first 8 hours Hailey and I swapped turns lying in the dusty aisle of the bus. Luxury. But at least we had escaped! Death road this time was met at night time so although there were several falling sensations brought on by reversing in the darkness, it was also too dark to see the edge of the road so surprisingly wasn’t as bad as the journey there. 20 hours on this bus, 14 hours freezingin La Paz bus station – at one point I was told my lips were turning blue – and another 12 hour overnight bus to Sucre – no surprise we all got sick

Posted by neerg_08 18:37 Archived in Bolivia Tagged amazon bolivia la_paz copacabana lake_titicaca isla_del_sol rurrenabaque pampas worlds_most_dangerous_road Comments (0)

First taste of Bolivia


We arrived in Uyuni on board our smelly bus (no one even tucked us in….there weren’t even ANY BLANKETS ON BOARD!) and were followed by a strange Canadian girl who had latched onto our trio and found a hostel…$5 night for a private triple room. I was already in love with Bolivia!

We arranged our tour to Salar de Uyuni, the salt flats for the following day and I´m sure most of you will be shocked to hear we chose a tour that was almost twice the cost of most! We decided this because we had heard so many horror stories of salt flat tours-gone-wrong. Drivers getting so drunk the tour group found them 10km away passed out with pooped pants. Guests who had to drive the 4wd back to Uyuni themselves as the driver was so wasted. Guides and drivers who at all of the guests food such as eggs and meat and served them up a small portion of rice each or a slice of bread. Tours which crossed the border into Chile and the guides trying to set up the guests at the border and tell the police they have stuff on them so they would get searched, in the hope they would find something and they would be rewarded. This and many reports of people who paid for English tours and did not get it made us very bit wary but when we were in the Red Planet office another group returned and were raving about it and hugging the guide Juan and driver Jose. We asked if we could get those 2 but they couldn´t guarantee it, but were so happy to arrive the next morning and find that Juan and Jose would in fact be our guide and driver.

Bolivian Spanish is so much easier to understand than Chilean. We have since heard from Spanish speakers that even they have trouble understanding Chileans. On top of this, Bolivians are sooo nice and friends and patient and helpful. We were all instantly in love.

Our tour started at the Uyuni ´Railway Graveyard´ which was a good site for photos. Fossilised coral can be found all over the ground, which seemed strange at 3600m asl. We stopped in another town for lunch – heaps of food, we were happy to see it hadn’t been stolen – and to shop at the markets for souveneirs where at $3 for a beanie, haggling seems rude! Here the traditional dress of Indigenous Bolivians lives on, the women wear long pigtail plaits, multi-layers puffy skirts, an apron like top over their shirts, and everyone is tiny. All throughout Bolivia any ´average height´ or taller person is guaranteed to hit their head on a market tent/tarp or some other structure at least once. Hailey, at 5ft, has not had this problem.

We then ventured on until everntually we entered the salt flats. The first several hundred metres were a bit wet as the rainy season had just begun and this is where the salt was starting o be harvested and piles – abandoned and also those awaiting collection - could be seen all around as well as trucks shoveling the salt into the trays like snow. After a photo stop and realized Juan and Jose loooove taking photos for us (woohoo) we separated from the many other tour vehicles and continued to the REAL salt flats, where the dry plains start and appear to carry on endlessly in each direction (size of Northern Ireland). The cracked pattern left on the ground is beautiful and we stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere for more photos. Juan was lying on the ground to get our hilarious photos where we would appear to be eating each other, holding miniature versions of the others in our hands etc. but photos really can’t capture the spectacular landscape. Note to future visitors...the salt flats are reeeeally white! Wear sunscreen!!!!! Swollen, burnt face is not a good look on anyone.

We drove through some areas covered with a thin layer of water which combined with the salt made the entire earth glitter as if covered in millions of diamonds. The sky and distant mountains reflected perfectly onto the ground. We stopped at Inkahuasi Island, one of the many cactus islands of the Tunupa salt flats. These cactuses grow 1cm a year and some are about 10m – 1000 years old! We had a couple of hours to walk up the jagged rocky stairs to the top and around the island, passing the 2 embarrassed looking llamas dressed up in ribbons and other decorations. The views up there are ridiculous! 360° view of the salt flats, white, glary sprawling flatlands, distant islands and mountains. Absolutely spectacular…and verrrry windy!

