A Travellerspoint blog

Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

sunny 23 °C

Day one of the Inca Trail started at 5.20am with a city tour – care of picking up everyone else after us. By the time we got out of the city we had been on the bus for just over an hour. 2 hours later we stopped for breakfast at Ollantaytambo which was a simple buffet run by some of the porter’s families (porters will be known from here on in as Chaskies – fleet foot runners, in Quechan (the local dialect), who were the messengers of the Incan Empire) . After breakfast we were amazed at how much people purchased from the small shop, such as snacks, water, torches and other items we thought perhaps people would have prepared with prior. Obviously not.

We arrived at km82, Piscacucho, at about 10am and walked to the entrance of the park and the start of the Inca Trail. We had to show our passports and sign in which all took time so we were probably walking by about 11am. We had arranged to have 1/3 of a Chaskie each. Which meant we could give them 6kg including our sleeping bag and sleeping mat, which we had hired. So we had just our day bags with a few extra clothes and snacks. Other people had their entire backpacks, 12- 18 kg. They had decided not to hire a Chaskie and had not really given much thought to the difficulty of the walk, as it appeared.

Day one was brain-numbing. Nice scenery, but we did not walk for much more than 25 minutes continuously and the guide kept the pace at the front, stopping for informative chats along the way. A couple of people struggled to keep up, and the assistant guide found himself following them 10- 20 minutes behind the group.

Inca ruin on the path

Inca ruin on the path

Oh yeah, forgot to mention we stopped for lunch as well. Let me explain. The Chaskies each carry 18kg (the weight is supposedly regulated, but as our guide said “this is Peru”, so not too regulated), there were 16 people in our group and 21 Chaskies and the chef, plus two tour guides.

16 walkers, 21 Chaskies, 2 guides and a chef

16 walkers, 21 Chaskies, 2 guides and a chef

We arrived at our lunch spot to an erected cooking tent and dining tent, with tables and stools, tablecloths, metal cutlery etc, we thought we would be eating out a plastic bowl on our laps! Lunch was soup, main and dessert, far too much, especially as we felt like we hadn’t really walked very far! But it decreased the need for snacks, significantly. It is fair to say that we had three huge meals a day, plus afternoon tea. They carried everything, gas, cooker, rice, popcorn, chicken etc etc. Amazing.

Day 1- looking relaxed and happy

Day 1- looking relaxed and happy

The dining room

The dining room

Arrival at the camping site, Huayllabamba, on day one was at 5.30pm. The last bit was about 20 minutes of uphill, which finished off a few people, and we found it quite amusing because they all complained about the weight of their bags! We had a great view from our already-set-up campsite on the side of the valley – tents set up, dining tent up and welcome drink ready. It was five star camping. This was all possible because the Chaskies, in their sandals, would literally run ahead with the gear and get there so much before us that everything was set up. In the past (and still with some unscrupulous tour operators) Chaskies carry between 40 and 50kg. Wait for the rest for the explanation of the walk to be impressed.

1st camping site

1st camping site

So day one ended with us consuming 10 times more calories than we had burnt. We were advised that Day two was going to be 5 hours of straight up, 1200m in altitude, followed by 1.5 hours of down (500m). The group was so shocked at the difficulty of day one (?? losers) that everyone but the Irish boys paid the local inflated rate to have a Chaskie carry their bag up the hill. So now we had the heaviest bags, compared to the lightest the day before – but that was fine, we were tough!

Day 2, we were woken at 5.20am with a cup of tea in our tent and then made our way to the dining tent for breaky, which was huge… fruit, pancakes, local porridge-stuff, bread and hot drinks.

This day, we were allowed to set off at our own pace, so we led the way with another couple and shocked the Chaskies at the morning ‘movie’ break half way up the hill with a very early arrival only 1 hour after we left. 1.5 hours later the back markers arrived. Yes, that is 2.5 hours to our 1!! To think, before we set off for the Inca Trail we were a little concerned with our fitness level. It had been a continuous uphill walk, but we did it is sections, 10 minutes walking and 3 minutes break, which worked well. The movie break was popcorn and cheese rolls, the guide had promised us movies (and yes, the Americans believed him and looked a little disappointed when he pointed out that the view was the movie!)… he just didn’t know the name for ‘morning tea’, so called it ‘movie break’!

Day 2- 1200m up

Day 2- 1200m up

After the ‘movie’, the next section got tougher… stairs, slopes etc. But we stuck to our 10 minutes walking and 3 minutes resting, although towards the end we did reduce it to 5 minutes walking and 1.5 minutes break! We powered on for another hour and reached the peak, Dead Woman’s Pass (the hill in the pass looks like a woman’s face in profile – kind of), the view was fabulous. The cloud was rolling in and about 10 minutes after we go there (and about 20 minutes before anyone else from our group made it) the whole valley had clouded in… ha ha ha!

View back from Dead Womans Pass

View back from Dead Womans Pass

At the top we waited for the rest of the group (minus the slow American couple, who were again about 1.5 hours behind). We had been told to carry a small rock up the hill to place on top of the hill, we presumed like a cairn, but our guide had other intentions. It is customary to place 3 coca leaves under your rock as a gift for Pachamama (mother earth), then we produced a bottle of rum from his bag, and we were all poured a huge shot of it, which we had to pour some on top of our coca leaves (for Pachamama) and then drink the rest, Pachamama got quite a good drink from both of us. Yukky rum.

A rock from the bottom of the hill, three coca leaves and some rum- a gift to Pachamama- Dead Womans Pass

A rock from the bottom of the hill, three coca leaves and some rum- a gift to Pachamama- Dead Womans Pass

Above the clouds- Dead Womans Pass

Above the clouds- Dead Womans Pass

The Americans turned up just as we all set off for the downhill walk to the campsite (this time she complained about being dizzy, yesterday it was the altitude… still no mention of just being totally unfit and unable to carry a backpack!). The downhill section was picturesque, if a little sore on the legs and ankles, but we made it down to yet another set up campsite and welcoming drink. This campsite had showers (cold), so we both jumped in before the rest of the group arrived. We had lunch at this campsite, then had some free time, then had afternoon tea and 1.5 hours later dinner. Hard work this trekking!

