Category Archives: Bolivia

Posts made in Bolivia!

Salar de Uyuni and Reserva Eduardo Avaroa

We’ve spent the last three days touring the picturesque south west of Bolivia.  We wanted to see the Salt Plains of Uyuni and hadn’t really thought about anything else the tour might offer – we also went into the Eduardo Avaroa national park where the scenery was spectacular!

We left La Paz late on Monday night by bus,  travelling about 300km south through the night to arrive in the small railway town of Uyuni at 7am on Tuesday morning.  This time we remembered to keep some ear plugs handy so slept for most of the journey.  We then went and found the tour company we had the tour booked with.  Bolivian organisation is NOT similar to our own!  There’s no such thing as a job for one person, at least three people have to get involved and have a heated discussion about things!  We were supposed to start the tour at 10.30, but by the time they found a driver it was 11.30!  We undertook the tour in a clapped out Toyota 4×4 that most definitely would not be road legal back home!  There was Russ and I, an American lad, a German lass who spoke no English, an Argentinean who spoke extremely loudly, and a cool Swiss chap who had travelled to most places in the world!  Everyone was a bit annoyed due to the late start, the American lad especially so as he had paid for an English speaking guide when the driver (and tour guide) couldn’t speak a word  –  expect nothing in Bolivia!

Firstly we went to a train grave yard just outside the town, not sure why, lots of rusting Steam trains – Dad you would of loved it!  After that we headed out onto the salt plain about 20km north of Uyuni.  Absolutely amazing, never seen anything like it!  It looked like ice, there we pools of water in places, but it was boiling hot!  Salt is one of Bolivia’s biggest exports and its ‘harvested’ here, there were lots of piles of salt that had been scraped up awaiting a lorry to come along and collect them.  It was seriously bright too, sunglasses were essential!  Apparently the Salt Lakes were once Saltwater Lakes that have dried up over time to leave the salt in place.  Of course there were the usual sellers trying to get you to buy tack made of salt, no where is safe from these people!

Shep on the Salt Plain!

The scenery was amazing, the brightness of the lake reflected the surrounding mountains and the salt plain spanned as far as the eye could see.  We visited one of the only Islands in the world to be surrounded by salt – Island de Pescardo (Fish Island).  Somehow in the barren landscape it supports  an ecosystem of gargantuan Cactus, some around 10m tall!  Growing at a rate of 5cm a year they are hundreds of years old.

Fish IslandÂ

The Salt Plain is so massive, and it took us several hours to cross it.  Once we got back to ‘normal’ land we headed to a ‘Salt Hotel’, which as the name suggests is entirely built of salt.    Something a bit different, even the beds and tables were made of salt.

Day two started early as we headed south about 160km to the entrance of the national park.  On the way we passed the snow capped volcano of Ollague, standing 5865m tall  (although it didn’t look like it as we were already at 4000m+) its Bolivia’s only active volcano – there was a small plume of smoke rising from its peak.  The sun was out and it was pretty hot, so we took the chance to get our shorts and flip flops out – whoohoo!

The journey through the national park took us through deserts of volcanic ash and gravel scattered with rocky outcrops of surreal shapes.  Most of the trails only a 4×4 could transverse and we were getting bumped around all the time!  The terrain was at times like that of another world, lots of strange rock formations.  The highlight of  these was the Arbol de Piedra (Stone Tree), which is a massive rock about 8m high that somehow balances on a very narrow stem!

Stone Tree

We then headed to Laguna Colorado, which has strangely red water!  Something to do with algae and minerals apparently!  The lake was home to hundreds of flamingos.  Bright pink birds that seemed to constantly have their heads in the water feeding, pretty cool to see!  We were lucky enough to see a load of them take off and fly around the lake a few times!  Russ was in the right place at the right time to take this photo.

Flamingos in flight

From the lake we headed to our accommodation for the night, a very basic building where we all slept in a dorm style room.  We were warned that the temperature would drop to sub zero and we weren’t let down, it was freakin freezin!  Worst still we had to get up at 5am!  I had plenty of layers on, woolly hat and scarf appreciated greatly, but my toes were hurting!  But  it was worth  enduring it to view the spectacle of the Sol de Manana geyser.  A bit like what I saw in New Zealand’s north Island, there were lots of boiling mud pools and stinky sulphur smells!  At 5000m the geyser is best seen in the cold of the morning (hence we were up so early!) as it loses pressure when the temperature rises.

