Oruro, Bolivia Sept 25, 2015
I'm sitting in a basic hotel near the bus terminal in Oruro, Bolivia. I've been here for a couple nights waiting for a train that leaves today for Tupiza, Bolivia where I'll embark on a 4-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni. The trick will be getting on a tour that has one seat left. This tour is the main reason I wanted to come to Bolivia. The images I've seen from this tour look incredible.
It's only been 5 days since my last post but I've already been to Tiwanaku with the Puma Punko temple about and hour and a half outside of La Paz on the altiplano. It was a bit bumpy trying to get there as I decided to try and make my way there via minibus on my own rather than pay for an organized tour. I'd already done the organized tour of Mount Chacaltalya along with the Valley of the Moon, as well as a walking city tour. It was time to get out on my own without a tour guide. Don't get me wrong, the tours were actually very good and they help get you over the hump of getting used to a new place and country.
Unfortunately, I started out too late and the minibus to the Tiwanaku Incan ruins site (an important site with religious significance) was waiting until it got full (8 people minimum). I'd waited 45 minutes when a Japanese boy showed up. He barely spoke any Spanish or English at all. Just a litle of both. The driver told us he had to wait for 8 people, but if we wanted to go now, he'd take us direct for a discounted rate of paying for a full minibus. I negotiated it down a bit, but the challenge was explaining all this to the Japanese boy and see if he was onboard for half. You could see smoke coming out of his ears as his face grimaced while he tried to process all the foreign data.
Eventually he capitulated and we were on our way. The arrangement was that the driver would not pick up any more passengers along the way since we were basically paying for the whole bus. About halfway into the journey, their were about 4 poor indians on the roadside thumbing for a minibus. He asked if it was ok. I told him fine, but no more... we were pressed for time since the last bus coming back would be about 4pm. He misunderstood me and thought I was saying no, so he continued without the indians. I stopped him and explained it was fine, that he should go back and get the indians.
I explained to the Japanese boy. He agreed it was the right thing to do. It was only going to cost us an extra 5 minutes anyway.
The ruins were cool and very interesting, but not as extensive as I'd imagined. It's basically set in the highlands near an indian village. What's particularly interesting is that it appears they're in the early stages of excavation, so you get to see some of the blocks of stone strewn about and before they get it all reconstructed and prettied up for the tourists. The stone cutting is so precise that they still don't know how they were able to accomplish it.
Natually, I stayed a little to long trying to cram in the two museums there too, and missed the last bus back. I actually left about 3:45 and I was the only tourist left. Fortunately, since I'd given the minibus driver some chewing gum and let the indians onboard so he could make a little extra scratch, he told me that if I miss the last bus that there were buses to the El Alto above La Paz that were cheaper, and that I could just take the Teleferico (cable car) back down into the city. It actually worked out to be faster and cheaper going this route. :)
The woman who owns the Cactus Hostel I was staying at in the Witches market didn't speak any English. She asked me what country I'm from and I told her the United States.
She replied in English, "Oh My God! Oh My God! Oh My God!"
I was puzzled.
She went back to Spanish, "That's what Americans are always saying 'Oh My God!' Everywhere they go they say "Oh My God!"
And I replied, "And Latinos are always saying "Dios Mio! Dios Mio! Dios Mio!"
We laughed and she said "It's true."
A little sad to leave the Cactus Hostel in the Witches Market of La Paz. The lady who owned the place was nice. The other two staff members were really nice too!
The Argentine backpackers/artists/wannabe musicians were a little loud, but were all quiet by around 10:30 or 11ish. Their guitar playing was superb, but their girlfriend was an abysmal singer. They kept telling her how great she was. When she'd really get going, I'd just take myself a little walk around the market.
They all kept smoking weed non-stop from mate tea in the morning, all the way until they went to sleep and they tended to take over the cocina, but I just made friends by being interested in their music, their strange herbal brews they concocted, and hung out with them.
The horrible sounds they all made clearing their noses and lungs in the morning made me wonder if they were all there in Bolivia partaking in the pure Bolivian "sugar". ;)
One of the hostel attendants is named Mario. He kept slapping my calf muscles when I'd go up the stairs and demanding to know how much I could lift. Said l didn't lift. He'd then drop and start doing push-ups and ask how many l could do. Told him "nada" with the altitude and all...
On the last morning before I left, he did it once again and challenged me to a push-up contest bet for 100bs. I told him "No thanks". He asked "Why?" And I told him "Because you're much stronger than me and will easily win." He laughed, nodded in agreement, then smiled.
This appeared to be an acceptable answer.