700m down to camp from Dead Womans Pass

700m down to camp from Dead Womans Pass

That evening we were told the next day would be a bit of uphill and then 3000 steps downhill – aagh, the dreaded Inca steps. We were also told a bit of a ghost story about spirits of the terrorists that Peru has had trouble with in the past, pulling people from their tents, which terrified a couple of the girls (and Seth).

We survived the night, and didn’t get pulled from our tents, although there were a few strange noises during the mid-night toilet venture! Again, we were woken early with a cup of tea, followed by another scrumptious breakfast, with a different local Quinua porridge.

Day 3 and we set off up the hill, with people complaining about having to carry their bags again! (The American couple paid some of the Chaskies to carry their bags again, and set of nearly an hour earlier than us). We were allowed to walk at our own pace again, so we quickly caught up with the Americans, much to their disappointment!

The view from the top of the pass was another great one, we climbed even higher on a little hill to the side and got 360 degree views of the valley and clouds below, there was even a small lake, which was in the shape of Australia (sort of).

Above the clouds day 3 reverse angle

Above the clouds day 3 reverse angle

Above the clouds day 3

Above the clouds day 3

After collecting the whole group again we headed onto some Incan ruins, of which our guide gave us a good explanation and also of the culture and ways of the Incans. The ruins were in very good nick and again the construction, amazing.

Inca ruins

Inca ruins

There were quite a few little Incan ruins around and these were placed all along the Inca Trail as they were messenger posts for the original Chaskies, they would run messages and letters by foot, swapping at these points, every 5/6km or so. Some of the ruins were villages and had houses with bed areas for each family, there were also intricate locks and window-hanging holes made into the rock.

Day 3- Chaskie messenger post and 2nd camp way below

Day 3- Chaskie messenger post and 2nd camp way below

Incan village along the trail

Incan village along the trail

Through a window in the village

Through a window in the village

As the cloud closed in, we walked onto our lunch stop and through quite a sub-tropical area, which was very green and lush, there weren’t too many flowers around, but it was nice to have a change of environment. Lunch was another large affair, before we headed off on a path up and down through the tropical greenery. It was nice to walk leisurely , rather than the solid uphill or downhill of the previous day. The views would have been quite spectacular off the side of the path, but we were walking through and above the cloud, so it wasn’t much to look at. After an hour or so we met the rest of the group at another pass, before heading down through more Incan ruins and then the start of the steps!

Even with the luggage the Chaskie still weighed less than me

Even with the luggage the Chaskie still weighed less than me

We knew there were 3000 steps to go down and started counting them, but only got to 108 before we decided that it was too hard to tell if a step was a step, or just a collection of rocks, anyway, there were a lot. Some of them were quite slippery and we were very glad it wasn’t raining and it would have been a very slow, downhill wander. (‘Scared of the slipperiness’ – was the American’s excuse on Day 3). The steps went on and on for a couple of hours, which was quite a strain on the knees, but we didn’t rush too much and had an enjoyable walk, as the Chaskies rushed past us, flying down the steps as fast as their little legs took them, not even pausing to see where they were planting their feet.

Wet, winding, cloudy steps

Wet, winding, cloudy steps

More steps and an Incan tunnel

More steps and an Incan tunnel

The floating path

The floating path

About ¾ of the way down we took a detour to visit a very impressive Incan terrace (Intipata), it was huge. We were going to walk up to the top, but decided that we really didn’t need another set of steps to walk down.

Terraces- Incan farming land

Terraces- Incan farming land

Our last night camping was a relatively flash set-up (Winay Wayna) with a bar and hot showers, which we all enjoyed, but not too much as our wake-up call for the final day was to be at 3.50am. This campsite was huge, with 27 different camping areas (we got lost when we arrived from the opposite entrance, after visiting the terraces), but were still the 2nd couple to arrive – it did seem a little like the Amazing Race each day, seeing who had made it to camp!

Dinner was a fun meal, with a huge cream cake for desert, singing by the Chaskies and of course... the tip-giving, which was very well spelt-out on the itinerary!

For our final day, we had no tea at wake-up, but still got pancakes etc for breakfast at 4am! The plan was to head to the checkpoint at the edge of the campsite and wait for it to open. You weren’t allowed onto the last part of the trail until after sunrise at 5.30am, but we were in the queue at 4.30am, much to the grumbling of most of our group. But the early morning paid off – we were the second group through.

The guide made us follow him again this morning, but he set off at quite a pace that the back markers soon dropped off. We had about 1 hour walk to the Sun Gate, but it was quite an easy walk. About 10 minutes before we got to the Gate our tour guide stopped, as there was a part that had fallen last year and a guide-friend of his had died, we went on while he paid his respects. Just after we left the guide we had to climb about 20 metres of near vertical steps, which we did on all-fours, and we were quite excited about getting there so we all climbed really fast and were then knackered at the top, it was very amusing!

We finally made it to the Sun Gate, just as the sun was rising, so it was still early-morning-hazy. (The sun only rises perfectly through the Sun Gate at the December Solstice). The clouds were swirling around above and below, showing Machu Picchu as the proper ‘City in the Clouds’, during the 20 minutes we were at the Sun Gate, the clouds started to rise and pretty soon the whole place was covered in clouds, at that point we were all glad we had got up so early to see the sights. We took a million photos, wearing our bright yellow tour t-shirts, of course, before heading down a little further where you can actually get a better view.

From the Sungate

From the Sungate

The City between the Clouds- from the Sungate

The City between the Clouds- from the Sungate

It was about a 20 minute walk down from the Sun Gate into the city and the path was blocked several times by llamas, which we carefully walked around (behind, not in front, so that we didn’t get spat on). By time we arrived in Machu Picchu the cloud had lifted completely and we were able to get the picture-postcard photos (whilst waiting for the Americans, for the last time!).

