A Travellerspoint blog

Uyuni - Day 42

Tour Day 2

20 °C

It was a 7am start for an awesome day ahead. After a quick breakfast we set off to the first stop, which was some quinoa fields. Along the way we saw the snow capped mountains ahead and lots of Llamas. The quinoa plants are in beautiful colours and made for some lovely pictures. Unfortunately the old lady who owns the crop wasn't too please that we were taking pictures for free, so we all ran straight back into the car!
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We then drove to an area called Valle de Rocas, the result of a volcanic eruption. It was vast. You could climb around them and Andrew decided to go up to the other side on top of the large rocks. He got up there ok but ended up with a few grazes up his arms :(
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While he was climbing, I was chasing one of the only animals that live there, to try and get a picture. I got one! It's like a rabbit but with a long tail:
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A bit like cloud spotting, see if you can see the faces or creatures in the rocks:
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Moving on, on the journey we saw a volcano, which I think is called Ollague, with steam coming out of it!
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The day was really about all the different landscapes here in Bolivia, and the colours in the rocks, mountains, hills, fields and waters around here are unbelievable.

The next stop was a lagoon, that smelt of sulphur but had flamingos swimming on the surface. We must have been getting higher up as it was getting windy outside.
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A drive then took us through sandy desert like roads and the sand clouds blew so hard that you often couldn't see the car in front and the trail behind was like something out of a movie.
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We then had lunch by another lagoon, with ruins next to it that apparently used to be used for making cocaine. I guess in the middle of nowhere like this, you were unlikely to get caught?! Lunch was schnitzel, but the driver told me it was flamingo wing! After yesterday's Llama I almost believed him!! The thing about being in the middle of nowhere is that there are no toilets so the group are now accustomed to using Bolivia as our toilet. Here most of us went behind another set of ruining that must have been a building of some kind, but Barry decided to go inside this chimney ruin, which was possibly something important?! Anyway, looking out over the lagoon the reflections of the mountains in water were really beautiful and there were lots more flamingos too.
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Higher up still, we stopped at another lagoon with lots of piles of rocks in front of it. Everyone got out the car, the strength of wind hit us and Caroline's hat went flying in the air and was spinning through the desert. She started a run for it, but it was going further away. We thought she was going to stop but she didn't and Gonzalez went with her. It seemed like an impossible task to get it back but they carried and soon they were over the sand dune and out of sight.
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In the meantime we carried on and looked at the lagoon. The idea behind the piles of rocks is that it was an offering to Pachamama - Mother Earth - to say thank you. Now, people generally build them to get a cool picture, and that's what Andrew and George did. The built the biggest one then, and in the wind it was quite a feat.
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We'd all finished building and taking pictures, but still no sight on Caroline and Gonzalez. Eventually, two tiny stick figures came over the horizon, walking in completely the wrong direction it seemed, and it was them. This is a super zoomed in picture of them! The poor things had been walking in the heat and wind for about 45 minutes and didn't even get the hat!

Back in the cars, we drove to another lagoon with flamingos and the colours of the water, mountains and flamingos were almost surreal. We walked around the edge to get some good pictures of the flamingos and I managed to get one in flight.
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The next destination was to get a picture of a famous rock, the Arbol de Piedra. The rock looks like a tree in shape as the gusts of wind have shaped it that way.
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There are some other rocks there too and Andrew climbed to the top again, giving us some fantastic catalogue poses?!
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The final stop of day was at the red lagoon, which is this colour because of the algae and the sun. Apparently you have to get there by a certain time of day to see it this colour. It was much more red that it shows on the camera, but it still looks pretty cool.
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We headed to our hostel for the night, in the middle of nowhere, at about 5pm. Unfortunately, we didn't have a reservation and they were booked up! Luckily there was another next door (as there was really nothing else around for miles!) so it all worked out fine, but even the driver looked worried for a while. The hostels here had hot showers until 8pm but you had to pay, which was fine, and they only have electric from 6-8pm at night, so we had to get our beds ready before the lights went out. We all sat around having a drink and waiting for dinner. Roger got his guitar out and, in our most 'traveller-type' moment yet, everyone in the group started singing along to Oasis and Beatles songs.

We were told we were having lasagne and everyone was looking forward to it. Turns out it was vegetable lasagne, which sounded good too. What came was onion and tomato, but predominately onion lasagne. It was disgusting, which was a shame after the nice meals we'd had on the tour so far, and most people couldn't even finish one tiny piece.

