A Travellerspoint blog

Bolivia

Goodbye South America

The Asia trip begins!

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So, the American part of our trip comes to an end! Tomorrow morning, we are flying to New York City (via Miami), here from La Paz. Then a two day stopover in NY, and then on to India (via Kuwait). And at long last we will be able to eat food that tastes of something - oh, I would kill for a curry!!!

So, look for more info from our Aisian trip - coming soon!

Here's our route so far, and untill India:

Central and South America have been great, although South America, and especially Argentina, was a lot more expensive than I expected. So, it will also be good to be back to Asian prices. But, it has definetely been an unforgettable experience, although I doubt we will ever come back here.

Posted by monkyhands 13:52 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Salta to Bolivia, and the South-West circuit

Out of this world scenery!

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On the 24th of October, we arrived in Tucuman in Argentina at 8 am. We waited an hour for our connection, and by 1.30 pm we were in Salta.

From October 25th to October 27th, we chilled out in Salta. We tried to find Alan a dentist, but none spoke any English, which made it hard to understand what they wanted to do to him, and most were fully booked. We gave up on that, and decided to wait till India. We had the camera cleaned - cost a fortune, but it was necessary as there was lots of dust on the sensor.

On October 27th, we caught an early morning bus to La Quiaca, then crossed the border into Bolivia, Villazon. The landscape along this trip was dominated by coloured mountains - very cool to see, and we snapped some pictures from the bus.

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After waiting for a few hours in Villazon, we managed to catch a bus on to Tupiza.

On the 28th, we hung out in Tupiza and tried to get a tour together for the salt flats. The tour is normally done from Uyuni, but the reverse circuit from Tupiza finishes with the salt flats and ends in Uyuni, from where we will be closer to La Paz, so it suits us perfect.
Amazingly, when we returned to the hotel, we ran into Curtis and Caroline, whom we had first met in Bariloche. They were looking to do the tour the next day as well, so it could not have worked out any more perfect. Four people in a Landcruiser, plus driver and chef, is enough for four days. Some people do it with five or six people, but we preferred to pay a bit more and be more comfortable.

So on the 29th, the four of us, along with driver Javier and chef (and supposed English guide, who spoke no English) Victor, set off on the four day circuit of the Bolivia South-West region. On this first day, we travelled through the red mountain scenery that surrounds Tupiza, which is also the area in which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once robbed a payroll - they are supposedly buried in the mining village of San Vicente, outside Tupiza, though noone has ever found the right grave. The rock formations in this area where amazing - eroded by wind and rain into crazy formations.

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We spent the first night in an adobe hut in a small village called San Antonio de Lipez. The beds were comfy, and we had plenty of blankets, so the night was fine. I woke up with a banging headache though, because of the altitude - we were sleeping at around 4200 meters.

On October 30th, we embarked on the second day of our journey. We drove for hours and hours through empty country and ever-changing landscapes of mountains, rivers, shrubbery, plains, and eventually dry, dry desert. The one thing that never changed, was that the landscape was completely harsh and unforgiving. The sun at these altitudes is so strong it burns you before you realise, and at night the temperatures drop below freezing - in the winter as low as -20. And the wind blows incessantly. How anything can live here is a mystery.

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We stopped at several places of interest today. In the morning we visited a ruin town known as Pueblo Fantasma, sitting at 4690 meters. (Ruins which were built simply by "the people", according to our articulate guide Victor luckily he makes up for the lack of info with some decent cooking). Javier the driver stepped in and explained that the site was originally settled by the Spaniards as a mining town, because the surrounding mountains are rich in various minerals. However, they nevr succeeded in extracting these, and later abandoned the city again. Now it is simply inhabited by little vizcachas (cross between rabbit and chinchilla by the looks of them).

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Later, we also visited Laguna Verde - a brightly coloured turqouise lake, coloured by high concentrations of lead, sulphur, arsenic and calcium carbonates. Behind the lake towers Volcan Licancabur, which straddles the border to Chile.

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On the route away from here, we passed through a desert area, which looked like it had been neatly raked. Across the surface are dotted collections of volcanic rocks, spewed there by an eruption from Licancabur. They look surreal in their ordered placement, and they are aptly named the Rocas de Dali.