We then drove on to our lovely salt hotel for the night, tables, walls, beds (minus the mattress) all made of salt. Funnily enough salt is not served with any of the meals. But you can scrape some off the wall if you really need it. Pique Macho for dinner, the traditional Bolivian food of hot chips topped with beef, few veggies, egg and chorizo. By now we were good friends with the other couple on our tour, and the 3 of us had added working or studying a TEFL course in Costa Rica to our travel plans. Goodbye near-future education.

The following day began with a drive through quinoa fields and eventually up to the tops of mountains which were amazing colours due to the minerals and were patterned in reds, browns, greens and white. We stopped in a beautiful little spot amongst rock formations for lunch, and as we drove down U2´s Beautiful Day came on and it really fit the moment. We were joined at lunch by a few Viscacha, also known as Sqrabbits as they look like a rabbit with a squirrel´s tail. We then drove on past amazing rock formations and active volcanoes to a huge salt lake edged by beautiful mountains and dotted with pink flamingoes. Again, driving down to this view and having ´We live in a beautiful world´ play made us all grab each other as if it was the perfect moment. We ranged from 3600m-5000m asl this day at the highest point driving through the Silolli desert, also known as the Dali desert as artist Salvador Dali (who apparently I SHOULD know) painted this often. Stopped at ´stone tree´, a stone in the shape of….a tree…. And then the Musical Mujers (what we have called ourselves as we often break out in song) made their debut performance to Mariah Carey.

Several salt lakes and many more flamingoes later I became the stinky girl of the truck when I got carried away taking photos and sunk knee deep into sulfur smelling muck at the edge of one of the lakes. We saw a very cute Andean fox being attacked by birds, then carried on to Re Lagoon which is a truly beautiful sight and well named. Partially salted over we could see salty ´dust storms´ at the other side. The lake is so colourful and the surrounding mountains again make the scene even more beautiful with their vivid colours and shapes.

The second night was at a very basic hostel, one where you chose to go to the loo in public rather than in the actual toilets. We met many friends this way. But it is built a couple of hundred metres from more hot springs, this time averaging about 38° and although I tried to resist, knowing the experience of getting out in again verrry cold temps would be horrific (not being dramatic) Juan guaranteed us all it would be worth it and it was, especially when we got some bottles of wine to enjoy in the water and watch the distant lightning.

We started the next day with a visit to Sol de Mañana geysers, just over the mountain from the Chilean ones and even higher at 4900m asl. We weren’t as excited driving towards them as they at first don’t seem as impressive but they ended up being equally as awesome just in a different way. These were more deep holes in the ground with bubbling and spitting cement-looking substance (is this sulfur) and as we are now in Bolivia, there were no paths so we followed Juan vvvveeerrryyy closely as you can hear the bubbling liquids below the ground you are walking on, and it sounds pretty close to the surface! But wow the smell here definitely beat El tatio! It was difficult to breath because of it. After more rock formations we were back to Uyuni for our wet wipe shower in the Red Planet office and then our overnight bus to La Paz! We chose the local bus instead of the ´tourist bus´, against the agents advice as she really made it sound like ´you will definitely wake up with no bags´ and it will take many hours more but we didn’t and it didn’t and al was fine. We thought La Paz would be an overnight stopover on the way to other places in Bolvia…until we checked in at Loki hostel. Oh my.

The drive in to La Paz is one we have now done MANY times and one that is never any less jaw-dropping. Another place you cannot capture in photos. La Paz is a big city located in the middle of a valley of mountains. It´s slopes covered in houses, built where you would think should be left bare, terrible traffic and fumes (more so on cloudy days), constant noise, no road rules, car alarms obnoxiously ringing 24/7 (anyone How I Met your Mother fans will know this tune from the wedding dress episode), constant protests, dodgy police, stinky drains, the sounds of firecrackers from the protests ring throughout the day and into the night when you can´t be sure that is what the cracking noises are any more, poverty, wealth, the question of who walking around is on a day outing from San Pedro prison, muddy sidewalks, street food, markets, and all of these things and more have made me fall in love with it.

