Posted by: glenswatman | November 11, 2009

20091101-10 Bolivia Argentina



SUNDAY 1 November
2009 –
We are keen to visit the main La Paz cemetery for the
interesting tombs and sculptures and to see how they celebrate the “day of the
dead”.  Along with Adam and Melissa we
take a mini bus directly there, Bs2.50 (23p). 
The street leading to the cemetery is cordoned off and sellers of
flowers and vases are doing a roaring trade. 
Almost every niche, grave and mausoleum has fresh flowers and at a few
graves the relatives are gathered making the offerings of bread and biscuits.  The food is all flavourless to start with but
the thought is that overnight the spirit of the dead person sucks the flavour
out of them so that when the relatives return and eat them the next day they
are bland.  In the nearby streets we come
upon a fish market with many restaurants. 
We opt for one in a huge hall packed with locals.  A band arrives to play and after the first
song they make a point of asking everyone to welcome the tourists then ask us
where we are all from.  There’s a
football match on this afternoon and the others want to go but I am not keen so
we split up.  It is a local derby with
The Strongest v Bolivar.  They take a
mini bus to the stadium whilst I head towards Achumani.  I want to cook us all a meal for tonight so
get off at the hypermarket to buy the where with all.  Arrive back just after 4pm and prepare a
giant size cottage pie and layered desserts in glasses.  The football fans arrive back just before
8pm, the match started an hour later than they expected and Bolivar won 3-0 and
they think it was the first leg of a play off to compete in the South American
cup next year.  Admission was only Bs 20
(£1.80) and they have all enjoyed the experience.  Ronald arrives shortly after and then I serve
dinner which goes down well.



We are moving on today but unfortunately the only buses to our
destination are night ones.  Spend the
day chilling out, watching a movie and cooking up dinner from left overs.  At the bus station we find that all the
companies charge the same price however Copacabana, Trans Copacabana and
Bolivia have been recommended to us as having a better safety record.  Trans Copacabana is the only one doing our
route and we book on the 7.30pm taking the cama (reclining seat) class at Bs90
(£8).  There are only 4 seats left on the
bus and the 2 together are right at the back so we have little choice.  Opposite us are a couple from New Zealand so
at least we have someone to chat to whilst the Spanish movie blares out.  The first part of the journey is flat good
road surface but once we start to climb the mountains we are almost shaken out
of our seats going over bumps.  The
engine is below us and Bolivian driving style seems to involve dropping into
neutral and coasting where possible then kicking back into gear and cranking up
the revs so very noisy.  Even worse are
the stretches of dirt road with dust coming in and almost choking us.  Needless to say we get very little sleep.



Arrive in Sucre at 8am.  In the
bus station there is a warning sign to say they recommend taking the official
taxis to town and to beware of “fuked” policemen – luckily we know it was meant
to say fake.  Share a ride with Bruce and
Louise and settle into Joy Ride café for a nice breakfast.  Steve & Bruce head off in search of a
room and are gone for ages.  When they
return they have found nothing, all the accommodation is higher priced and
poorer quality than we have been used to. 
Together we check out a couple of options and end up settling on The
Grand, an attractive colonial house with courtyards but tired rooms and lumpy
pillows – not half as tired as we are as we flop on the beds.  Unluckily outside our room window is the next
building with a family on their terrace who keep shouting.   After
a couple of short naps we give up, change rooms then go for a stroll.  Sucre is a UNESCO site because of the
beautiful buildings, all painted white. 
They are very attractive but none of them seem exceptional, maybe we are
just too tired to enjoy it all.  In the
evening Louise & I pop out to get some drinks and food.  Suddenly the city has come to life with the
streets heaving with people and buildings attractively lit up.  We pick up a huge pizza and eat it in our
room before playing cards.


