We finished our last post saying that we would be very sad to say good bye to Chile and its wonderful people. Well we have said goodbye and are currently in Bolivia at the Salar de Uyuni. This is an amazing place and I will add more detail about it in a later post.
So how did we get here.
We left San Pedro and climbed up to nearly 5000 meters up the toward the Border with Bolivia.
Our aim was the "Eduardo Avaroa" National park which is only about 20 km inside Bolivia.
Most of this park is between 4500 meters and 5000 meters in altitude. We really didn't know how the truck would perform at this level. Anything that requires combustion is really affected up there.
We needn't of worried the truck and its appliances worked well although with diminished power. However, we felt like we were wearing lead boots and breathing through a straw. Just a short walk and were were puffed out.
The park has three main lakes. Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde and Laguna Colorado. We spent the first night on the shore of Laguna Verde trying to aclimatise.
The next day we drove the 60km off road track to Colorado. This was a tough drive and I actually didn't relish the idea of the return trip .
It was however, worth every lump, bump and swear word. Both lakes were amazing.
We checked out of Bolivia the way we came in, back into Chile , and set of towards Argentina over the Jama Pass . We were lucky the pass was clear as it had been close due to snow just a few days before.
Friday 17th August 2018
We re-entered Bolivia , from Argentina , at the border crossing at La Quiaca / Villazon
Unlike some of the borders we have crossed, the exit part of Argentina and the entry part to Bolivia were adjacent to each other.
The Argentinian part went well, however the entry stage had a little drama.
The Bolivian immigration officer opened her window about 2 inches and peered at our vehicle. She then stated that no vehicle this big had previously entered Bolivia before "Ever" and we could not come in. The window was then promptly closed and we could see through the glass that she had now knuckled down to some serious Whatsapp messaging and that her interaction with us was finished.
Luckily for us we were approached by one of the Argentinian Border Customs Officers who, for no reason other than pure kindness, took up our plight and after a few hours it was decided that truck was now looking a bit smaller and our entry was allowed.
The window re opened 2 inches, papers passed in an out several times and we were in.
I must admit that my first impressions of Bolivia at this stage weren't favourable.
We headed off in the direction of Uyuni in the company of two wonderful ladies " Sarah and Clara" who we had met the night before.
Well it wasn't long before my frustration at the border started to melt and within a few kilometres we realised that Bolivia was quite nice and the scenery was starting to apply the "Wow" factor.
We camped that night with Sarah and Clara on a high Plato and the next day we arrived in the Town of Uyuni.
I am afraid that my first impressions of Uyuni town remained with me throughout our stay there. I Didn't like it , in fact I really didn't like it. I could try to flower it up a bit , but this would be like trying to polish a turd. It wasn't, in my view, a nice town.
We opted to stay out of town in a cemetery for broken steam trains .
This was an amazing place. We parked for two days right between them all . I must admit it was a bit spooky in the dark when all the tourists had left.
Despite the town being a bit of a disappointment, it didn't matter as nobody comes here for the town.
The only reason people come to this part of Bolivia is for the "Salar de Uyuni"
The Salar is one of the worlds biggest salt flats and covers an area of nearly 11000 square kilometres and is at 3650 meters in altitude. It has recently been host to a section of the Dakar Rally in 2018.
It obviously used to be a sea bed and has somehow, over billions of years, manged to get pushed up to this altitude.
Most overlanders who tour this continent have this phenomenon high on their list and we couldn't believe that we were actually here.
On the morning of entry onto the Salar we , by sheer chance, bumped into Hartmut and Lisa a German couple that we had last seen near Punta Arenas Chile.
We decided for safety's sake to set off together.
I cannot describe the immenseness of the Salar. It is huge and because there is nothing to focus on or even a visible horizon as such, everything gets out of perspective.
You can see that I was loving it
We started of slowly and Hartmut was particularly cautious as he, understandably, didn't want to smother the underside of his vehicle in salt.
Unfortunately first 200 meters onto the Salar found us up to our wheel arches in deep salty puddles.