Our first stop was for a Salteña across the road from the hostel, and this place has set the standard for all of Bolivia as we have never found one quite as perfect. A slightly sweet pastry crust filled with juice chicken or meat and egg. Heaven! But warning – it is not served with a bowl of green capsicum. It is chillis. And they are HHOOOOTTT so unfortunately I could only actually taste half of my salteña. I couldn’t feel half my face for hours. We wandered up and down the hills of La Paz for a while until it started raining and ducked into The English Pub. After the flow of free shots, this began our first big night in La Paz (what it is known for) out for Indian dinner which ended in hugs & kisses from the staff, then carried on back at the hostel and to the clubs afterwards. Renee and I secured jobs at the hostel (which we did not follow through with…this time).

We did not check out the next day as planned. I bought a book to learn Spanish from a proper school of which I am up to page 9, over 3 months later…sadly some of those pages are the index. Another crazy night in La Paz BEGAN with Hailey telling people it was my birthday and my receiving a lap dance and strip tease from, of course, an Aussie guy (who we would come to know as Marky Mark and know very well) which ended in nudity which my sober eyes were not prepared for. Sadly the video of this is on Hailey´s stolen phone. On the way to the club that night some guys tried to rip off Renee and I and jump out without paying so we got to put our very first rude phrase to good use which translates to ´your whore mother who birthed you´. Thanks Juan. It is not fun being hung over in La Paz. The altitude and the hills and stairs you must tackle to get anywhere, then the fumes and noise, really don´t make it enjoyable.

Many cities in South America offer free walking tours, usually run by young uni students based on tips. We did the Blue Hat one here (a rival to the Red Hat tour) and it was fantastic. Our guide Sergio was fantastic, so sweet and interested in what we have to say, as well as passionate about La Paz so that made the day even better. We started at San Francisco church, a huge beautiful building and the area around which was at this time very decorated for Christmas. Bolivia is very extravagant with its´ Xmas decorations. Even crumbling houses have lights up. The tour was really interesting as it offered some great facts about La Paz. Here, there are shoe shiners everywhere and people are constantly getting the dirt of La Paz polished off their boots (spot the gringos by their thongs). Sergio explained why the shoe shiners mostly wear balaclavas- this is because people often associate them as thieves and it is considered the lowest job and they are ashamed to show their faces. You often see them packing up their box and heading to ATM booths for their nightly shelter. It was actually really sad and we have made an effort to acknowledge them and say hi when others just pass. Most are quite young and many have run away from home abuse and are simply trying to survive on a couple of cents per job.

The council gave them a wall to paint to display their talents and they have painted a beautiful mural of the covered faces and sad eyes you will see all over the city. On the way to the huge market – we had to make Sergio stop so we could get some food – we saw the La Paz zebras. These guys are volunteers and dress in a zebra outfit to help people cross streets, and also run courses on road safety for children. They are always happy and bouncing around and can be seen randomly throughout the city. The tour also took us to the ´old town´ of cobblestoned streets and Spanish style buildings to the haunted street where several 1800´s freedom fighters were executed. Another street is believed to be haunted by a black widow and Sergio is sure it´s not just because there is a bar up the road that serves very strong drinks.

There are many plazas around La Paz and the Bolivian and rainbow Indigenous flag frequents them, as do pigeons and people seem to really really like them! As the president is Indigenous, the culture seems really well respected in the country which is nice to see. La Paz is a blend of modern and traditional societies seemingly working together, although most of the poverty is of course seen in Indigenous society.

We saw the Presidential Palace which has been rebuilt 8 times due to the numerous uprisings in Bolivia and this is the first target, and one particular building nearby has been left unrepaired of bullet holes as a reminder of the most recent rebellion in 2003. We went by San Pedro prison (of the book ´Marching Powder´ fame) somewhere you would rather die than end up, and were strongly advised against taking anyone up on the offer of one of the unofficial tours – darn – as not long before this the 13 year old daughter of one of the prisoners was raped and they have apparently started moving out all of the families living in there with their husbands/fathers. This prison is so interesting. The book is actually banned in Bolivia, although you can secretly find some dodgy photocopied versions. Families live in there, businesses are run by prisoners, houses can be purchased, drugs are made inside and smuggled OUT. Marky Mark and his friend did the tour, organized by tall, bald English Martin on the outside and run by a prisoner who is a member of the Mexican cartel on the inside. An apparent ´untouchable´ in there. They spent the entire day in his cell doing cocaine, apparently some of the finest in the world. For the tour, you are just recommended to take plenty of money as the tour cost is separate to the cost to bribe the guards to actually let you out. The guards who do not even dare enter the prison. No. Thank. You! I will give that one a miss.