Approaching Machu Picchu

Approaching Machu Picchu

Llama on the path down to Machu Picchu

Llama on the path down to Machu Picchu

The place gradually filled up with tourists (can’t imagine how busy it must be when the trains are fully running at capacity!) and we got lots of comments about doing the Inca Trail (thanks to the t-shirts), most people were very impressed that we had walked for 4 days, rather than a leisurely train ride!

Seth and Machu Picchu

Seth and Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

At the site you can walk up another hill, Wayna Picchu, but only 400 people a day are allowed to, as seeing as the gates open at 6am (before the Inca Trailers get there) the tickets are usually all gone, but with less people there and us being early we managed to grab some tickets (although the prospect of walking up another hill was a little daunting). About half our tour group got tickets (the Americans didn’t bother!).

Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu

Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu

After everyone hitting the kiosk for some very-missed treats, our guide gave us a 2 hour tour of Machu Picchu, it is so large that the tour could have been a full day really. The site is huge and is divided into farming terraces, temples, housing and squares. There is a definite ‘city’ section where there are houses, with bed areas and bathrooms. The temples are constructed around the special Incan numbers of 1,2,3,5 and 12. With many temples having 3 or 5 windows. There were also a lot of corners with 3 steps (part of the Incan cross) - depicting the 3 worlds, basically the sky, the earth and underground.

Machu Picchu Plaza- acts like an ampitheatre

Machu Picchu Plaza- acts like an ampitheatre

The terraces of Machu Picchu

The terraces of Machu Picchu

A lot of the area wasn’t cordoned off, which makes you wonder how long this place will last with so many tourists, as an example, as our guide was explaining the significance of a rock that works like a sundial, and is in the shape of the South Cross constellation, this guy sticks his foot on the rock and starts tying his shoelaces, with no idea what he was stepping on.

Before heading up the Wayna Picchu hill we went up to one of the main temples to get some energy from the rock there… You are supposed to meditate near it - but we just touched it for a while! We set off on our last little uphill trek, not really sure what it entailed. The walk started off fine, up hill - but we coped. After about 30 minutes of walking we got to the top section which involved some very precariously-placed large rocks. People were just sitting on the edge of them with their feet dangling off the edge.

Up Wayna Picchu- Sungate (far left), road down to Aguascaliente and Machu Picchu

Up Wayna Picchu- Sungate (far left), road down to Aguascaliente and Machu Picchu

At this point Sarah realized this was a stupid idea and that she really shouldn’t be there, but the path continued up to the top, in order to get back down again. The last part involved a step-ladder to the summit. Not good. At the top we paused for a very quick photo, before trying to work out how to get down. This involved walking across a sloping rock face and then heading down some steps with no edge. It was terrifying!
The steps down were ridiculous. Most of it was done on bottoms.

One nervous Sarah at the top of Wayna Picchu

One nervous Sarah at the top of Wayna Picchu

A long way down on your bottom- but she made it

A long way down on your bottom- but she made it

Glad to be back on solid ground, we had a walk through the urban-side of Machu Picchu, before heading down the winding road to Aguas Calientes for a farewell lunch and then onto the train. The train was still not running properly because there was no track across one section! So we caught the train to km82, where we had started the trek and then onto a minibus back to Cuzco. We arrived pooped at 7pm, very glad of a good shower and a comfy bed!

The end of the rails- flood damage

The end of the rails- flood damage

Posted by seth_g 09:00 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

La Paz, Bolivia to Cusco, Peru

20 °C

On Monday morning we got on a bus for Copacabana which is on the shore of Lake Titicaca. The ride was nice (the bus was terrible and kept smoking up and breaking down). Near the lake, we had to get a ferry across a small section of water. Everyone got off the bus and got on a little boat while the bus was driven onto a rickety barge. We watched, intrigued as to whether the bus would make it to the other side, but of course it did.

The bus had its own little barge - crossing

The bus had its own little barge - crossing

Ladies by side of road toCopacabana

Ladies by side of road toCopacabana

Arrival in Copacabana meant organising a boat trip to Isla del Sol (sun island), and also booking a bus onto Puno the next day. That achieved we set off on a boat to the Island for the night. Apart from the petrol fumes on the boat giving me a headache, the ride was very nice – maybe 2 hours or so. On arrival we found ourselves at the base of the Incan steps. We had been told not to accept any of the over-priced touts for hostels at the bottom of the stairs (which would have resulted in our bags getting carried up, for a price). 40 minutes of stair-climbing later (with our full backpacks on) we were at the top of the hill. Absolutely stuffed, walking up the hill was ten times worse with the altitude and 20kgs of bags. And, we were about ready to knock out the little buggers who kept saying, ´hostel, hostel, still 30 minutes to the top´ every time you sat down to rest. But in the end we made it to a great hotel with a huge deck overlooking the lake, bay and islands, a couple of beers watching the sun set over the water, it was worth the walk (nearly).

The Incan steps - killers! - Isla del Sol

The Incan steps - killers! - Isla del Sol

Enjoying the view - Isla del Sol

Enjoying the view - Isla del Sol

Sunset - Isla del Sol

Sunset - Isla del Sol

View from the top of Isla del Sol across Lake Titicaca

View from the top of Isla del Sol across Lake Titicaca

The next morning, Sarah got up and walked to one of the Incan ruins, Pilcocaina, before breaky. This involved a bit of a hike cross-country and was a bit further than first thought to make it worse it was closed on arrival, and then started raining! But it was nice to be out in the early morning with no one else around. Seth slept. On return we decided rather than walk to the other end of the island we would just walk back to the harbour, get the early ferry and then swap our bus to the earlier bus to Puno. A wet, slippery and dangerous walk back down the 300 Incan stairs to the boat was not enjoyable, but we got there, got overtaken by a few donkeys (carrying backpacks). Obviously everyone else had the same though as the boat was full, standing room only, not many safety regulations, we were quite surprised that the boat made it back to the mainland with that many people and luggage onboard.

