Days 78 to 84
17.04.2011 - 23.04.2011
Day 78, 17 April 2011
What a hell of a day today was. After barely sleeping due to noise and fear of not waking up, we got up at 5:00am, repacked and dragged our bags down the horrible stairs. We couldn’t remember getting change for the room last night and C said was missing 50pesos so he asked the guy at the front desk whether he’d been given change as– of course the guy said he had ….
We made it to Santa Cruz airport, waited for 15 mins to pass through immigration, ran for our bags, cleared customs (after trying to declare our fruit), lined up for 20mins to re-check in and got stung US$5 airport tax. It was when we went to get Bolivanos out that we realised that we’d left a card in an atm in BA - #@$#@. So as we heard over the loudspeaker to go though the boarding area we raced to an internet/phone shop and managed to ring travelex and cancel the card. At security check, the wine bottle opener (we’d used once I think) that had gone through the four previous flights in the same place, set off all sorts of alarms and was confiscated.
The plane (which C said was a jet) basically went up then went down (you’d understand why flying is recommended when you look at it – very mountainous) and we landed on what I think is the only bit of flat around here and made it to Sucre.
As we’d researched that we could get a late night bus from Sucre to Uynui we got a cab to the bus terminal to find the bus company, Todo Turismo. After walking around and asking a few people we determined that it doesn’t exist in the Sucre bus terminal.
There are no other bus companies that go overnight to Uynui, only at 7 or 8:30am so we re-considered out timetable and went in search of internet to find a place to stay overnight.
After finding a map of the apparent office of the bus company and an address for a hostel we went looking. Carrying all of our big bags (me with about 30kgs and C with 40kgs) we walked up and down hills for 20 mins – AT 2970M ALTITUDE it hurt!. We gave up looking for the bus co and looked for the hostel which was supposed to be close by – we got lost doing so but got help from some local girls.
The hostel was nice and had a spare double room so we dumped our bags and went back to the bus station to book tickets for the next morning. Once there, we worked out that they were telling us that there was going to be a strike the next day and no busses or taxis would be leaving from anywhere in Bolivia…. We were stumped! One lady said that we may be able to check early in the morning as the strike may be called off.
We gave up looking for alternatives and got a cab into the central plaza. It was a beautifully manicured square – full of mothers and children playing. We went in search of a place recommended by the guide book but came across a travel agent on the way. They offered to sort out the bus tickets to Uynui, the salt flat tour and the ticket to La Paz – for a price that was pretty much the same as we’d seen elsewhere. They also assured us that the strike wasn’t going to stop busses.
We worked out that we were feeling crap because of the crazy day we’d just done and the altitude so after a cheap meal we went back to the hostel and crashed. (C- luckily W and I were still talking to each other on what is perhaps the most stressful day so far on this journey!)
we did remember our 7 month wedding anniversary - but we were too tired and too sick to celebrate!
Day 79, 18 April 2011
After a good night sleep and some diamox (for the altitude) we’re feeling better today. We got to the bus station just before 8:00am and got our tickets. After a very stale bread roll and vegemite we tried to get our bags under the bus – they were eventually put on but with no tags. I’m now sitting at the window watching each time they open the luggage hold to make sure that they aren’t taken. The country side is pretty, but unforgiving. We got to Potosi which is apparently about 3800 then Uynui is between 3000-4000m above sea level. We thought we might go in search of the infamous coco leaves to help with the altitude.
At potosi we went searching for bathrooms. W found one in a pharmacy and I found one in a servo but had to run out we some bloke yelled at me in Spanish which I did not understand. Previously W had tried to climb through a window to use bathroom at service station but was also chased by some lady apparently saying no water was available. We were brave enough to try some food being sold at a street stall beside the bus which was deep fried chicken and potatoes on some corn kernels. We waited anxiously but our stomachs did not erupt thank goodness.
We got to Uyuni, tried to get directions to walk to the hostel but after walking 2 blocks, decided a taxi was the go. We got into our room in the hotel and dumped the bags. We met our tour agent, got the run down for the next day and then headed out for dinner. At least we can say that Bolivia is far cheaper to travel in then Argentina. Dinner cost about $12. Once again we had an early night, with lots of blankets to keep us warm.
Day 80, 19 April 2011
We had a nice sleep in, the only problem being that we were wide awake in periods from 5 – 8 am.
After re-packing (again) we went for a wander around the town. It is very basic – and pretty run down. We found a place that sold coca leaves which is supposed to alleviate altitude sickness – we tried one leaf first, but then had a bunch - it was gross!
We met the tour – found out that it was a full 4WD. They loaded the big bag on top and off we went. The first stop was a train graveyard. We’re not quite sure why they chose to dump the trains here but there were both steam and diesel engine bodies. C liked that someone had spray painted formula of Einstein and Newton on the side.
Next we went to the salt flats. We had assumed that it would be a dry expanse but we actually had to drive through a reasonable amount of water to get to the salt ‘hotel’(C-the whole building was made of salt, the dining setting was made of salt bricks). We had lunch out the back of the car and I had a very dodgy toilet experience (Dunny rating of -34). It was pretty cool to see the massive area. There were men harvesting the salt and leaving it in big piles to be picked up by rusty old trucks (C a very hard days work I would imagine).
