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Bolivia

Sucre, Bolivia: A whistle stop tour of 'The White City'

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View South America 2014 on DeeandZarius's travel map.

Friday 4th April - Sunday 6th April 2014

We hadn't envisaged being resuced at such speed from Uyuni so of course we had nowhere booked to stay. I had been in email contact with a hostel, La Dolce Vita, during the week and we had agreed that when we had a better idea of when we might get out and they had a better idea of when their stranded guests could get out, we would make a plan. So when we turned up on the doorstep unannounced at 11am on a Friday morning and met Jacquline, a very nice French man, we were relieved to be invited in and told there was one vacant room. It felt like a bit of a whirlwind. Less than two hours earlier we had been having breakfast in a city more than 200 miles away and there we were unpacking our bags in yet another new room. What a strange morning! For the first time during our travels after arriving somewhere new, I felt like a lie down rather than exploring! We decided to take the morning off.

A taste of what was to come at Sucre airport
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In the afternnon we ventured out to find food and see what our surroundings were like. Sucre is a Unesco World Heritage Site and known as The White City because of the white-washed colonial style buildings. It's a pretty place. It attracts hordes of travellers every year who stay for weeks at a time to learn Spanish. The Bolivians speak in a very clear, slow manner that makes it easier to understand. Or so they say. People generally love it as a city and end up staying much longer than planned. It was stange walking the streets and passing as many foreigners going about their daily business as locals.

While researching what to do we read that dinosaur footprints had been discovered near the town in a cement quarry back in the early '90s. The tracks are on a veritcla wall and are the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world. Well, Zarius loves all things to do with dinosaurs so the next day we set off to check out these footprints and visit the dinosaur park, Parque Cretácico, that has opened on the grounds. We eventually found the number 4 collectivo going in the right direction (ahem) that dropped us off outside the gate, in the middle of a quarry. At first we were sure we had gone wrong (again), but when we looked up the hill in front of us, past the lorries and rubble, we could see glimpses of a manicured side walk and tarmac road.

The park is for kids, lets get that clear from the outset. We were the only adults there without a child in tow. But it didn't matter, we loved it! They have done an amazing job with the park, it's small, unbelievably well kept and bursting with life size sculptures of every dinosaur imaginable. Impressive to say the least. Especially for me, knowing far less about these prehistoric beasts than Zarius. The colossal, life size diplodocus was definitely my favourite. The wall with the tracks can be viewed from the park but you can't get up close to it. It was here that we tried our first Mocochinchi, a cold peach cider that seems to be sold everywhere in Bolivia. At the time of course we didn't know what it was. We could taste the cinnamon but had no idea what the weird looking shrivelled up stone at the bottom on the glass was. That would be the dehydrated peach...

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My favourite!
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RAWR!
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Getting a closer look at the footprints
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A Mocochinchi
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Our drive back was eye-opening. For the first few miles we drove through what is best described at the 'mechanic' quarter. Best described that way by me. It's garage, after garage, after garage for miles on end. What was quite sad is the age of the kids working there. Little boys, all decked out in child size overalls. Some on a break, kicking a ball about, all covered from head to toe in grease. The garages slowly gave way to specialised car part shops. One that only sold side mirrors for example, another that did bumpers, one for lights, another for doors. We had some of their customers hop on the bus carrying one spare part or another, dripping in oil, off to be repaired. After the mechanic quarter we hit the markets. We slowed to a crawl through streets lined with stalls selling everything from fruit and veg to clothes, blankets and even beds. We later read mixed reviews on whether it is safe to venture into the market on foot as a tourist or not. It was great to get a glimpse of it from the bus.

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Chicken sandwich for 25p
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The city has a spectacular viewpoint from the top of Recoleta hill. It's a bit of a hike up the steep hill, particularly with the altitude, but the views over the city from the gorgeous restaurant at the top make it worth the walk. We set up base on deck chairs overlooking a flower filled garden for the afternoon and enjoyed the views, the sangria and the Spanish tortilla!

