Getting into Bolivia is a real eye opener. The poverty is immediately apparent and completely unavoidable. It is everywhere on the streets. While the people aren’t about to drop dead from starvation they don’t have much room for luxuries in life. The contrast between here and Argentina is incredible, even in the few hundred metres between townships that mark the border.
We got to La Quiaca, the border town in Argentina, at about 7 in the morning and went straight to the border. The crossing was the smoothest I have ever encountered and would have taken about 20 minutes, most of which I spent chatting to a European chick. Then we were into Bolivia. Despite the obvious poorness of the place both Townie and myself were stoked to be there. It feels like a bit more of an adventure being in Bolivia than it did in Argentina or Chile.
The bus station was about a km up the road and when we got there it was pandemonium. Due to tiredness and convenience we ended up getting a taxi to Tupiza, about an hour and a half driving away. It cost ridiculously little, about 50 Bolivianos between us. This is less than $10 NZ. We were beginning to get a sense of how cheaply we would be able to live in Bolivia.
We got into Tupiza and went to the closest hostel, an HI job. It was adequate. Quickly we discovered that Tupiza did not have an ATM, leaving us cut off from our cash monies. There were bad times on the horizon but fortunately Townie and I are resourceful travellers and we had some American dineros we could exchange. A top travelling tip: always carry American dollars. They get you out of trouble.
It was Thursday which meant the markets were on. We went for a walk to get a vibe for the place. Commerce was thriving in many admittedly small transactions. True to form I bought several ridiculous hats before heading back to the hostel for a siesta. We were looking for our buddy Jack who was meant to be 7 hours behind us. We couldn’t find him and we realised milling around the bus station wasn’t any good so after sending him a message at a net café we kept wandering around and then went out for a feed. The meal came to 12 Bolivianos for a burger and fries (it’s a bit over $2 NZ) and 15 Bolivianos for a litre of beer. We were living like kings.
Eventually we went back to the hostel and discovered Jack had checked in and gone out. We were pretty beat up from big nights in Salta and long bus trips so we just kicked back. Eventually Jack rolled up with a new buddy, Angus, in tow. We talked about going out (it was Angus’ birthday) but we were all a bit shattered so locked it in for the following night. We decided to move hostels the next morning to somewhere about half the price.
The next day was spent organising ourselves and trying to book in a salt flats tour and ‘triathlon’ tour (jeep trip, horse-back trek and mountain biking). We got both locked in, the tri for Saturday and the Salt flats for Sunday. We talked to a bunch of other Gringos in town and heard rumours that there was a lot of snow around at the moment and that tour trucks were lost in it. We found a fifth for our tour, Sandra, and went back to book her in only to discover that the truck we were meant to be going in ‘was broken down’. We were pretty mad that he hadn’t told us that earlier, but it looks like lying to the Gringo is a nationally accepted practice.
We went to another tour company which was much more honest and said that weather forecasts suggested it was too dangerous to take a salt flats tour until at least the fifteenth. Because of their honesty we booked a tri tour through them. We decided to flag the Salt flats tour for now when we were told one tourist had died – we are pretty into our lives.
We agreed to meet Sandra at a restaurant later and went back to our new hostel to tuck into some red wines in celebration of Angus’ ability to age. We had found a 5 litre bottle of wine but it proved to be basically undrinkable so we had to go with some other stuff. By the time 8.30 came around we were a bit tipsy and staggered up to the restaurant. Sandra was there with a couple of Irish girls we had met earlier. The meal was limited as two of the cooks had just had a fight and one had left, removing half the items from the menu. Despite this, we managed to have a good time. Later we went back to the hostel with the Irish girls in tow and got rowdy. All in all, a good night.
The next morning we woke early for our triathlon. After frantically sorting out breakfast we headed to the tour company shielded from the harshness of life by sunglasses all around. We headed out to the North-West of Tupiza first to take in some truly amazing landscapes from the jeep. Then it was straight into the mountain biking. I found it pretty tame as it was all down a gravel road but the landscape was stunning. Our companion Sandra had a messy little incident resulting in a quick shower and a change of pants at this stage. The irony of this was that she had told us not to eat street food the day before, advice which we had ignored. We were all fit as Jessica Alba while she battled through the day.
|The desert is a surprisingly beautiful place.|
After riding back into town we were off into the jeep tour. We went to a site which contained some interesting rock formations, which we called gaps. Many bad puns were made. We walked for about a half hour and then ‘celebrated lunch’ with a picnic at the Land Cruiser. Next up was the jeep tour, which was frankly amazing. We got to see some incredibly beautiful landscapes and also had a whole lot of fun playing with the easy panorama mode on Townie’s camera.
|A classic gap. Specgapular.|
Last up was a horse trek, which I was fairly nervous about. I had only ever ridden a horse once before and I had found the experience to be relatively scary. To make matters worse my horse, who I named Steely Pete, initially seemed very hard to control, he was more into doing his own thing. As we headed down the road towards the desert we met a riderless horse coming the other way, and fast. This did nothing to reduce my fears.
|The photo does no justice.|
Once we got out into the desert it was actually quite nice. My horse wanted to be at the front and went the wrong way a few times but mostly it was no worries. As far as riding goes, on horseback I have about as much grace as a sack of cement. I was happiest when my horse was at a walk so I could take in the amazing scenery. It was pretty cowboy out there. Highlights included the Devils gate and yet another gap.
It was a pretty big day and none of the boys really had the energy to go large that night. Instead we just kicked around the hostel and played a few cards. This was a trend we continued the next afternoon, laxing back in the courtyard of our hostel and playing cards while drinking red wine in the sun.
Our bus was a night bus and held plenty of terror. As an introduction to Bolivian buses it was a damn good one, we were on gravel roads with a sheer drop off the edge of the road. It was good for a bit of excitement. The bus was also extremely cold so Townie and myself took our relationship to the next level by sharing a blanket (or unzipped sleeping bag) for the night. Tight.
When we were nearly at La Paz the bus was stopped and we discovered that protesting had blocked off the main road so we tried for an alternative route. It involved some bus 4wd through the desert, and after about an hour and a half of that we still ended up about 20 mins away from La Paz (I think somewhere in El Alto). We jumped in a taxi to a hostel that some French girls we had met on the bus knew of, and arrived very happy to be there.