After lunch we went back through Uynui and drove for a very long time to get to San Juan. It was a small village – really a few mud brick buildings. We were shown to rooms and then fed and we went to bed. As we’d been warned it was frightfully cold but we had enough warm gear not to feel it too much.
Day 81, 20 April 2011
We were up and going by about 8:00am (C- turns out it was -20c last night). We drove through the valley of the rocks and onto three different lakes, Laguna Canapa, Laguna Honda and Laguna Hedionda. I think that one was blue, one was white and one was grey because there was sulfur, borax and some other metal. Our fellow tour people helped a little in translating what the guide said but we had to guess a lot.
The landscape is beautiful in a rough and ruggered kind of way. There are miles and miles of dirt that is sparsely covered with small bushes. We went past the Ollague Volcano into the national park and to the Laguna Colorada to see the pink flamingos.
We went to our lodgings for the night (not sure what else to call them) which consisted of a room with six beds – a clear plastic corrugated sheet for a skylight. We had dinner and crashed for the night. Again we were warm enough with all of our clothes on and sleeping bags and blankets.
Day 82, 21 April 2011
Another long day!. We got up at 4am to be ready by 4:30 – but found out that we couldn’t leave because the kitchen lady hadn’t woken up so we didn’t have breakfast. After trying to climb into the kitchen through a window and the lady turning up we managed to leave by 5:15.
To follow up, about 40 mins later, however the guide stopped by the side of the road and ran out to lift the bonnet saying there was a problem. He worked out that the car was leaking gear fluid and set about trying to fix it. About 20 other cars came past and looked under the bonnet as we sat in the dark in the freezing cold altiplano desert. It wasn’t until we started threatening that we’d want a day’s fee back and the park entrance fee that he worked out that we could go with another car.
The next few that stopped weren’t full so we split up and bundled off to see the geysers.
The car that C and I were in had a French couple who were going down to Atacama – the driver worked out at 9:30 that they needed to be at the bus stop by 10. He still managed to stop and let us look at another lake, sped through a check point and got to the bleakest looking bus stop we’ve ever seen just as they were loading the bags on. We picked up two more people on the way back, stopped at the hot springs (would have been nice to go swimming there earlier to warm up!) and found our guide – still on the side of the road having fixed the problem.
It was a very long, bumpy and dusty ride back to Uynui, but we were quite happy to be there. We found a shower, had a quick bite to eat (C the quickest and the cheapest so far!) and got onto the bus.
The bus was supposed to be a ‘tourist’ bus that provided better service – but we were right up the front so every time the assistant came into the back he opened the door and slammed it three times. It was a dirt road for the first three hours so we bumped along in the dark. At least we had a bit more room and the seats reclined a reasonable way.
Day 83, 22 April 2011
We were dumped on the streets of La Paz at about 5:30 after a pretty bad night and luckily the bus company helped us work out where the hotel was and we got a taxi there. We managed to wake up someone who let us into the room so we got a few hours sleep before going out to explore.
We saw a big church and wandered through the streets. There are very steep cobbled and with the altitude I suffered a bit walking up hill. We found a ‘Pellerique’ (Spanish barber) and C got a cut throat shave. I’ve never seen him sit soo still!
The markets we were looking for unfortunately weren’t happening so we wandered back toward the livelier street, stopping along the way for lunch. We found the Coca museum which was quite interesting. Did you know that Coke-a-Cola still uses the coca plant in the drink for ‘flavour’.
We wandered around a bit more and are now chilling out catching up on washing and blogging.
Later on we headed out to find the streets full of people heading home from a parade. We managed to find a restaurant that had been suggested to us. It had a band and a cultural dance show. It was good that we persevered as the show was interesting with colourful costumes and crazy dancing. C was pulled up for a dance at one stage.
We braved the streets and walked back to the hotel.
Day 84, 23 April 2011
Today was a later start, we packed the bags, checked the laundry to see if it was dry (most of it was). It had been recommended to go to ‘Él alto’ to view the lookout, so we booked a taxi and headed out. The city literally hangs off the walls of the cliffs. We’re not sure if it was the actual lookout – but it was high enough.
We headed back into town to check out the witches markets and have last look. We think the main part of the witches markets has been taken over by stalls selling bulk discount goods, although we did see some dehydrated llama fetuses, and other very different things.
We got a taxi out to the airport – back past the lookout we’d been earlier that morning. After a bit of negotiation at the check-in counter and paying a hideous US$25 each for airport tax we settled down in a café and tried to do more blogging.
We made it through security and purchased our Bolivian trinket – a salt lamp and I was tempted by a really expensive necklace but held back.
We landed in Lima at about 6pm, made it to the hotel just in time for our tour briefing and headed out for dinner. We decided to go out with our leader to a Peruvian night club. It was mad. There was a band playing traditional music and a lot of other old classics. Chris enjoyed a syringe shot from a ‘nurse’ dressed in a spandex outfit. We had a bit of a dance and a few drinks then went home at about 2:30am.