Once we had taken all the cold we could take we headed down to the Laguna Polques where there are some Hot Springs.  I took the chance to get the feeling back in my toes but had forgotten my towel unfortunately, but Russ bravely stripped to his swim shorts and went all the way in – I was jealous, it was really cold!

After breakfast, our driver  not only  our guide  but also our cook, we headed 30km south to the Laguna Verde (Green Lake), another spectacular scene with its green waters – something to do with Arsenic and minerals!  The lake reflected the surrounding mountains superbly, making it an almost spiritual place!  In South America the locals build piles of stones in such places for good luck so I took the opportunity and built a small one!

Laguna Verde

The border of Chile is only 7km away from the Lake and we headed to what must be one of the remotest manned border posts in the world to drop of the America lad and German girl who were crossing there.  We were at the border at 10am and from there we drove 360km back to Uyuni, arriving about 6pm.  A long bumpy day in the car, and we had to stop a few times to help broken down vehicles – not a place to get stuck!  But it was great to stick the iPod on and sit back and enjoy the spectacular views on the way.  Russ had the back seat to himself and took a siesta much to the drivers amusement!

Last night we had a much needed shower, we and all our gear was covered in dust!  Then we went to an American owned Pizzeria for a tasty meat feast and a beer – a good way to round off the trip!  Today’s a lazy day, we are catching a train tonight that will take us to the Argentine border about 300km south of here.  So we are just killing time today, but its nice to have a day of rest after 3 busy days, and a much needed liein!

We are headed to the northern Argentine town of Salta, where we will spend a few days before catching a flight to the party capital of South America – Buenos Aires!

The Worlds Most Dangerous Road

Yesterday Russ and I survived mountain biking on the worlds most dangerous road – and we’ve got the T-Shirts to prove it!  The day started early, we left La Paz at 7:30 in the morning.  We arrive at the top of the ‘Death Road’ around 8:15 where we were given our bikes (nice Kona full suspension jobbies) and equipment.  It was pretty cold at the top, its around the 4000m mark, so we were wrapped up warm – thermal top came in handy again!  The Bolivians have a superstitious tradition of pouring a drop of pure alcohol to Pacha Mama (mother Earth) and then taking a swig for good luck.  Pure alcohol is not good at any time of the day, but early morning is especially nasty – check the photos here for our reactions!

There were twelve of us plus two guides in our group.  Feeling a little sickly we set off!  The first 20 or so KM were all tarmac.  Recently a new road has been built to bypass the ‘Death Road’ and we started on that.  It was a good way to get used to the bikes and also get up some speed!  There was some amazing scenery but most of it was a blur to us!

The tarmac sectionÂ

There was 5km of uphill before we reached the gravel section and at 3500m+ it was a decent challenge.  Russ and I are like chalk and cheese when it comes to biking – he’s crazy!  Whenever I caught him up he’d be complaining that it wasn’t fast enough and the guide was holding him up – cept on the uphills though!  I prefer to stay a my own pace (which seemed plenty fast enough), I quite like the uphills though – bit of challenge!  Here’s me looking happier than I felt first up to the top!

Uphill over!

After the uphill there were a few k’s of downhill before we reached the gravel section of the ‘Death Road’.  Here’s Russ and I ready to tackle the tricky section!

About to start the Death Road

It wasn’t particularly technical ride mainly loose gravel with a few rocks thrown in.  We wee lucky with the weather; the lower we got the hotter it got!  Visibility was good, and the road was dry (which made it dusty) and compact.  It would be a straight forward ride except for the 400m drop offs!

Big drops!