I liked this guy's way of thinking
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Gorgeous views. If only I could click my heels and go back...
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On our last day we explored the town properly, re-visting a great fruit and veg market that we discovered on our first day and venturing into the adjoining meat market, where you can buy every part of an animal imaginable. Which Zarius found fascinating. I tried to avert my eyes from the cow noses and pig heads and concentrate on the colourful spread of fruits and vegetables instead. We happened upon a family festival in one of the parks, again being the only people there with no children in tow, but enjoying it all the same. And we had lunch in a place I had been admiring since we arrived. It was on the main square, on the second floor and each table was jutting out of the building on a little balcony. So pretty!

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CLOSE YOUR EYES FOR THE NEXT PIC IF YOU'RE SQUEAMISH!

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Family fun day
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Who needs Paris?!
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People crowded round a TV shop watching the soaps
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The restaurant with the pretty balconies
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La Paz was next on our itinerary but we decided that rather than stopping over we would simply change buses there and go straight to Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. We couldn't face another city and word on the street was, we would find sunshine and relaxation in Copacabana. Just what the doctor ordered. We would then backtrack to La Paz once we had taken a couple of days off. There were still issues with the strikes so only one bus company was running a service to La Paz giving us very little choice, but luckily it was a company we had read good reviews about. This journey was the one I was dreading most. Again because I had read too much about it. The drunk drivers and the accidents and things like how you should sit in the middle of the bus and not the front or back because you have more chance of surviving a crash. Yes this is the kind of thing people write about online and I am the kind of person who reads it. Much to Zarius' dismay. So we got our seats in the middle of the bus and it was the last time we would do that in Bolivia....

Posted by DeeandZarius 08:44 Archived in Bolivia Tagged sucre_bolivia recoleta_sucre dinosaur_park_sucre_bolivia parque_cretácico_sucre Comments (2)

Uyuni, Bolivia: Stranded

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View South America 2014 on DeeandZarius's travel map.

Wednesday 2nd April - Friday 4th April 2014

We got dropped off from the salt flats tour in Uyuni. What we expected to be a city was in fact a town. A town with very little in it. That's one of the interesting things about travelling, you have no idea what to expect in each new place. Because Uyuni comes up so much in blogs and guide books about Bolivia we had painted a picture in our heads of this sizeable town or city. Tall buildings, dusty roads, bustling and a little bit dreary, but big.

As we got closer my eye was drawn to the barren fields at the side of the road, they were filled with something colourful. All the fields. I was staring out the window, as were the others, all watching these colourful things blowing in the wind. Colour for as far as the eye could see. I couldn't figure out what they were, it looked like they were tied to long wires hanging low and stretching across every field. But the penny suddenly dropped, it was rubbish. Colourful pastic bags littered each and every field and the dirt roads beyond...

We had one stop before our tour finished and that was the train cemetary. It's full of old rusting disused steam trains that were decommissioned when the Americans brought in bigger and better trains (or that's the story we heard) and they have been left there to rot. Eventually someone had the idea to make it an attraction and they put a sign up. Job done. It is in fact like a massive playground for adults. People climbing all over the trains, hanging out of windows, running along the top to jump carriages, lying across the tracks...

Our convoy arriving in Uyuni
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When we got out of the jeep at the office we were informed that there were road blocks throughout the country on all main roads so there was no way out. We were all stranded. We had read about the high risk of road blocks in Bolivia but it's hard to believe it will happen to you until it does! It didn't stop every single one of us walking to the bus station to try and buy non-existant tickets though. Only to be told exactly what we already knew. So the streets of Uyuni were swarming with tourists walking around like headless chickens. It was way worse for others who had onward travel booked from La Paz, arrangements that would cost a lot to change. And of course most people had decided to leave immediately after the tour and had nowhere to stay and the hostels were filling up quickly. The standard of accomodation wasn't great either so there was a bit of a panicked air. For us it was better. We had time on our side, a nice hotel booked and we looked at it as an adventure!