Well after a few minutes I realised that the damage was done and I hadn't come all this way for nothing so it was foot to the floor for us
|Stolen from Hartmut and Lisa, thanks.|
I know, I know. But hey, why not make the planet a bit warmer. Seriously everthing struggles at this altitude including us.
You should only go on the Salar when its dry, this is why we did it in the wet. By the time we finished being silly everything we owned was totally contaminated with salt.
When you leave the Salar, if you drive like me, you need to get the vehicle cleaned.
Luckily there are many placed where you can get this done
Bucket list....... Tick
Sunday, 4 November 2018
We had managed to complete a big loop and were almost back to Santa Cruz. However, our destination this time was the Bolivian university town of Trinidad which was about 1000 km away on mainly Gravel ( Ripio ) roads .
Our reason for this was to hopefully get to see the elusive pink river Dolphins that live in the river Ibare.
The first stage of the journey was along a red muddy road that passed through simple villages and endless checkpoints.
Each checkpoint was the same . They were manned by two or three 17 year old lads in army uniforms ( probably in their National Service ) Their cheeks fully loaded with Coca leaves, high as kites...... with guns.
Caution was the name of the game. The routine was constant. Stare at the documents for a few minutes pretending to read them, walk round the vehicle then ask me where I am going. Have another long look at the documents again, ask where I am going again and then let us pass. Its a tedious process especially when they are every 20 km but you just have to endure it.
It was on this road that we stumbled into a huge Toad that was about the size of a dinner plate
The Town of San Ignacio de Velasco was a welcome break from the muddy roads. We stayed the garden of a nice Swiss / Bolivian family. The two girls were had rearing a baby Rhea .
This town is one of many similar ones on the Jesuit Missions Route
Getting fuel can be a big issue in Bolivia for two reasons . Firstly the fuel stations on these remote roads a few and far between and secondly most of them won't fill foreign registered vehicles. So a journey of 1000 km on dirt roads requires a bit of fuel management and planning.
With a few stops along the way including the town of Ascensión de Guarayos, we drove the length of the muddy Ruta 9 to Trinidad.
We arrived at Trinidad quite late in the day . We try not to this as we have a rule about not driving in the dark, but sometimes you just miss judge your journey. Pat had identified a parking place at the university and the next morning we set of into the town to get some shopping. We soon realised that the narrow streets and low overhead cables were an issue so we decided to leave town.
Unfortunately a local Police Officer on a motorcycle also noticed this and stopped us . I thought he was offering to show us the way out when he asked us to follow him but in actual fact he was taking us to the local Police Station were I was placed in their custody room and it was explained to me that I had fallen foul of the " Being too tall on the wrong place offence " which carried the rather large fine of 1000 Bolivianos ( About £120.00 ) . They very kindly offered to keep the truck hostage in a safe place whilst they took me to a bank to get the money that could only be paid in cash .
Luckily, although I knew what was going on, I am fully qualified to play the stupid Gringo and look at them like I didn't understand. After a couple of hours of fist slamming and shouting they very kindly agreed that as a special favour they were able to reduce the fine on this occasion to 500 Bolivianos if I paid immediately. At this point their Chief Officer entered the room and after a lot of jumping to attention and saluting all the talk of the fine seemed to stop. The Boss was very friendly and when he discovered that we were trying to get to the local river port of Loma Suarez to see pink dolphins he told me that the he would get an Officer ( The one demanding the money ) to give us a police escort on his motorcycle . It was hard not to grin . The officer who had been demanding the money reluctantly showed us out of town.( but we didnt get our shopping done )
We had arranged to go the "Chuchini Amazon Wildlife Eco Reserve" ( who I would recommend ) but within about 50 metres of their long drive we got stuck in the mud and had to abandon this leg of the journey. Luckily they pulled us out and we parked in the town instead.
The next day we took the boat ride up the Rio Ibare in search of Pink Dolphins. We had an extra passenger on board , being a Spider Monkey who was to be deposited on the bank of the river where it was being released into the wild.
Now River Dolphins are fast, shy and very hard to photograph as they rarely break surface and then only for a few seconds .
The Eco Lodge is situated about 5km from civilisation deep in the thick jungle rain Forest. Very pretty in the day but at night everything comes out and wants to eat you.
