Are You Sure Bolivia isn't Another Planet?

Sucre, Bolivia Oct 6, 2015

 Train Oruro to Tupiza + Tupiza + Llama + Salar Tour Landscape

Train Oruro to Tupiza + Tupiza + Llama + Salar Tour Landscape

The train ride went very well. It wasn't nearly as primitive as I thought it was going to be. Actually, it was rather nice. The seats reclined enough to sleep, the altiplano scenery was delightful, and I ended up splurging for a nice meal and drinks in the dining car. Because the seats in the dining car were a bit of a commodity, I ended up having to keep ordering drinks to secure my seat by a large picture window. After a glass of wine and two large beers, I had to finally give up my prime viewing perch, but not until the sun had set and the last roaming llama disappeared into the twilight shadows.

The train arrived in Tupiza around 3:30AM. I wasn't looking forward to searching for a hotel in the wee small hours, but there was a woman at the station who asked if I was looking for a hostel. She'd asked the other half-dozen tourists as well, but they mostly ignored her and walked off in the night to find whichever hostel recommended in their guide books.

The woman had a kind face so I decided to just trust.

After I got the last private room with a private bath, hot water and comfy bed for less than the guide book recommended hotels were charging, the other's who'd shrugged off the woman at the train station showed up because no one would answer the door that early. Trusting worked out well for me this time. 

The town of Tupiza was nice, but nothing special. Just a small town in the altiplano near the border with Argentina. I'd already spent time in two large Bolivian cities, so hanging out to see small town Bolivian life was a welcome change. Ended up exploring pretty much the entire town within the first afternoon, and spent the following day hiking rugged canyons that encircled Tupiza. 

I booked a 4-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni and surrouding national parks. There were two vehicles that each had 5 passengers and a driver. The second vehicle (4WD Toyota Landcruisers) had 4 tourists and our group cook.

Each vehicle kept more or less apart from the other except at meal times, and to sleep. So we mostly only saw those in our assigned jeep. And at night. Each goup slept in it's own rustic dorm together. 

 Salar Lagoon + Flamingos  + Salar Tour Ruins + Lagoon of Arsenic

Salar Lagoon + Flamingos  + Salar Tour Ruins + Lagoon of Arsenic

At first I thought I'd got the better group, a french guy and his Chilean/Swiss girlfriend who also spoke English and didn't smoke. And an American couple in their 30's. All was well for the first couple of days.

The tour itself was absolutely incredible with lagoons of otherworldly hues of blue and full of arsenic. Red lagoons filled with pink flamingos and backdropped by a staggering snow-capped mountain. Wild geysers, and vistas that looked like you were on another planet. Our guide Mario was very cool, and it was all I'd dreamed of and more. 

The problem was these other tourists. The French people kept gobbling up all the food without even asking if anyone else wanted any more. But they were at least tolerable. The American couple was a dreadful woman who kept bragging about she and her doctor husband's 9-month trip to various countries... how much money they'd spent and they they simply had to spend all their money before going home in November. She bragged that because her doctor husband was a GP, she could get a script for any pills she wanted.

She also threatened that if "any of you f@*kers snore at night, I swear I'll poke your a$$!" Guess who was the ONLY "f@*ker" who snored like a lumberjack all night? You guessed it. She blamed the sleeping pills her husband gave her. 

Her husband was having all kinds of problems with the altitude and was gobbling up his pills as well. So much that it sounded like he threw up one night, but he said that it was because of the pills, he drank some water and it went down the wrong pipe. He was actually tolerable too. And I don't think he was guite on-board with his bride's bragging about spending all their money before they went home. He seemed particularly peeved to learn his princess had paid triple the normal cost for their transport to La Paz, simple because she bought the tickets from the agency instead of just buying them at the station.

 Fish Island + Salt Flats + Uyuni Train Cemetery + Potosi Ch'utillos Fiesta

Fish Island + Salt Flats + Uyuni Train Cemetery + Potosi Ch'utillos Fiesta

Princess kept going on about their trip without letting anyone else get a word in edgewise. Now, a 9-month trip sounds awesome, and it was completely valid to want to share stories from her trip, but by day three of her incessant bragging, I had to tune her out completely. 