Pilcocaina - Incan Ruins - Isla del Sol

Pilcocaina - Incan Ruins - Isla del Sol

Bag-carrying donkeys - Isla del Sol

Bag-carrying donkeys - Isla del Sol

Back safely on the mainland we managed to change our bus and headed off to Peru!!

The bus crossed the border into Peru after an hour. No photos recommended at the border so none to show. Although we did run into a girl from our Bolivian tour who confirmed that three more people were sick from the tour which put beyond doubt that the chicken on the last day was the culprit!

On the bus we had decided to purchase a tour to Uros, the floating islands in the Peru section of Lake Titicaca (Puno). We were rushed at the bus station as the bus was late and the tour operator was trying to get us to the hostel to drop our bags. Sarah looking the wrong way tripped over a wheel stop in the carpark, with backpack on, and managed to drive herself into the bitumen. Grazed, bruised knee, sore ankle, a hole in her only jeans, and wounded pride probably the worst of it.

We got to the hostel, to a man who chastised us for our choice of tour operator for the next day.... not what was needed. And before we could check in, knock, knock – it was the floating island tour. Dumped bags and off we went. On a boat and 30 minutes out to the floating islands.

It was a nice boat trip in the early evening and we were soon seeing strange-looking reed islands. For safety during the war people moved out onto the lake in boats. They then discovered that when the roots of the lake’s reeds were pulled out during a storm they came up with a metre thick chunk of soil that floated. So they now cut large chucks of reed, root and soil to make the basis of their islands. These pieces of soil could be 10m by 10m in area, they rope together sections of island to form larger pieces and then add about a metre thick of cross-hatched reeds on top. Creating floating islands to live on. Originally these islands were about 20km off shore, but for tourists they have moved them closer to the Puno shore, but they do still live on them. We did spy a few solar panels and other creature-comforts. On the island we got an explanation of how the islands were created and life on them, then of course the obligatory handicraft stalls.

Looking back to Puno from Lake Titicaca

Looking back to Puno from Lake Titicaca

Uros floating islands

Uros floating islands

Uros floating islands construction explanation

Uros floating islands construction explanation

We then got a ride on the ´Mercedes´ (large reed raft/boat) from one island to another. Where there were a few shops and a hut where they were serving trout caught in the lake. We decided on a quick dinner which was very nice and a highlight was the chilli sauce they had to put on the rice and fish. Unfrotunatley not sold seperately, although they did try to give us some in a plastic bag!! The Lake Titicaca trout was good too – and the meal only cost $5 each, not bad for fresh fish dinner!

Reed boat - Uros islands

Reed boat - Uros islands

Eating Lake Titicaca Trout on Lake Titicaca

Eating Lake Titicaca Trout on Lake Titicaca

The next day we headed off on our tourist bus to Cusco, still being berated by the hostel owner for paying too much for the bus! Annoying.

The bus we took was an organised tour with a guide. The first stop was at Pucara, we stopped at a museum and got the Incan timeline compared with other civilizations, again. There were some good sculptures but the most interesting part was the explanation as to why there were two ceramic bulls on the peak of each house roof. It turns out they are good luck charms, placed at the completion of the house to ward of bad spirits, they have quite a party at the time and some houses had bottles of beer and coke next to the bulls too. Every house has them on the peak of the roof line and we saw them all the way to Cusco and around there.

2 bulls on rooftop

2 bulls on rooftop

Pre-Incan Catfish - Pucara Museum

Pre-Incan Catfish - Pucara Museum

Our next stop was the peak of the journey, La Raya was the highest point of the road, 4335m. We stopped here for ‘photos’ which, of course meant more handicrafts markets! – one could also get their photo taken with a Llama (for a price). Who could resist?

Highest point on the road and Llamas

Highest point on the road and Llamas

View back through the valley

View back through the valley

We then stopped for a great lunch, where for the first time we drank Inca Cola- basically yellow-coloured creaming soda. Not bad. There was also a band playing which played a song that Seth had heard before. And then realized it was the tune of the ‘1 tonne Rodeo’ Toyota advert. Cue singing….. ‘I want a 1 tonne Rodeo, 1 tonne rooodeoooo’. I guess it was in its original format.

The main stop was at Raqchi, which was an Incan site. It was used to store supplies in many round buildings, silos. The site was very impressive, the main attraction being the large, 15m-high wall, which was the centre wall of a temple. It used to be 18m but weather had damaged it. The site was interesting displaying the amazing alignment of the buildings done using the stars, and added to the story which started in Tiwanaku.

Raqchi ruins - 15m tall

Raqchi ruins - 15m tall

Our last stop was the town of Andahuaylillas, which is home to the ‘Andean Sistine Chapel’. It was an Incan temple but the Spanish knocked it down and in its place built the church. The outside of the church wasn’t very impressive, but inside it was very opulent, with a large amount of gold-plated sculptures, paintings and murals/ alfrescos. The centre piece above the altar was made of solid silver from Potosi and mirrors caught the light that entered the front windows of the church. There was also a huge portrait on the wall around the exit doors which depicted heaven and hell, with the poor-looking people, who have given everything to the church, entering heaven and the rich looking are entering hell. We weren’t allowed to take pics inside the church, which was a shame, as the postcards weren’t too flash either.

Poster outside the church showing the gold interior

Poster outside the church showing the gold interior

The last section of road gave us a view of the devastation caused by the floods. As ususal there was the visual devastation of thousands living in tents but then there was also the fact that the farming land had been destroyed, making the village uninhabitable for years, as well as the significant impact on tourism which represents 20% of the Peruvian economy.

Tent city, on the road into Cusco

Tent city, on the road into Cusco

On arrival in Cusco we found ourselves in the dirty run down part of the city. We managed to figure out where we had a reservation and then get a taxi and made it there safely. By this stage we were in a bit of a rush as we had to get to the office for our pre Inca Trail Trek briefing and also pay the money. Our briefing got us all excited and a little nervous about the Trek! We were glad it was all going ahead, after the landslides and closure of the trail for the previous 2 months.