Not the place to get it wrong!  There were few safety barriers and no warnings that corners were approaching.  Most sections were pretty fast so you didn’t really notice the drop offs!  Russ suffered a puncture and a problem with his gears.  I only saw him when the group regrouped!  He got down safely though, but then tripped on his laces and grazed his knees whilst walking to the swimming pool at the end of the ride!
I think it would be more scary in a vehicle than on a bike, less room to manoeuvre, and we were lucky as we met few vehicles.    A really good experience though, you gotta do it if you visit Bolivia!

Last night we wanted a few beers to celebrate surviving but as it was Sunday most places were shut 🙁  We ended up having to go to the hard rock cafe for a massive burger and a few beers!

Today we haven’t done much, had a walk across city and up (always up!)   to a viewpoint overlooking it.  La Paz is a picturesque city, over looked by Mt. Illimani, which unfortunately was masked by clouds today!

La Paz

Tonight were off down south to the town of Uyuni, a ten hour overnight bus ride.  Tomorrow morning we start a three day tour of the salt flats and lagoons in the area.  Should be fun, although we’ve heard rumours that the wind chill can be -25 to -45!    We can’t wait to get over the Andes and down into warmer climates – haven’t worn shorts for weeks!

La Paz

Yesterday we took a bus 4 hours west to Bolivia’s largest city of La Paz.  We originally had booked a bus for 8am, but we ´d been for a few beers in Copacabana the night before and the early mornings had caught up on us, plus there was a thunderstorm going on outside.  So after a 10 second discussion we rolled over and went back to sleep and caught the bus at 1:30pm instead – feeling nice and energised from a nice lie-in!

The bus journey was an interesting one, we had to get off to cross Lake Titicaca.  The bus had to be loaded onto a battered old barge, whilst we had to cross in a little boat with yet another dodgy engine!  Here’s how the bus crossed – Russ and I had crossed fingers it wouldn’t sink as our backpacks were onboard!

Crossing Lake Titicaca

After another few hours we stopped for some fuel, and truck load of locals pulled in, apparently this was the only way you could travel across Bolivia 20 years ago, thankfully things have changed now!

Transport for the locals!

On approach to La Paz we got some excellent views of the city, which is set in a valley (similar to Quito).  La Paz has a population of one million people, so is quite small compared to Quito and Lima, but its streets are very busy!  I think the whole population must be walking round the town, its like walking down Oxford Street on Christmas Eve (not that I have ever done that!).

We had difficult finding somewhere to stay, the first three hostels we visited were full (bain of the Lonely Planet!) and the forth had a room but although they advertised hot water they didn’t – Russ stood with his hand under the shower for 5 minutes to test it.  We’ve had too many cold showers, the fifth place was a bit more pricey at 4 quid each (inc. breakfast) but we decided to push the boat out and posh it up!  Glorious hot shower, La Paz is at 4000m so is a bit nippy!

Today we had a wonder around the city, its quite small so easily walk able, we are staying near Plaza San Francisco, which is the Gringo bit.  I quite like the city, its a bit chaotic (they try to run you over at any opportunity), but its how I expected South America to be.

Tomorrow we are mountain biking on the most dangerous road in the world – nickname Death Road.  Until recently it was the only way into Northern Bolivia, and regularly vehicles would fall off the road, which is only three meters wide with a drop of over a thousand meters in places, on average one hundred people a year die on the road!

Death RoadÂ

Don’t worry they have now built a bypass and the Death Road is only used for mountain biking!  Should be fun!

Puno, Lake Titicaca, and into Bolivia!

We been busy since the Inca trail!  Monday evening we caught a night bus to the town of Puno, in the south west of Peru, arriving there around 5am!  When we got off the bus it was cold, dark, and wet!  We’d slept for most of the journey and were a bit sleepy, but we sat in the bus station for half an hour till it got light.  We found a hostel and went straight to bed for a few hours – we waited till it got light because we didn’t want to be charged for that night!

We then got up around 10 to a welcome surprise, a warm shower!!!  We hadn’t had one since we left Ecuador – SUPERB – I stayed in it for ages!  We then went out to explore the town, firstly visiting the towns port on the Lake.  A bit stinky with lots of algae, the lake looked good though.  There wasn’t much to do down there except go out on a pedlow!  Feeling a bit silly we took out a pedlow in the form of a dragon!