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Later we passed a small salt plain, sulphuric lakes full of flamingoes, some hotsprings, and the interesting Sol de Manana geyser basin. The basin sits at 4850 meters, and is full of steaming, bubbling, stinking mud pots.

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After a long day, we reached our overnight stop near Laguna Colorada (4278 meters), at a spot called Huallajara.

On October 31st, we took a closer look at the brightly red Laguna Colorada, on the banks of which we had spent the night.

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After that, we e once again spent the whole day driving. Most of the day we drove through desert landscape, completely dry and empty, with vicious winds whipping across it. This desert is called the desierto Siloli. In the middle of this desert we once again came across volcanic rocks, thrown there by one of the many volcanoes in the area. The rocks have been eroded by the wind into odd shapes - one of them into the form of a tree, the famous stone tree. It was a lot bigger than I expected - very impressive.

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After this, we once again drove past numerous coloured lagoons, with flamingoes dotted around their shores. We saw a still active volcanoe, Ollague, and admired the desolete landscape.

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We spent the last night at a hotel built out of salt, on the shore of the Uyuni salt flats, where we had the first shower of the trip - soooo gooood.

Last day of the tour, November 1st, was all about the salt flats. The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world (12.106 sq km), and its sits at 3653 meters. We set out before sunrise, watched the sun come up over the salt flat. As we were here in dry season, the place was just a huge expanse of blinding white, with a tall blue sky above and fringed by looming volcanoes.

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After sunrise, we headed to an island in the middle of the salt for breakfast, called Isla de los Pescadores. The island is inhabited by vizcachas and huge cacti, one of which is supposedly over 1200 years old (cactus, not vizcacha).

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Later we did the obligatory silly shots on the salt flats, although most of them didn't really work.

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At closer look, the salt flats are divided into hexagonal tiles, apparantly caused by the "respiration" of water and air through the salt - beneath the entire salt flat is a layer of water, which evaporates, and then gets refreshed by the rain in the rainy season. Strange as hell.

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Finally, we stopped at a salt hotel turned museum, and at the village of Colchani where salt is extracted for consumption.

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In the end, we headed for the town of Uyuni, and by the evening we were on a bus to La Paz, exhausted by exhilirated.

Posted by monkyhands 13:13 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

From La Paz to Salta in Argentina

1326 kilometers in two days

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On the 31st of August, we caught a plane from La Paz to Sucre, Bolivia, at 1pm. We landed in Sucre airport at 2pm. Happy to be on the move again, we decided to head straight to Potosi from there. We took a "flota" (s kind of fast, shared taxi) from downtown Sucre to Potosi - we had to wait almost an hour for them to fill the car, but after that the ride only took two and a half hours, through some amazing mountain landscape, and we were in Potosi by 5pm.
Potosi being the highest city in the world (whereas La Paz is the highest capital), at 4090 meters elevation, it did not exactly provide the repreive from La Paz's altitude that we were looking for. So, we booked a bus for the same evening at 8pm, furhter south to the town of Villazon on the Bolivian/Argentinian border. The bus initially seemed decent for Bolivian standards, with soft seats and decent leg space. The denomination of sleeper bus is random here though, and in this case the seats reclined about an inch. It got worse, as we soon realised they had overbooked the bus, so people were sitting in the aisle (gets quite annoying when some guy keeps falling asleep on your legs). And then we saw that there was no toilet on board - on a 10 hour bus ride! But, these things turned out to be the least of our problems on this bus ride... About an hour out of Potosi, the bus his something - something big enough, and hit it hard enough, that the bus very nearly toppled over, and this is a big, heavy double decker bus we are talking about. We were sitting downstairs, with no view out the front, so we have no idea what it was (- the driver later claimed it was a cow). The impact shook everyone around a bit, but noone was hurt. Several people wanted to get out to see what had happened, but the driver refused to open the door, and after a couple of minutes, he drove on. The impact however, has smashed the whole front of the bus, and had broken the windscreen. But this is not enough to stop a Bolivian bus driver, so we continued through the night with the icy mountain air streeming in through the broken front end of the bus - it was like a freezer inside the bus, and we had nothing to keep us warm but our silk sheet bags and thin rain jackets - it was a complete nightmare!! To top it all off, a drunken man sitting on the steps had been woken up by the crash, and for much of the way he was singing drunken, incomprehensible songs in a loud voice.

