21.04.2013 - 30.04.2013 18 °C
San Pedro de Atacama turned out to be a pleasant surprise considering we originally had no intention of going there, we ended up grateful for the border debacle! Armed with new friends, we booked our Salar de Uyuni trip then experienced a real Saturday night out in Northern Chile – an illegal desert party. It’s great when you meet friendly locals willing to take you there at 1am, not so great when you are ready to go home and realise you are in the middle of the desert! Let’s just say it was an interesting 2 hour walk home and the desert gets pretty cold after sundown! Thank goodness for the friendly local who took pity on us and escorted us all the way back to our hostel.
Soon enough we were setting off for our 3 day salt flat tour. Day one consisted of a very celebrated border crossing into Bolivia (finally!) and being split into groups of 6 – we were lucky to be teamed with Sam (Australian) and Willem (Dutch) who we had met in the previous week as well as Natalie and Manuel from Montreal – fate considering our near approaching plans. We drove through the desert to the white and green lagoons and to the natural hot springs – such a sight in the middle of the desert.
Our guide wasn’t proving to be the greatest – his knowledge of the sights was limited and his willingness to contribute was zero. We even seemed to be fed less than the other groups, who would kindly have to donate their leftovers to us so we didn’t go hungry. Next stop was “Laguna Colorada” - the red lagoon in the southwest altiplano of the Andes. This was something we have always wanted to see! The water is red due to the algae living within and it attracts hundreds of flamingos that call it home.
Day 2 and the lagoons were starting to look a little similar and our guide continued to lack gusto, but we did get to see trees formed from rocks and the well-known “Arbiol de Piedra”, Volcano Tunupa and play around on some unused train tracks! We even managed to catch a photo of this llama – in South America they wear these crazy colourful earrings so that their owner can identify them, it certainly made us chuckle!
That night we stayed on the edge of Salar de Uyuni in a salt hotel – made top to bottom of salt – beds, chairs and tables included. Day 3, the final day, was an early start to see the sunrise over the salt flats – an amazing 10,582 square kilometres of salt for as far as you can see. We visited Cactus Island – a totally unexplainable island in the middle of the flats, full of the tallest Cacti you have ever seen.
Breakfast proved interesting when our friend Sam lost her camera and it was soon located in our wonderful guide’s pocket!! Happy that it was returned to its owner, but angry and unsure of how to deal with the situation, we headed (still with the guide driving us) to the main area of the salt flats for the obligatory tourist photos.
Before arriving in Uyuni and jumping on a bus to La Paz (first impressions telling us to get out of Uyuni immediately), we visited the train graveyard, had some confrontations with the tour company and driver and some farewell drinks with friends.
Our first impressions of La Paz were amazing. Arriving at 6am we saw the city lit up on hills around the centre of town that is situated in a valley. The Bolivian traditional dress worn by the women was incredible and so colourful – dressed to the nines in skirts, heels and top hats, usually 4 ft tall with no teeth – I think we mentally adopted at least 20 old ladies that first day!
We were in La Paz to tackle its death road – a 64km downhill mountain biking challenge on North Yungas Road, the world’s most dangerous road – named due to the sheer, unguarded drops next to the narrow and unpaved road you cycle on – not to mention the cars and blind spots. Starting at an altitude of 4800 metres, in the clouds and freezing cold, it took 4 hours to reach 1200 metres, ending in the humid jungle. The thrill when you finish can only be described as ‘thank goodness I survived!’. We were told that 27 tourists in all have died whilst attempting death road since 1995 and at least one a week injures themselves badly – usually with broken bones and every week there is a fatal accident involving a vehicle - Yungas Death Road. We celebrated being alive at a nearby hotel – eating, drinking and swimming with friends. The celebrating continued way into the night back in La Paz as we visited the favourite nightclub spot, Planet Hollywood – cheese central, and went on to a few other bars.
The sunshine of Copacabana in northern Bolivia was calling so we rose early to do some final shopping in La Paz – the witches markets in particular. Overloaded shelves of animal brain, dried llama heads and pretty much anything else you can think of. We left the nice witches armed with some talismans to keep our family and friends safe and some llama placenta to guarantee smooth skin – don’t knock it ‘till you’ve tried it!
We reached Copacabana that evening, just in time to see the sun set over the beautiful Lake Titicaca and it’s tacky swan pedalos. That evening we sampled some of best Bolivian food we have had so far (including llama and trout) at the posh restaurant "Rosario Del Lago". Over the next couple days in Copacabana, we trekked to the highest point for some amazing views, ate trout for less than $2 a meal and ceviche until our mercury levels likely hit the roof. After exploring the town, we stumbled upon on odd sight where the locals had started to line up their cars outside the church and began some extreme decorating – tinsel galore, confetti and flowers, it seemed too many cars for a wedding, so we started to enquire. Turns out this was a car blessing ceremony, a daily M.O.T. alternative to keep you / your car safe. Sure enough out comes the priest and blesses each car one by one, culminating in the owner showering their blessed vehicle with champagne and setting off firecrackers in celebration. Definitely one to remember when we buy our next car!
No trip to Lake Titicaca is complete without a visit to “Isla del Sol” - the sun island, believed to be where the sun originated when found by the Incas. We took a boat to the north of the island and trekked our way to the south over 3-4 hours, seeing Inca sites along the way including the Sacred Stone (the sacrificing table) and remaining Inca houses. We bumped into friends we had made on death road, Jessie and Aiden (who also turned out to be on our Inca Trail in Peru!). Being the highest altitude lake in the world, we somewhat struggled with the thinner air and the steep uphill parts of the trek – enough to panic us about our capabilities for the Inca trail which was less than a week away!
Next stop was crossing the border to Peru to begin our real Inca adventure...