Dragon Pedlow!Â

Pretty cool eh, to clarify Russ wanted the dragon one!  Worst thing was the rudder was knackered so we couldn’t steer the thing – we had to row it back!

Feeling pretty stupid, although plenty of laughs, we headed back to town to have a look around the main plaza and high street.  Puno isn’t as nice as Cusco, apart from the main street through town its a bit of a shanty town – plenty of poverty there.  After a bit of hassling I managed to get Russ to walk up 648 steps up the mountain overlooking the town where there is  a statue of a condor (Peru’s icon) overlooking the city.  Good views across the city and gargantuan lake!

View overlooking Puno to Lake Titicaca

That evening I met up with Dad who had flown in that afternoon.  In the photo above you can see an island sticking out on the left with a big white building on it – that was Dads hotel.  We met him over there, how the other half live!  Dad treated us to a nice posh meal (posh for us anyway), and it was great to catch up with him – having not seen him for over 5 months!

The next day we all did a tour out on Lake Titicaca together, to see the floating villages and Isla Tranquilla.  The floating villages were pretty cool, made from compressed reeds they are anchored to the lake bed a couple of KM from Puno.  There’s quiet a few islands, home to different families, interesting to see.  Absolutely everything is made from reeds, they even eat them!

After the floating islands we cruised across the lake for about two hours to the Island Tranquilla.  A pleasant island with great views, home to a community of about 1800 Peruvians.  We had to walk up about 200m to the village, something I think Dad found hard as he wasn’t quite acclimatised – his thinking he could  of done  the Inca trail changed at this point!  There is a small town on the island and we turned up right in the middle of a festival, which involved pretty much the whole town dancing in brightly coloured outfits – very loud music!

After a lunch of trout from the lake we head down the other side of the island to our boat and then cruised back to Puno.  Here’s Dad and I enjoying the views on top of the boat, aren’t you supposed to be bigger than your Dad?

Dad and I on lake Titicaca

I say cruise, when we got within sight of port a thunder storm set in, the boat was a bit rickety and had been chugging (engine revving like mad) along pretty slowly all day, but when the waves started it got pretty rocky!  At one point it rolled pretty far, Russ and Dad got pretty scared by this!  The engine went down a note and lots of black smoke came out the chimney – fortunately it kept going and got us out of the choppy bit, but then 100m from the dock the engine cut out!  After much confusion and discussion the Peruvians finally got the engine going again and we arrived, slightly relieved, on terraferma!

Last night Russ and I met Dad for a meal in the town for a traditional Peruvian meal.  Russ and I summed up the courage and ordered some Guinea Pig (we also got a lasagne just in case!).

Guinea Pig anyone?Â

To be fair Russ ate most of it, he was keener than me!  It was a strange meat a bit like undercooked chicken!  It had crackling too!  Hardly any meat though, and a bit weird having the whole thing (head and all) on the plate!  Glad I tried it, but wouldn’t rush to have it again!  I think Dad didn’t think much of it!

After the meal we had to say goodbye to Dad, as you can see the days are ticking down and we have a lot to do before we fly home!  Dad’s off to Machu Picchu (on the posh train!), which I know he’ll enjoy.

We were up early (yet again) this morning to catch the bus   to the town of Copacobana just on the other side of the lake just over the Bolivian border.    It was a straight forward land border crossing, we got off the bus got our passports stamped and then walked about 100m in no mans land before getting stamped into Bolivia.  I like land border crossings, makes you feel like your properly travelling!

Copacabana is a small nice town, also right on the lake.  The weathers been nice and we’ve been looking round the town in glorious sunshine!  Highlight was going up to the highest point (our favourite activity!)  and getting the views of the town and lake – better from here than Puno!  Its a bit of a hippy tourist town, Russ is fitting right in – I’m trying to convince him to get dreads!

First impressions of Bolivia are friendly people and most importantly its really CHEAP!  We’re off to La Paz (Bolivia’s main city) in the morning from where we’ll sort some tours around the country – think its going be a bit of an adventure, from here on in we have no plans – just need to make it to Rio for early May!
I’ve uploaded a load of photos in the Peru and Bolivia galleries.