On to the witches market where baby llama fetuses hang from shop fronts and the smell of incense fills the air. We found out the llama fetuses along with other items available in the markets, are buried under the foundations of a new house as an offering to Pachamama (mother earth) and an apology for digging into her. There are rumours that some of the larger building may be built on the offering of homeless people, llama´s not seen to be a large enough offering. Rumours. Then boarding ´chicken bus ´, the too-wide-for-La Pazs´-narrow-winding-streets vintage looking bus to take us up a hill too unpleasant to walk on a tour to a lookout with 360° views of the city which was spectacular. We heard that here the rich live down low and the poor up high (with the views) and most of the houses on the hills are left the brown brick colour as once they are painted they are deemed complete and taxes increase. La Paz at night is beautiful, as the millions of lights of the hills surround the city centre.

We had one experience with a dodgy cop. Apparently the undercover cops are under strict instructions not to bother tourists, so they are no problem. It is those in a uniform to be wary of as there are many fake ones. Trying to pass a blocked road – another protest, which you are told to avoid but they were on every corner this time of year it seemed – to pick up our washing, one asked for our passports which is a big no-no for the real police. We just said we didn’t have them and walked off and on the way back to the hostel I noticed he was STILL following us. We made some wrong turns to be sure and yeup, he was. So we just ran down the street to the safety of Loki, opposite the big police station.

Everyone who had joked we would not be leaving the next day were almost right when we tried to get a taxi to the bus terminal to get to Lake Titicaca and were told by several that it was impossible to leave that day as so many streets were closed due to protests…we JUST managed by walking to the other side of the city – Naughty Natalie, my evil alter-ego, made her first appearance as my backpack is way too heavy for these hills and lack of air – and finally got a taxi as we had passed the main road blocks. Escape from La Paz and heading for Copacabana…it´s now 18th December. (oh my god a lot of reading to go!)

Posted by neerg_08 11:21 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia la_paz salt_flats uyuni salar_de_uyuni Comments (0)

The city of Santiago to the world´s driest desert



Hola Amigos!!!

Well, this has been a long time coming.

Hopefully everyone is well and 2014 is going great so far. I was just saying today it definitely doesn’t feel like 4 months since I left! The girls (Hailey – I met in Africa, and Renee – Hailey knows from home) and I get along really well which is perfect and tend to agree on most things, everyone is independent although we do get separation anxiety when facing the world alone as we are so used to being together now.

117 days, 379 hours of buses and trains to travel 18,621km brings us back to La Paz for the 3rd time. We´re now working at Loki hostel in the bar for about a month so that we can arrive in Cusco after the rainy season ends for Machu Picchu…plus I looooove La Paz and this hostel and we had so much fun here the last 2 times it was impossible to resist. It is hard work – even off shift we are required to be fun at all times. Tough life.

Starting in November in Santiago, Chile…

We stayed the first night in a hostel and had fun navigating the area and practicing our Spanish – or lack of it. Us ignorant English speakers were surprised that English doesn’t seem to be very widely spoken there but we still managed to score an invite to the apartment of an old couple we were buying snacks from who were very patient with us using our book to speak to them and had fun pointing at things in the store and telling us the translation.

After exploring the centro area of Santiago, the next day we went to our couchsurfing host, Gus´s apartment by metro and walking…we were still determined not to taxi anywhere at this point of the trip and were soooo sweaty by the time we arrived. Providencia is a nice residential area and from the balcony, over the pool (no a bad first couchsurf score), we could see the Andes Mountains. Nice apartment too, and he gave up his room for us which was great. He cooked dinner for us that night and we had some good laughs over wine – especially interesting hearing his stories about the big earthquake that hit a couple of year ago. He said he was at a friend´s apartment and was looking out the window and a minute later it was as though he was looking out another window as the view had changed so much due to the building swaying.