Our original plan was to carry on heading North from Trinidad on Ruta 9 to Rurrenabaque. However everyone we met and spoke to all said "Don't do it" its just too muddy and dangerous as the wet season had come early and the road surfaces were terrible. So reluctantly we turned around and back tracked for 3 days heading for the town of Cochabamba.
We knew that our great friends Sigrid and Peter had recently visited this town so we contacted them for local advice only to discover that they were in fact still there which was a great result.
The last 100km to Cochabamba took an eternity. It was a very high winding mountain pass that involved a low gear ascent that lasted 5 hours . On three occasions we had to wait whilst diggers cleared mud slides off the road . The rain never stopped.
Despite the low cloud, driving rain, muddy roads, poor visibility and generally treacherous driving conditions, the locals were not deterred from driving like idiots
The two days with Sigrid and Peter went too fast ( We love you guys ) and we soon found ourselves enroute to La Paz.
Originally named "Nuestra Señora de La Paz" ( Our lady of Peace ) , La Paz is Bolivia's capital city and is home to approximately 820,000 people. The historic city sits at 3500m in a large geographical basin.
So basically the city centre is surrounded by outer regions that are either situated on the steep sides of the basin or around its rim.
We met up with our old friends Jan and Anja and met some new travellers Mauricio and Anaelle and Andreas and Sandra.
Bolivia is full of folk law and suspicions. These were very apparent during our guided walking tour of the city with a local called Gert.
Dead baby Lamas both born and unborn appear to play a big part in receiving luck and prosperity . Most new buildings have a few buried in the foundations.
A central market known as " The Witches Market" perpetuates these suspicions .
Yes they are real.
The Coca leaf plays a big part in Bolivian culture and economy. Its used as a cure for may conditions ranging from Stomach upsets, Altitude sickness and Mental illness.
They can also be used by specially gifted "Yatiri" men and women to predict your future.
These Yatiri ( Shamens ) work out of small wooden huts high in the El Alto region over looking the city.
Pat decided that it would be quite interesting to have an appointment with such a lady called "Maestra Elena "
Now I am really sceptical of this kind of stuff. However, I must admit that she did pick up on a few things and some of what she said was pretty close. Spooky.
Art History and Culture is apparent everywhere .
Politically Bolivia is a divided Country. Half the country hate the president "Evo Morales" and half love him. La paz is the seat of government and having been a local Coca grower in a former life he is pretty popular here.
Putting aside the politics there is one thing that Evo Morales should be remembered for and that is the building of the "Teleferico" cable car system that now joins many parts of the city.
There are 8 lines of different colours currently in use and a 9th line due to be completed during the next year.
It is simple, cheap, clean, fast and amazing. This is truly the best South American transport systems we have seen.
The views around the city were really good
Now no trip to La Paz would be complete without a night out at the "Cholitos" womens wrestling.
I know what your thinking, cheap,tacky, staged, rehearsed and degrading for women.
Well it was so staged and tacky it was fantastic. We had a great evening and Pat managed to get landed on by flying women and drenched in beer and popcorn. We saw ladies in Traditional Cholitas dress fly through the air drop kick each other and get strangled. Your not getting it I know.
Basically its a local Cabaret .
As for the degrading bit. The men used to be the stars of the show and women played no part. However, in more recent times the women have become the stars and the men are very much in the background. The participating ladies see it as an honour to take part and feel that they have made great progress in what was a male dominated arena.
Our next destination was Lake Titicaca.
This lake sits at about 3800m altitude and is enormous. Partly in Bolivia and partly in Peru it is 190km long and 80km wide covering an area of 58000 square Kilometres. Its like a small sea.
The shoreline drive towards the town of Copacabana was breathtaking and it was hard to imagine that you were actually over 4000m high at times
The Touristy town of Copacabana was exactly that, but quite pleasant.
Here we had the good fortune to spend a couple of days with an amazing Macartney family from America who basically went on a holiday and have dragged it out for over 4 years now.
Tim and Malia, your kids Wyatt Carson and Kaila are a credit to you. We loved your company.
Copacabana is situated just a few Km from the Peruvian Border so I guess this is where we go next