Bolivia

Saturday 4th August 2018

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

Hasta Luego




Sunday, 19 August 2018

Sucre, Che Guevara and Samaipata

With a sparkling clean truck, after its salt bath we headed for the town of Sucre, with a quick overnight stop on the way in Potosi.






Sucre , which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site,  is the the Constitutional Capital of Bolivia, as oppose to the actual capital which is La Paz.

It sits at about 2800 meters in altitude and is home to about 300,000 people.

It is also , as far as we are concerned, a real jewel in Bolivia's crown. I have said before that we aren't particularly city people, but we loved Sucre. So much so we stayed for a couple of weeks .

Camping near the city is nearly impossible. Luckily for us, and fellow travellers, a wonderful couple named Alberto and Felicidad have opened up their garden to Overlanders and we camped there.
It was only a 10 minute walk to the towns magnificent Plaza.









We had decided that our grasp of the Spanish language was still crap, so cashing in on Bolivia's low prices we enrolled in Spanish lessons at the Sucre Spanish School . I would recommend their services for sure. Our teacher Veronica was very patient, luckily.


By chance our stay coincided with the Bolivian Independence day on the 6th August. The whole of Bolivia celebrates this and the parade in Sucre is extra special as the declaration of Independence was signed here.

The procession lasted several hours and contingents from all professions such as Doctors, Municipal workers, Miners ,teachers and Market Stall Holders were proud to participate. Brass bands from the Police and the Military lined the route. Even the local Dog rescue services took part.












Everyone was very proud to take part and the atmosphere reflected this 

One profession that made me laugh was Bolivia's version of the the Lollipop person. Bolivians also call their crossing "Zebra Crossings" so the attendants, who are on every street corner dress accordingly 



Not sure where the contingent of Dinosaurs fit in, I thought they fell out of favour a few billion years ago 




The parade was observed from on high by the Bolivian president wearing his ceremonial sash. ( we will come back to the sash in a minute )



His popularity has waned somewhat and several sections of the parade were waving political flags and banners opposing he future re election.

Now about the sash. The sash , which is several hundred years old, doesn't actually belong to the president, it is a symbol of importance  that belongs to the Bolivian nation. It is transported to and from various events under the guard of a small military escort. 

Well just after this parade, it was being transported by two soldiers who decided to have a short break from their journey, so taking advantage of low Bolivian prices, they checked into a brothel for a bit of leg over. You guessed it, whilst they were busy the sash was stolen.

It was however recovered a few days later but I bet those two soldiers are now dressed as zebras at a junction miles from civilisation. Read more

Whilst in Sucre we managed to catch up with some great faces from the past. Claus and Sippie, Ryan and Camille and made some new friends called Fritz and Gisela. 

Dinosaurs are big business Sucre. Lots of remains have been found in the region and at a local cement works on the outskirts of town a huge collection of Dinosaur footprints were discovered and have become a local attraction called "Parque Cretacico" its like Jurassic Park but about 70 million years younger.

In company with Ryan and Camille went to see this phenomena for ourselves .








 
The park had tried hard to put on a very impressive display of life size creatures that created loud booming sounds and growls. It was all very exciting until we met our parties guide who tried very hard    ( actually I think it was a natural skill )  to make it the dullest tour in the world. Dinosaurs should be awesome, but his complete lack of personality was unbelievable. However, being a bit childish this feature actually became a good part of the tour and trying to second guess how dull this guys monologue could get became fun.

Anyway here are some dinosaur footprints









I know what your thinking. How did some big fat dinosaur manage to plod up a muddy 85 degree rock face . I had the same question.

We apparently all dinosaurs during the Cretaceous period became far more nimble than in other periods and had mastered  the art of abseiling. Simple when you think about it.

No seriously. This rock face was once  horizontal . The tracks set hard in the mud, which over millions of years turned to stone and the whole area was pushed up to the near vertical plane by sedimentary heave, that is still ongoing today.

As said we loved it in Sucre and we actually had three failed attempts at leaving, being planning to go in the morning and then couldn't manage it the next day. In fairness this was caused by us both having a rather big dose of "Bolivian Bottom". We were well and truly on a "PAN" American Adventure.

We had been told that the road to Santa Cruz was paved all the way and would take us about about 12 hours to get there as it was all down hill.    So we  set off and soon discovered that about 150 km of it in the middle section were in fact unpaved Gravel         " Ripio" roads that had huge single track mountain climbs of several thousand meters. 

Although a bit daunting this section , that took  3 days, actually became a real highlight. The Bolivian scenery was amazing.

The single track had a cliff on the inside and a sheer drop on the outside. The problem with these twisty roads is oncoming traffic. The locals here drive a bit fast. Our truck has two very large air horns but taking your hand off the steering wheel every few minutes isn't prudent. So we rigged up a long cord so Pat could operate it from the passenger side .