She also kept going on and on about her family. At one point my tuning out failed and I heard her calling her brother-in-law "gross" and "hideous". She had a photo of he and her sister on her phone. I asked to see what "hideous" and "gross" looks like. She showed me.

Me: "He just looks average. Like an accountant maybe. I don't see anything hideous or gross about him."

Princess: "Exactly! Look how average he looks. That's just gross. My sister is so pretty, that she could have done much better than him. I mean, look how pretty she is. Now they have a baby so I have to pretend to like him."

Need I say more? Was glad to finally be out of the jeep with her, but it made the bus ride from Uyuni (where the tour ended) to Potosi, absolutely fabulous by comparison. Kidding asaide, it was a stunning ride through the Andes and I jumped into a taxi, found a good hostel, and hit the streets by mid-afternoon. 

To my surprise, I'd just happened to arrived at the beginning of Potosi's biggest festival of the year, Ch'utillo. I couldn't get a clear idea what the festival was supposed to be about. Something related to Saint Bartolome, a boy and girl, silver mining, and bargaining with the Devil, or something like that. 

 Potosi Apple Vendor + Ch'utillos Fiesta Snacks + Chu'tillos Mother/Daughter + Ch'utillos Dancers

Potosi Apple Vendor + Ch'utillos Fiesta Snacks + Chu'tillos Mother/Daughter + Ch'utillos Dancers

All I knew was that there were all sorts of richly-costumed indigenous people dancing in the streets all day and night with cheeks full of coca leave cuds and liters of beer. Good times. I was only going to stay for a night and ended up staying three nights for the whole festival.

Grabbed an earlyish bus for the capital city Sucre. Potosi is known to be the highest city in the world at 4090 meters above sea level. I'd acclimated just fine at this point, but dropping down about 4000 feet to just 9000 feet above sea level was a welcome change. Also much warmer. I'm typing this out in a little pastry cafe called Mas Melo in shorts, sandals and tshirt. For the last 3 weeks I've pretty much been in layered clothing, jacked and gloves. 

In Potosi I ended up unwittingly eating an alpaca sandwich. It was delicious but it still make me a little queasy to be eating such a cute animal. Turns out its not that common, and I only got it because of the festival. Llama meat is more common but only in higher end restaurants. 

Here in Sucre, all of the architecture is white and beautiful architecture. There's not a lot to do here, but I'm enjoying hanging out and not going on any tours. I did check out the immaculate General Cemetery and found they keep it more pristine then their own homes. It was such a serene way to spend the late afternoon. I like to do this in cemeteries of various countries including my own. It reminds me of how fragile this temporary life is and to not waste a minute of the precious time we're given.

At night the women like the sidewalks around the market with tables loaded up with about ever kind of cake you can imagine. You just saunter up and many of them will offer you sample bites of each cake. I've spent the last two night basically having cake for dinner, but I work my around to different cake tables so that no one can tell what a cake pig I'm being.

Off to see a beautiful church and convent. Might head out tomorrow. My laundry is down and I had a pair of my pants repaired today. Not sure where I'm going yet, but likely a place called Samaipata, about an hour or so before Santa Cruz. But, not before having cake for dinner just one more time. :)

 Park in Sucre + Steep Sucre Streets + San Felipe de Neri Monastery + General Cemetery  

Park in Sucre + Steep Sucre Streets + San Felipe de Neri Monastery + General Cemetery  

Managed to add several more images to my Bolivia + Peru gallery. They're part of the experimental promotion I'm doing on this trip where I pick a few nice images along the way, edit and upload them for print with pricing that's about 70% less than my normal pricing.

The pricing will remain low for the images on this trip for the duration of the trip. As soon as I get home and settled in, I'll pick the very best images and covert those to limited edition only and the rest will go back up to my usual print pricing. So, if you see something you like while I'm traveling, now is the time to grab one or a few. I've also got a heavy Instagram feed going with lots more images. I don't have time to edit them all, but if you see something you really want and I haven't uploaded it to the print site, just let me know in the comments or drop me a note. When I get wifi and the time, I'll be happy to accommodate.

You can find the special gallery of the Bolivia and Peru images HERE

Check back every now and then. I'll be adding more images as I get the time and opportunity. 

More coming soon. Onward!

~ Skip Hunt