We had booked a hotel for one night, Tonito Hotel, and it was glorious. Huge, powerful hot running water and a warm comfortable bed. Bliss. And as for breakfast the next morning...amazing. It's American/Bolivian run and the American influences were very evident. We feasted on pancakes and different breads, eggs and ham, cereals, pastries, fruit, juices. It was good. And the place filled up with people from other hostels and hotels who had heard about the spread.

As much of an adventure as it was, of all the places we could have got stranded, Uyuni was definitely the worst! It's a military town and has little to offer. The internet is extremely slow to non-existant so we couldnt even catch up on admin and planning. We explored every inch of the town, strolling aimlessly, sitting on benches and watching everyone else strolling aimlessly. To be fair it was an interesting insight into local life. All the women dressed in their beautifully coloured skirts with tall hats and long plaits swinging down their backs. We kept seeing the same faces and every day there were new faces arriving which made us worry that even if the roads opened we wouldn't be able to get tickets to get out which led to regular trips to bus offices and flight offices.

Our hotel was next door to the army base and we had some serious signs in reception. Only turn left when you exist (towards the town) and never right towards the base. Do not take any photos. When you hear the national anthem at 8am in the morning observe 1 minute of silence and remove your hat or better still don't be outside at 8am!

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I didn't realise at the time but this man was wagging his finger at me for taking a photo. Oops! large_90_IMG_5385.jpg
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Possibly the ugliest dog in the world. Poor dog.
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And the cutest dog
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Our hotel
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Please connect...please connect...please connect...
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Sampling the local beer. Not bad.
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On the Friday morning over breakfast the owner mentioned that she had somehow managed to get the phone number of a pilot who was landing a commercial plane in Uyuni that morning en-route to Sucre. Our next stop. The plane wasn't picking up passengers but she wanted to speak to him and see what he could do, if anything. She kept calling but his phone was off because he was still in the air. We decided to wander up town to the train station to see if anything had changed (it hadn't) and as we walked back to the hotel there was a commotion going on outside. The owner had sent someone looking for us, she spoke to the pilot and he would take us to Sucre but we needed to leave immediately, he was waiting on the run way. And so began a mad dash, I had to throw everything into our bags while Zarius checked out and in three minutes flat we were jumping into the back of their van. Her husband whizzed across town at top speed with 7 of us in the back. The airport is tiny and as we arrived staff were standing at the door waiting to meet us and usher us through. There was a lot of frantic hand signals and a mad dash by all 7 of us to the ATM machine as the guy at the check-in desk hand wrote our boarding cards. It was the quickest check-in and security check of our lives and within 20 minutes of returning to the hotel we were boarding a plane full of bemused looking faces. We hadn't thought that the plane would be full! As soon as we clicked our seat belts closed we were off. Sucre was a short hop away and we got a drink and a snack too. Eat your heart out Michael O'Leary...

The airport. And our plane!
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Posted by DeeandZarius 09:06 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia uyuni_bolivia salt_flats_tour train_cemetary_uyuni tonito_hotel_uyuni Comments (0)

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia: 3 epic days to the Salt Flats

We got picked up first the next morning and on time by a lovely local man who didn't speak a word of English and came to some mad conclusion that I was fluent in Spanish. I became his confident, he shared jokes with me, asked me to explain to others what was going on and gave me a running commentary on the hold ups at border control. I understood little of what he said but smiles and a laugh every now and then seemed to be all he needed.

Once at the Bolivian border we were met by two 4X4s. We were to be split up. The lovely driver hopped out and declared we would team up with the German couple and two Swedish girls and the Irish/American couple and the 4 French would be in the other jeep. Our group were quick to bond. We had clearly all read the reviews and within seconds of being grouped together we agreed a rotation programme for the back two seats in the jeep (very important!) and that if we saw our driver drinking we wouldn't put up with it!

