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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 - 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)

Lima - Day 20

Foggy Lima Town

27 °C

After our 3am arrival we didn't get much sleep before having to get up for breakfast, so when we were given scrambled eggs and strawberry jam (not for eating together!), it made us feel better about being awake. We also had to start taking anti-sickness tablets this morning in preparation for being at altitude in Ollantaytambo and Cusco and throughout Peru and Bolivia...it should be interesting to see whether or how we react.

We only had one day in Lima so we got up and out, only to find that there was thick fog and mist rolling in from the sea, which meant you couldn't even see the top of a ten storey building.
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We walked towards the sea, but we have no idea what the view out was like?!The Miraflores area in Lima seems built for tourism, an area where visitors can feel safe in a city that doesn't have the best reputation. There were police and street cleaners everywhere, a nice promenade with sculptures, flowers and paved walkways.
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We walked down some steep steps in the cliff to get down to the sea. There were enormous birds in the water, alongside so many surfers, and we sat and watched for a while.
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A surfer guy told us it would be a good day for us to learn surf as we wouldn't burn our skin...obviously the Buenos Aires tan, if ever there was one, has faded! Down the opposite end was a pier, just like at the English seaside, but unfortunately they don't just take anyone on their Peruvian piers - Andrew was turned away for wearing shorts.
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So we tackled the long walk back up some more enormous steps in the cliff side and out of breath and sweaty, we headed to a shopping centre to cool down. Inside was a big supermarket, so we had a wander round and saw this, which made us giggle:
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We had lunch of falafel and chicken pittas and iced lemonade at a Turkish cafe called Tarboush and had a look in the shops. Around the square they have clothes shops that look like jumble sales, piles and piles of non-descript cheap clothing. Andrew was looking for another vest as it had been so hot, so he rummaged through the piles for ages pulling out women's vest after women's vest, to find nothing! I think he was a bit addicted in the end, trying to find a cheap deal.

Back at the hostel we had an email to say that in Ollantaytambo, the town we were supposed to be staying in when we flew into Cusco the next day, there had been a flood that had knocked out all the water to the hostel and some of the electric and communications. This was the first time we had to juggle our plans and we were worried we wouldn't be able to change our hostels around, but luckily it was a simple swap - we'd go to Cusco first and then Ollantaytambo to see Machu Picchu. I was concerned about the altitude as it would be worse for us starting off in Cusco, being higher than Ollantaytambo, and I was sad we couldn't go to Machu Picchu on Valentine's Day as planned, but obviously these were very minor things in comparison to the poor people of Ollantaytambo having their town and homes wrecked by floods!

That night we went for dinner at a Chifa restaurant in the square. This is a type of Chinese cooking in Peru that apparently uses Peruvian ingredients as substitute for those originally used in China that can't be found here. I didn't notice a great deal of difference taste-wise to be honest and I would have thought any traditional cuisine of another country in a new country would have to substitute some ingredients? So I assume I have oversimplified the description of Chifa! Anyway, we had steamed dumplings to start, I had an enormous three roast noodle dish and Andrew had a massive pork and rice dish. With drinks, the bill came to £15 - the start of the cheap food in our South American adventure.

We didn't make the most of Lima, mainly because we were tired, so after a walk around the tiny market in the square, we headed back to the hostel. On the way, we went down a street packed with bars and restaurants with people shouting and pestering for you to come in - it felt like being on the strip in touristy Spain or (closer to home for me, from my 'getting people into bars' days!) Ayia Napa, the only difference was instead of young men and women it was just old men. I think maybe they need a trip to Europe to see what works, or better, maybe just lose it altogether?

Posted by staceywaugh 13:43 Archived in Peru Tagged art birds fog funny mist pier seaside Comments (0)

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