Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bolivia ptII: Sucre > Uyuni > Tupiza 22-29/11/10

by tim

Fearing being both covered in vomit and being robbed* during our journey to Sucre, it was with great relief that we disembarked in Sucre bus station and began the, by now, usual ritual of
- finding a taxi
- being charged an extortinate price
- being shouted at for offering only half of what was asked
- walking away from said taxi driver
- being chased by taxi driver who realised we wouldn't budge and was now happy to take our offer

So, twenty minutes later, we were deposited in the main square of Sucre and were once again pleasantly surprised by what we saw. Busy, vibrant and well developed. but enough of me, lets talk about the city. by coincidence, it was all of those things too... and wet. with all our bags, we couldn't realistically huddle in doorways without seriously annoying many Bolivians so we headed for what was the most european cafe we'd visited since... europe. unfortunately, the european-ness stretched to the price-list, but when you're cold, wet and tired hot-chocolate is pretty much the only cure. Though, for me, recovery was greatly assisted by coffee, orange juice, bacon and eggs. While the girls went off into the rain to find us accomodation (someone had to look after the bags, you see?).

There was nothing obvious about Sucre to find enjoyable, but it was. No special buildings, no special activities, but the city was lively and there were plenty of things to see if not much to actually do. In retrospect, it was probably that the majority of buildings were all in one piece and painted white (an annual requirement i believe)... makes such a difference.

An hour later the girls arrived back after walking most of Sucre to announce that cheap but perfectly satisfactory accommodation had been found five minutes from the town centre (and i quite like the refreshing little tingle you get from touching anything metal in the showers here anyway). Five minutes in the other direction was a park area where a very happy Katy was able to do some personal training with Letty. I was very happy to sit and watch.

nestled away on another side street was a french cafe / restaurant. We've met alot of french travellers in south america (really, a surprising amount) but this was the first french eatery, so obviously Letty was very happy. the coffee and hot chocolate were devine and whilst most of the food was beyond our budget, what we had was delicious with a bonus of free internet (ok - the real reason i liked Sucre!).

When we could tear ourselves away from the cafe, the local market was big and thriving... with all the latest fashions. We found a juice bar which back in the uk would have been closed down long ago, but served superb smoothies for virtually nothing.

It was also here that we sent our few christmas gifts back home as being a well developed city, we figured they had best chance of making it home in one piece. Which - because we are so lame at keeping this thing up to date - we know they did.

But apart from this amusing photo of a mobile home - Sucre style, there's not much else to say about the place, so we move on...

Our journey from Sucre to was notable only for stopping off at Potosi. And Potosi is most notable for being the worlds highest city (altitude... probably also coca-leaf consumption). You would think it might make more of that claim but what we saw was more dust & debris; though rather strangely, they had the most amazing and modern bus station, so maybe its a sign of things to come.

We went from that station to a small, smelly side street for our next bus - the smallest bus so far (via a strange breakfast involving noodles and what we were told was chicken). Thankfully we were virtually the only passengers. Off we went through the bumpy dusty street on our way to Uyuni and their infamous salt flats. We managed to get into the middle of nowhere before the wheel quite literally fell off (to be honest, we were suprised it hadn't happened before now).

Thankfully the bus had a spare tyre and with a little brut strength and a lot of shouting the driver managed to fit it and once again we were on our way for all of five minutes before the wobbling became worse than it was before (the 'spare' was down to the carcass). more shouting, more hammering and the orignial tyre was re-fitted. Once again we were on our way, wobbling all the way into Uyuni.

We were greeted with the normal welcome of 'stay here my
friend' interspersed with 'we have the best 4x4in uyuni - never breaks down'. The 4x4's ususally only take up to 8 people, so we were in a good position to haggle, and we'd got quite good at it by now. We also managed to strike a good deal for the hostel for the night. all unpacked and excited about the following we day we went out to eat...and in Uyuni that means pizza or pizza. we had pizza.

The sole purpose of Uyuni is as a base for the salt flats (either tours actually mining the salt). and as you don't see the miners the only people you actually meet in uyuni are other tourists. Not really our thing, but the place itself is a it of a one-off, so we grin and bare it. The town itself is small but stillmanages to be sprawling; the main tourist hub is really quite pleasant but stray away and it gets decidedly more threadbare. Good night market in the main streets though.

the following morning, We arrived and jumped onboard our trusty 4x4 that would be whizzing through the Salt Flats. what another amazing experience. Full of brilliant photo opportunities. We had a great day speeding through the "flats" with so much white to see... really - horizon to horizon absolutely nothing. We got to share our 8 seat 4x4 with 10 poeple so quite a squeeze in the end.