The next day we got up late and spent most of the day shopping for snacks for the four day trek ahead. We also booked a massage for our return. By the end of the day we were looking for dinner and it started to rain, followed by hail. We were running around the city trying to find somewhere other than pizza or chicken and chips (obviously very popular). We ended up buying ponchos because the rain and hail was so heavy – not a good sign before 3 nights in a tent! The next morning we were up and ready for our 5.20am pick up and the start of our Inca Trail trek.

Posted by seth_g 07:38 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Bolivia - Uyuni to La Paz

semi-overcast 25 °C

Arrival in Bolivia by way of the salt flat tour was sensational. From
Uyuni we got a bus to Potosi, which was not so brilliant. The bus was
6 hours from 7pm until 1am, we were seated on the back row in the
corner over the rear wheel, the bus was full, including standing room
in the isle and it was hot and sweaty. The bus was old and the road
was rough. The bumps had the ability to knock the wind out of you and
any idea of sleeping was not possible. To add to the uncomfortable
trip as soon as Seth sat down he needed to go to the toilet. Two and a
half hours later a stop at the side of the road resolved that issue
and gave some relief to the trip. By the end of the trip consideration
was being given to a three hour bus to Sucre and a flight to La Paz in
place of the 9 hour bus ride to La Paz from Potosi.

Finally we got off the bus and transferred to the hostel with our French friends,
Pauline and Romain, incident free although Sarah and my booking
resulted in a twin share rather than a matrimonial, as they are
called. No problem, Sarah had a cold anyway so quarantine was a bonus.

Potosi is a pretty little town at about 3600m. The large hill, Cerro
Rico, on the outskirts of the city is rich in silver and other
minerals that were mined in pretty harsh conditions by the locals. At
one time in the 16, 17 and 1800s Potosi was the economic capital of
the world due to the silver mined there. A Spanish vessel that was
transporting valuable silver back to Spain sunk back in the hay day
and was recovered in 1985 with a cargo worth USD400 million, so gives
you some idea of the wealth of the city. The story goes that silver
was discovered when a camp fire was lit on the side of the hill and
the silver melted and cracked and popped, hence the name Potosi , it
kind of sounds like the popping noise!

Potosi women

Potosi women

Potosi - Main square

Potosi - Main square

Potosi

Potosi

The next afternoon we did a tour of the mines. It involved getting
dressed up in the jacket and pants provided and then heading off to
the miners’ market to buy gifts for them. We purchased coca leaves
(stimulant that is chewed like tobacco, to help with altitude sickness
and also give energy), coke to quench the thirst of working in the
mine and dynamite, fertilizer plus detonator cord. Yes, you can buy
these last three items on the street legally and at the age of 13 and
up... what we did not buy was the compliment to this easy access to
explosives and that is the sugar cane liquor available that is 96%
alcohol!!! Yes, it is like metho, and the miners drink it every friday
to extremes.

Potosi - Mine Tour - kitted up

Potosi - Mine Tour - kitted up

Potosi - Mine Tour - Cerro Rico (the hill behind Seth)

Potosi - Mine Tour - Cerro Rico (the hill behind Seth)

We then headed to the processing plant, where cyanide along with other
chemicals is used to separate the minerals from the waste. A serious
lack of OH&S, well none actually. Chemicals splashing around, moving
parts open, including the crushing mills, not to mention the floor was
just boards and in some cases when you stepped on one end the other
end would flip up, as it was not secure, where there were board and
not just gaping holes. But we survived that and off-loaded some coca
leaves to the workers there who looked very happy about that.

Potosi - Mine Tour - Mineral processing

Potosi - Mine Tour - Mineral processing

Next we were off to the mine. With helmets and lights on we walked
into the mine, even 800m in Seth was already duck-waddling due to
height issues and bumping his head, trying to avoid the cables that we
were informed were live with electricity!

Potosi - Mine Tour - don´t touch the electricity pipes

Potosi - Mine Tour - don´t touch the electricity pipes

Potosi - Mine Tour - 50kg wheel barrows into the little train

Potosi - Mine Tour - 50kg wheel barrows into the little train

The mine was dusty and we had entered the mine at 4800m so breathing was very difficult, we had
bandannas across our faces for the dust, but they made breathing even
harder. The mine we were in did not have any carbon monoxide present
so it was relatively safe!!! !!! Just before we descended to the lower
levels Seth decided that he was too big to go crawling around in the
mine and at this point returned to the surface with the second guide
and left Sarah to push down the lower levels.

Potosi - Mine Tour - scrambling through

Potosi - Mine Tour - scrambling through

As soon as we headed down, Seth’s decision seemed like a good one, he
really wouldn’t have liked the mine. There was so much dust and the
walkway in most places was only about 1m high. The bandana that
covered my mouth made it quite hard to breathe… it was hard either
way, with the bandana over my mouth it was quite hard to breathe due
to the thickness of the material, but if you lifted it, it was really
dusty. Sometimes when we had to do a lot of walking and started to
breathe heavily it was scary.

Potosi - Mine Tour

Potosi - Mine Tour

So we scrambled down rocky pathways and dodgy ladders, passing some
unhealthy looking people on the way. It was really hard to imagine
people working in these conditions everyday for years. The mine we
were visiting was a cooperative mine (as opposed to a private mine) so
people worked for themselves and could be set for life if they found a
good silver seam. There is also an image of bravado and toughness
amongst the miners and they are proud to do this job, we met a miner
who had been mining for 20 years and his 14 year old son worked with
him, scary. It didn’t feel too voyeuristic, the guide asked questions
about each miner and they asked where we were all from etc etc, and as
long as handed over coca, coke or dynamite they were more than happy!