Santiago is the perfect temperature, warm, sunny (my skin is finally building up a tolerance), with a nice breeze. We had a day around this area of Santiago, seeing the must see ´river´ which we are learning not to bother seeing in South America as they usually look more like water run-off systems, but the streets are all tree-lined and we eventually found ourselves in Bella Vista which is a really pretty area with cobblestoned streets and lots of nice restaurants and bars sprawling onto the sidewalks. One of the waiters told us about a funicular train that takes you to the top of a hill overlooking all of Santiago. We later found out this is Cerro San Cristobal. Lucky we found out about it as there were fantastic views. There is a zoo, gardens, pools and up the top the Virgin statue overlooks it all and it is quite a spiritual place. We then went to the city centre and saw Plaza de Armas, some cathedrals and then headed back to Bella Vista in the evening. There was the Paris Parade on which explained why we could not cross the main roads as they were all blocked off and also explained why there were so many kids dressed up in crazy costumes running about. We eventually made it to a bar and there just happened to be a Euro-Chilean jazz festival on we could enjoy from the balcony. Lucky us, these things seem to happen where we just turn up somewhere and there are these lively events going on.

After 2 nights with Gus we headed off to Valparaiso on the coast, one of the places in SA I was most excited about. The famous Chilean artist Pablo Neruda summed up ´Valpo´ perfectly when he wrote ¨Valparaiso, how absurd you are…you haven’t combed your hair, you´ve never had time to dress, life has always surprised you¨. It’s a really cool city of hills, with crumbling old mansions mixed amongst colourfully painted lofts and graffiti art covered homes. The best thing to do is just head out and walk the streets. If ONLY the people were nicer here it would have been an absolute highlight but they weren´t…they were mostly rude and arrogant. When we were a little lost and standing on the footpath, a man stopped and made us get out of his way!!! As if he couldn’t just step aside. This was a new experience for us as we are used to Señors loving us, so maybe we have just been spoilt. But no, everyone is too arty, too-cool-to-be-happy. Those types. Lucky they have an amazing city to attract people. I´m sure cars sped up to try and run us over.

There were some exceptions to the people there. Jose at the bottle shop, but he is from Mexico/Florida. We ended up visiting him whenever we had questions and needed Spanish help and when we would leave would be yelling out ¨ANYTHING ELSE???¨ he was just so happy to meet the girls from Florida. When we first approached him and said ´we have a question´ his first response was ´I don’t sell drugs sorry´. Apparently we look dodgy.

Another exception was Nicolas, the manager at a local restaurant. I ordered a glass of wine from the old waiter, pointed to it on the menu and all just to be sure. He brought the bottle over to show me so I thought he was just making sure it was the right one. Then he left the bottle and glass so I tried to explain no I don’t want the bottle, just the glass. He told us he´d thrown out the cork even though we saw it in his pocket. Eventually I asked for ´el jefe´ and reluctantly got him. Thankfully Nicolas spoke English and was very apologetic, told us they have problems with the old man and made him be the one to come over with my glass of wine – filled to the brim – to the cheer of a table of young guys near us who had been watching the whole drama. Didn´t realize a glass of wine would cause such a scene…then he tried to rip us off with our change too! We called Nicolas over again and he sorted it out, then said if we need any more help, or to dance, to call him and wrote his number on a serviette. Also, the very friendly construction workers near our hostel who would pamper us with our daily dose of complments such as bonitas (beautiful), Chica or chiquitas (kind of like chicks), Linda´s (cute) etc. I will refuse to simply answer to my name in the future, I need a compliment as well.

We walked up to Pablo Neruda´s house which as amazing views over the coast and the city, although didn’t bother going inside as it was too expensive considering we don´t really know of him. #691 on the list of 1000 things to do to make the most of your time on earth – Neruda´s casa. Close enough.

