A Travellerspoint blog

A summary of South America

The beginning of the end... Or the end of the beginning?

all seasons in one day 25 °C
View Team Dora explores Latin America on nzdora's travel map.

The beginning of the end?
After a magical 7.5 months, part one of the dream is over, but what a part it was. We set foot in 19 countries, from ultra-modern Japan to 1950’s Cuba. We spent more time together on the trip than in our previous 5 years of dating combined and are much closer for it.

Because we both love numbers, here are some key ones:

  • 230 days or 33 weeks
  • 7 electronic devices MIA (3 phones, 2 cameras, 1 tablet, 1 kindle), plus Peter's phone
  • NZ$19,406 spent per person including flights (excluding immunisations, medicines and equipment from NZ) at an average of $68 per person per day (excluding flights).
  • 15 flights - 6 international, 3 stopover and 6 domestic
  • Ascended above 5,000m on Mt Chimborazo, one of four peaks which are further from the centre of the earth than the top of Everest
  • 34 UNESCO world heritage sites visited
  • 18 passport stamps from different countries, plus just-for-fun stamps at Machu Picchu and Galapagos Islands, and although we have no stamp we crossed the border into Paraguay when visiting the Itiapu Dam
  • Met up with 6 old friends (Ceri, Rosina, Luke, Michael, Morgan, Peter), and made many new friends

In November, at roughly the halfway point of our trip, we posted a summary of Central America http://nzdora.travellerspoint.com/53/. In a similar fashion, we'd like this blog to reflect our impressions of each country, indicate our favourites, and set out costs in NZD.

Here's the rundown since the start of December:

Colombia
We'd had this diverse country recommended many times and it lived up to its reputation as evolving, welcoming and beautiful. We saw graffiti from a fresh perspective on a Bogota street art tour, before jetting it to Cartagena - a gorgeous colonial town crossed with a Gold Coast resort. Still in the North we saw jungle bordering Caribbean beaches at Palomino and the beautiful Tayrona National Park before we met Luke in Minca for bird watching. Another flight followed to Medellin to learn about Colombia's contrasting history, before we explored the coffee region, with giant palm trees and gunpowder games before we had to rush down to Ecuador.
large_060_-_Colo.._at_Guatape.jpg
Even though we had almost a month here we missed at least half of the country. What we did see blew us away - Colombians are proud of their huge positive changes and social projects, and are intensely happy to have both safety and the accompanying increase in tourism. The nature is diverse and beautiful and we want to visit again, time willing. Our rich experiences here cost each of us a paltry $45 per day - only El Salvador and Guatemala were cheaper.

Ecuador (mainland)
A country dealing in USD, prices seem to be higher… although we seemed to get away with it, again spending $45 each per day. Because of the prices we became more frugal and mainly ate fried chicken!

The famous Otavalo markets had an amazing selection of merchandise, but everything there was cheaper in Peru or Bolivia. We straddled the equator on Christmas in Quito, then cycled and rafted in Baños. We then ascended Mt Chimborazo for another cycle - but first had coca tea at over 5,000m - further from the centre of the earth than the top of Everest!
large_066_-_Ecua..han_Everest.jpg
We didn't expect much from Ecuador and were pleasantly surprised - although we did travel on the cheap. We slowed down a little in Ecuador but still did a lot of activities in Baños. Ecuador was nice but didn't really offer anything which wasn't available elsewhere in South America, generally cheaper.

Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
Our favourite place on the trip, a week (beginning New Year's Eve) was enough to see inquisitive animals galore. We enjoyed private day tours around San Cristobal and Santa Cruz islands, and a snorkelling trip on a boat to Santa Fe.
large_070_-_Gala..ant_friends.jpg
Pricey even with care (although we made sure we actually experienced it) at $180 per person per day including return flights from the mainland. We would highly recommend Galapagos to even budget conscious travellers - you can save cash by not booking a cruise or hotels in advance.

