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La Paz via Oruro

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La Paz via Oruro 15/2/11

The overnight bus from Sucre to Oruro gets us in at 0530 and we find the whole town still asleep!! We were going to stay 1 night here but decided that the only thing that was recommended to us was the Museo Anthropologico Eduardo Lopez Rivas. So we grab a cup of tea in one of the few cafes open around the bus terminal, put our bags into storage then head off to the Museum. The main things here are skulls of children which have been intentionally deformed- a sign of a prosperous family. Their heads would have been bound and then put into some sort of wooden device to reshape them- pretty horrific really. There were loads of mummies here too which were found in funerary towers which have been restored .
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La Paz is only another 3 hours away. We found a hostel in Rosario area of town called Cruz de los Andes which was 50 bolivianos pr/pn.
Unfortunately me and Darren both get sick here and we are very annoyed- it’s the first time in 13 months travelling that we have caught a tummy bug!! Glad it didn’t last long though!
When we were feeling better we headed off to explore. The altitude and really steep roads makes for a tiring day!! The Witches market is a bit of an eye opener- selling llama foetuses which you are meant to put under your house for luck when it’s bring built!! There were loads and loads of stall selling handicraft stuff from statues to hats to ponchos to bags, all at very reasonable prices too and so many of them!!!!
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Oliver’s travels is good for bangers and mash is very good!
Star of India- great llama curry!!

The next day we went to Moon Valley a short bus ride out of town to do quad biking- we were all up for biking down ‘the most dangerous road’ but thought we’d do something a bit off the tourist trail. For 1 ½ hours on the quad bike we paid 100 bolivianos for the bike which had 2 people on. Darren was the driver and I was the camera crew!! We started off on the road which was fine whilst we got used to the bike and then our guide took us off roading for a bit! It was such good fun though going through rivers, down steep hills and very precarious crossings just wide enough for the bikes!
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We stayed an extra night in La Paz to see the Cholita Wrestling……what a giggle!!
They do it every Sunday night and it is basically pantomime wrestling with practiced moves and blood capsules splattered at the right moment. Some of the local women take it really seriously and we couldn’t work out if they were put there for our benefit or whether they actually believe that the wrestling is happening for real! Others on the other hand were throwing popcorn and rotten apples….. It really is a great spectacle!!!!
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Posted by downbhoy 12:53 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Sucre

snow

We stayed in hostel called Cruz del Papayan for 40 pp/pn in a dorm room. It was comfortable enough set around a lovely courtyard which was a real sun trap. There was no kitchen there but you could use the kitchen of a different hostel down the road- a bit odd! Some of the people who worked there were a bit narky and unhelpful- like kicking us out of the TV room at 10 pm which we thought was a bit harsh!!
Anyway Sucre has a lovely plaza with a big Cathedral and a few cafes around the outside.
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There was a big festival when we were there with loads of people in traditional dress dancing around the square. The colours were amazing and really bright.
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Some of the restaurants were good in Sucre too. There was a Chinese called Chifa New Hong Kong. We all piled in and such a good feed.
Florin was also nice, they did a good attempt at a full English breakfast but each time we went there it coincided with panpipe band practice which was deafening!!!! They also showed the rugby for us which was kind of them!

Parque Cretacio was a bit of a strange day out! The local bus took us there for 1.5 bolivianos (instead of taking the Dinobus which was 15 bolivianos). Entrance was 30 bolivianos. The Parque is next door to a cement factory which is how they found the 65 million year old dinosaur footprints when they were quarrying! They are in nearly vertical sheets of sandstone and you cant get too close to them but you can just make out the tracks of different dinosaurs. I dont think you will be able to see the footprints on the photos on here but believe me there were some!! But the elements have taken their toll on the rocks and some of the layers of rock have slipped and destroyed the tracks. The people who work here don’t seem to be bothered though because they are excited as to what lies beneath these layers as well!
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Posted by downbhoy 12:47 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Potosi

A bus trip which should have taken 6 hours leaving Uyuni at 1900 should have gotten into Potosi at 1am. However the weather was against us again and we ended up arriving at about 330!!! On one particular part of the part the windy steep road and rain inevitably took their toll and the we slid down a steep slope and got wedged against a rock face and could not budge!! The mud was so thick and everywhere! The back wheels were just going round and round but the bus wasn’t going anywhere. Lorry drivers behind us and those that were coming from the other way had stopped and started to help us hovel mud from the tyre track, but still nothing. 1 ½ hours later we were still stuck. Then we were all orderd off the bus (me in my wisdom only had socks and flipflops on). We slipped and struggled across the road to stand on the embankment whilst they attached the back of the bus to the lorry behind it. So after a nail biting wait on the embankment in the pitch black and rain watching the lorry slip and slide as it pull the back end out from the rock the bus was back on the road properly. A bit more digging away of mud and nervously anticipating the bus’s direction (and us getting ready to move in the opposite direction!) and we are out of the mud and on our way!!!

