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Southwest Bolivia

Tupiza - Uyuni - Potosi - Sucre

sunny 25 °C
View South America 2007 on miromar's travel map.

Im becoming a lazy writer. there are so many things that I see, I hear, I smell and I live here, that I would like to describe them one by one so you could live them with me. But instead, I leave them for another day, and then more and more details are accumulating, therefore, I write less...

So, i will try to summarize the last 10 days as good as i can, although it wont be easy! it is funny how ten days back home could be described in a paragraph, and now it seems so impossible...

I bumped in to Jo and Vern in Tupiza again, as they had also decided to take the tour from there too. When searching for tours it is true that "the more the merrier", so we managed to get a good price from an agency which guy named himself Freddie Kruger. Random. But he promised he would find 2 other people to join us for the next day, and he did! So the next day the family was formed now by us three, plus Claire from Southafrica and Hugo from France, the driver-guide and the cook. There was also another car from the same agency that travelled with us all the time, formed by two guys from Southafrica and a kiwi couple. I must say, at that point i didnt think that the people who travel with you in a 4 day tour can make such a difference, but it does. Everybody was so nice that the experience was even better. I guess I should be grateful to Freddie kruger for that :D

During the following days we had the opportunity to see one of the most amazing landscapes i could imagine: From deserts to high snowed peaks, the green and red lakes, the volcanoes, the flamingo communities, the "llamas"... everywhere you look there is something amazing. And in addition you are travelling at an altitude of up to 5000m above sea level, and the feeling is rather strange: you cant breathe, you can only walk for few meters before you are tired, your head is aching and if it gets worse, you are also very sick and unable to eat. i was pretty lucky, i didnt get too sick, unlike some of the other guys, that were badly affected by "soroche" (altitud sickness).

Every night we would arrive at a lodge, which was described as "very basic" and was very basic indeed: little village in the middle of nowhere, no heating, no hot shower and limited light. Funny enough these people live like that their entire life, and it is difficult to imagine how they survive. Most of them are "llama" shepherds, and they spend their lives up and down the altiplano, running really fast with no map.. it is quite an amazing sight..

Talking about llamas, they are one of the cutest animals i've seen, quite funny really. the hardest part was when we have spent the whole day taking pics of the animals and then the cook served us llama meat for dinner. Pretty bizarre feeling, but quite yummy nevertheless. From here I apologize to the llama community.

Also talking about photos, i send you a couple here. not the llamas, im afraid, cause the good pics are in my other camera, so you'll have to wait for those...

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And yes, is REALLY coold, the first night was about -5 degrees, but the second got to -10! At some point you get use to the fact of wearing 2pairs of trousers, 3 jumpers and a jacket, and 3pairs of socks, even while you sleep..

The last day is dedicated to the salar de uyuni (the biggest salt lake in the world), and boy, isnt that impressive? It is so inmense it is impossible to explain... by the way, we slept in salt beds the last night too (pretty cool, but not extremely comfy...)

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and here is the vehicle we spent the 4 dyas, going through sand, snow, stones, salt...

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when we finally got to Uyuni, after all the laughs, the emotions and the "dulce de leche" we had for breakfast, it was kind of hard to say goodbye to the rest of the family! my plan was to go straight to Potosi, so i got my ticket for the evening bus.

And now is when my personal experience with Bolivian buses begins. i must mention at this point that every single traveller you find along the way, has a bolivian bus story. Everybody. And of course, i was dying to have my own. Now that few days have passed and im a professional bus rider, i need to say, this trip would not be the same without the bus stories! So i decided to include a pic from my first bus:

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My backpack is somewhere on that roof, next to the million things that bolivians take on a bus. The best part is not that, no. They obviously think their valuables are that, very valuables, so the roof is not good enough for them, so they take them IN the bus with them. We are talking about sacks of seeds, and stuff like that. Together with the kids that women carry in their backs, which are not that little anymore. Even better, I have an allocated seat, as im going to the end of the journey (which by the way is 7hours), but for the people that are only travelling for 2hs or so, dont get a seat, they pay less and seat in the aisle, if they are lucky, on top of a sack or huge bag. My favourite detail, the sticker next to the driver which says: dont spit. I love it! And to think there are people in this world they find a charter aeroplane too cramped...

