A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: cam_sarah

Chile to Bolivia through the Salt Flats

sunny 15 °C

We awake on my birthday a little sore after 2 days of desert bike
riding. I had to remind Seth over breakfast that he could say 'happy
birthday', he claims he didn´t forget - he was just busy getting ready
for our tour to Bolivia!

So we set off in our minibus at 8am and headed to the Chilean customs,
which are actually in San Pedro about 5 minutes away so it was a
pretty easy task. After we signed out of Chile we started to climb and
climb and climb. We went from 2500m to 4100m at the Bolivian border,
where you can feel the headaches starting. We changed from our minibus
into Landcruisers for the tour (Bolivia doesn´t let Chilean tour buses
into the country, so we swapped). We ended up with a Danish and Swiss
couple, and all 4 of them could speak better Spanish than us (and
perfect English) - the tour guide didn´t speak any English, so our
multi-lingual co-passengers did a lot of the translating for us.
Bolivian Spanish is so much easier to understand than the hyper-fast
Chilean Spanish, I managed to grasp a few of the tour guide's
instructions, but we were very grateful for our translators.

Bolivian Border at 4100m

Bolivian Border at 4100m

We entered the Bolivian National Park pretty quickly, with great views
over the Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca (Green and White lakes). The
green was from the algae (although it wasn´t too green as it is
greener in the afternoon, after a few hours of sun).

Laguna Verde

Laguna Verde

Laguna Blanca with Volcano Licancabur

Laguna Blanca with Volcano Licancabur

The whole time we drove around this part of the park, we were under
the shadow of the Volcano Licancabur, which was the same volcano we
had seen the previous days from Chile. It is 5900m high with a 60m
crater at the top, and in there one of the highest lakes in the world.

Sand, salt and volcanos

Sand, salt and volcanos

We then headed into a thermal pool for a bit of relaxation, which was
nice as we got to meet the others - there were 3 Landcruisers in our
tour group, people of all nationalities - a lot of French!

Thermal pool

Thermal pool

Driving through the desert was pretty cool, I have no idea how the
drivers knew where they were going as there we thousands of tyre marks
and little roads zigzagging the desert. We drove through a section of
desert that was called the Dali Rock Desert as it had some strange
rocks standing in the sand, they were naturally occuring and very
'surreal'.

Bolivian Highway

Bolivian Highway

Surreal rocks on the side of a desert hill

Surreal rocks on the side of a desert hill

Our last stop before heading to our hostel for lunch was to see some
geysers, they wer e just steam/gas ones, so not too impressive, but
there is obviously a lot of action in the area, and they have started
to build some electricity generators to use the power produced by the
thermal underground activity, but like quite a few things in Bolivia,
it hadn´t quite been finished!

Gas geysers

Gas geysers

By time we arrived at our stop for the night (and lunch) it was about
4pm, it was lucky we had a few little snacks to keep Seth going! We
drove up to a collection of stone buildings, each with a different
hostel name on the outside. We presumed the hostel was owned by the
tour company, but seemingly we weren´t even booked into any of them! The first landcruiser had to go to several little hostels to find one that could accommodate 17 of us. Not sure what would have been done if
they were all full.

Lodgings on tour night 1 - no showers, concrete blocks with matresses on them- 4500m altitude

Lodgings on tour night 1 - no showers, concrete blocks with matresses on them- 4500m altitude

bed for he night at 4500m

bed for he night at 4500m

The hostel was at 4500m altitude, the highest we have ever been, and
a bit of a shock to the system, it was basic, with no showers and
limited toilet facilities. We were in rooms of about 4-6 and got
settled in. It all seemed clean (in fact like it had just been hosed
out!). The beds were concrete slabs with matresses on top, a bit too
hard to move, as our room-mates found out.

