South Bolivia

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Iíve been four times to Bolivia. The First time was in 1992, as part of a journey through Bolivia, a small part of Brazil, and Paraguay, for six weeks. The second time was in 1993, to marry my Bolivian better half. The third time in 1999 to show my newborn boy to his family, and in 2006 to show off with my second boy as well.



After a great wedding party, my wife Gaby and me went to the Titicaca lake, to an idyllic city named Copacabana. We would make a nice boat trip to the Inca islands of the sun and the moon. The hotel was already expecting us, the family had been so kind to get us a nice bridal suite. That was a big disappointment, as the toilet didnít flush and a window couldnít be closed by some time of design error. I couldnít work out how this hotel got that many stars. The next day I had a discussion with the owner, who couldnít understand why I bothered, as it was already paid for. I cancelled the stay and found another small hotel with a kind of family atmosphere. Much nicer. (Eight years later we returned to Copacabana, to the same hotel. Itís cosiness had disappeared, or probably itís us being more demanding in terms of luxury.)

After touring around, we wanted to go to Uyuni, in the south, to visit the salt lake together with our good friends Frans and Marijke. Being ever prepared, I already had a bus from La Paz to Uyuni, via Huari. To my surprise there was no bus to Uyuni anymore. They stopped that months ago. Being ever flexible, I rerouted the trip to Potosi, and then see how to get from there to Uyuni.The bus to Potosi was doomed. About 50 km south of La Paz we got a burst tyre. A big sharp stone got stuck between two tyres and ripped them open. About four hours later it was all repeared, but then we got some issue with the engine, and speeded up to 10 kilometers per hour, max.

In the early morning we arrived in Oruro, known for its carnivals. So these 200 km took us all night, and still 500 km to go. We took another bus, which arrived at 5 pm in Potosi. Thus we missed the late bus from Potosi to Uyuni, as it left at 4 pm. I think I used some words which I shouldnít use at a honeymoon. Fortunately, my wife is familiar with local habits, and she found us a truck which would bring us to Uyuni. It only needed to deliver some furniture in Potosi, and would leave ďahoritaĒ , which translates as ďas soon as possibleĒ, but does have a different meaning in Bolivia.

The cargo to Uyuni was a load of bags with potatoes, on which we could sit, as other passengers did, too. It was already dark as we left, it started to rain and out of pity the driver unfolded the plastic sheet on top. The landscape between Potosi and Uyuni is breathtaking, so we heared but could not notice.

At two thirty in the morning we arrived in Uyuni, at hotel Avenida, the only hotel available. It used to be a prison and was very successful in maintaining that particular historical atmosphere. I asked the night watch for the room number of my friends Frans and Marijke. Never heard of them. Can I check the guest book, please. No I canít. Then I will start screaming, as I want to talk to them NOW. No comprendo. Ok: FRAAANS, MAAARIJIJIJIJKEEEEEEE. Furtunately they woke up, and so did the rest of the guests. Iíve tried to keep it all nice, as it was my honeymoon.

I checked with Frans and Marijke, and we would continue with our plans to get up at 7:30, find a jeep, buy food and leave to the salt lake at 9:30 max.

The expedition was well prepared. An agency offered the following: first day to the salt lake of Uyuni, camp in San Pedro at the ďshoreĒ. Second day to Lago Colorado, the red lake and camp at the meteorological station. Third day to the Lago Verde, the green lake, and back to the meteorological station. Fourth day straight over the salt lake back to Uyuni.

First a breakfast at the city market, buy spaghetti, some tins and loads of water. We left on time.

The first day to the salt lake. Itís a like the size of the Netherlands, at least 200 mtr deep (they measured that with a drill, but ran out of money at 200 mtr without hitting the bottom). It consists of many layers of salt, mud, water, and then again salt etc.etc. The top layer is about 20 cm, and the trick is not to get through with the jeep. Sometimes, when it rains, thereís a small layer of rainwater with is saturated with salt and very heavy, The wind canít get grip on it, and it lays there as a perfect mirror, reflecting the peaks of the mountain range in a very spectacular manner.

Halfway in the lake there are some islands, which turned out to be peaks of coral. Unexpected at 4 km altitude.

The second day to Lago Colorado, a red lake because itís filled with red algae. Loads of flamingos, which are all red because they eat these algae.

Without these algae theyíll turn white again. Didnít knew that. We also visited some geysers in the middle of the snow, and had a great bath and a shave in a small thermic pond. We had a basic camping in the meteorological station, as there are no villages here. )ďBasicĒ implies more luxury than there was available, really.) We couldnít get the stove on, as they donít burn wood which is not available at this altitude, but chunks of moss, hundreds of year old. Solid as stone and difficult to burn. But it was a great experience.

The third day to the green lake, and yep, itís green for sure. The road to it was surrounded by immense volcanoes, and a monster volcano was idyllically situated at the shores of the lake. A spectacular sight. Behind that thereís the Atacama desert, the driest on earth, and I think Iíll go there, one day.

Then we returned to the meteorological station. We met some other jeeps with tourists. That day there were about four jeeps going to the green lake. After an hour we noticed a jeep with a breakdown, which is rather a nuisance in a remote area near the driest desert in the world. We offered help, and our driver started working on the jeep. After a while all problems were solved. The other jeep driver told us that he met another jeep with tourists from israel. These guys refused to help, as their jeep was from another company. I guess that years and years of military service does affect people.

The fourth day we returned from the meteorological station to Uyuni, crossing the salt lake again. To our surprise we met the jeep with the helpful tourists from israel. They were stuck in the salt lake. To show them that friendliness still exists, we offered to take them with us on our roof to Uyuni, as there were not enough seats in our jeep. Their jeep could be picked up by the company. They were really happy we helped them out, and left for Uyuni. Before stopping at the hotel, they jumped off our roof, and ran into the hotel to book their stay. As I mentioned, thereís only one hotel in Uyuni, and it would be inconvenient if thereís no room left. After they booked their rooms, there still was place for us, fortunately. Due to their military blocked minds, they could not understand why I was so angry about them snatching a room from me. I did got a room, right. Not thanks to them, I would say. Gratitude isnít their thing, either. In an odd way I look forward to another opportunity in which I can help out such a bunch of egoists. Or not.

A year before I tried to do the same trip, alone. But it didnít work out as our battery ran out near San Pedro. Salt and water and jeep. But still it was so impressive that I knew that this would be the place for a honeymoon.


Map of Bolivia
My Google Maps of South America
Complete photo-album of Bolivia

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