Saturday, 30 November 2013

Bolivia - Part 2!

We arrived in Sucre the capital of Bolivia on the 15th November.

It is reminiscent of Arequipa with white washed walls, beautiful churches, chocolate shops, not very touristy and a manageable size – (bit of a contrast from La Paz!) It has a lovely climate most of the year round which is actually why they chose it as the capital!

The Main Square is enormous and full of detail- gardens, statues and fountains…It has squares within the square!

Casa de la Libertad is where we absorbed a spattering more of Bolivian history. We saw the original document of Bolivia’s Declaration of Independence from 1825. There have been many presidents; 20% of which have been killed! One only made it 3 days before being assassinated… Their flag has changed 3 times and they have added one for the Indigenous which looks similar to that of the Gay pride flag.

We went up to Recoleta, a sweet area high up on the corner of the city. We enjoyed yummy drinks sitting on deck chairs looking out over Sucre before visiting the Museo de la Recoleta – an attractive monastery with beautiful courtyard gardens.

We visited the Cretaceous Park- the world’s largest paleontological site. 

We had a private tour of the massive limestone cliff where there are 5055 individual dinosaur tracks of at least 8 species, many are continuous tracks. Pretty cool! 

We were humming the theme tune to Jurassic park the whole way round! Dying to watch it again now!
My dinosaur impression...
There were some awesome life size replicas of dinosaurs; one of which being the largest in the world.

Our first taste of a proper ‘Bolivian bus’ was from Sucre to Tupiza (further south). Yet another night bus – but this time it was cold, with cramped seats and a blown speaker above our heads booming out Andean pipe music! Ugh! We arrived in Tupiza before 4.30am…ouch

Here we took advantage of the cheapness of this country (before leaving for expensive Chile soon) and stayed in a nice ‘hotel’ with a pool!

We plucked up the courage to endeavour on a 5 hour horse ride, exploring the beautiful red rock and canyon land like a proper cowboy and cowgirl. Domino and Panchito were our trusty steeds.

It was just the two of us with a guide, an awesome way to see the countryside!! 

I cantered for the first time in my life…it took a while to get the rhythm with the horse - it was a lot of heavy crazy uncontrollable bouncing hard up and down on the saddle initially! Aarghhh… but it was just brilliant when I found the pace with Panchito. However perhaps too little too late because we still couldn’t sit down comfortably for nearly a week; the toilet was by far the best seat!  

Kyle feeding our 1 apple to the horses - they needed it more than we did

When going round a few tour operators doing research for various tours, a familiar face poked her head round the corner – Becca. Becca and Jon are newlyweds and we have been following each other through the whole of Bolivia! We agreed to officially travel together on a 4 day tour to the Salar de Uyuni. Also joining us was Robert; a lovely Dutch guy that Becca and Jon had met a few days previous. We spent a whole afternoon the 5 of us discussing which company to go with…5 big beers later, we booked to go on Wednesday 20th. We had a nice dinner together getting to know each other more at ‘Tu Pizza’ – original name! We discovered that Kyle, Robert and Jon were all born within 2 weeks of each other!

The Salt Flats tour
Day 1 of our tour we met at 8am outside our jeep. Our driver; 
Edison (we called him Eddy) was also our guide and his wife was our cook. 
It was a long day of driving, taking in some spectacular scenery.

Not a bad place to have a wee!

It was in this area that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid met their makers in the mining village of San Vicente in 1908; this was only significant to me as I was the only one to have seen the film! Another film to add to the download list!

We saw mineral rich red mountains, vast skies, volcanoes, lagoons and wildlife.

 The tiniest flowers we've ever seen!

All houses made of mud...standard

We spotted a condor and Kyle asked if he could get out the car quickly and get a closer picture. Without thinking he ran off into the distance. He didn’t consider the fact we were at altitude (4800m to be specific!) until he stopped running with camera at the ready… but NOT steady. Breathing in heavily and taking in loads of freezing cold air into his lungs he nearly collapsed. Admittedly it was absolutely hilarious for the rest of us to watch from the jeep!

All for THIS photo!

We also saw a cute little chinchilla

Ostriches .... Can you spot them?!

Beautiful vicunas

 And lots of llamas

Apparently llamas are considered the cleanest animal in the Camelid family because they only use one place as a toilet. We saw several large black spots full of droppings. Clever... it really does make sense as grass they eat isn’t covered in poo!

Becca and Jon taught us a good way to tell the difference between a Llama and an Alpaca.
Kyle is an alpaca and I'm a llama

We saw 2 main Altiplano plants; Yareta - a green pillow shaped plant

And Paja Brava – really spikey tufts of grass

We passed through a ghost town ruins of San Antonio 
which looked like a small Machu Picchu!
 The girls

The boys

We got to our basic hostel around 7pm. I say basic: first of many with no electricity apart from a few hours in the evening from a small geni. We set up camp in our dorm – something that we must get used to as we are headed to more expensive countries where we can no longer afford private rooms…
That night the stars looked absolutely incredible – there was no light pollution whatsoever. It was a shame that it was absolutely freezing outside and I couldn’t last more than a few minutes. Kyle, however did a little better and spent a good 25 minutes out there with Robert playing with their cameras, returning to our room completely frozen.

Day 2
Wake up was 6.30am and it was another jam 
packed day; in and out of the jeep 

We drove through the Desierto de Dali- the place where Salvador Dali drew his inspiration for his paintings! Mummy Brown you would have loved it!! Awesome to see the surreal coloured mountains and other worldly rock formations of the petrified lava sticking out of the sand like the ruins of a lost city and imagining melting clocks and grotesque faces.