Bs 160 (£15) Inc breakfast


November –
Getting information on bus times is difficult as each travel
agent sells tickets for just one company and will only give you their
times.   Bruce & Louise know to their
cost that many agents charge a high commission; they paid BS140 for their
ticket to Sucre through an agent whilst we paid Bs90 at the bus station.  We take a taxi to the bus station.  It pulls up on the main street outside and
before we can even open the door we are mobbed by people trying to sell us
tickets.  We ask the driver to move into
the safety of the bus terminal car park as it is a bit overwhelming.  Once there we have only one person trying to
sell us a ticket, for the 10.30am “Trans Villa Imperial” bus at Bs15 (£1.35).  I ask to see the bus and it is a basic coach
but the tyres look OK!  Walking around
the terminal there are no other buses leaving before 12.00 so we settle on this
one.  Being loaded onto the top of the
bus is the bottom part of an old coffin with viewing window.  There’s no one in it so we surmise that they
re use the same coffin for many people. 
This is definitely the local chicken bus but fortunately the chickens go
underneath with the baggage.  As people
board we have 2 lots who try to claim our seats.  The seat numbers are on our tickets but they
also have tickets with the same number – maybe there are many people selling
the same bus seats but not co-ordinating information.  We refuse to move on the basis of first in
best dressed.  It is 11am by the time
there are enough people on board to make it worthwhile setting off.  It is a jolly bus, without air-con we have
the windows open, local music blares out and we are entertained first by a
salesman with a product like tiger balm and then by various vendors who hop
aboard.  It does lots of pickups and drop
offs and we are a little concerned when that when people take baggage off and
the driver finds a can of opened white paint in the locker.   We get good value for money as our 3-hour
journey takes over 4.  Arrive in Potosi
at 3.15pm and our baggage has escaped the paint spill.  Potosi is the highest city in the world,
4100m.  It was founded in 1545 when a
llama herder was stuck on the mountain Cerro Rico at night, lit a fire and then
saw molten silver trickle from the blaze. 
 Within 20 years Potosi was the
richest single source of silver in the world. 
The boom came and went and now the city is mining tin.  Finding a room is almost as bad as in Sucre
but having found a couple that are too expensive and one that is too basic we
settle into Hostel Campania de Jesus with en-suite doubles at BS 110 inc
breakfast.  The main attraction here is
to do the mine tours but the tours into the real working mines with appalling
conditions are not recommended for people with various medical conditions
including asthma.  Even today the average
life span of someone working in the mines is only 10-years.  Walking the city with Bruce & Louise
there are quite a few impressive buildings built during the mining boom.  Rough Guide has recommended El Fogon for good
steaks and rightly so.  For Bs38 (£3.40)
I get an excellent steak, cooked to perfection, with peppercorn sauce, chips
and rice.  Steve’s order comes completely
wrapped in foil and is spaghetti with steak, prawns, mushrooms and a creamy
sauce.  Walking back to our hostel we get
to appreciate the floodlit buildings. 
Watch a movie on the laptop to round off the evening.  Nights are obviously cold here as we have 5
very heavy blankets plus a quilt on the bed but we feel brave enough to discard
3 blankets and lighten the load.  We both
still struggle to breath in the thin air at this altitude.  With hindsight we should have given Sucre and
Potosi a miss and gone straight to Uyuni as the cities themselves were not
worth the detour.


Bs 110 (£10) Inc breakfast


Bruce & Louise want to buy some handicrafts in Potosi so
have decided to stop on for another night. 
We catch the 10am basic bus to Uyuni, Bs 30 (£2.70).  After about 1 hour the tarmac road finishes
and we are on dirt and dust.  Our journey
takes us across the desert with fantastic scenery.  We travel along the edge of gorges then drop
down into them and up the other side.  At
one point there is a lorry unable to make the climb out and he ends up backing
down to allow us to pass.  The rock
formations and colours are amazing as are the many oasis.  A ½ stop for lunch keeps us on track arriving
in Uyuni at 4pm.  We half fall for the
spiel of one of the touts and check out the Hotel Intel that is part of their
package.  Now we need to price the tours
to find out if the complete package is a good deal.  Uyuni is a flat desolate outback town but
buzzing with tour offices.  We want to do
the 1-day tour to the salt pans.  To cut
a long story short we decide to take up Laura’s deal until we find she wants
Bs300 pp not for us both.  It works out
better for us to pay for the hotel at Bs100 (£9) and book the tours with Maria
at Brisa Tours for Bs120 (£10.50) pp.  At
the Minuteman restaurant within Tonino Hotel we enjoy homemade lemonade,
chocolate cake and apple pie and ice cream. 
Walk back through the market area where many streets are full of stalls
selling all manner of things. 


Bs100 (£9)


