Wednesday, April 22, 2009

La Paz

Well we made it, and I'm tempted to say barely, but we made it. We left Tupiza arround 11... Good thing we were up at 8 ready to leave at 8:30 or 9. I suppose we are going to have to get used to "Bolivia time". Our ride was a nice Toyota Landcruiser with two captins chairs up front, and two sets of benches in the back, a roof rack with our bags, food and three barrels of fuel. Looked exactly like the blue barrels that farm chemicals come in just on a smaller scale. Not sure they were gasoline approved but all the rigs seemed to have the same. Since Sage and I did the most waiting for the others we opted to grab the more comfortable first bench seat. We went about 75 feet where we stoped for about half an hour. God only knows what for, but after that we were FINALY off.

We headed up a dry river bed into the hills where we saw some wild erosion formations, including a little road erosion where we got a little puckered up for the first of many times. About 30 minutes into the trip our Toyota died, but luckly after a little kicking of the fuel tank and wiggling some shit under the hood we were off and running. All our guide had to say was "no problem, no problem". We bounced along for another few hours through desert until it was lunch time. We stoped at a little mud hut in the middle of knowhere and had some wicked sandwiches with sheep and lamas running arround in and out of the hut! It was a long day, as we covered 350kms of dirt. When we got to the village where we were going to spend the night our driver didn´t seem to be able to find the hostel. After some sitting in the dark our driver came back and led us through a gate, where we ate a delicious diner and got a little sleep. We all definatly felt a little ill. Im guessing it had something to do with the hours of bouncing around and the fact that we were at 4200 meters elevation.

The second day we finally decided to take our altitude pills. I Don´t know why it took us so long to start, but we figured that it was time to use a little modern medicine along with chewing on coca leaves. This greatly inproved the way we felt, but our guide pedro didnt seem to happy that we had to stop ever 5 minuates to pee. One of the side effects! I suppose that side effect is better than the temporary blindness! We set out around 6 in the morning and the first thing we found was on old Spanish ruin built in 1500. This place was really cool. It was an old mining town and everything was built completly of stone. As soon as we stopped we all scattered to see what we could find. I headed into the old church, then into one of the larger buildings. I think got completly creeped out when I found the graveyard! Bones included!

We continued bouncing through the desert where we saw a few lakes (bigger versions of stinky lake). Finally standing on the edge of one of the lakes we saw a few flamingos! No idea that flamingos live in the desert. They are quite the birds, looking like their legs could snap at any moment. We also drove by a lake that is full of borax that they mine out and sell as soap. We finaly arrived to the "hot springs" for lunch. Unfortunatly every other jeep in Bolivia was there as well. The small hot spring pool was completly packed! We opted to eat lunch before taking a dip, this was an extremly good choice since when Sage and I went down to the water we were the only ones there! It was realy nice to get into some hot water after bouncing around in a dry dusty jeep for a few days.

After lunch we went and checked out a volcano, and a few other lakes, then headed to the highest part of our trip at 5000 meters to see the geysers! We all seemed to be expecting huge amounts of water flying out of the ground, but it turned out to be more like a witches pot mixing up some sort of brew. Huge puddles of mud just bubbled and spat everywhere, and hot air seeping from the ground with amazing pressure. After our "10 minutes we were off to the hostel. I swear the only english Pedro could say was, Hello, 10 Minutes, Pictures and GO! and he really liked the word GO! We ran out of gas about 300 feet from the hostel, but after the toyota drank a blue barrel of fuel we were up and running.

The third day was all lakes. The first one being the Red lake that was absolutly packed with flamingos!!! Sage and I spent well over our 10 minutes here taking photos of the odd looking birds. But of course we were called back to the toyota by the horn and forced to move on. We did ALOT of driving on the thrid day and didn´t get to see much except desert. We did stop at the stone tree, wich is a rock that was cut by water, a long long time ago to take the shape of a tree.
Pictures are needed to describe this work of art, so you will just have to wait, or maybe not if this computer cooperates like I´m hoping it will! We did finally get to see some salt on the thrid day and we headed across a little section to get to our hostel that was built completly of salt. Salt beds, salt tables and even salt floors. It was actually the nicest place we stayed on our whole journey.