After lunch we headed out to view the Laguna Colorada, which is a red
lake and there were posters around the hostel encouraging people to
vote for this lake as one of the 'new wonders of the world'. The red
of the lake was again the algae in the lake, which is eaten by the
flamingoes, and that it what gives them their beautiful pink colour.
The lake was very impressive, as were the number of flamingoes, we
spent quite a bit of time trying to get a good picture of the
flamingoes, which was quite hard as they kept sticking their heads
into the water to eat and standing on 2 legs! When a group of them
flew away together it was cool, they look so strange with their long
necks and pretty pink colour.

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada

Laguna Colorada and flamingoes

Laguna Colorada and flamingoes

Flamingo on Laguna Colorada

Flamingo on Laguna Colorada

Llama eating on the edge of Lagoona Colorada

Llama eating on the edge of Lagoona Colorada

On return to our hostel we had hot drinks and crackers, followed quite
soon by dinner, which meant that we had about 3 meals in about 4
hours, but there wasn´t much else to do apart from eat! After dinner
the group sang happy birthday to me and Seth borrowed 2 candles off
the tour guide. One of the French tourists gave me a Chicken keyring,
which prompted quite a long conversation about the different language
equivalents of 'cockadoodledo' (every other country decided the
English version was the stupidist!)

Sarah's Birthday

Sarah's Birthday

It got pretty cold at night, and most people got rugged up and headed
to bed pretty early. Due to the altitude and the dryness it was
possibly the worst nights sleep ever! The shortness of breath made you
feel quite claustrophobic. I felt like I was the only one who couldn´t
sleep, but in the morning most people hadn´t slept too well, it did
mean that we were all up for the sunrise over the mountains!

Sunrise at 4500m

Sunrise at 4500m

Day 2 saw a breakfast of pancakes and involved a lot of driving across
the desert and was quite bumpy as we made our way up towards the salt
flats. First stop was at the Arbol de Piedra, which means stone tree,
again a weird collection of rocks sticking up in the sand. The actual
stone tree was fenced off, but there were plenty other rocks to wander
around and for Seth to climb. He made it to the top quite easily, but
struggled a little bit getting down, some rock-climbing/scrambling
required!

Seth at the top

Seth at the top

Climbing on the rocks

Climbing on the rocks

The stone tree

The stone tree

Rocks in the desert

Rocks in the desert

More rocks in the desert

More rocks in the desert

We then drove past a few highland lakes, which were very picturesque,
Lagunas Honda, Chiarkota and Hedionda for lunch, just as the cold
weather, rainy drizzle and sandstorm set in, so lunch was a bit of a
rushed affair.

Laguna Honda

Laguna Honda

After lunch, the terrain got a little rougher and the afternoon’s
driving was a little hard going, there was also quite a distance to
cover, so there weren’t too many stops, we just sat back and listened
to the driver’s Bolivian music, he loved playing about 10 secs of each
song and then flicking through to the next one.

Bumpy desert ride

Bumpy desert ride

Towards the end of the afteroon we crossed over a train line (the
Uyuni to La Paz and into Chile train line) and then got onto more
normal roads, which things a little easier. We stopped in a small
village called San Juan and bought the most expensive Snickers bar in
South America!

Train line to nowhere

Train line to nowhere

A couple of hours later we arrived a hostel number 2 – it was a Salt
Hostel, everything (except the bathroom, for obvious reasons) was
made of salt blocks. It was pretty cool. The walls were made of slat
blocks held together with a salt-type paste, and yes, we licked the
walls, just to check!

The salt hotel- night 2

The salt hotel- night 2

Salt Bedroom

Salt Bedroom

The hostel was on the edge of the Salt flats and down a bit in
altitude, at about 3800m. Everyone was quite excited about the fact we
had showers, electricity for charging cameras, some red wine with
dinner and the prospect of a good nights’ sleep in lower altitude.

Day 3 saw another good sunrise and Seth walked up the small hill
behind the hostel to get 'sunrise with cactus' photos, I stayed in
bed enjoying the good sleep.