After 'dinner' we were given hot water bottles - we already had sleeping bags and duvets so I wondered how cold it was really going to be?! - and then the lights went off. We all decided to get our coats and hats on and go outside, so we took benches, drinks and Roger's guitar and just hung out until it got too cold Roger and Ken couldn't strum the guitar anymore.
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This is when we first saw the stars properly in South America. It was absolutely breathtaking! The sky was lit up so bright with thousands of stars, you could see the Milky Way sweeping across it, it was incredible. George took out his camera and tripod to get a shot, but even with his amazing camera, it didn't show half of what was actually there in the sky (again, we're going to try and get a picture of this for you). This made us really excited about our Stargazing evening in Chile in a couple of days, where we get to see the stars through massive telescopes too.

It was about 11pm when we were all frozen and tired enough to come inside. We got our thermals and socks on and got into bed. I'd put everyone's hot water bottles in their beds for them and Andrew's had leaked - oops! but I was glad it wasn't someone elses - so his sleeping bag was a little wet!

Then to sleep, ahead of our 4.30am start tomorrow!!

Posted by staceywaugh 05:13 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains animals birds desert volcanoes llamas flamingoes lagoons Comments (4)

Uyuni - Day 41

Uyuni Tour, Day One

22 °C

The starting day of our trip and Andrew woke up ill. He was throwing up and on the toilet, and in between, laying on the bed with a Dioralyte. Not a great start for Andrew unfortunately, but after another dioralyte and an Imodium instant, we got on our way to Red Planet.

As well as me, Andrew, Lucy and George, there were a couple of English girls, Caroline and Tash (who are in our jeep), three Canadians, Ken, Alan and Leah, a Welsh guy called Roger and a 62 year old American called Barry on our trip. Our guide Gonzalez speaks amazing English and our drivers Leonardo and Javier don't really speak any, but we can understand each other easy enough.

After picking up our sleeping bags, and changing into shorts as apparently it will be hot today, we get into our jeeps, which are a lot nicer and more comfortable than I expected. They have a lead so we can plug our iPhones in to play music, which meant that rather than listening to the drivers Bloodhound Gangs song, 'You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals...' we could enjoy Lauryn Hill, Marvin Gaye and other better music!

First stop was not very far from the town - the train cemetery, which was basically a dumping ground for old trains that used to run on the line from La Paz to Chile*. We were able to sit and jump on the trains, and some had swings, so it was quite fun and weird to see in the middle of nowhere. While we were there, they were filming some Bolivian dance routine and their outfits were pretty fancy!
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We then headed over to the salt factory, and the little town there, and on the way we saw our first of many Llamas on the trip.
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At the town, we were shown salt block buildings, statues (yes, of course Andrew would do this...see below!) and souvenirs, then the salt factory (fancy word for room here) where they make the salt blocks. We had a big lecture from Gonzalez, the first of many actually, about what Bolivia is best known for - someone said cocaine and he got a bit upset and told us why this wasn't true...for a long time. We bought a bag of salt from the man in the factory, who was showing us how they seal the bags of salt, for 10p and then left.
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We had lunch in a room with salt tables and chairs and we ate Llama for the first time. It was really tasty! After we had an amazing homemade apple pie/crumble (pie bottom and sides, crumble top), best dessert in South America bar none. Then it was on to the Salt flats.

