Bolivia


Me and a bright red lake¡Hola everyone! I arrived in Chile two days ago, after spending three days in a jeep in south-west Bolivia. I went on a tour of the Salar de Uyuni and the surrounding national parks; the weirdest terrain I’ve ever seen.

On the first day we drove across the Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. It’s 12000 sq km of blindingly white emptiness, over 2 miles above sea level (see photos here and here). We had our lunch on a table made of salt, on island full of cactuses.

The second day we drove through the valleys of the mountains and volcanoes to a bright red lake (see the photo on the left). We had lunch outside again, this time with flamingos and llamas around us. That night we were 4900m (over 16000 ft) above sea level, the highest I’ve ever been. It was cold! When the sun went down the temperature dropped to 10°C below zero, so I had to pile on all the clothes I have – I didn’t think I’d have to do it in South America!

The next morning we stood amongst volcanic geysers spurting hot steam and bubbling craters. I felt like I was on the moon. Afterwards we went to a hot volcanic spring, which was pretty bad getting undressed outside in sub-zero temperatures, but well worth it to get into 30°C water and have a wash for the first time in 3 days! We had our breakfast outside again before going to another lake, this time a green one, and leaving Bolivia one last time and heading to Chile.

The tour was the best thing I’ve done in South America so far. The whole trip, with red and green lakes, vast amounts of white emptiness, and bubbling craters, made it feel like another planet. It alone is worth the visit to Bolivia (maybe even South America), and has definitely sealed Bolivia as my favourite country here!

I’ve put more photos up from the tour which you can see here.

The moon rising over a mountain, ChileI’m in La Serena now, and heading to Santiago tomorrow. Last night I went to the space observatory nearby and spent 2 hours on a tour, looking at the stars and planets through giant telescopes. Afterwards I got talking to the guide and he showed me around for another couple of hours, showing me the moon, Jupiter, and different constellations, and we hooked up my camera to the telescope. The photo on the left is of the moon rising above a mountain.

SucreI’m back in La Paz now, waiting for a few days for my Visa card to arrive at the embassy. The buses here were adventurous as they always are in Bolivia: flat tyres and aisles crammed with people. There was no need to run off the bus with everyone else as smoke poured out from underneath and people shouted “agua! agua!” this time though, as was the case on the 18-hour bus journey from Rurre to Trinidad a few weeks ago!

On the way up to La Paz, I stopped off at Potosí (the world’s highest city), and Sucre, Bolivia’s official capital. Just outside Sucre I saw the world’s largest dinosaur footprints. The tourist site was in true Bolivian style: it was also a construction site, and at one point we had to wait half an hour for an explosion to go off before we could walk any further!

It’s actually nice to be somewhere familiar and settled for a few days, a place where I know where the good restaurants are and I can completely unpack my bag; and La Paz is my favourite city in South America. It’s completely hectic and crazy, the roads are packed full of buses, the streets are lined with market stalls and you can buy everything on the markets here. One street will be full of stalls selling nothing but electric drills, and the next street will have nothing but silverware. Yesterday, I unknowingly entered the abattoir section, and saw entire sheep being gutted on the streets, with sheep heads lying around on the pavement. There are also those people who don’t have stalls and sell junk from their bag or their hands. Today I saw people offering their mobile phones to use; men holding up soft toys and llama fetuses (a great combination); a man walking around selling multi-coloured brooms, shouting “1 for $1!”; and just two minutes later, an old man walked down the street selling car aerials! It’s just a constant reminder of Del Boy and his suitcase.

I’ve finally updated my photo website, with photos of waterfalls, 7-coloured rocks, and me waving meat in front of aligators.

Me, Isla del SolI’ve been in Bolivia for about two weeks now; it’s become my favourite country in South America. There’s good weather, friendly people and it’s cheap – less than £1 for a room or a meal. I spent two days on Isla del Sol, an island on Lake Titicaca, 3800m above sea level. It feels isolated from the rest of the world – it’s without roads or flushing toilets, and there’s no electricty for 18 hours a day. There’s only mountains, Incan ruins, cobbled paths, and lots of donkeys, llamas and sheep, hanging out in the sun.

La Paz

I left the island with an Australian girl I met there and we headed to La Paz, the world’s highest capital (except that it’s not quite the capital). It couldn’t have been more different than Isla del Sol. People are everywhere, pushing past each other, and traffic is a constant standstill with people shouting out their windows and using their horns constantly. The hundreds of shoe-shine boys in the streets of La Paz all wear balaclavas and look like terrorists (it looks very intimidating, but apparently it’s shameful to be a shoe-shine boy in La Paz). Frequent protests paraded down the streets, with riot police on standby; I saw a police truck speeding past, the back of which was full with army soldiers with and their huge guns, like a scene out of a war film. Despite the appeance, I had no problems, and visited the coca museum, a musical instruments museum and some pre-Incan ruins.

Bolivian jungle

In a canoe, BoliviaAfter 3 days in La Paz I travelled 16 hours north by bus, down the world’s most dangerous road (it descends 3000m in 80km on edge-of-the-mountain roads), to a village called Rurre, and went on a 3 day tour of the jungle. I saw sloths and parrots, fed bananas to monkeys, meat to aligators (I almost lost an arm), and swam in the river with pink dolphins. They swam around us and played with our football. On the way back to Rurre, there was terrential rain and our jeep got stuck in the mud, so we all had to strip down to our shorts, get out of the jeep and into the mud and push!

Off to Brazil… 

I’m now in Santa Cruz, 28 hours by bus south-east of Rurre. We stopped off twice along the way, in little towns where people still use cattle and horse & cart to get around and dress like cowboys. The buses were like school buses and the roads unpaved, which made an interesting (and uncomfortable!) journey here. I’m waiting for a train to Brazil now. It’s called the “death train” for some reason and is another 21 hour journey; it’ll be my third consecutive night without a bed, so I’ll be glad to finally arrive in Brazil and not take any buses for a while! I met a 69 year old guy in Rurre who spent his whole life travelling, and he said there’s a place called Bonito in Brazil near the Bolivian border that has the clearest rivers he’s ever seen. So I’m heading there with a German guy I met in Rurre who liked the sound of the place too.

Yesterday, after 18 hours on a bus and shortly before getting on another overnight bus, we were desperate for a shower. We ordered a meal in a cheap local restaurant and when the owner asked if we wanted anything else, I said, “And a shower, too,” as a joke, and she said yes and let us use her shower while she cooked our meal!