Sunrise and a cactus

Sunrise and a cactus

We set off into the Salt flats, again driving across the flats on no real roads or marked paths - there were millions of 4x4 tyre marks zig-zagging across the salt. The drivers use the mountains on the horizon as guiding markers although I am not sure how they can be very accurate, as the salt area is huge... about 22,000km2.
We stopped with the other two 4x4s and spent an hour or so making silly photos with the never ending salt view. Ours weren't very good, as the screen on our camera isn't very clear (got a bit messed up in Antarctica) and it was hard to tell what was in focus. Some people got some really great shots.

Strong Sarah- mini Seth- Salar de Uyuni- salt lake

Strong Sarah- mini Seth- Salar de Uyuni- salt lake

Salar de Uyuni- 22 000 km^2

Salar de Uyuni- 22 000 km^2

Jumping for joy... Salar de Uyuni

Jumping for joy... Salar de Uyuni

The salt was weird to stand on, I thought it would be like ice, but it wasn't. The salt was obvisouly coarse and very blindingly white, with hexagonal shapes on it (not sure how or why it was formed like that). It was a very awesome sight, salt as far as the eye could see (apart from the mountains on the horizon, of course).

After messing around for a while and trying to get sillier and sillier photos we headed off across the salt to a strange island in the middle, called Isla Pescado or Incahausi (not sure why it had 2 names, and we didn't really get a good explanation, except that it seemingly looked like a fish from above).
This island was quite amazing, it was covered with Cacti. Cacti grow at a rate of 1cm per year, and some of these were over 8m tall (that's 800 years for those slow at maths), there was one cactus plant that had died, but was 12m tall at it's peak. The views from this island were great, we just sat up there watching the little ant-like 4x4s drive across the salt.

Cactus- Fish Island

Cactus- Fish Island

Cactus flower- Fish Island

Cactus flower- Fish Island

Big cactus..... Fish Island- middle of the largest and highest salt lake in the world- Salar de Uyuni

Big cactus..... Fish Island- middle of the largest and highest salt lake in the world- Salar de Uyuni

Rock formation, lookout- Fish Island

Rock formation, lookout- Fish Island

After watching a overly friendly ostrich get very close to peoples' lunch we headed to the 'Salt Museum', which is an old Salt hotel on the salt flats, seemingly you can still stay there for $20 per night, but the police then come during the night, tell you can't stay there and charge you $200. But there looked to be people staying there when we were there. The 'museum' has some salt sculptures, but apart from that it was very similar to where we had stayed the night before.
Salt sculptures and furniture in the salt museum

Salt sculptures and furniture in the salt museum

Salt scultures in the salt museum

Salt scultures in the salt museum

We had lunch of chicken milanesa, which was cooked at the hostel before we left in the morning and was still warm, we thought nothing of it at the time, but since then we have bumped into about half the group and most suffered badly from it! oh dear.

We headed across the salt once more and to the edge, where there are still salt 'mines', we were thinking underground caves, digging up salt, but these were actually small piles of salt - about 1m diameter, which had been scraped off the surface and was being left to dry. it was obviously a very manual process and once dry was scooped up into the truck and off it went for processing, where it was dried further, a few bits added to enhance the taste and then bagged up. All the salt is kept in Bolivia and none exported.

Salt mining- drying out salt after rain in small piles

Salt mining- drying out salt after rain in small piles

This marked the end of our Salt-travel and it was back on 'normal' roads towards to Uyuni. We arrived into the outskirts of Uyuni, which after 3 days of wilderness was a bit of shock, there was so much rubbish flying around the land, every little tree had a plastic bag attached to it, seemingly the government tries to clean it up, but people don't care and it gets bad again. Weird.
Our last stop on the tour is to the Railway Cemetery, again a little weird. It is a collection of all old, rusting trains and engines, that were collected in order to make a museum, but it never happened, so they are just sitting there. Seemingly the first Bolivian train was there, but not sure which one it was!
Train Cemetery