In the car Let's Stay Together by Al Green was playing as we drove on the Salt Flats, so I think this will always remind me now of the blindingly bright white 'lake' of salt for as far as the eye can see. Gonzalez told us it's only 120cm of salt and then something like 60 metres of water underneath, so you're almost walking on water. The salt also forms a hexagonal shape pattern on the surface, which apart from here is only seen in nature in honeycomb.
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The salt flat was really beautiful and a bit surreal - I really did start to feel so far away from home - and we spent about an hour on there taking funny pictures that play with the perspective.
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There is also a salt hotel, where everything is, you guessed it, made of salt. They have a bunch of flags outside but no Union Jack - next person who is British and goes there, please sort this out!
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It was then took a hour or so journey to the place we were staying and throughout it there was fork lightning. I'd never seen so much, it was amazing.
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We arrived at the tiny town, it seemed like pretty much one street with a few coming off either side, and the house was just for us 11 so we all got a room each, which was nice as we all expected dorms for both nights of the trip. A group of young Bolivian boys were at the gates and wanted the guys in the group to play football with them, so they headed to the football pitch and took them on. I think the guys would admit that even with their 2 foot height advantage, the boys were much better than them! When it went dark, George got his camera and tripod and took some amazing pictures of the lightning - we'll try and get one from him to show you all.
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After showers we all gathered round the living area waiting for dinner and Gonzalez came in to give us lecture number two! I am joking around when I say this, as it was pretty interesting and he has a great speaking voice that sort of cuts the words he wants to emphasise in two (a bit like Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother with 'Legend...wait for it...Dary!', which kept us entertained. The talk tonight was on Bolivian history, which believe it or not started with talking about how there is no McDonalds in Bolivia, and consisted of it's former president and its new one, how what sounded like a civil war broke out in Bolivia in recent years because of the former president selling off Bolivian land, amongst many other things, and how children now have ID under the new president which helps keep them safe. Apparently people used to buy Bolivian children either to adopt them or - and I still cant quite get my head around this - use their organs for their own children. There was a lot more, it went on for about an hour, but it turns out McDonalds is no longer in Bolivia because people couldn't afford their burgers - they'd be getting 10 Bolivianos a week wage and a burger would be 70 Bolivianos. This seems unlike McDonalds to me, not to have thought about this before setting up there, so Gonzalez may have upped the price of a burger for dramatic effect.

With 11 of us from 6 different countries around the dinner table, we talked turned to our accents, our ways of saying certain things (e.g. apparently Canadians don't say half eight as a time, just eight thirty), the difference in horse riding techniques, major crimes of the last few years and some funny words we use for different parts of the body! But the 'Pierre de Resistance' (not forgotten you Jackie Kough) was Roger, who decided to wow everyone with his ability to tell you the day you were born on - he got them all right...even for Barry! - and told us he could recite Pi to 100 decimal places?! An interesting day, with lots of interesting people.

  • NB all the knowledge from the Uyuni trip was given to us by Gonzalez so we just trust it's true!

Posted by staceywaugh 05:08 Archived in Bolivia Tagged buildings trains football funny salt llamas salt_flats Comments (0)

Sucre to Uyuni - Day 40

Another bus journey...

19 °C

Another day, another bus. Today we headed to Uyuni, from where we'll start our 3 day tour tomorrow, setting off at 9am and not getting in until 5.30pm. Not the longest bus journey we've taken but it sure felt like it. Before we got on, they had to load the luggage onto the bus (like in La Paz we had to leave our bags at the ticket office) and they had a novel way of doing it. Lowering them one by one from the second floor on a hook!? Needless to say, we were late leaving.
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Half way through, they put a TV programme on called Spartacus - a shockingly bad show with orange corn syrup 'blood' shooting everywhere - that had violence and nudity every few minutes and they didn't seem to mind that the bus was full of children and teenagers. We stopped for a toilet break and grabbed some potatoes and chicken from a women on the side of the road, but we ended up feeding the chicken to the dogs it was so bad.

Back on the bus, after they almost left George and Lucy as they were last on, we took in some really different scenery - a desert-looking landscape, mountains with multicoloured rock and ruins, rows of cactus. On the way, we were watching a programme when the left hand side of the bus turned and gasped. We looked and there was a a coach just like ours overturned on the opposite side of the road. It was scary and reminded me how dangerous some of these roads were. I made a little friend after that though, which cheered me up - me and the sweet little Bolivian girl played hide and seek behind the seat.
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Pulling into Uyuni the amount of rubbish everywhere was the first thing I noticed, it's ridiculous. The town is, well if you can call it a town, just a few dusty streets. In the centre of the main road we were dropped off on, is a roundabout made of rubbish and dogs all around it. Two dogs were obviously overcome by the beauty of the spot and began humping, to which Andrew said "reminds me of my first time". Romantic!

The four of us headed straight to Red Planet to check in with them and pay for our tour. The streets weren't well marked, and we were navigating our way around roads called Arce and Colon that were making us giggle. We went the wrong way and Andrew said "we've gone too far up Arce and ended up the Colon". He was on form today!

After finding and registering at Red Planet we went to the hostel to find they didn't have our reservations. They tried to offer us a worse room (no bathroom) for more money so we left and found somewhere else. It was all really difficult with limited Spanish and reminder that I really want to learn when I get home. Lucy, George, Andrew and I had dinner at Minute Man Pizza, which is in a hotel and the only place tripadvisor recommends, and then went back to our hostels to prepare for the tour tomorrow and sleep.