Peru
After enjoying the beach, cervezas and ceviche at Mancora, we met Michael, Morgan and Peter in Lima. We caught up, explored, then flew to Arequipa. Here some of us struggled with altitude or tummy bugs while hiking down then up the stunning Colca Canyon.
large_072_-_Peru..in_arequipa.jpg
We laughed (Morgan!) through white water rafting then moved on to Cusco to acclimatise for the five day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. To prepare ourselves, we visited Inca sites in the Sacred Valley, and enjoyed a cooking class. Then the hardest two days of the trek were up first, followed by walking, hotpools, ziplining, and even a hostel bed, before the epic final day up to, onto and exploring the unique Machu Picchu site itself. We bid Michael and Morgan farewell, then continued as three to Puno, on Lake Titicaca. We visited the floating islands, and dressed up on Amantani.

Peru cost us $72 per person per day - including several tours, great food and even better company. It was largely touristy, but easy to experience the high quality attractions. We also splashed out more often on food, choosing to eat at touristy places more often rather than sticking to the $2-3 local fare which is on offer everywhere.

Bolivia
We began Bolivia in Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. From here we thoroughly enjoyed a two day trip to Isla del Sol - where the Incas believed the sun was born. After stopping in La Paz, we biked down “death road” before continuing on a deadly bus to Rurrenabaque, a town in the Amazon. Here we enjoyed an inexpensive 6 day Amazon tour with our favourite guide Jose.
large_082_-_Boli..sla_del_sol.jpg
We saw the largest Jesus statue in the world at Cochabamba, saw dinosaur footprints in rugged Torotoro national park, then settled down in Sucre. This had the prettiest architecture (yay for Peter) and is the wealthiest city in Bolivia. Sucre also had surprisingly interesting history as the seat of the revolution of the new world against the Spanish. We then toured the silver mines and the mint at Potosi, witnessing the harsh reality for the locals.

The salt flats tour speaks for itself through (Peter's) photos - but our best call was listening to Peter's pleading for an extra sunset tour.
large_089_-_Boli..n_the_water.jpg
We found Bolivians hospitable, and poor but happy. The food was very bland and carb-heavy (rice with potatoes and sometimes also chips). There were, however, many excellent attractions in the country with generally young, budget travellers who were usually adventurous and friendly. We would recommend it to anyone who can do without the luxuries and who wants to see great variety at low cost. It was also surprisingly easy to travel through, and we just turned up at bus stations and towns and found seats or accommodation easily. For $58 each per day our Bolivian trip included regular activities/tours and most of our shopping and gifts.

Chile
We stayed four days in San Pedro de Atacama. The landscapes in the Atacama desert (driest place in the world save Antarctica) were truly unique, and oddly enough it rained for us.
large_091_-_Chil..runner_rock.jpg
In Chile we appreciated all the things about being in a first world country - although we paid good money to enjoy the good food. Despite undertaking very few activities and cooking for ourselves, we spent $60 per day each.

Argentina
We were fortunate to hit Argentina shortly after a rapid 45% devaluation in the peso. Consequently we enjoyed fine wines and tasty empanadas (meat pastries) at low cost in the Salta region. After visiting the coloured mountains, and the wine region at Cafayate, we bussed across the top of Argentina to Puerto Iguacu, where we stayed for visits to the extensive and phenomenal Iguacu falls.
large_095_-_Arge..ng_Cafayate.jpg
At $59 each per day, we enjoyed ourselves and did a little shopping. I would expect prices to shift less in tourists’ favour as the peso settles. A fantastic, easy and pretty country where kiwis will feel at home.

Brazil
We saw the world’s second largest dam, Itiapu (Laura! it was impressive), and then the Brazil side of the impressive Iguacu falls. Communication was difficult as many Brazilians don't speak English or Spanish.
large_098_-_Braz..acu_rainbow.jpg
We sent Peter back to Argentina, then went on to the modern and wealthy city of Sao Paolo (although there were many homeless), where we splashed out on good food and managed to unknowingly stumble upon a million person political protest - and feature as ignorant tourists in the L.A. Times (http://www.latimes.com/world/brazil/la-fg-brazil-impeachment-20160313-story.html)... before returning home.