I mentioned the Chacaltalya mountain and Valley of the Moon tour. That was fairly spectacular. To be honest, I was terrified that I'd collapse from the altitude. I'd acclimated ok to the 13,300 feet in La Paz, but we were going up to 17,800 and about a mile of that would be upward trekking on foot. I huffed and puffed, took it slow, rested, and concentrated on not letting my mind send my body into a biological panic. And, I made it to the top! Felt awesome and possibly the highlight so far. Not so much because of the incredible vistas that high up in the Andes, but because I managed to push past the fear and was able to keep my mind for going into panic. Felt good.
The Valley of the Moon is beautiful, but very similar to several of the landscapes I've recently seen in the desert Southwest on a recent motorcycle trip. Different for sure, but similar to Katsu-Kutawe (tent rocks) in New Mexico.
The city tour was kind of a let down. The tour itself was good, and I'd recommend it because they walk you through dense indian markets you might not find on your own, and told you all sorts of details about the culture, indian customs, political strife, history, the cocaine industry and the religious significance of the coca leaf. What was disappointing was after paying for what's billed as a "free tour", they then constantly remind you that they work for tips too. On top of that, they try to upsell other tours they do. Just got to be a little bit much and took away from the good parts of the tour. Still, it helped get me over the hump and to the point where I am today, ie. perfectly comfortable getting by on my own.
As soon as I arrived in Oruro, found a room and dumped my pack, I headed out in some rain to find the train station and buy a ticket to Tupiza. Next one doesn't leave until Friday so I'm chillin here in Oruro an extra day. There's a thermal bath I wanted to check out anyway.
But here's the part I'm super stoked about.
I'm wearing some Merrell hiking shoes that I love. Only, I've had them a few years now. They're comfy, great support, decent grip on wet surfaces, and I can walk forever in these things without any foot fatigue.
The back interior part was worn out, but I had them repaired in Valladolid, Mexico a couple Yucatan trips ago for about $2.
Before this trip I contemplated retiring them because they were no longer waterproof and had one big gash on the outer front rubber toe protection. The other shoe has a similar but smaller gash.
So, because they're still pretty solid and have tread left, I re-waterproofed them and superglued the gashes.
They were holding up great too! No water getting through at all. But today I noticed the gashes came unglued.
While trekking to the train station in light rain, by chance I went down a street full of shoe cobbler stalls. Most were busy, but one cobbler nodded at me. I stopped, showed him my shoes, and asked how much. He said he could fix one for 2 bolivianos or both for 3 bolivianos.
I asked how long it would take. He said "horato" (right now)
Took one shoe off and he mounted it in his industrial sewing machine with strong heavy thread and sewed it up perfect. Lickity-split! Then he did the right one while I was putting on the repaired left one.
BOOM! Both shoes professionally repaired, cost me $.43 cents, and the whole transaction from inquiry to continued strutting on down the calle to the train station took all of 4 minutes. I barely even had to break stride.
I have to confess, the main reason I'm sitting here in this uninspiring Oruro dining area long after the continental breakfast has ended and typing out all of this, is because there's this weird dude that showed up last night and he keeps talking to me and trying to buddy up. He says that he's from Chile, but has lived the last 30 years in Australia. His Enlish accent is very peculiar too. After I'd answered his small talk questions, I asked a few of my own, and his answers didn't add up. I don't know... I'm probably being paranoid, but my spidey-sense is telling me to avoid this guy like the plague. Everything he says kinda gives me the creeps. I think he's gone now, but I think I'll just add a bit more text and an image to make sure he's moved on for certain.
I've been here in Oruro for 2 nights. That wasn't my plan, but it's turned out to be a somewhat interesting city. Not so much from a tourist attraction point of view, although the giant Virgen holding a baby Jesus looking out over the ramshackle buildings over the hillside is spectacular, what's interesting is how most of the city looks to be in ruin with a small pocket downtown that looks very affluent. I know this city was once a great city that was only rivaled by the city of Potosi. At one point Potosi was the most important city in the world, but with the decline in the value of silver, tin, etc. as well as depleting all of the minerals so that there's almost none left, both cities have been in a downward spiral for decades. What you witness here in Oruro, is the decline consuming most of the city and pressing a concentration of what left of the wealth in a very small area. I shudder to think how this will eventually play out.
I need to go repack my bag and pick up some snacks and water for the train journey. I think there's a dining car, but I don't know if the prices will be jacked up. I'm really looking foward to this train ride. I get into Tupiza around 3am and I'm sure it'll be cold, but the train ticket dude said there are hotels right outside of the station that are used to such early arrivals. We shall see. I didn't really pack for extremely cold weather, but I think I can manage with layering.
Before I sign off, I managed to add a few 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. I even turned all all the products in case anyone might prefer one of my images on a bag or shower curtain. :)
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.
Stay tuned, the adventure is now in full swing!
~ Skip Hunt