This continued into the next morning of September 1st. Naturally, we got no sleep at all, and by the time we got to Villazon at 6am, we were stiff from the cold, and extremely tired. This ride definetely makes it to my top three of the worst bus rides of all time!
In Villazon, we had some croissants and cups of hot tea, to thaw our frozen bodies. Then we crossed the border with no problems, and were now in Argentina! The Argentinian border town of La Quiaca was small and dusty, although visibly more ordered and clean than the Bolivian side. As we were feeling better from the tea, and there was little of anything to do in La Quiaca, we caught a 9 am bus to Salta. The ride took seven hours through some amazing desert landscape. We saw some beautiful mountains at the town of Humahuaca, which had an amazing array of colours in the stone - apparantly they are known as the mountains of seven colours. We got stopped and had our bags searched at one checkpoint, but it is routine for busses coming from the Bolivian border. By 4pm we arrived in Salta, and checked into a hotel to get cleaned up from our marathon plane-taxi-bus-bus tour.

Posted by monkyhands 20:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Lazying in La Paz

Doing nothing at all

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From the 24th, when we were back here, and untill tomorrow, the 31st of August, we have just hung out in La Paz and done absolutely jack shit. We were going to catch a bus to Sucre, but kept putting it off, and then there was a strike down there, and thus the busses were cancelled for a few days. In the end, we bought plane tickets on TAM, and we fly down there tomorrow, friday.
From Sucre, we head for Argentina, and then we will see what happens from there...

Posted by monkyhands 12:46 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Rurrenabaque

Jungle and pampas

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On August 12th, we left three of our bags in storage with the hotel Torino, and went to the airport to catch a plane to Rurrenabaque in the Bolivian Amazon. La Paz's airport is apparantly the highest international airport in the world - it sits above 4000 meters and is surrounded by snowcapped mountains. After takeoff, we passed over a chain of these mountains, and then they were replaced by dense jungle with rivers. Beautiful. We arrived in Rurrenabaque, and checked into Hostel Santa Ana.

August 13th, we were woken up at 6 am by a racket next door. The hostel is expanding or someting, and there were people drilling into the other side of the wall of our room. Too damn noisy - so we decided to move hotels, and checked into the Hotel Rurrenabaque instead. The woman there was very nice, and the rooms are clean and comfortable. Then we walked around to some different tour operators, to find out about the available jungle and pampas tours. They all seemed to charge about the same, and in the end we just booked a pampas tour with the first people we had seen. My belly started acting up, I don't know what caused it, but I had to stay near a toilet all day.

On the 14th we were supposed to go away on the pampas tour, but I had had a really bad night, and my stomach was still hurting me so much, so Alan went to the agency and moved the tour to the next day. I was in so much pain from my belly, that I was moaning and rolling around in bed. Al went to the pharmacy and got me some remedies - anitacid, laxatives and some antibiotics. The pills helped eventually, but I was still sick as a dog all day.

August 15th, I felt a bit better - although I was not quit myself yet. We decided to go ahead with the tour. We caught a 4WD for about three hours along a dust road. The dust clouds came in through the windows and covered our hair and clothes. Then, we transferred to a long, motorized canoe, and sailed along the Rio Yacuma for another four hours. Luckily, there was lots to see along the way.
We saw lots of alligators and caimans

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And we saw some capybaras, and so many different birds it was unbelievable!

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We also saw a howlermonkey in a tree, and lots of pink river dolphins, and a group of squirrelmonkeys, who came down to be hand fed bananas.