We saw lots of lagoons – all really different with crazy vivid colours

Laguna verde 4350m:

Although incredibly beautiful, this lake is toxic containing chemicals such as arsenic! It lies at the foot of a stereotypical looking volcano which is 50% Bolivian and 50% Chilean – right on the border. It was here that NASA tested the Mars Rover on the summit since they needed an environment on Earth as close as possible to Martian conditions; low air pressure, high winds, extreme temperatures, rocky terrain. Also from here some 15 minutes away is the Argentine border.

Before lunch we had a dip in the hot springs. Amazing view!!

Then it was onto the Sol de Manana Geysers (just below 5000m). I discovered that I still have a guilty pleasure in that I love the smell of the sulphur! Bubbling mud, geysers chucking out LOADS of steam; the biggest one has a temperature of 220·C! A bit different to somewhere like Yellowstone national park in Wyoming where we went in 2008 – wooden walkways, signs, fences – safety…. Here there was nothing - you could jump into one of the deep holes of steam if you wanted to… we had heard that some tourists have actually died by braving it a little too close to the edge! We wandered, carefully, around and in between the steaming holes and started to feel the soles of our feet getting very hot!

After leaving our ‘mochillas’ at the next hostel (and Jon unfortunately as he wasn’t well) we went to the Lagunda Colorada to view its red waters and large flamingo population. At 4378m it is huge – the largest lake here and yet the depth is only 50cm!

It gets its colour from microscopic algae that is constantly churned and swept up by the high winds 

We saw flamingos in pretty much all the freezing cold and elevated lakes. The tiny pigment particles from the algae that they consume are trapped in their plumage, giving them their pink and red colours!

Day 3
We rose at 6am and it was a bad night of broken sleep. 
We were so cold in the concrete room, buried under our blankets 
and layers of clothes and tucked into our silk liners; I kept my woolly hat and scarf on. 

Our first stop was to visit the Arbol de Piedra (Stone Tree) and 
other cool shaped rocks  - ‘Petrified lava-foam’ 

The rocks are sculpted by the constant bombardment of sediments carried 
by the strong and violent winds acting over vast periods of time

 We saw more stunning lakes and mountains:

We had lunch in an ancient lava flow and in sight of a semi active 
volcano releasing small amounts of smoke.

The unfortunate thing about this area (and others too) was that you could tell loads of tourists had been to the loo all over the place – toilet paper and other things all around. Really not nice and such a shame… talking of rubbish unfortunately this is the case throughout quite a lot of Bolivia! They just don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the vast quantities of rubbish that the country produce and no one seems to care. They have a huge amount of space in the country and the people are happy to use parts of it as a rubbish tip.

We often saw mini (and some not so mini) tornados! 

 On one occasion when we spotted one, Kyle decided to yet again leap out of the car and sprinted off, this time to try and 'get into the tornado to see what it felt like!' It died before he got there...

We crossed the Salar de Chiguana which has a max salt thickness of 3cm and is traversed by the railway line leading from Uyuni to Chile.

We stopped through a village and had a Coca Beer and a Quinoa Beer. They were good! These ingredients are just used so much…!

We were first of the tour groups to arrive in a salt hotel, bordering the famous Salar de Uyuni – the climax of our tour! The hotel was pretty incredible; as it sounds – its all made out of salt!

Day 4
It was a 4.30am start for sunrise, driving out onto the salt flats in the dark and stopping somewhere in the middle to watch the sun come up on the horizon. It came up quick and revealed the vast salt plains around us as far as the eye could see!

This salt flat is the largest in the world; measuring an immense 12,500km squared at an altitude of 3650m. It formed millions of years ago and over the course of millions of years as the Andean mountains raised, lifting the sea with it, eventually evaporating leaving many layers of salt and various sediments.

We headed to an island; Isla Incahuasi where there are more than 6000 cacti!

What is incredible about this island is the fact that it is made up of pure coral that is millions of years old. Remember the whole lot used to be that far under the sea! We walked up to the top of it to gasp at the view- we’ve never seen anything like it!

Finally breakfast where we ate at the bottom of the island and had cake and cereal – much better to the usual stale bread and marmalade!

Then it was play time! Eddy drove us out onto the salt flats where the 5 of us got creative…

After 10 minutes of being there we were peeling off the layers – 
it really hotted up reaching maybe 30 degrees! 

We spent a good hour or so – could have stayed all day – it was fantastic. 

This is where we began our second dance film project, I won’t go into 
too much detail about it, you’ll have to wait and see! 
Just ouch… dancing bare foot on crystallised salt!

When leaving the salar we passed small mountains of salt that are piled up; the top part of the salt dries as the water is drawn down making it less heavy to transport.

Finally getting to Uyuni- which surprisingly is a real shit hole! We went southwest to a train cemetery. A collection of antique steam locomotives and transport cars from the early Bolivian railroad days. Quite cool but yet again, shame about the rubbish everywhere.

That afternoon, once the tour had officially ended, the 5 of us stuck together as we all had the same plan of heading to Chile. We had a highly stressful time trying to book a transfer but eventually managed it after much teamwork and special thanks to Robert having to do a lot of running! To cut a long story short we made it to Chile – after a 3 hour bumpy jeep, a stop in another basic hostel with nasty food, me falling sick, another 4.30am start, another 3 hours, ‘breakfast’ stop, more driving and yet another cock up with buses at the border – but WE MADE IT!!!! CHILE... 

Here's a little treat for those of you who manage to finish reading our mammoth blogs :) 

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