Potosi - Mine Tour - Father and son

Potosi - Mine Tour - Father and son

We went down another level and more scrambling made me feel quite
nervous and a little panicky, mainly the altitude mixed with dusty
breathing, but I wasn’t alone even the big guys in my group were
looking a little worried. During the tour we met some interesting
statues, El Tio (Uncle) was a jolly looking chap, who the miners sat
with on a Friday and made offerings of alcohol, cigarettes and coca.
He was the kind of God of the Underworld for them. We also met Diablo,
the devil!

Potosi - Mine Tour - El Tio (Uncle) with gifts around him of alcohol, ciggies and coca

Potosi - Mine Tour - El Tio (Uncle) with gifts around him of alcohol, ciggies and coca

Potosi - Mine Tour - Diablo the Devil

Potosi - Mine Tour - Diablo the Devil

Once the rest of the group returned to the surface (only one other
larger man returned prematurely) 40 minutes after Seth, the guides
took the dynamite that we did not give as gifts, broke the sticks into
three, put a third in each small plastic bag of fertilizer, with a
detonator cord attached and tied the plastic bags off. These bags were
round and about the size of soft balls. The fuses were then set alight
and frantic photos were taken holding the items until the guides ran
down the hill and placed them in the dirt. Fair to say that from 70m
the 10 bangs that went off were ridiculous! Chest shaking (and camera
wobbling as you will see!) shock wave, ear rattling bang and a good
amount of dirt displaced.

Potosi - Mine Tour - Dynamite lit

Potosi - Mine Tour - Dynamite lit

After a good, hot shower to wash away the dust and grim we had dinner
with the French and Danish, from our tour, and a couple of games of
Uno… Aussies came out on top, again. There was rain and hail during
the afternoon and night.

Day two in Potosi was rainy and cold and therefore a quiet affair with
blogging and resting in bed, the order of the day. A bit of a walk
around the city in search of silver trinkets and a trip to the museum
– Casa Moneda – being the highlight. The museum was the old mint.
Obviously due to the silver the mint was situated in Potosi for much
of the last 400 years, only stopping in the 1950s. Bolivian currency
is now made in France, Canada and Chile! The museum was interesting
with art, coins and amazing original oak processing equipment to
smelt, flatten and prepare the silver into blanks to be manually
stamped, one by one. 3000 were stamped a day by one person. There
were also steam and electric driver machines that showed the
modernisation of the mint over the years. A French architect designed
the building and at the entry is a large smiling face which is meant
as an insult to the Spanish as it is smirking at them as they leave,
with such wealth still in the area.

Dinner and on the cama (lie down bed-type) bus to La Paz – the roads
were far better and Seth coped with the travel.

The bus trip to La Paz was comfortable and we both a got a good sleep.
On arrival in a rainy, dark and freezing La Paz at 5am we were both
keen to waste some time at the bus station on the internet prior to
facing the taxi hassles. An hour later we walked out of the station
and ran into the Swiss couple from our Salt Flat tour. We decided to
share a taxi and they chose to stay at the hostel that we had booked.

On first appearance La Paz was a dirty run down old town, as
everything was shut as we drove through the streets. Four hours later
after a short sleep we went for a walk to one of the city miradors
(viewpoints) and found that the streets had come alive with stalls and
sellers of every kind. Not to mention things were CHEAP... There was
also a playground at the mirador so we played for a little while.

La Paz - view from the Mirador

La Paz - view from the Mirador


La Paz - view from the Mirador

La Paz - view from the Mirador

The second day we went to Tiwanaku which is an archeological site of a
pre Inca civilisation. They were the grandparents of the Incas. The
site was about 3 hours drive from La Paz so we decided to do a tour,
which also would give us some explanations about the area and history.
Did you know that they domesticated potatoes? And they can keep
potatoes for 10 years – dried? Part of the Tiwanaku settlement is
Pumapunku, which is believed to be part of the lost city of Atlantis,
even though it is now 19km from the edge of Lake Titicaca (the Valley
was previously all underwater).

Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku - Pyramid

Tiwanaku - Pyramid


Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku


Tiwanaku - Pumpapunka - the lost city of Atlantis, maybe?

Tiwanaku - Pumpapunka - the lost city of Atlantis, maybe?

Unfortunately the excavation is slow and not very progressed (lack of
money) so there is a bit of looking at a dirt hill and being told what
is underneath it, based on satellite imaging etc. The most interesting
thing was the ´hole in the wall´ which was shaped just like the inside
of a human ear. When we spoke through it our voices were amplified
which was pretty cool and showed that the Tiwanakans had a strong
understanding of anatomy.

Tiwanaku - the ear

Tiwanaku - the ear

The Tiwanakans, like the Incans were pretty good at construction as
all the stonework is perfectly joined, without cement.

Tiwanku construction

Tiwanku construction

Tiwanaku - big stone man and idol

Tiwanaku - big stone man and idol

Tiwanaku - head

Tiwanaku - head

The temples were also aligned with astrological layouts and all the symbols were
based on the astrological calendar. The sun gate was the final piece
we saw and it was amazing… the symbols were in patterns of 7 (days),
12 (months) and 52 (weeks). The calendar is correct right through for
centuries which also indicates they did not just understand the times
they were in but also the way in which the sun, earth, planets etc
would behave into the future.

Tiwanaku - Sun Gate

Tiwanaku - Sun Gate

After Tiwanaku we went out for dinner with Andy and Helen, the Swiss,
they had heard that a dinner and dance (pena) place was excellent so
we decided to check it out. We walked into a totally empty restaurant
(oh dear) and after very tentatively deciding to stay, the owner went
and started ringing up the band and dancers to get them in for a
show... the restaurant has obviously hit some bad times! The food was
priced as expected but the show had a cover charge of US11 which is
about twice as much as the food cost. Anyway the food was terrible,
but the show included a four-person band, and 5 dancers and went on
for about 3 hours. There was an interlude at half way and we thought
it was time for bed, asked for the bill and but we weren’t allowed it…
there was more show to be had. By this point we were all getting a
little tired, ‘why?’ you might ask… well... because there were three
female dancers doing the main show part of the routine was to drag
people up from the audience and as there were only 4 people in the
audience, they kept picking us out... leaving one person to take
photos and laugh!!!! So ok, the show was good, very traditional and
quite impressive but they could have varied the audience participation
and length a little!!