FRIDAY 6 November –
We drop off our laundry, grab some breakfast and arrive at the train
station when the ticket office opens at 9am. 
We buy tickets on the Expreso Del Sur train to Villazon leaving at
10.40pm, Bs63 (£5.70).  We take our
luggage to be stored at Brisa Tours and await the arrival of our 4wd car.  The street is full of cars with most having
luggage loaded onto the roof for the 3 day trips.  A car turns the corner and the spare tyre
falls off the roof and begins bouncing down the street, luckily no harm is
done.   At the last minute another tour
company merges with ours (common practice here) so we have Swiss couple Pius
and Margaret for company.  Our driver Richard
is accompanied by his wife, (the cook), and son.  First stop is the famous train graveyard on
the outskirts of town.  Dozens of rusty
engines line the track and make an amazing sight and photo opportunity.  Our guide speaks no English but we do catch
another guide telling his group about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid coming
through this way on a train.  Our next
stop is back in town as a couple on a 4-day tour need to join us for the first
day, Rob & Rachel cousins from Ireland. 
It is quite a drive out to the salt pan and we learn that Pius and
Margaret have been on the road for 3-years cycling, originally from Switzerland
to Japan and then from Mexico down to here. 
They are in their 60’s and camp most nights. Along with loads of other
tour cars we stop at the village of Colchani where artists have made things
from the salt ranging from small souvenirs to life sized llama statues.  We see a demonstration of how the women each pack
up to 1000 bags of table salt per day by hand sealing the bags with a basic gas
burner.  We arrive at the “Salinas de
Uyuni”, the biggest salt flats in the world and an incredible sight very much
like a huge frozen lake.   The flat white
surface stretches into the distance enabling you to do trick shots with the
cameras as there is nothing for perspective. 
 Unfortunately our old camera only
has a very small screen which makes it difficult to see properly but we have
fun trying.  Nearby Hotel De Sal has just
about everything made out of salt blocks, the building, the furniture, bases
for the beds plus carvings.  There’s even
a small salt paddling pool outside. 
Driving for over an hour we reach “Fish Island”, an amazing sight
rearing up in the middle of the flats. 
It is a protected site so you have to pay Bs15 (£1.35) admission in
order to do the hike over the island. 
Surround it are many salt and rock tables and chairs and each tour group
commandeers one.  Richard tells us to do
the hike whilst they prepare lunch.  The
island is volcanic and covered in huge cactus. 
Climbing to the top we get superb views of the island and
surroundings.   After a late lunch most
of the 1 day tours return to Uyuni but we have to drop Rob and Rachel at Tunupa
volcano which they will climb tomorrow morning. 
For about 1-hour we drive over the flats and as we get closer have fine
views inside the cone of the volcano with many colours.  We are dropped at an area with flamingos and
llamas whilst the others are taken to their basic accommodation for the
night.  A final stop on the way back is at
some bubbling cold pools.  It is 6pm when
we get back to town and Bruce & Louise are at Brisa Tours waiting for
us.  They are staying at Inti Hotel and
are booking the 1-day tour with Maria following our recommendation.  Together we go for a Minuteman Pizza, then
return to play cards with them.   At 10pm
we are at the station checking our bags in. 
The train has similar, but slightly less comfortable, seats to the
coaches and we settle in for a long night. 
There is a man directly in front of me who snores like a pig and
extremely loudly.  We have no chance of



The train stops a couple of times en-route and at Tupiza the
snorer gets off giving us chance for a couple of hours of snatched naps.  Arrive in Villazon around 7am.  Turning right out of the station it is about
a 20 minute walk to the border and over the bridge to ARGENTINA.  Leaving Bolivia is just a quick stamp but
entering Argentina is quick for the entry stamp (no paperwork) but then a long
wait in line for a thorough baggage search. 
We see a sign 5121km to Ushuaia, the most southern part of the country;
we are going there but cheating a bit and doing it as part of our Antarctica
cruise.  Although we are still the same longitude
as Bolivia we put our clocks forward 1-hour (3 hours behind GMT) to take into
account that the capital Buenos Aires is on the east coast.  Currency is the peso, approx AR$ 6 = £1.  We have been chatting to an Israeli couple
behind us and agree to share a taxi to the bus station.  Once there I pick up money from a nearby ATM
and Steve checks out the bus times.  Most
people go straight on to the big city of Salta but I think we have done enough
travelling this last few days so suggest we just make the 3-hour journey to
Humahuaca, AR$30 (£5).  Our bus doesn’t
leave until 11.15am so we go to a nearby café. 
Four of the people from our train are there and not happy.  They have just had one of their day packs
stolen in the bus station.  Their luggage
was all piled on a bench with the 2 lads watching it.  One of them was jostled from behind, turned
around to see what was happening and when he turned back a bag was gone.   Loading
our bags on the bus we learn there is an additional charge per bag seemingly –
AR$1 for the locals and up to AR$6 for ignorant tourists!  We travel for about 1-hour then pull over for
customs and immigration.  Everyone has to
leave the bus with belongings, collect luggage then line up for
inspection.  The women in a separate line
to have their bags searched by women.   Finally reach our destination around 2pm and
are the only ones to get off.  We know
prices are going to be higher in Argentina but it is going to take some
adjustment as the first rooms we check out are over £20 and nothing
special.   We drop lucky when someone
sends us to the campground.  They are in
the process of renovating it but have some simple rooms.  A half done up one with bathroom and cold
shower comes in at AR$50 (£9) and there are hot showers in the campsite
block.  We both feel better after
showering and donning clean clothes, sufficiently so that we set out to explore
the town.  The most prominent feature is the
“Independence Monument” up a hill where along with a fine sculpture we get
great views of the multi colour hills behind the town.  The town is very sleepy with cobble stone streets
and easy to get around but without any other outstanding features.  At this stage we are ready to have a few days
rest but to do this we either want to be in a really interesting place or have
nice accommodation so will continue the search tomorrow.    