Brazil cost just $67 per person per day, which was excellent value considering the lovely food in Sao Paulo and a fair bit of shopping. We look forward to coming back but not to being unable to communicate again.

Top 5 places & experiences
Since returning home, everyone has been asking about our favourite parts of the trip. Here goes a debatable (chronological) list or two...
Cities & towns: San Juan del Sur (Nicaragua), San Cristobal de las Casas (Mexico), Mazunte (Mexico), Guatape (Colombia), Sucre (Bolivia)
Experiences & trips: Nagaoka Peace Festival Fireworks (Japan), Spanish school and host family at San Pedro la Laguna (Guatemala), Day of the Dead (Mexico), Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu (Peru)

This is merely the end of the beginning…
Many more life & travel adventures to be had. Watch this space

Love you all,
DORA

Posted by nzdora 08:55 Comments (1)

Briefly in Brazil

Iguacu, Sao Paolo and HOME!!!

overcast 26 °C

Reunited, the three of us bussed to Iguacu - but it wasn't the luckiest start... unfortunately Peter's phone fell out of his pocket and was left on the bus, never to be seen again.

We found a place to stay and went in search of another atm and some supplies for lunch the next day. Overnight there was a terrific thunder and lightning storm which continued for the entire next day so we decided to delay our visit to the Argentina side of the Iguacu falls. In the rain, we took our packed lunch (and our passports) across the border to Brazil to see the Itiapu Dam which is between Brazil and Paraguay. Everyone on the bus got their passports stamped to leave Argentina. We were then one of a few who got off to check into Brazil... And then our bus drove away!!! Apparently signing into the Brazilian migration is completely optional and it took approximately thirty seconds as no-one else was there apart from us and the four bored-looking border personnel, no pun intended. Unfortunately our bus company only had one bus per hour so we had to wait a full hour before another one came along and picked us up.

Eventually we made it to the dam and signed in, a little late as we hadn't expected to spend an entire hour extra waiting at the border. I had some trouble as my shorts didn't cover my knees as required by the safety regulations. Fortunately the friendly ladies lent me a ginormous pair of pants, and a nice Brazilian guy on our tour lent me his belt! We were finally kitted up and good to go.

Disclaimer: this is coming from an engineer's perspective so not everyone might find this as interesting as I did.
I loved the dam tour!!! The dam was built from 1975-1984 and was a joint project between Brazil and Paraguay. It was the largest hydroelectric dam in the world until the Three Gorges Dam in China was built (and is still the second biggest). The entire dam is over 7km long and it provides about 80% of Paraguay's electricity and 17% of Brazil's. The scale of everything was mind-boggling and the heavy rain that day created one positive - the lake was almost full so they had opened the spillway (i.e. bypass), which only happens occasionally as they can't make electricity from the water which goes down the spillway. The power of the water gushing down was phenomenal, when the gates are fully open the capacity is FOUR times the normal flow over the Iguacu falls. Anyway, the tour was great and I really enjoyed it, although I'm not sure the boys matched my enthusiasm levels.
DSCN0261.jpg
DSCN0267.jpg

On our way back we once again ran into trouble as we figured we had to sign out of Brazil but once again were the only ones who got off the bus so we had to wait for the next bus, but fortunately David's big smile and top quality Spanish chat won us a free ride with an empty bus from a different company. That evening we walked to the Argentinean lookout over the "three borders" - a junction in the river which separates Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.
DSCN0289.jpg

The next day the weather was MUCH better, a bit cloudy but no rain. We went straight for the famous 'devil's throat' waterfalls in the Argentinean Iguacu park, which had a phenomenal amount of water rushing over it, almost too much as we could hardly see the other side through the water vapour rising from the falls.
IMG_8585.jpg