The Bolivian border crossing
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Some jeep bonding
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Agreement one went as planned. We took a day per pair in the back. Agreement two went out the window when our driver was spotted drinking at stop two. Seriously?! Stop 2?! They couldn't get further than that point before having a beer or two. Well, I was hacked off, as was everyone else but we agreed to leave it go on the first occasion and wait for it to happen again. Miraculously it didn't. I don't know if it was our talking loudly about our dissatisfaction with drink driving or if it honestly was a one off or of course they may have just become very good at hiding it! But it wasn't a problem again for the rest of the tour. Our driver, as sullen and moody as he was at times, drove incredibly well. We felt 100% safe throughout the 3 days.

Once in the car and on the road the 6 of us chatted non-stop about absolutely everything imaginable! We didn't shut up. We had 4 different cultures to compare after all. It felt like we weren't in the car all that much on the first day. The stops were frequent and every 30 minutes we were hopping out to photograph this and that.

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Hot Springs of Polques in the desert. It was freezing out but the rewards for braving it were worth it. Or so I was told.
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Geysers Sol de Manana, the smell and the fumes were toxic. It reminded me of the volcano. We didn't hang around long
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It was late afternoon when we arrived at our hostel for the night. It was literally in the middle of nowhere! Mountains and desert and then this long thin building with a tin roof being held on with bricks. We were ushered in and shown to the first door which the driver announced was our dormitory for the night. Everyone and I honestly mean everyone in our group let out a chorus of 'wow, this is so much better than we thought'. And all I could think was, seriously, where have you slept before?! It was a concrete room with 7 beds. 7 platforms of concrete with a mattress on top of each and a couple of blankets. Except for the 7th bed because we were only 6. The 7th bed was stripped bear and only had a thin, well worn mattress on concrete and it reminded me of a drug den from the movies. So as everyone gushed over the comfort of the room, I tried to block the images of Trainspotting from my mind.

Our little house for the night
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The dining room
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After dropping our bags off we climbed back into the car for the last stop of the day. The Red lagoon filled with flamingos. Beautiful. I have never seen so many flamingos so close up in my life. We stood watching and photographing them for about an hour before the cold got the better of us and we retreated to the car.

Laguna Colorada
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Once back at the shelter, a late lunch was served. I had claimed to be vegetarian for the 3 days because I wanted to do everything to avoid stomach problems and had read that all the food was carted around in the back of the jeep each day only to be cooked up that night. Zarius had also decided to go veggie. But as soon as a dish of the most unappetising hotdog sausages was placed on our table, Zarius fell apart. Within seconds, he had 4 on his plate and one in his mouth wolfing them down. I stuck to the peeled slices of tomato and cucumber instead.

That night we all sat around wearing every item of clothing we owned. It's cold in the desert! We were staying at 4,300 metres so everyone was tired, a bit breathless and busy trying not to think about altitude sickness. The electricity went out early so we sat with a torch and a candle and continued our conversations. Annabelle, the German girl gave me some tips on coping with sleeping in the cold. Basically I was to go to bed with as much clothes on as possible including my puffy jacket and a wooly hat. I could take off my outer trousers but leave leggings on and the next morning just get up and put the trousers on over the leggings. It all sounded extreme but as the evening wore on and the cold set in I could understand the logic. It was a sleepless night. It was absolutely freezing, minus 10 and just two blankets over us. If you lay really still you could warm your spot up but if even a toe moved out of place it undid all the good work and sent shivers up your whole body. Zarius didn't sleep for a different reason. Altitude. He was wide awake and inside his silk liner he was like a caged animal. He spent the night thrashing about, any time I fell asleep he woke me with his tossing and turning. So in the silence of the night all you could hear every 30 minutes or so was me in a loud angry whisper saying 'ZARIUS, SHHHH!'. We were all wrecked the next day except for the Germans who are in South America to climb mountains and have absolutely every piece of gear imaginable. They had their own super duper sleeping bags and didn't need their blankets. They slept soundly.