La Paz - 'Dancing' at the Pena

La Paz - 'Dancing' at the Pena

The next day we headed off to the death road!!!! Mountain bike riding
down a road that started at 4900m and finished at 1400m of altitude –
dropping over 3500m over 68km of road. We started by riding down the
main road for about 27km and then onto the old road which is the
actual death road. When the road was open about 100 people a year died
before the new road was built. Not sure how they even managed to get
2-way traffic on the twisting, dirt road, seemingly, trucks used to
drive with one set of wheels hanging off the edge!! Just riding round
the corners on a bike was difficult!

Death Road - the start at 4900m

Death Road - the start at 4900m

Death road - kitted up

Death road - kitted up

Death Road ahead

Death Road ahead

The riding was great fun and only dangerous if you were out of control
which a couple of people in the group were not far off. A tourist died
last year riding on the road, got too near the edge.
Our tour had a few boys that got a little too near the edge and one
lady fell off her bike after 50m of gravel road, she looked totally
unsteady on her bike from the moment she started - the Aussie bloke
behind her was too close and went over the top, she was the
back-marker for the rest of the day.

Death road - Seth

Death road - Seth

Death Road - Sarah staing away from the edge

Death Road - Sarah staing away from the edge

Death Road - Seth

Death Road - Seth

The pace was good and outside of the guides Seth was the second fastest- but that was still pretty
slow. Better to be safe than sorry. Only one incident with a dirt
wall, but just a scrape, didn’t even come off the bike. Sarah went
quick and was right behind only one other girl, who had a cracker
stack in the second last stage after gaining too much confidence
staying in front of me on the stage before.

The scenery was amazing (even if it was hard to look at, as we had to
concentrate on the road!) and a full day’s riding only required about
5 minutes of pedalling. That is excercise!!

Death Road - view from above

Death Road - view from above

Death Road - the group on the edge

Death Road - the group on the edge

We had decided not to go back with the bike group to La Paz but
instead stay in Coroico, which is a small town in the mountains 8km
from the end point of the ride. We were left on the side of the road
where there were some shops and told to hail a bus or van or anything
that was heading up the road to Coroico.

Coroico - this was the road we were heading down to the village

Coroico - this was the road we were heading down to the village

Luckily two Bolivian guys decided to do the same thing and their ability to speak the language
and confidence in getting to where we needed to be was the only thing
that kept Sarah and I from crying on the side of the road. 40 minutes
later we were on a mini-van, (totally over-crowded) for the 1300m
climb to the village. But it was also a long weekend (easter) so most
of the hotels were booked out, a very popular place for the well-off
in La Paz to holiday for long weekends. We ended up staying the same
hotel as our new Bolivian friends and shared a beer and great chat by
the pool about growing up in Bolivia, studying and what the future
holds for them. It was really nice to talk to some locals and get an
understanding of how things are. (Of course, their English was a
million times better than our Spanish!)

Coroico hotel pool with view

Coroico hotel pool with view

Coroico - Death Road on left and new road on right

Coroico - Death Road on left and new road on right

The next day we intended to walk to waterfalls and stuff, but due to
elections being the next day the busses were full going back to La
Paz, as nothing was open on Sunday, so we had to get on the only bus
we could at 1030am which cut our stay short. The drive back was
entertaining up the new road. Talk about a hill! It was just about as
scary as the Death Road!

After getting back to La Paz we went shopping again and found a DVD
store.... purchased a bit of TV watching.... much to Sarah´s disgust.
We also caught up with our French friends from the salt flats. We had
dinner with them and also shared some 24 episodes (TV show).

On the election day, there was nothing open in La Paz, it was quite
surreal and very peaceful, no cars and kids playing soccer in the
street, so we walked up to Killi Killi mirador in the city. Great
views across the city and hills. As we had our Spanish speaking French
friends with us we ventured into buying some lunch on the side of the
road. Things did open up a bit in the afternoon so we did a bit more
shopping and Seth decided to buy a couple more DVDs.

La Paz

La Paz

La Paz - Market lunch with the Frogs

La Paz - Market lunch with the Frogs

La Paz - election day - weird with no cars

La Paz - election day - weird with no cars

La Paz - the Witches Market - Baby Llamas (Good luck)

La Paz - the Witches Market - Baby Llamas (Good luck)

In the end La Paz turned out to be a great city and somewhere both of
us would highly recommend and maybe one day return to. We had a great
time and only did two excursions from the city. There was so much more
to see and do. An intriguing place!!

Posted by seth_g 21:11 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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)

Continuing North through North Chile

sunny 25 °C

On arrrival in Santiago we travelled on the metro to Provendencia to find the tourist information and breakfast. We got both and set about using our 3 hours in the city to best advantage, walking round the old town. It actually looks like a really nice city and there was no visible damage from the earthquake. More time there next trip.....

The streets of Santiago

The streets of Santiago

The airport on the other hand was still in bit of chaos. The terminal was closed and the car park was full of marquees for use as check-in and cafes. But it was very efficient - white boards for gates and a girl with a loudspeaker annoucing the flights and we got on our flight to Antafagasto without incident.

Domestic and International Terminal- Santiago

Domestic and International Terminal- Santiago

Landing in Antafagasto- amazing coastline

Landing in Antafagasto- amazing coastline

In Antafagasto we got on a transfer to the bus station to get a bus directly to San Pedro de Atacama. The transfer took ages dropping everyone off, few nervous moments, but we made it in time to buy tickets and get on the bus meaning we would arrive at midnight, without a hostel reservation, again. We thought it would be like Pucon with lots of hostel touts awaiting the arrival of tourist buses, but it wasn't. Luckily there was one lone taxi (of sorts) at the bus station, he was great and drove us around for 15 minutes (and helped with the Spanish) while we decided on a hostel. Total cost- 2 pesos.