The waterfront is also nice. Although just a port, it´s ramshackle and colourful boats give it charm. Also many tsunami warning signs around. Valparaiso is known for its many Ascensors which help residents tackle the steep hills, but unfortunately for us UNESCO had been there a couple of days before we arrived and one `that they were on broke while they were on it (as well as members of the group being robbed) so they have all been closed for maintenance. We didn’t realize how dangerous Valparaiso is apparently until speaking to Chileans later in our travels and it now makes sense that one older man was almost mad at us for carrying our cameras around, scolding us like daughters. We can be pretty clueless, though never know it until a later ´derrr´realisation. One of my favourite things here was the outdoor museum, Museo a Cielo Albierto which is an area of streets with graffiti art of students in the 1960-70´s. The area is also popular for teenagers smooching, smoking and drinking and we got offered a lot of weed, as in Santiago. I didn´t realize I look like a pothead.

Next, we headed north and inland to Vicuña, which we didn´t know much about but still reminisce about as it was so small, quaint and the people were soooo nice, as EVERYWHERE else in Chile so we don’t judge based on Valparaiso. As the coastline ended, the terrain became dry and rocky until we started seeing our first cactuses…cacti? The journey became more interesting when a couple of teenagers in front of me kept ducking into the toilet and suspiciously the bus would fill with the scent of marijuana. We ended up in a tiny town parked out the front of the PDI (Policia Investigaciones de Chile) and after a long wait a couple of policemen came on board, pulled the kids off and searched all of their belongings. After about an hour they were allowed back on, looking a little sheepish, and we were on our way again ending with a sunset drive through the valleys which was really pretty.

Vicuña is a sleepy town surrounded by pisco plantations. We did a tour of a pisco factory with some tasting at the end, did some hikes for views over the area, ate one of my favourite foods so far – Copao ice cream which is found only here as the fruit is from a cactus only from this area, and went to Mamalluca Observatory one night . It was so dark here as is a fair way out of town so the stars were pretty awesome and we got to see the moons craters, star clusters (excuse lack of knowledge) and the next supernova. Apart from the reeeeaaaally drunk Aussie on the tour, it was great. We all told him to shut up in the end, to some applause. Mamalluca Observatory - #689 on the list of 1000 things to do to make the most of your time on earth. Tick.

We then made our way to Northern Chile, to San Pedro de Atacama. We had a really sweet man and his daughter help us at one bus stop. Buses are often late but we were worried we may have missed it, tried to ask for their help which they did and when their bus arrived the dad went to find someone who could speak English, told them what we needed and told them to look out for us. He then gave us some chips for the road and his daughter wrote her details so we could visit them. On the overnight bus we got tucked in by the bus man, who also put a pillow under each of our heads and reclined our seats for us. This terrible life! I assume this is how everyone experiences travel in Chile.

When we arrived, we were a bit worried as it was like a desert ghost town. Luckily after a few wrong turns and then some right turns we ended up in town and were intercepted by a crazy-looking dreadlocked man with a hostel brochure so of course we followed him on his bike through town to the hostel which turned out to be really nice, probably the cleanest place I’ve ever stayed at as I’m sure once the cleaners finished the floors they would just start again. It´s very dusty in San Pedro, with cold desert winds at night. This is the driest desert on earth with an average of 365 days without rain per year. It is an oasis of a town, bustling with travelers, with unpaved streets, whitewashed adobe houses and can make you thirsty just looking outside it is so dry.

We were snapped into the reality of traveling with our first proper tour of the trip, waking t 3:30am for the tour to Geyser del Tatio, the Tatio geysers within the El tatio geothermic basin, 4320m asl makes it the highest on earth. After a couple of hours drive to get there, as we arrived it was like a scene from a movie with the sun beginning to rise dimly lighting the area dotted with fumaroles spewing out steam and boiling water. The people from other tours walking around make the scene extra other-worldly as their figures lurked in the steam. As it was -4 degrees, of course we decided that is the ideal time for a swim in the thermal pools which get to about 25 degrees. It was great in, but the run between the pools edge and my clothes felt like kilometers and I have never been in so much pain!

El tatio geysers we really amazing, like when you look in the sky and more and more stars appear – as you look around the basin thousands of steaming holes appear. It is a good idea there is a path marked by rocks that you should not pass as some of the earth is very fragile and you can hear the boiling water underneath. After breakfast and of course stealing some extra boiled eggs for lunch (our budget was doing well at this point) we visited Machuca village in true llama territory, population between 7 & 40 depending on the season and enjoyed a goats cheese empanada – another favourite food to date – then continued on to drive through the very aptly named cactus valley and back to town.