Train Cemetery

Uyuni, itself wasn't very exciting, and involved everyone from the tour trying to get on buses and booked into hosels in Potosi. We sorted ourselves out and headed for a recommended pizza place with half the tour group, it was good pizza, but wasn't really Bolivian. The owner was from the UK and was quite happy to charge UK prices too! Our bellies full, we headed onto our first Bolivin Bus - eek!
We boarded to first find out we were on the back row, then that someone was in it and then that there was no toilet on board (Seth needed to go). The moment the clock ticked over to 7.30pm the bus pulled away, even with people still trying to get on board. It was crazy there were people standing all the way down the aisle (for 6 hours!). The road was the bumpiest ever... the back seat and Seth's toilet-needing, making it the worst bus ride so far! Seth was saying he wasn't getting the bus to La Paz and we started thinking about taking a short bus to Sucre in order to fly to La Paz, rather than the 10 hour bus ride from Potosi. It was that bad.
We arrived into Potosi at about 1.30am (the ride got a litte more comfy after a quick toilet stop), and we caught a taxi to the hostel that had been booked for us. Sleeeep.

Posted by cam_sarah 19:09 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

The best and not-so-best of Rio

Copacabana, Ipanema and Favelas

sunny 35 °C
View The BIG trip on cam_sarah's travel map.

We headed out to the beachy suburbs of Copacabana and Ipanema, which are nicest parts of Rio. We walked (yes, Seth walked) the length of the beaches stopping frequently for swims as the temp was about 35degees, and thankfully the water was freezing! Making the walk a little easier. The beaches were packed - I thought Bondi on a busy holiday was bad, but these were crazy.
All the Brazilians wear the tiniest bikini bottoms and padded tops (yes, Seth they are all padded!) and the boys all wear Euro-togs... so, Seth and I stood out a little in my big-bottomed bikini and Seth in his Speedos! Even the fattest bottoms wore tiny biknis - really not very flattering. Girl from Ipanema and other bloke

Girl from Ipanema and other bloke

Breathing in at Copacabana

Breathing in at Copacabana

The crowded beaches did make it very hard to continue my celebrity-spotting, but when we were outside the Copacabana Palace Hotel we were told that Madonna and Beyonce were in there!

The beaches have a beautiful outlook and some great paving along the boardwalk, just a shame there were so many people there.
GRoovy footpath at Ipanema

GRoovy footpath at Ipanema

Copacabana

Copacabana

In the afternoon, we headed off on a tour into the other side of Rio, the favelas (slums,shanty towns) - these are communities that have grown within Rio, usually on the side of hills, giving them great views and usually where the good parts of a city are built! Usually favelas develop (or are pushed by the Govt) on the outskirts of cities, but here in Rio they are right next to the posh bits, one we visited even backed onto the best Golf Club in Rio.
In the 80s the Govt´s plan was to get rid of them, but in the last 20/30 years they have decided to integrate them into the city, provide services (water, elec, sewerage and actual addresses) - because it~s cheaper and easier than building homes for all the people in them.
We visited 2 - Villa do Canoas and Rocinho.
Canoas was a small, clean, well run favela, just a hodge-podge of houses built on top of each other, which a great community school (funded by our tour).
Rocinho was a drug-run favela, there were places we weren~t allowed to photo and we had to open all the windows onthe minibus so that they knew who was coming into the favela. It was more what expected, but again looked to be run in an organised and community way - I guess the drug lords are good at that! We were warned that we might see guns and drugs, but didn´t (probably just a tour-tactic!).
Both favelas were quite fine with having tourists walk through and it didn~t seem too voyeuristic - we got some great pics from the top of them both!

Villa Do Canoas Favela

Villa Do Canoas Favela

Rocinho Favela - commercial centre - run by drugs

Rocinho Favela - commercial centre - run by drugs

Villa do Canoas

Villa do Canoas

Rocinho - view from the top

Rocinho - view from the top

Posted by cam_sarah 11:03 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Rio Carnival!!

sunny 38 °C
View The BIG trip on cam_sarah's travel map.

