It took five minutes to clear Bolivian immigration, we didn’t even see the immigration people – someone took our passports to get stamped while we transferred our bags into Don Emilios lovely 4×4 Lexus which we had for the two of us. Last time I was here I was squished in with six tourists like sardines – the joys of having a full time job mean that I spend a bit more these days.
Last time I was in Bolivia, it really was a bit like the Wild West. I have vivid memories of Potosi – where you could buy sticks of dynamite to blow up in the desert, and Tupiza where butch and the sundance kid made their final stand. I was hopeful that these traits had stood the test of time and we weren’t going to be inundated with WiFi :-). I guess importantly last time I was here, I was unaware that in a few short weeks I would meet a lovely French dude on a bus in Peru and end up marrying him. I quite like the symmetry in us returning here on holiday. Hubby has always meant to come in any case as 25 years ago he worked in the Bolivian embassy in Paris. Anyway, enough with the reminiscing….
Lagunas in Eduardo Alvarez park….
We meandered a bit further, passing some hardy motorcyclists who were getting a great arm work out on the rough road to Laguna verde. Perhaps more aptly names ‘once was verde’, as given some volcanic activity she is more brown these days with the majestic Licancabur volcano towering behind.
Steaming at 4200m in the hot springs
Vivid red (the lake) and out of breath (me) at Laguna Colorada
And then we went to check out the rocks at Arbol de piedra, which was overrun by tourists, including some lovely Japanese tourists in dresses and prada flats – an excellent outfit for downtown London, a bit less excellent for the windy freezing altiplano.
Headaches in the desert – humans weren’t designed for this altitude
Descending through the lakes
We headed over to the Chilean border to take a look at the ollaygue volcano but the clouds had rolled in so we couldn’t see anything. Next up rock valley, which was the final straw in my toilet paper annoyance for this trip. I won’t rant mid blog, but feel free to see my rant at the bottom. Almost every bush had dirty toilet paper on it – bloody tourists!
Desolate Pueblos in the desert
After that it was a long drive to Uyuni. We stopped in the small pueblo of San Cristobal and had a wander around. It was very traditional with lots of little ladies in traditional hats and skirts. But what warmed my heart was when we saw a bunch of young girls in smart soccer uniforms. We followed them and watched a petty aggressive girls five a side game that almost the whole village was watching! Excellent !!! I love seeing young women given the opportunity to play sport.
The cemetery of trains
On the moonscape of the Salar de uyuni
after another enormous breakfast, Don Emilio collected us and we headed towards the Salar. The Salar is apparently best visited in the dry season. However, it can be spectacular in the rainy season as there is a thin layer of water on the salt which reflects perfectly like a mirror. The worst scenario is if there has been a lot of rain, and in our case it had rained all night. It didn’t start off well, it was grey and gloomy and the Salar appeared to be more muddy brown than white, but the sun came out eventually and we were half blinded by the glare. It’s hard to describe but being on the Salar is quite otherwordly…. we stopped for lunch (an elegant affair that Emilio put together) and it was like being alone in the universe with nothing as far as the eye could see apart from the vague shadows of the mountain ranges in the far distance. It was definitely worth a revisit even if the weather wasn’t optimal.
Warning – wear sunscreen, as neither of us realised how burnt we were getting, until we saw our faces that evening
Next up, the obligatory visit to the artisan market. I genuinely don’t know who buys woolly hats with llamas or jewellery boxes carved out of salt, but I did support the local commerce by buying some bath salts, which at least I will use.
Checking out the sights of uyuni
In many ways uyuni is still a pretty small town…. and it hasn’t changed much over the years apart from a couple of streets squarely aimed at tourists, restaurants with prominent WiFi signs and pretty uniform menus of Mexican, omelettes and variants of meat and chips. We wandered around town, marvelling at the goods on display in the market, and eventually retreated to the ‘best cafe in town’ for a truly awful coffee! We made it to the airport with time to spare, billed as an international airport, it’s truly tiny. But 45 minutes flying to la Paz beats 12 hours on a freezing night bus with no heating and broken windows, which was how I did it last time.
Quick tour of la Paz
Amaszonas had helpfully moved our flight to Asuncion forward several hours, so my planned day of wandering around la Paz went out the window. But we got up early and managed to see the major sights in town for a few hours before heading the airport.
Our favourite was the Mercado Rodriguez, bustling at 7am on a rainy Saturday morning….with many of the cholitas protecting their bowler hats with plastic bags. We also popped in for a quick mass at San Francisco. A lovely way to spend the morning. Next stop Paraguay
La Paz, December 30, 2018
CREDIT TO HUBBY FOR MOST OF THESE PHOTOS!
* you can book a cheap and rough version of this trip for 150-200usd locally, and can go in either direction (San Pedro to uyuni or vice versa ), and there is always space, tonnes of tours leave every day (there are literally swarms of 4wds at the main sites) – expect it to be basic.
* We paid considerably more than that for a private comfortable four wheel drive with Ruta verde and the nice hotels – the taykas which have hot water and proper rooms and decent food. Having done both versions, I was happy I paid more
* Getting there – You can drive to uyuni from la Paz in four hours or fly in 45 minutes. And you can get to San Pedro from Calama in an hour (shuttles at the airport), and calama is a two hour flight from Santiago.
* We were only briefly in la Paz, so opted for a very cheap hotel – the Rosario which was all we needed
* Bolivia is a great place to visit, and I spent a lot more time when I was last here, and would recommend coroico, (cycling the death road to get there), flying down to rurrenabaque to see the Amazon (I saw a jaguar), tupiza, potosi and of course heading overland to Peru via Titicaca. It is worth noting that while there are 100 time more tourists than 20 years ago, it is still relatively quiet compared to other tourist hotspots, so don’t be put off
Toilet paper rant – to be clear, I have no beef with people going to the toilet in the wilderness, nature calls and all that. But, why on earth do people think it is acceptable to leave toilet paper behind – it’s disgusting, it’s bad for the animals, and it ruins places. The altiplano was littered with toilet paper in ever place we went. It’s high and dry on the altiplano so that paper is NOT going to biodegrade any time soon. If you need to go to the loo, go ahead, but please stay 50m away from any water, and if you use paper, then take it with you. A ziplock bag is perfect. Or you can skip the paper and just shake dry. It’s not hard. If you need to poop, then either hold it or dig a proper hole and bury it. Travelling around west Africa on a truck with 10 women, we all got off the truck to pee in the bush, and we all bought our paper back to the truck to chuck in the trash to get burnt – it’s easy. Ok, rant over!!!