Now adapting to the siesta times of South America that can range from a couple of hours anywhere between 12 and 6pm, we had an afternoon nap before our afternoon tour to Laguna Cejas – a big salt lagoon in the middle of the desert that is so salty you cannot sink. There´s a second lagoon partially attached but the salt crystals are so sharp in that one it is too dangerous to swim in. The water was a beautiful turquoise colour but also so salty you cannot put your head under. Renee also found out the hard way that you should not use your bath towel as your beach towel here when she showered later and the salt remaining on her towel left her unable to see for a while. Our skin and clothes were so white after our swim and hair so stiff I think it could have snapped, so the next stop was to Ojos de Salar, a fresh water hole to rinse off. The final destination was Laguna Tebinquiche (who would´ve thought there´d be so many lagoons in the world´s driest desert) for sunset. This is a huge salt lake that has mostly dried up, leaving a thick salty mass like snow. Sunset over the desert with as pisco sour was the perfect end to the day.

Day 2 in the desert we spent wandering around town, until we realized why siesta time here is from 2-6 as the sun is so strong, so we enjoyed another nap (4 months in a difficult habit to break) and then went on our tour to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley). We stopped at a few canyons along the way and heard some interesting facts on the area e.g. some of the mountains still have lakes from when the area was covered in ice over 1000 years ago (does that make it the ice age? Must pay more attention). Some of the areas we drove through looked like they were covered in snow it is so salty. We walked through some crystal salt caves and had a few more photo stops. The landscapes here are amazing, the shapes of the rocks that have formed by the strong desert winds, salty terrain on one side of the track and red sand dunes on the other. So varied. it is easy to see why so movies have been filmed in Valle de la Luna as it really does look like another planet. NASA also used the area to test the Mars-bot. Just before sunset we walked up a half rocky half sand dune to get our spot for sunset. Ok it wasn’t as spectacular as I expected for #673 on the list (tick) but when am I going to be in the Chilean desert on a sand dune watching the sunset again? and it actually was beautiful watching the tones of the earth changing colour as the sun went down.

After seeing what we could of San Pedro de Atacama desert, we hopped on the bus for Calama – a mining town a couple of hours away as it is the only place we could get the bus to Bolivia. Hailey barged a man out of the way who had started opening the front zip on my bag as soon as we got off the bus – common here apparently so that boo-boo´d our idea to spend the night in the bus terminal. As a mining town, it is pretty expensive so we managed to find a ´cheap´ $16 room at a hostel which when we met the characters frequenting the halls seemed a little more like a drop in centre. Once in the safety of our room, inspecting the stains on our sheets and the hair in the bathroom, we realized the lock was a little dodgy so Hailey and I went out for supplies while Renee held the fort. Supplies were a couple of boxes of wine and we actually ended up having our first drunken bonding night as drinking in Chile was otherwise expensive and we had had a maximum of 2 beers in a night. We played some premature Christmas carols and realized we are all at the same point in our lives and excited to leave in 5 months to begin studies etc (hahahaha, that´s what we thought then). The door didn’t lock at all from the inside so my bed was pushed to the door as a barricade but we were out of there at 5am for the bus to Uyuni, Bolivia.

Passing through snow-capped mountains and steaming volcanoes, the standards of bus travel had dropped dramatically on the way to the border and for the first time I felt a bit of the effects of altitude as we exited Chile without hassle then the bus stopped in the middle of the 2 borders, about 500m apart for several hours and we had no idea why. Finally the connecting bus from Bolivia came and met us and after some suspicious trading of boxes between the 2 buses – conveniently out of the view of either border as the buses blocked the way – we were on our way to the Bolivia border. The girls were told they were have to find the immigration office in Uyuni for their stamps ¨AMERICANOS!¨ is becoming a common phrase at borders as they are always a hassle but as I am now British mine took 2 seconds. We then had to literally run as the bus started driving off and jump in the door as it was rolling. And on to BOLIVIA!

To be continued…

Posted by neerg_08 11:13 Archived in Chile Tagged chile santiago vicuna geysers pablo_neruda valparaiso san_pedro_de_atacama calama plaza_de_armas atacama_desert Comments (0)

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