Saturday, May 12, 2007

28th April - 10th May (Salar de Uyuni and Rurenabaque)

I started the day with a much needed hot shower before taking the bus to Copacabana, just inside the Bolivian border, where I had planned to stay for a day or two with a visit to Isla del Sol. This plan quickly changed when I realised there were no ATMs and I had little money. Immidiately noticed how cheap Bolivia is when I ate fajitas for lunch. Bolivia is the cheapest country in South America, especially for accomodation which costs between 20 and 40 Bolivianos (16 Bolivianos = 1 Pound). So, after lunch I got on a bus to La Paz, the capital, a four hour journey.
The road to La Paz comes in from above the city so there are good views of what looks like a brick and concrete explosion at the heart of what must once have been a beautiful green valley surrounded by mountains - the buildings have spread from the centre outwards and upwards, it is a mess but quite an impressive mess! There I found the adventure brew hostel, nice, clean and sociable but with cold showers. Met some English girls and went out for food and drink (2 pints and a risotto for 50B - bargain!). Over the next couple of weeks I would be coming and going from La Paz as it is central to all the places I want to visit. The Bolivians are not an attractive bunch of people; the babys and young kids seem cute enough with their rosey red cheeks but then it all goes wrong.
There don't seem to be any young women; they must go from schoolgirl to fat old woman in shapeless dresses and aprons overnight!

The next day I booked a ticket to Uyuni (70B for a 11 hour journey) before taking a look around the coca museum and the witches market where you can buy anything from Llama feotus' to stuffed frogs! La Paz is the highest city above sea level in the world so breathing can still be a problem, especially walking up the steep hill to the bus station carrying my increasingly heavy bag as buses go past directing their black smoke directly into my lungs - this must be how a forty-a-day habit feels!!!

The eleven hour bus ride to Uyuni is the bumpiest road ever. The journey was at night but any hopes I had of sleeping were misplaced. I was sat just above the rear axle which sounded like it could snap at any moment leaving the bus to drag it's arse like a dog with a pooey bottom! I met Becky from England and we chatted for a while between failed attempts at sleep. We arrived at 05.00 to a temperature of between -5 and -10 with no wind and me wearing my shorts! We walked around knocking on doors until a hostel eventually let us in. We slept until midday, had lunch, booked a tour for tomorrow and walked around the bright, cold and not too exciting town. In the evening I went for beer, pizza and wine with Becky, a pleasant evening that ended with a little accident which would tarnish my experience of the next few days.....

Travelling has made me appreciate some of the things I take for granted back home, take for example my current predicament which has made me appreciate the basic human neccesity of having a good fart without ruining a pair of pants. When things return to normal I will make sure I fully appreciate letting rip with confidence!

The Salar de Uyuni trip is three days and two nights. It's an amazing place with great scenery but the roads are very bumpy in our four wheel drive and I spent a lot of time clenching my buttocks. Also, the nights are very cold and my one pair of trousers are currently out of commission; the others in the group just think I am mental for wearing shorts every evening. There are seven of us in the group and they are a good young bunch; the Belgian couple speak good Spanish and English which is lucky as they translate everything the driver says. The driver is not a tour guide, which means there are no useful explanations of how the salt lakes and other interesting features are formed, other than that it was a very worthwhile trip with great scenery.The first place of interest along the journey is the train cemetry - I believe these are British trains once used for transporting valuable minerals.

The salt flats are 12,000 square km of salt, there are buildings made from salt bricks, and coral islands with loads of cactii, there are lakes with flamingoes (if only the zoom were working on my camera), geysers and bubbling mud pools, hot spas and lovely sunsets and sunrises.
The accomodation on the second night was freezing cold and very basic with grim toilets with no seats - just what I need! During these few days, the food provided has been ok but again I have no appetite and have eaten very little.
I decided against the hellish road back to La Paz and opted for a 01.45 train which goes halfway (slept all the way), followed by a coach on a toll road arriving at La Paz at 13.20. I felt like my stomach was starting to improve so planned my next trip for the next few days; the wetlands of Rurenabaque. Unfortunately I spoke too soon and much of the evening was spent on the toilet, however, thankfully the situation did improve for Rurenabaque.

The small plane left from the La Paz military base at 07.40, a patchwork of fields below as we headed north. The skies were perfectly clear until we reached mountains that held back a flood of unbroken thick white cloud for miles and miles until there were more mountains, beyond which the skies were clear again and miles of jungle and river could be seen below. We landed on a gravel track runway of a tiny airport surrounded by jungle before being transported to the small town of Rurenabaque where there were lots of travel agencies for the pampas (wetlands) and jungle tours. I had been told the wetlands were good so I went for that and checked into a nice cheap room. Skyped Mum, Dad and Carly before spending most of the Saturday afternoon trying to change dollars into bolivianos, finally succeeding in a pharmacy. I ate most of a huge lasagne with my appetite returning. In the evening I went to an excellent bar where I met Aussie Chris, chatted to him for a while and it turns out he is in my group tomorrow.

I managed to get away from the bar at a reasonably sensible time. At the Indigena tours office Chris looked like death, he didn't enjoy the bumpy three hour journey to the boat. A nice canadian family of five and dutch girl Kim made up the rest of the group. Over the next three days we saw black monkeys, howler monkeys and the inquisitive squirrel monkeys (remember my zoom doesn't work),
an anteater up a tree, a capiberra (huge rodent), pink fresh water dolphins, turtles, a cayman (like a croc), bats, tucans, mcaws, an owl, hawks, condors, kingfishers, storks, hummingbirds, cormorants and other smaller colorful birds. On the first evening we took the motor boat to the sunset bar; as soon as the sun went down the mozzys attacked and we whizzed back on the boat amid the swarm, it was horrible but we got surprisingly few bites - there was worse to come though.

The next morning, we walked in borrowed wellies through the muddy swampy marshland looking for anacondas with no success. My wellies had holes in so my feet were soaked and I really didn't enjoy the walk as I spent the whole time trying to swat the mozzys that were all over me and biting through my clothes. My fifty percent deet wasn't as strong as the others' and I suffered the worst of it with bites absolutely everywhere. More mozzys were waiting for me under my net at the dorm so my feet and ankles took a pasting! Also in the night, something brushed against me which scared the bjesus out of me, I leapt out of bed shouting obscenities, waking everyone. I thought it was a rat or something but it was more likely the resident cat. By the time I found my torch it was gone.

I went fishing for the very first time. In the rain, we went out in the boat and dangled tiny chunks of meat on the end of some fishing wire in the water. Everyone on the boat other than Chris and I were catching pirahnas and catfish and I soon realised why I had never had the urge to try this so called sport before. The journey back to Rurenabaque was interesting as the road had become very boggy with all the rain and several buses were stuck. At several of the worst bits we had to get out and walk as the 4x4 ploughed through. Back at Rurenabaque all flights were cancelled and we tried to arrange a 4x4 to get us back to La Paz which would have been another hellish journey but we failed in that quest, the rain stopped and the flights started again.

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