So, after about 36 hours of flying and 10 hours of airport waiting. we finally arrived in Rio. The flight from Sydney was great, we were on the A380 and had 3 seats, so we both managed to sleep about 9 out of the 13 hours flight, but it was a different story on the American Airlines flights - both really old planes with poor service and 1 movieeach, which was hard especially on the 9 hour flight from Miami!
OUr hotel in Rio was old but quite nicely oldy-charactery and very clean, but in a little bit of a dodgy area, with a favela just up the road, but we managed to get about very easily.
Rio is a crazy place during Carnival and on our first evening we bumped into a few Blocos (which are Samba bands playing on the top of a truck made into a giant speaker system, with a few thousand followers, dancing in the street) really quite a spectacle! The atmosphere was fab and the people danced following the truck for hours.

The next day we had a good explore of the area and got up to the Christ the Redeemer hill, which has a fabulous 360 degree view of the city, but being the busiest time of the year it took over an hour of queuing for a ticket, which booked us onto a train nearly 2 hours later (grrrr) - a lot of waiting around in 37 degree heat! We wished we had succumbed to the taxi touts at the entrance. So, 3 hours later, 7 bottles of water, 2 ice lollies and a hot, grumpy Seth... we got to the top. The views were worth the wait and the photos are pretty cool.An Angel and Christ

An Angel and Christ


View from Christ

View from Christ

That evening we set off for Carnival! hurray! We had booked tickets over the internet and they were delivered to our hotel, I was a little apprehensive, but it all turned out fine. The parade started at 9pm, and we were told to get there at 6pm to get a seat, basically our tickets just got us entry to a bleacher-type concrete slab , which held about 1700 people. We headed off to brave the Metro system as were surrounded by quite a few people in costume and very dancing and singing. When the train arrived, the dor
doors opened and it was like opening an oven!
The train was packed and ridiculously hot! All you could see were people dripping with sweat, it was gross! But we pushed our way on and coped with a 6-stop ride - yuk!! I don´t think I have ever been anywhere so hot!
When we finally made it to our concrete slab we actually managed to get quite good seats, not too high up and just across from the ´famous people´box (we spotted Gerald Butler at the airport and Madonna was there too - we have some fuzzy pics!). The concrete was so hot, you could feel it through our shoes and we were glad to have bought $1 cushions from a street seller.
The parade itself was amazing! There were 6 samba schools competing that night and we watched 5 of them. Each school had about 5000 people performing and took about 1 hour to pass through. It was a mix of Sydney´s Mardi Gras, NY´s Macy Christmas Parade and So You Think You Can Dance. Each school had a story and told it through floats and costumes, some were a lot more entertaining than others, and most didn´t really contain much samba dancing. The logistics of putting these shows together must be huuuge! Each school had about 200 directors making sure people were in time and getting it right. The costumes were awesome (can´t imagine dancing in them in 30 degrees heat!) and the floats were huge (and sometimes a bit wobbly to be dancing on). Each school had a song , that they sang over and over continually for the hour - they only had 2 verses and a chorus, but I still found the Portugese too hard to follow!
We left the revellery at 4am and headed back through the crowds to our hotel, exhausted!Carnival Float

Carnival Float


Carnival Crowd

Carnival Crowd

Posted by cam_sarah 08:51 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)

Seth Departure - South Africa

So, Seth is in Sydney and leaves for South Africa tonight. He's going to Cape Town for 10 days to play rugby (2 days) and to drink (8 days).
He's left me in Brisbane to pack up the house (we're renting it out while we are away) and I'll meet him in Sydney before we fly to Rio on 12th Feb.

Pre-trip weigh-in:
Seth: 94.9kg
(somehow he managed to put on 2kg over the weekend!)

Posted by cam_sarah 16:42 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

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