We were up early the next mornign to head to the flats to watch the sun rise. This was definatly a different area than we had been to the third day. Salt for miles! It was incredible, and as the sun came up our shadows must have been 50 feet tall. There was nothing for miles. We got some great sunrise photos then headed to an island for breakfast. Our guide didn´t seem to enjoy telling us much, but luckly in the other group there was a guy named Simon who seemed to get along with his guide very well. He was the one who told us all of the interesting facts. The most amazing facts were that the salt was 10 meters deep on most of the flats and in the middle of the salt lake the salt was over 150 meters deep! The island was realy cool the intire thing was coral from 40,000 years ago when the salt flats was an ocean. And it was covered in Cactus and all sorts of wild rock formations that had to have been made by water. Standing on the top of the island you could look for miles, only to see a white landscape with a few other islands here and there. After a tasty breakfast we drove for some time to where we could only see salt, no islands or land. These salt flats are 12,000 square kms, so I guess that´s not too hard to do. There were also wild holes in the salt where water was showing. Apparently quite a few jeeps fall into these water holes and have quite a bit of trouble getting out. Luckly Pedro was on his toes and led us around them all, though he let us all take turns driving, which was lots of fun and we managed to avoid them as well. Taking photos on the salt was fun since there´s no depth of field and you can make some cool pictures.

We then came into the town of Uyuni all a little relieved to see a little pavement and civilization. We had one more stop to make on the tour which may have been one of my favorites of the trip. It was called the locomotive graveyard. It was just a few lines of old old locomotives that seemed to have been parked there for hundreds of years. Just piles of rust everywhere. Some of the trains were buried a few feet into the ground. We spent quite a bit of time here, gathering some really neat pictures, and climbing around on the old hunks of iron. Pedro finally got a little anxious and started blaring the horn for us to return. We all jumped into he toyota and headed for town. None of us had paid for our trip yet so he took us to the only ATM in town. Just as I somehow had figured it was closed for maitenance and we had to wait about 40 minutes on the sidewalk for it to open up so we could pay poor Pedro who I can only imagine just wanted to go home and take a shower.

We met up with Simon and a few others from the trip at the ATM and decided to try to get to La Paz that night, since we realy didn´t want to spend any time in Uyuni. Very very touristly town, with absolutly nothing to do except explore that salt, wich we had just finished doing. We found a bus that left in a few hours and got the last 7 seats. Yes we had a crew of 7. 4 Milasians, Simon our spanish speaking "guide" and the 2 canadians Sage and Orin. We grabbed a little dinner and hit the very slow internet cafe to do a little networking.

The bus ride was a little crazy. We had a grandma beside us with 2 small children probably 6 and 1. And this bus ride was no place for children. The bus was packed and freezing, and Sage and I woke up a few times in mid air as the bus flew over some huge bumps. Most of the ride was dirt and washboard like you wouldn`t believe. They seemed to give blankets to everyone except for us. After a little bartering with the driver he gave Sage and I one to share. Let´s just say we spent the next 11 hours of our lives freezing our asses off. Amazing how cold it gets here at night. It was definately a lesson learned and we won´t be traveling without the hot core again. A few times during the trip the bus stopped for bathroom breaks, where the grandma would jump off the bus in no shoes, leaving myself to tend to her crying baby. She was CRAZY!

After that wild night we were very excited to see the city. I had no idea what to expect in La Paz, but we found a HUGE city built on a very steep mountain side at 4000 meters. Just walking up the street to grab some food takes it right out of you. We talked to a girl at the bus station who reccomended a hostel, so we headed for it and crashed as soon as the man opened the door to our room. Today we hit a few local markets and got our first taste of La Paz. We went to a truly wild market this morning called the "mercado negro" for those of you who lack a little spanish that would be the black market, wierd. There was anything you could ever want for sale there. Realy creepy looking food, old ladies with tables stuffed with tools, nuts and bolts, all sorts of rubber seals????, and god knows what else. We did hapen to find a UNO card set and are excited to branch out our 2 known card games. Later this afternoon we went to the witches market and enjoyed picking up some true Bolivian woven goods.

We are planing to stay in La Paz for a few more days, then hopefully meet up with Simon and head north into the jungle to do a little wildlife watching! Looking forward to seeing some gators!!!! We are having a great time in Bolivia and are looking forward to our travels north. Well maybe just being north. I´m not particularly keen on these bus rides. We have it worked out now that we shouldn´t have to spend more than 5 hours on the bus at a time. This is good news.
Im going to attempt putting up some photos now, so wish me luck!!!


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