Posted by staceywaugh 05:10 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains cactus baggage_handling Comments (2)

Sucre - Day 39

Horse riding with Andrew

21 °C

Following another fruit smoothie from the market to help with our minor hangover, we booked our bus tickets to Uyuni and our hostels in Uyuni and San Pedro de Atacama. I can't believe we're going to pay more than £50 a night for a hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, given that we only spent around £40 max anywhere in Brazil and Argentina, but this is the price you pay for a private room ensuite in a tourist (not just backpackers) hotspot in Chile.

Lucy and George had booked the horse riding with Joy Ride, who are a big tour company in Sucre, so we met there, picked up our packed lunches and got a lift to the stables near by. The guy at Joy Ride said Andrew should ride Hector, then laughed, which made Andrew nervous. But there was nothing to be nervous about, Hector was a big horse but not for someone of Andrew's height, and really gentle. I had the smallest - of course! - called Facon, which is apparently the name of the silver blade a Gaucho uses? So I just called him Silver! Lucy was on Jacob and George was on Rudy. George and I had riding experience, Lucy had a little and Andrew thinks he's been on a horse once before but isn't sure. IMG_1732.jpg

Our guide, Johnny - I'm not sure that's his real name? - is fantastic but doesn't speak English so Lucy had to translate for the rest of us. The start of the trek is across a road and then up a (yes you guessed it) steep, narrow hill, which Andrew wasn't too sure about..."How I do I make him do that", "What do I do when we're going downhill" and so on. Of course, the horses do it day in, day out so he needn't do anything but keep in the saddle. And I really enjoyed being able to tell him how to ride and answer questions about the horses in general, as usual he's the know it all!

After that it was up a main road and then into the hills and mountains and the scenery was amazing.
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We got to meet lots of locals along the way, who wanted to keep me or Lucy (not both, they weren't greedy) on their farms with them! Johnny told us the story of the Palace in the valley below, which has three towers - one is supposed to be Moroccan influenced, the other to look like the Tower of Pisa and the other Big Ben. And apparently the actual designer of Big Ben designed this tower?! Lucy laughed as she translated, it didn't look anything like it.
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The time had come, he asked us if we wanted to gallop and Andrew and Lucy agreed. After a quick "what do I do", we set off with the guide up front and it was so much fun. I kept looking back at Andrew to make sure he was still on the horse and he was! Bobbing around a bit but still in the saddle, and I was so impressed! Galloping on your second ever horse ride is quite something. Once we stopped I realised I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed horse riding, I really should try and do it more often.
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We stopped underneath a tree for lunch, chatting with Johnny about the horses and how long he'd been riding, and then we set off again and more galloping was on the cards. We got to a bumpy stretch of road, and off we went again. As we slowed, Johnny looked back to check everyone was together still and a voice from the back said "I think I've broken my anus"! It was Andrew, of course, and Johnny must have caught the meaning as he was laughing too! His anus was fine, if you were worried?!
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On the way back we galloped more, saw lots of children waving at the horses and saying hello to us, and on one stretch of road, Johnny had to thrown stones at the dogs as they came barking and showing their teeth at the horses.

At the stables we got to stroke a 2 month old foal, which was so tiny and soft. It's dad is a national jumping champion apparently, so the little thing will soon be bigger than Hector no doubt.
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I had such a lovely afternoon, and Andrew seemed to enjoy it too, and it we ended the day with a beer at Joy Ride.

After showers to get rid of the sweat and horse hair (the forgotten pleasures of horse riding!) we went for dinner at Concasse, ate pasta and risotto and drank Bolivian red wine, which was surprisingly good. We didn't stay out long though as our bums were too sore from the horse riding to sit there!

Posted by staceywaugh 05:45 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains horses horse_riding Comments (3)

Sucre - Day 38

Markets, Monasteries and the dancing man!