We luckily had booked in advance into La Casona and so grateful that we had!! Most of the rooms are tucked around a courtyard. It was 70 Bolivianos for the room which included breakfast.
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We booked the Mining Tour through our hostel and it cost 80 Bolivianos with an English speaking guide and lasted 4 hours. We all got our boiler suits on and looked quite fetching!! Our transport awaited us in the form of a truck but this particular day it was freezing and had snowed over night too. Our first stop was to buy coca leaves, 96% rubbing alcohol, juice and gloves for the miners. Our guide throughout the day kept on saying how important it was for the miners to drink the alcohol and chew on the coca leaves because it would give them strength. To us it just sounded like the miners were caught in a bit of a vicious circle of alcohol and coca leaves and we felt a bit bad fuelling their habbit.
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The Rich Hill ’Cerro Rico’ has been mined since 1545 which is why the city was founded. It produced so much silver that it was supporting Spain and was the largest and wealthiest city in the Americas. But when the amount of silver and the price started to dwindle so too did the prosperity of the Potosi.
Now all the mines are cooperative mines so the miners sell what they find. The conditions that the men and boys work in are awful with temperatures ranging from below freezing to 50 degrees!!
When the miners start their shift they make an offering to ‘Tio’ (God of the underground= The Devil). The hill has seen thousands of deaths because no-one maps out the tunnel routes and no-one knows where anyone else is mining so when dynamite is used quite frequently other miners are caught in tunnels nearby which collapse wit the blasts. So we had to make an offering too. with the 96% alcohol blessing him and asking for protection etc. He was a bit scarey!
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Obviously working in the mines has it’s health problems. There are so many poisonous substances down there and they don’t wear masks or anything like that. More often the miners will die from lung related illnesses such as Silicosis.
We had heard horror stories of tour groups being taken down really dangerous routes and having to slide through tiny rock holes and crawl on their hands and knees during the tour, but ours wasn’t too bad. No crawling or squeezing was needed. I think it depends on which tour company you book through as to how dangerous they make it. Ours was pretty tame which I am glad for!! It was hard enough listening to the stories of death and hardship without having to concentrate even more on where I was going. We were only in the mine for 4 hours and were so grateful to see light at the end of the tunnel. It was definitely an eye opening experience.

Also in Potosi we went to the Mint which was in a lovely old building with loads of old beams and exposed stone work. It showed us how the silver bricks were rolled out 12 times to make it thin enough to be coins. Huge wooden wheels were made in such a way that ponies underneath the wheels would walk in circles to turn the huge oak structure to flatten the silver. It had to be pressed 12 times to be thin enough to then be cut into coins. Steam engines did take over for a short while but this was just before the mint closed for good in 1953. Well worth a visit.
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Posted by downbhoy 11:25 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salt Flats, Bolivia

sunny

We organised our tour to start from Tupiza instead of Uyuni because we heard that it was better seeing it from this end because you had 3 days getting to it seeing some fabulous scenery, rock formations, rivers, lagoons and wildlife first and then the salt flats on the last day. However there was a load of rain and the salt flats were too flooded to do the normal route so we ended up doing a revised route and unfortunately missing the Isla del pescado which is smack in the middle of the slat flats with loads of cactus.

Anyway as I mentioned before we went with June and Victor from Seattle and their 2 cute tiny dogs Miko and Packo. We booked our tour through Torre Tours and for 4 days/3 nights all inclusive the price was 1000 bolivianos per person. The only other thing we had to pay was the entrance into the National Park which was an extra 150 bolivianos each.
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Our very comfortable Toyota/Lexus hybrid 4x4 was ready and waiting for us at around 7am on the first morning.
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Our driver was Gonzalo and was a very good driver and had done the trip many many times and really knew the roads. He was really impressive on the tricky parts and drove really well. We never got stuck or broke down or had any problems at all and seemed very considerate. Our cook who came with us too was called Rubin and he was very nice too. He spoke a little more English than Gonzalo but that wasn’t a lot either!!!! But the dinners were good and we had plenty of it aswell as little snacks in between meals too.