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We made it to the camp and got settled in. We then went to a bar down the river (more like a shed with some tepid drinks for sale), to watch the sunset. Then, after dark, we went on a canoe trip to look for more alligators. It was cool and eerie to see their eyes reflected in the lights from our torches. We also saw some fireflies, which I love. It was fun to turn all the torches out, and just listen to the sounds of the birds in the trees etc. Our guide caught a small alligator, and we got to hold it. Obviously, you really should leave the animals alone, but it was quite amazing to touch its skin and see its eyes close up. Tired, we went back to camp to get some sleep.

On the 16th, we got up around 7.30 and had some breakfast in the camp. Then we sailed down the river a bit, and went for a walk in the pampas looking for snakes. The pampas is like a marsh or wetland, which is totally flooded in the wet season. At this time of year, its a bit drier, and we could walk in it with wellies. We found a baby tarantula, and a cobra

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and also a small anaconda

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We went back to camp to siesta during the hottest hours of the day. We then spent the afternoon looking for pink dolphins again on the river. We found a few, and also saw lots of other wildlife again. We saw some turtles

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and lots of capybaras, even some with babies

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We then went back to the camp, to chill out. Alan tried to fish from the river bank, but the resident alligator named Antonio, kept chasing his bait.

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August 17th, we skipped the planned sunrise walk, as it had turned overcast. We had breakfast in camp, and then went fishing for piranhas. There were lots of them, but they were so small that they could not swallow the hooks, and they just ate the meat off the hooks instead. The trick to catching them was to pull them in so quickly that they did not have time to let go of the meat. Fun. In one bend on the river, we encountered a large group of the pink river dolphins, and this time they got closer than ever before. It was very cool. Some of the guys jumped in, and a dolphin came right up and splashed water on them.

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We went back to the camp and had lunch, and then returned to Rurre. It went faster this time, as we were sailing down river. We were back in town by five pm, and checked back into Hotel Rurre, then had dinner and drinks with the others from the tour group.

On the 18th, we were going to look around for a jungle tour, but this time Alan was not feeling too well, and so we just chilled out in the hotel instead.

August 19th, we talked to some agencies about doing a fishing trip into the jungle on the Rio Beni. They all wanted to much money, but in the end Flecha tours, whom we had done the pampas tour with, offered to do it fo 25 dollars a day - and they said we could stay in their jungle lodge, and go out every day on the boat to fish. We thought that sounded good, and so booked three days with them.

On the 20th, we thus headed up the river Beni to the Flecha jungle lodge. It took a few hours, but again the trip was beautiful. Not as many animals as on the pampas, although still a few birds, but the river here was fringed by dense jungle, which gave it a special feeling. We got to the jungle lodge and unloaded our stuff, and had lunch. To our dismay, we then realised that the boat had left, and we were stuck at the camp without any way to fish except right off the beach in front, where it was too shallow to catch anything. The guide said the boat would return the next day at noon - but that was not really the way we had agreed it with the agency. We fished anyway, as we had nothing else to do, but only caught one tiny catfish.

On the 21st, we got up, had breakfast, and then went down to the beach to wait for the boat to return. Fished to pass the time, but caught nothing. We were annoyed with the whole thing, and as we found out the boat would only be at the camp a few hours before returning to town with the other group in the camp, we decided to go back with them. We got back to town, and had to argue with the tour agency for two hours to get any money back off them, even though they had not lived up to the agreement. They claimed we had to pay as we had stayed in the camp - but we didn't really have a choice. In the end they refunded 50% of the money, but they were really rude about it, and the lady there told us to go back to our own country. By the time we had finished, the airline officed were closed, and so we had to wait till the next day to book a ticket out of town.

August 22nd, we tried to book a flight out for the same day, but they were all full. So we bought tickets for the flight tomorrow morning, and then just hung out in Rurre and waited to get out.

On the 23rd, we went to the airline office at 7 am, and by 9 we were on the flight. Made it to La Paz, and returned to the Hotel Torino. We went to get lunch in the Radisson - and on the way my bag got slashed again! They did not get anything, but it still pissed me off. Now we were ready to get out of here, and we decided to save the salt flats for when we get back to Bolivia, and instead start heading for Argentina...

Remember, there are more pictures from Rurrenabaque on www.flickr.com/photos/divingdog5

Posted by monkyhands 14:37 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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