AR$50 (£10)


Catch the Jama bus to Tilcara, AR$5.5 (96p).  It is the next sizeable town down the track
but half the populations of Humahuaca. 
Turning off the highway we are in a compact area of dusty streets with a
really basic bus station.  Begin our
search for rooms as we walk towards the centre finding one possibility en
route.  At the tourist office they have
great information and mark the map with many places offering en suite rooms
below AR$100.  Nearby Pablo gives us a
card for his family run hostel and makes it sound good.  I leave Steve guarding the bags whilst I
climb the hill to check it out.  Owner
Danny has basic rooms and a couple with en-suite.  I like the one at the top of the building
with its own private and secluded terrace even if it is AR10 more than the
rest.  At AR$80 (£13) including breakfast
it seems perfect and they even have free Internet.  Steve agrees and we settle ourselves in.  Setting out to explore the town we find the
central area has stone streets and proper pavements, a tourist orientated
market in the main square and numerous bars and restaurants.  Recommended by Danny, El Carmel in the square
offers a 2-course lunch for AR$15 (£2.50). 
We both have delicious meals and dessert, Steve has meat balls and I
have meat cooked in wine.   Explore a bit more of the town then return to
our room.   The terrace has a laundry
sink so I catch up with the washing.  Late
afternoon we return to town and stop by a hamburger stall for a snack.  There’s an ice cream stand next to it so this
completes our evening meal.  A big waffle
cone with 2 huge scoops of delicious Italian ice cream for AR$3.50 (60p) –
bargain.  I can see us being here for a
few days as there are lots of places nearby to explore.


AR$ 80 (£13) including breakfast.


Well we didn’t quite get the peaceful night we hoped for.  The overflow on the roof tank kept playing up
and periodically we could hear the water overflowing then drips of it coming
into our room.  At breakfast Danny says
he will get it fixed.  We walk up the
hill to visit the ancient fortress of Pukara. 
It was discovered just over 100 years ago and much has been
reconstructed.  Luckily for us on Monday
the archaeological site and museum are free. 
Not only do we get to see a number of the buildings including a
ceremonial centre and necropolis but the views are stunning. It turns out we
are walking round back to front so miss many of the signs, including the one
asking you not to go into the tombs – oops just took a photo with Steve inside
one!   Tilcara is surrounded by hills half of which
are multi colours of red and pink.  At
the edge of the site is a botanical garden with many of the cactus found in
Argentina.  Return to our terrace for a
bit of sunbathing before heading to town for lunch.  Near the bus station we get a tasty 3-course
meal for AR$10 (£1.70) and walk it off around the archaeological museum.  Steve says it feels really strange to be
walking around without our backpacks and I have to agree.  At sunset we sit out on our terrace enjoying
a drop of local wine, palatable but not great at AR$5 (85p) for a 1 litre
carton.  Accompanied by crackers, cheese,
tomatoes and crisps it is just like being back in the motorhome.  Around 7pm Louise & Bruce arrive.  They are very happy to take the other en-suite
room here and join us for drinks and nibbles. 



Louise makes it down to breakfast but Bruce prefers his
sleep.  Steve & I head off to catch a
bus to Purmamarca, AR$3 (50p).  This
village is famous for the “Cerro Siete Colores” (hills of seven colours) and
even approaching it we can see exactly why. 
In fact seven is an understatement as the main hills are grey, purple
and dark turquoise blue whilst the uplifted rocks amongst them are many shades
of pink and orange.  We climb the hills
and walk around the beautiful rocks, not only interesting for the colours but
also the shapes.  It is quite a small
area so takes less than 1-hour for us to explore.  Take the return bus to Maimara, AR$2
(35p).  This village is famous for the
cemetery and this is where we alight.  It
is interesting in that it is built into a hillside but not really worth the
stop.  There is supposed to be a natural
bridge here and we find the sign on the main road but then many tracks lead off
with no further signs so we give up. 
Return to Tilcara in a shared taxi then to our room for a siesta.  Bruce & Louise come round for a happy
hour.  Danny is organising a BBQ for his
guests, AR$20 (£3.30) but it doesn’t kick off until 9pm.  By that time we have all been having a few
pre dinner drinks so are a very merry crowd. 
The food is lettuce and tomato salad, various sausages, ribs and huge
chunks of meat.  Amongst the guests are
Americans, Germans, Argentineans and Spanish all with the common interest of
travel so it is not surprising that it is midnight by the time we finish eating
and chatting. 



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