Our first stop was Quebrada de Paleta which was loads of red rock formations sticking up out of the ground like needles. Some great scenery on the first day.
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A few hours later we make it to San Vincente which is where Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance Kid were killed and buried. The tiny museum is actually quite good and has some really interesting things in it. Butch’s saddle and various guns used to gun them down owned by the army. Some wanted photos and death certificates were there too. Just up the road was the actual building where they were surrounded by the Bolivian army. Apparently it was a eatery and is where they had their last meal. then just up the road a little further (we were really struggling to catch our breath here because the altitude was quite high here!) was the cemetery which his grave in. There is some confusion about the whereabouts of the Sun Dance Kid because the authorities were only after Butch and so he was the only one positively identified. There is another body buried there but it is an unknown male because there was no real way of saying if it was him or not.
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We came across a really tricky part of the track on this day and all had to get out just incase!! There were lots of parts of the road that was really close to the edge or that there was a big gaping hole in the middle ‘fixed’ with a bit of corrugated iron!! Anyway with careful driving we managed to get across safely!! All the time we were being watched by a few llamas which are really colourful with their tags on their ears!
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The first nights’ accommodation was in a tiny village and was very basic but it had everything we needed- flushing toilet, sink, lots of blankets on the beds. When we first got there we went playing football and basket ball and then the 2 dogs came out to play too!! The people in these parts are really funny about having their photo taken- they think that the actual photo is taking part of their soul away so quite a few of them run and hide when ever there is a camera around. But a few were ok with having it taken, even if they did have a snotty nose!!
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It was here that we met the other Jeep which included Madelene, Vicky, Rob, Adam and Luke. All from England except Luke who was American.
Earlier in the day we saw them get stuck in the mud and they did a great effort getting themselves out of it!!
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The next day was along one!! We saw loads of lagoons and loads of Flamingos too. Lagoon Celeste, Hedionda, Kollpa and at the end of these lagoons were the thermal baths where we dipped our feet for a while.
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A little further on were the lagoons Blanco and Verde. The verde (green) lagoon is green because of the arsonic which is naturally found here!!
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After here we made our way upto 5000m to the Geisers. They were so smelly!!!!! Sulphur stinks!! There were loads of blow holes and it was really windy too.
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Our camp for the night was just below the Geisers in a purpose built hamlet for tourists called Huaylljara.
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Next morning the Lagoon Colorada was pretty impressive and pink and had so many flamingos!!!
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A short ride from here was Arbol de Piedra which was loads of stones carved by the wind into very weird shapes, but very impressive none the less.
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The valley of rocks was where we had lunch. Similar to Arbol de Piedra but on a much bigger scale. Some of the formations looked like turtles, seahorses, faces and one of them is named the Queens seat! There was also one that resembled a Condor but looked more like a wave so Darren surfed it!!
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We drove through some small villages too and the children werereally friendly especially when they realised we had sweets for them!!
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We drove through Uyuni (this was the revised route due to the heavy rains) and onto a tiny place only 5 km from the flats called Colchani. It had been raining for quite a while and everything was so muddy and dirty! Here everything was made out of salt. Everything!! Headboards on the beds, chairs, tables, window sills, bricks, everything!!!!
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But when we got there the other Jeep had been told that they couldn’t go on the flats because they could get stuck due to the rain again!!!! But Gonzalo reassured us and sure enough the next morning we have an early start to see the ‘sun’ rise over the salt flats.

Our early morning wake up was at 0430 to leave by 0500. It had stopped raining but was still cloudy to the sun rise wasn’t really spectacular!
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As we tentatively started to drive on the salt we realised that it was probably about 15cm in the deepest part of rain water. But we drove slowly and steadily and then stopped when the rain was less deep to take some more photos and we could actually get out of the jeep!! So we had the props to take funny photos for a while and messed about with the camera for a bit.
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Then we went to the salt hotel which is stranded on its own in the middle of the flats. Again everything is made out of salt, even some statues in the middle of the hotel. The lonely planet says not to stay here because of the water system and sewage network or lack of it. But we had breakfast here and after that the weather had improved a bit. All of a sudden it looked like we were on the ‘Truman show’!! all you could see was white clouds and a bit of blue sky peeping through and with the film of water ontop of the salt it looked like we were all walking on water!!!
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On our way back we get ontop of the jeep which was quite fun.

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Here are a few other nice photos which I thought I'd just put in!!
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Our last stop is a strange place called the train cemetery. Loads of old rusty graffiti trains, twisted old metal everywhere! But there were hundreds of tourists here and it was such a weird tourist attraction. Some photos did turn out well though. So we head back to Uyuni and have a well deserved shower- there wasn’t an option to have one the whole time we were on the tour!!
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So that was the end of the Salt Flats. We get on a bus straight from Uyuni (which is not really a nice place) and head straight to Potosi.

Posted by downbhoy 11:03 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Tupiza, Bolivia

sunny

This is our first town that we hit in Bolivia and stay in a really nice hostel called Torre Hostel. It is a huige old building with quite big room, and a good kitchen for us to use!! It was 80 bolivianos for a double room (£1 = 11 bolivianos) which included breakfast which was quite good actually, even if the LP says that it is small!!

We went horse riding for about 3 hours near the town and went to see Puerto de Diablo ( Devil's door) and then up to Valle de los machos (Valley of men) and then we ended at the Canon del Inca. All the while we felt like we were in a Western about to be ambushed at any time! Lots of Cacti and Vultures swirling around our heads!! The horses werent that responsive, infact Victor's horse was a real biter, snapping at every horse that tried to overtake him and he was also a kicker too!!!! So a little bit tempermental on the horse front but a lovely afternoon out anyway!
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We met a couple staying in our hostel who wanted to do the Salt Flat Tour so we teamed up and off we went! Oh I forgot to mention that they are travelling with 2 dogs!!!! So we all pile into the jeep and off we go..........

Posted by downbhoy 17:52 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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