Still wondering how the buses manage to routes, seriously. Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4100ms and all those up hill moments are nervebreaking in the bus!

I got safely to Potosi at midnite, still amazed of getting there and also by the sight of "Cerro Rico" (the rich hill) the reason Potosi was founded there in the first place, as the mines inside the hill have been providing minerals (and sorrows) for the last 500years. Visiting the mines is the highlight of the visit to the city, which is very nice, even though is not well preserved. You can tell when you walk around that there was a time this city was really powerful. So here is the view of the city and the mountain itself (once again, apologies for the quality of the pics!)

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The opportunity to visit the mines is unique. There are no priviledges for tourist, nor a special treatment. You go where the miners go, there are no lifts, no big galleries, nothing. you get your helmet, your light, your overall and you sign a declaration of responsability cause ANYTHING can happen (i got hit by a little rock by the way). And even though you have an idea of what you are about to see, you cannot have the feeling until you do. It is shocking and incredible.

First you get to visit the factory where they take the minerals and the miners market (i had breakfast there, so you can see me at my best silly outfit, glass in hand)

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The miners work in cooperatives and they are responsible for buying their own materials, including the dynamite (which by the way can be bought by just anybody in the market, freaky thought)

They bring us here so we can buy little gifts for the miners when you see them inside: coca leaves (which they chew constantly to help them with altitude and taking the hunger away), cigarretes (made of coca too), soft drinks and stuff like that. I tried coca at this point and it tastes like chewing tea leaves, so not my thing...

We went down 3 levels in the mine, which is about 100m, and the temperature there is about 35degrees. You are constantly out of breathe, between the heat and the dust. We crawled the galleries (as they are bolivian size) or you go down a wood slide that is normally where they bring the carts up and down. You even have to be shouting constantly while you go down the ramp, cause you just never know wehre the next cart is coming. Sometimes you are walking and you hear them coming with the cart, so you have to literally run for your life! When you bump into a group of miners you can talk to them and you normally leave them a little gift, which makes them really happy.

The visit to the mine has been one of the bigest experiences in my life. When you speak to the miners, it makes you realize how lucky you are to have your job, cause ANYTHING is better than this. They enter the mine as young as 10 years old and their life expectancy is around 50yeras old, as silicosis (the miners illness) normally kills them sooner. I was lucky enough to meet one of the oldests workers in the mine, which has been there for 21 years. When you see him you would think he is 75, only to find out he is only 36. When you get out of the mine, not only you are covered in dust (see picture below) but you have inhaled so much i was coughing for the next 2 days. And i was only there for 2hs, imagine them...

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The next day is time to carry on, on my way to Sucre now (the real capital of Bolivia, even though everybody in europe thinks is La PAz). Sucre surprises me been a beautiful city, old colonial buildings in white and big enough to have many things going on, but not as big as a capital city. My original plan was to spend a night there only, but end up staying 4days and loving it. time goes so quickly when you are happy i guess.. The hostel was great, but not as good as the people that i met there. Quite a few are spending a long time there learning spanish, so they showed me the city tricks, as if they were locals. They took me out (i was in serious need of night out, not anymore after 3 nights!), to the markets, to watch the football... I even end up meeting again Jo and Vern, and Dave and Greta (my kiwy couple!) and it felt i belonged to the place, you kind of knew people and got to know th city well...

Finally i decided to leave on sunday, after the amazing victory of Brazil over Argentina in the copa America, and the greasy meal we were having at the bar whilst watching the match. After a 10hs bus journey i got to Cochabamba, further north and a lot warmer (about 25degrees, yeepa! no more layers of clothes!!) I must add another note for the bus journeys. at some point in the middle of the night, the driver stops, and looking outside the window i can see a big fire, and lots of people. Got a bit stressed until i realized the driver was chating to the locals and it was only a local party. So we waited for 30mins until he had a drink with their friends and we carried on. Only hoping the drink was not alcoholic...

x x Love x x

Posted by miromar 09:32 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking

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