It started well but soon became the " Nervousometer of fear" we are now both deaf.

Remember, the tyre tracks you see on the ground are from cars. we are much wider than this.




During this stretch we stopped at the small mountain village of La Higuera. ( Spanish for "The Fig Tree" ) 

This village was catapulted into the limelight on the 8th of October 1967 when the revolutionary Communist Terrorist ( Now freedom fighter ) "Che Guevara " was captured by the local Bolivian Army and held prisoner in a local school building. With the assistance and encouragement of the American CIA , who attended the location Che Guevara was executed in that school house and a huge legacy was born.

Che Guevara was an young Argentinian medical student who, with a friend,  went on a trip around South America on a Norton motorcycle. During this trip he became very aware of the huge inequalities that existed between people and was slowly drawn into becoming a Communist campaigner and led Guerrilla movements in many locations including Cuba , Bolivia and Congo. Being probably the worlds most wanted man, at that time, he took refuge in the Bolivian hills and it was here he was captured .

The town of La Higuera has now become a focal point of his life and the very schoolroom where he was shot dead is now a small Museum of his life.

History now looks at him differently but who knows what was really like.

The only communication that existed at the time was a small telegraph room in the centre of the village.

The messages of his presence in the area, his capture and his assassination orders were all sent and received from this tiny room, which is now a restaurant offering candle lit dinners for small groups or couples. Casa Telegrafica, owned by a french couple,  also offers camping and Cabanas for travellers in their beautiful garden.












Despite his legacy, that brings tourist like us to visit, village life is still a tough existence. There are only   7 local children.  There are only 5 people in the village  who are old enough to remember him. One of which is this 71 year old lady who claims to have cooked him his last meal. For the price of a jacket donated by Pat she was keen to tell us her story.


If Etta and Stefan get to read this, your table that I have been dragging round for months has now been donated to the curator of the museum. Who knows it might have a bit of Che's beard or last bowel movement displayed on it as we speak.



The town of Samaipata ( High Rest  ) was our next destination but we still had to negotiate more of the mountain ripio road. 

We arrived late and simply parked in the Plaza. The next day we came to realise that Samaipata was in fact a really lively town and was clearly a popular destination for backpackers and unemployable Europeans who have devoted their lives to avoiding  shampoo. We liked it here.

The nearby Inca Settlement of "El Fuerte" was our goal, but rather than drive there we took a tour with a local company called "Samaipata Tours". The locally named owner and guide " Jacqueline" was superb. Her knowledge was incredible and the service outstanding. I would definitely recommend them.

"El Fuerte" ( formerly the original Samaipata ) is the largest carved rock settlement in the world and it sits on a high platform between two valleys. The south side is classified as Andean and the north side is the start of the Amazonian region that stretches to Brazil.



Buckle up for some more history and culture.

Apparently this site  has been of huge significance to several civilisation over many century's. 

Originally developed by the Mojocoyas the rock carving was started by the "Chane" in 800 AD and then continued by the "Incas". 

These three civilisations live together peacefully until the "Spanish" showed up in the 17th century and basically said to the 2000 or so occupants "Convert to Catholicism, take a Spanish name, adopt the Spanish way of life and become a slave..... or die". 

Lots chose to die.

There was a further hostile invasion by an eastern Bolivian / Paraguayan culture called the "Guarani"

The rock itself served many purposes. It was a place of worship and ceremonies. A place of government. A place of sacrifice and even has carving on its surface that show the seasons, indicating events like the Solstice and Equinox and the right times to plant and harvest .

Around the rock were homesteads and market areas. 













Religion and worship of Sun and Earth gods played a big part in cultures of this time and death was very important .

The alcoves in the rocks in the following pictures were the burial sites of important people. Each site was assigned a priest who's roll was to live in front of, and guard, the corpse for ever. Nice work if you can get it.




For some reason the entire site later became uninhabited and derelict. Wind blown sands completely buried the area and its existence was almost forgotten

However, in the 1970's an eminent archaeologist called "Omar Claure" devoted his entire life to excavating the area and restoring many of its features. Thanks to his tireless work in 1998 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site . 

By sheer chance Dr Claure was on site when we visited and we were privileged to meet him.

Tha Pantanal in Brazil is now in our sights

Dont forget you can see lots more information on the "Route and Photos" page of this site 


Hasta Luego





Sunday, 4 November 2018

Dolphins, La Paz, Womens Wrestling and Lake Titicaca

The tropical climate we experienced in Brazil soon faded away as we re entered Bolivia at the San Matias Border.  The cold and grey returned almost instantly.

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  AscensiĆ³n de Guarayos, we drove the length of the muddy Ruta 9 to Trinidad.

Conception






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 SeƱora 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. 








Just so you know, "NO"  Cholitos ladies were harmed or injured in the making of this Blog post 

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 

Hasta Luego