First day we slept in after our mammoth travelling session, and then in the afternoon we hired mountain bikes so that we could ride out to Laguna Cejar. San Pedro de Atacama is situated in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert on earth (apart from Antarctica, of course! but they don't advertise that). The town is pretty amazing with low set buildings and dirt roads. All the walls and roads are made of sandy mud and it very much feels like a desert town. It is situated at the foot of the Andes where active volcanos are clearly visible form the town. The altitude was 2500m and it was super dry, making breathing quite laboured, so any excercise is pretty tough.

Street view- San Pedro de Atacama

Street view- San Pedro de Atacama

San Pedro de Atacama Church

San Pedro de Atacama Church

The tourist information, bike shop and travel agent all gave different distances and directions (all hand-drawn maps), ranging from 17km to 26km each way. The reality was about 23km, half on bitumen and half on corregated gravel roads, with sections of sand that had to be walked. There were moments on the way out and back that we were not sure if the hand drawn maps were right, whether we were following them right or whether we were going to perish in the desert. We did not see any other bikes or cars for the bulk of the ride.

Were on a road to nowhere- riding to Laguna Cejar- too sandy in spots to ride

Were on a road to nowhere- riding to Laguna Cejar- too sandy in spots to ride

The Andes, riding to Laguna Cejar

The Andes, riding to Laguna Cejar

This salt lake is 40% salt, the most concentrated in the world, more than the Dead Sea. We floated around in the lake, which is easy because of the salt. Jumping in, was weird as you didn't go down, you just bobbed up easily. When you get out and dry off there is so much salt that your arms and legs are white and the salt is thick on your skin. Luckily we knew this and took 1L of water to rinse off after the swim before the bike ride home.

Laguna Cejar- 40% slt concentration

Laguna Cejar- 40% salt concentration

40% slt means you float

40% salt means you float

Even fat people float in the highest concentratiion of salt in the world

Even fat people float in the highest concentratiion of salt in the world

When you dry off you are covered in salt

When you dry off you are covered in salt

Great reflections in the salt pond

Great reflections in the salt pond

It took 2 hours to ride out and just over 2 to ride back. We were in rush by this time as we had booked onto an astronomy tour leaving at 8.20pm and it was 7.45pm when we were still 1k out of town with a decent incline still to get up. Seth having to stop and stretch every 500m due to cramp (yes he may be getting fat and unfit). The mountain bike was also very small which meant it was very uncomfortable and added to the cramping.

We made it to the astronomy tour and went about 20 minutes outside of the town where they have a number of telescopes set up and they give you a talk and explanation and then let you look at things through the telescopes. The talk was great and explained a great deal (for the uneducated). The most interesting fact being that the Southern axis of rotation, is 4.5 times the length of the long arm of the southern cross (from the bottom end). See, I can still learn things. This is the point at which the sky rotates, due to the earth not being on a straight up and down axis itself. Lots of other stuff I forgot also. We saw the saucepan (Orion's belt), the Southern Cross, the Milky Way, she pointed out a few of the Zodiac symbols and other stuff, some of which you need quite an imagination to see!
After some explanation, we got to look through the most powerful telescopes I've ever used. We saw craters on the moon, and Saturn with it's rings, and a few other bright stars, which just looked like big dots, even through the telescopes!

San Pedro is one of the best places in the world to watch the stars as it has 300 nights of clear sky a year. The second most expensive (after CERN) science project is being built on a plateau just above San Pedro at 5000m altitude. Here they are building 66 electro-telescopes to look further into space than ever before.

One of the telescopes

One of the telescopes

The moon at our Astronomy excursion

The moon at our Astronomy excursion

Day two in San Pedro involved more mountain bikes, but this time the bikes were a little bigger. We went on a ride out to Valle de Luna (valley of the moon). Yes it resembles the moon surface. This ride was a little easier but we were out on the road riding or walking from 11am till 5pm in the heat of the day again. But the scenery was amazing. Valleys of fine smooth sand, cerrated rock walls, ampitheatre shaped formations, to name a few.

Valle de Luna

Valle de Luna

Valle de Luna- smooth sand

Valle de Luna- smooth sand

Valle de Luna- Seth with the moon up his tshirt

Valle de Luna- Seth with the moon up his tshirt

Tres Marias- Valle de Luna

Tres Marias- Valle de Luna

The ampitheatre- Valle de Luna

The ampitheatre- Valle de Luna

There was a canyon which we walked around and climbed into caves and through narrrow exits. The views back to the volcano Licancabur and other hills in the Andes were amazing. There were also salt mines and some rock formations. We only came across one other couple in a car during the whole time so again felt like we were very isolated out in the rugged terrain.

Climbing through caves in the canyon- Valle de Luna

Climbing through caves in the canyon- Valle de Luna

Canyon in Valle de Luna

Canyon in Valle de Luna

All the canyon is salt and pops as it expands in the heat

All the canyon is salt and pops as it expands in the heat

We were adopted by a dog who ran next to us for about 4 hours, stopped everytime we did and sat in the shade and then started again with us, all the way back to town. The last stop on this day was a lookout that gave us a bit of a view of the Valle de la Meutre (valley of death).

The adopted dog- Valle de Luna

The adopted dog- Valle de Luna

Big caves- Valle de Luna

Big caves- Valle de Luna

Caves- Valle de Luna

Caves- Valle de Luna

A space ship would have required less fitness- Valle de Luna

A space ship would have required less fitness- Valle de Luna

Valle de Muerte

Valle de Muerte

So after two days on the mountain bikes both Sarah and I are absolutely stuffed. We had a very basic dinner, no meat, booze, milk and many other things as tomorrow we head to 4500m on our tour which takes us into Bolivia. All of these things are excluded on the advice of the tour guide to avoid altitude complications. I was also waiting for him to tell me to drop 10kg, but obviously he realised it ws not going to happen over night.

Posted by seth_g 08:40 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 20) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 »