21 °C

Breakfast at Casa Verde was great, with fruit, yoghurt, juice, omelette and bacon, and we had good company too. We got talking to a lovely Australian couple called Nick and Caitlyn about our trips and gave each other advice. We also chatted to a couple from New Zealand who had been away from home for almost 2 years and had a nightmare getting into the B&B at 3.30am this morning. Their bus had got in 4 hours early, which in itself is remarkable given they don't set off on time here and the journeys are usually 25% longer than they tell you, so having nowhere else to go they came to the B&B expecting a night reception or similar. They knocked on the door but no one came, and this continued while they sat in the cold and dark hugging their belongings. They heard an American couple in the breakfast room a few hours later say "I think that's someone knocking on the door"/ "Well I'm not answering it". They were outside until around 7am when the man who ran the B&B let them in. They told him they'd been outside since 3.30am and he said "I know, the guests have been complaining about this noise". This led to a big argument, the guy saying they shouldn't have been knocking and he didnt have a room for them as they weren't supposed to be here til 7.30am, they said they didn't care about the room they just wanted to be off the street! Not a good start to their time in Sucre.

We booked our 3 day salt flats tour with Red Planet this morning, which were really looking forward to. It covers the Salar de Uyuni but also lagoons, geysers, hot springs and lots of different landscapes, and it drops us off in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. We had a look at hostels to stay at in Uyuni and San Pedro and they are both so expensive.

Andrew had discovered he'd lost his lifeadventure towel (sorry Steve & Kate!), he thinks it must have been when we did Death Road - Andrew survived it but the poor towel didn't - so we went on the hunt for a new towel. Tourist information told us to get the bus to this little village as it sold camping items, and after the short trip there we realised we weren't getting a travel towel! It was a long row of market stalls with a few that happened to sell a sleeping bag or a tent. We should have known. We decided to just get a normal towel, but Andrew being Andrew, he had to go to every towel stall and find out the price in order to make a decision. At one stall, we walked in and the man quickly glanced up then put his head down to read. We said 'ola' - a few times - 'disculpe' but nothing, he just kept his head down pretending to read, ignoring us. That's the first time someone has been rude to us on this trip, so not bad going after more than 5 weeks, but it wasn't very nice! And after all this, Andrew decides we'll look at the market in town for a towel, because the cheapest he found was the first one he looked at and it was down the other end of the village.

Back in Sucre proper, we hit the market and it is enormous. A big white building with two or three different levels housing meat, vegetables, fruit, dried food, toiletries, cleaning products, cafes and more potatoes than I've ever seen in my life! We (but Andrew particularly) love markets, you get to see all the different kinds of food a place has, what the people who live here really eat, see how they shop, eat and work. They're always a hive of activity within a town. This market has fruit juice stalls just like La Paz so we got a massive cup for about 80p.
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Andrew did have some trouble getting around it though!!!
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Today we walked the right way and found the viewpoint! It's up a steep hill (everything is up a steep hill at the moment!), which once again took our breath away, even though the altitude is a bit lower here. At the top there's a cobbled square and a monastery, and through the arches in front there is the impressive view over the pretty white buildings in the town and the mountains in the background.
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Under the arches is a cafe and we met up with Nick and Caitlyn from the B&B there for lunch and to chat more about our trips. It was a really hot afternoon and with the views it was a lovely place to spend it.
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On the way home we had some delicious biscuits from a woman with a cart on the street

Tonight we went to La Florin, a pub and restaurant we'd been recommended, and we ordered a Mexican sharer with burritos, nachos, quesadillas, dips, jalapenos, garlic bread and salad - delicious! George and Lucy came to meet us for a drink, they'd booked the Red Planet tour today too, and they told us they were thinking of going horse riding tomorrow. A few drinks later, we were going horse riding with them!

After beers, happy hour (9.30-10.30pm here) started and we ordered Mojitos and Caipirinhas, but you can't share the buy one get one free, so 8 drinks came for the four of us. Music started coming from the courtyard of the pub, which seems like a quiet little place when you arrive, so we headed out and it had turned into club with a DJ, light system, massive speakers either side of a stage, and everyone was drinking and dancing. The music was a mash up of just about every style I can think of and the place was filled with mainly students from the University and other travellers, who were dancing on the stage and standing on top of the tall speakers. However, there was one old boy, maybe in his late 70s, and everyone was trying to dance with him - maybe he was a local celebrity?! At one point, he did a forward roll to get on to the stage to dance! (That's not me dancing with him!!)
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As you can tell by the last sentence - it was a great night! And this is where we did our first Harlem Shake! Under the stars in Bolivia :)

Posted by staceywaugh 05:36 Archived in Bolivia Tagged animals markets views funny dancing monastery Comments (2)

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