(click images for a larger version)

Aside from the obligatory comedy photos, we also stopped off to view a dormant volcano, had lunch in the middle of nowhere and visited a mine/museum type thing (didn't go in), with petrified cacti outside. this place might just be the dictionary definition of desolation.

In true Bolivian fashion we broke down on our way back, while we sat in the truck Tim and the driver got out along with a french chap and all looked under the hood, then the driver climbed on top of the engine... with some banging and water adding we we're once again on the move just as the sun was going down. Then again in true form a few minutes later the driver was once agin under the hood with Tim trying to stop the smoke and start the 4x4. what was amusing the first time round was now considerably less so with the sun rapidly fading and the thought of ten people sleeping overnight in a 4x4 in the desert. Thankfully, at the last gasp, the thing restarted and we rolled back into town as dusk officially turned to night.

Managed to grab a pizza, well what else? and go to the train station. Our first South American train journey how exciting? As it turned out, not very. slightly more comfortable than a bus but alot louder, with a dvd of cirque de soleil blasting through the cabins.

We arrived in Tupiza, at 4.30am - still the middle of the night - and, bless them, we we're still being hounded by people to stay in their hostels. With little power to resist we followed like sheep... somehow picking up someone else who tagged along with us... the three had become four! The person in question was a lovely Swiss woman called Florence.

We crashed at our hostel until a sensible hour to get up and then found somewhere for breakfast. Now what you first realise about TUpiza is that all the restaurants seem to come in a "tupiza restaraunt kit" that being pine wooden interior, with matching tables and chairs and you guessed it a pizza menu. So what is there to do in Tupiza..well this is horse riding country, so we booked a days ride.

When we arrived in the morning we we're a little early as we had hoped to grab some breakfast en route only to find Tupiza was shut. But the nice man from the horse riding company took us to his home and fed us all a Bolivian breakfast: dry bread, strawberry flavour jam, dulce de leche (like caramel, very popular, very sweet, very 'Tim'), and instant coffee or for Katy "solo agua caliente, por favor". And the very cutest kitten ever (OK - i know, they're all cute). When we tried to pay, they wouldn't let us - result.

So off we went to mount our trusty steeds. BUt not before we we're kitted out in chaps, bandanas and cowboy hats. I got a big brown horse called Lucchio and Katy got a grey called Morrow. Letty named her's Squirt. Everyone was happy with their beasts (Florence least so, as she said she'd never ridden before).
Our guides turned up and looked about 13, Katy assured me that she was younger than that when she and Sara used to guide in the Welsh mountains.

Off we went through dusty red tracks surrounded by amazing 'cowboys and indians' views (alot of western movies have been filmed here). Then down into the valley floor through some amazing rock-formations. we had a break here and another guide turned up, a young Goth who rode like a maniac, to take half of our group on a shorter day. we made our way along a disused rail track towards our lunch destination by the river. It was a truly lovely day.

Katy was - of course - in her element; I think i maybe had a bit more control than Letty, but the comedy award must go to Florence, who - let's be blunt - had no apparent control at all... horse wants to stop? horse stops. horse wants to gallop? horse gallops! Rising trot? not for our Flo! very funny from behind though. heading home Katy's horse decided to rear up. a lot. which she found super fun (the guides, less so judging by the look on their faces).

With a brilliant day behind us and our behinds knowing all about the brilliant day, we headed back to the hostel for a well deserved shower and food. And later that evening we sent Florence on her way towards Paraguay. We'd only been together for the briefest time but it seemed so much longer... a pleasure to meet you Florence.

Whilst at the station, we bought tickets for the following morning to continue our journey, to Salta. Goodbye Bolivia, you will be missed. hello Argentina.

(* after the drunken Bolivian in front of us mentioned that this is where everyone gets robbed as we arrived at a fuel stop.)


  1. For information only ... Should you ever return to UK, Waitrose sells Dulce de Leche... a great topping for ice cream... another Tim favourite!

  2. Fabulous post guys.
    Can't wait for the next