Eating dinner wearing everything we owned!
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Another clear night sky
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The next day the car was quiet. It was Zarius and my turn to take the reject seats in the back. First stop was the rock formations. Then 3 lakes in a row. All quite spaced out so we were stuck in the back a lot. By the third lake we were a little bit over it. The highlight of that day was the rock formations in the morning and then we had another 10 hours in the back. The Irish/American couple (Dan and Suzanne) in the other jeep were on day 2 in the back, rotation being ignored in their car. So by the time we all got to our next hostel for the night they were well hacked off!! Luckily we had stopped for wine and Dan had brought his guitar and the Swedish girls could sing so cue an international singalong! We were spending the second night on the edge of the salt flats in a hostel that not only had private rooms, but the option to take a 5 minute hot shower for 10 Bolivianos (85p). Sold. Divine. The water is piped in from 7km away and the sun heats it on it's journey. It was roasting and plentiful for all those who opted in. The room was still cold but we had FOUR blankets and that accompanied by a glass or two of vino and the sheer exhaustion from the night before made for a sound nights sleep.

Sunrise outside our hostel. We couldn't wait to get up!
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Packing up the jeeps for day two on the road.
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Desierto de Siloli rock formations
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It's basically a big playground for adults. Everywhere you looked there were people scrambling, climbing and hanging!
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Team photo
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Some great signs along the way
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They knew how to get us where it hurts
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Zarius gritting his teeth after 10 hours in the back with his knees at his chin
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And then we arrived at a place called San Juan. The first town in two days!
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We all celebrated with a nice cold beer, much to the amusement of the shop keeper who looked like she had never seen so many gringos before!
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Our salt hostel. Everything was made of salt, including the beds!
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My alarm woke us at 5.15 the next morning to pack up and watch the sun rise over the slat flats. The sunrise was a big thing for all of us. And you had to vote on who wanted to get up for it and who wanted to stay in bed and skip it. All 12 of us wanted to get up. It was a stressful morning. Our driver dilly dallied and then disappeared and we could see the sunlight starting to line the horizon. When we finally reappeared one of the girls hurried him on which caused him to throw a huge strop and he decided to move in slow motion to get his dissatisfaction across. But we made it for the sunrise in the end and although very pretty, we all felt that we may have built it up a little too much!

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The salt flats is the highlight of the 3 days. What we had been waiting for and it is extraordinary. The expanse. It's hard to take it. We visited a cactus island (officially named Fish Island because of it's shape) first which was home to thousands of different sized cacti, and I realised I had never really been up close to such ginormous plants. They are very impressive and beautiful too.

La Isla del Pescado/Fish Island
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Breakfast al fresco
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And then it was photo time. The moment we had all been waiting for...perspective shots. What no one had told us was, it's so hard! Zarius and I were useless at it. Really bad. We spent a good hour at it and didn't end up with any really perfect ones. The Germans were naturals. And the Swedes did a good job too. I don't know what went wrong with us!

A llama built from blocks of salt
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Haha, this one turned out surprisingly well!
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A museum in the old salt hotel
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Lunch in the last town of our trip, Colchani, on the edge of the Salt Flats and close to our final destination, Uyuni.
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Our last team lunch
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Which didn't stop Zarius from sampling some llama being cooked on the side of the street.
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This toilet made me laugh. Notice how it doesn't have any connecting pipes! Good effort though
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And this is a sad seen that is far too common. Places are being destroyed with rubbish
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And then we started to wind down to the end of the trip. We'd had fun, seen a lot of natural wonders and nature at its best. But we were ready to finish. It was a lot of driving in a very cramped space. Would we do it again knowing what we now know? I'm not sure. We would probably do a one day trip into the salt flats. It's the highlight after all. That said, we don't regret it at all and the memories will be with us forever.

Posted by DeeandZarius 10:10 Archived in Bolivia Tagged salt_flats_bolivia Comments (3)

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