After viewing the devil's throat - the most vigorous of the falls - we walked around the park for views underneath and above the rest of the falls. From the Argentinean side we had a very close up view of the majority of the extensive falls. The park was huge, and there were some cute coetzees which had got a bit too tame around the tourist lunch spots.
DSCN0286.jpg
DSCN0276.jpg

That evening we ate empanadas for the umpteenth time as we knew they would be much harder to find in Brazil.
DSCN0240.jpg

The next day we again visited Brazil - this time to see the more panoramic views from this side of the falls. This felt a whole lot more like a tour, with a bus taking you to a viewpoint and then everybody walking the main trail along the falls. The views were probably more spectacular than the Argentina side, being further away let you see more of the falls at the same time but you couldn't get anywhere near as close. We only stayed for a few hours but still really enjoyed it.
large_2014_0201_172433_002.jpg

That afternoon we said goodbye to Peter who was flying out from Buenos Aires and jumped on a 17 hour bus to our last stop, Sao Paulo. We splashed out and got the full reclining seats which made for a really nice journey and we were relatively refreshed the next morning when we arrived in Sao Paulo. We found our accommodation and a fantastic cafe right outside where we ended up having breakfast every morning we were in the city. They had some fantastic freshly ground coffee grown locally. The language in Brazil was actually quite challenging - we had thought that we could just use Spanish but it was a bit more difficult than that. We generally tried speaking in Spanish which most people could understand but we felt a bit bad coming to a country with just the bare essentials of the language after being able to speak the local language for so long.

We visited a craft market which had some beautiful items - antique jewelry, record players, old cameras etc. The price difference was very noticeable, Brazil was considerably more expensive even compared to Argentina. We found an amazing vegan restaurant in the area and ate ourselves silly - we hadn't had so much fresh vegetables and salad in a long time. After that we visited the Havaiana store which had an absolutely amazing selection of jandals and bought some to bring home.
90_20160312_122512.jpg20160312_133826.jpg

The next day was a Sunday so we decided to go for a walk along Paulista Avenue, one of the main streets in Sao Paulo which is closed to traffic on Sundays to let people exercise. It turns out that a anti-government protest with more than half a million people was going on at the moment. The atmosphere was actually really relaxed, with a lot of families out for the day and everyone on the same side - very few people will disagree with a protest against government corruption which is costing the country billions of dollars a year at a time when their economy is already shrinking. We didn't stick around too long - I hate crowds and it was pretty difficult to walk anywhere in among all the people. Unfortunately, because of the protests all the museums we had planned to visit were closed. We did meet a reporter and managed to get featured in the LA Times though!!!
http://www.latimes.com/world/brazil/la-fg-brazil-impeachment-20160313-story.html
90_20160313_130846.jpg

That afternoon we headed to the Japanese part of town as Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population of any city outside Japan! We tried the Brazilian cocktails caipirinhas which were super strong - one each was definitely enough for the afternoon. We ate a chinese noodle stir fry for dinner which was super tasty, we have actually missed the asian food which is so readily available back home.
20160313_160840.jpg

On our last day of our holiday we did our own walking tour of the CBD. This included a number of churches, a cathedral, and a beautiful opera house. An unexpected bonus was our visit the stock exchange, which included a free tour in english about the history of the Sao Paulo markets, a mini museum, and a 3d video (with glasses) on how the stock market works!!! Probably nothing worth going too far out of your way to see but when we arrived with no expectations whatsoever it turned out to be fantastic.
20160314_121703.jpg

We then climbed one of the tall buildings for a view of the city. It is absolutely enormous, with giant skyscrapers stretching way into the distance. We met a local guy and a friend of his and tagged along with them to the municipal markets. The markets were much more calm and organised than elsewhere, and we sampled some interesting berries and fruits - my favourite was the custard apple which was absolutely delicious. We had a leisurely dinner and then headed to the airport. Everything went smoothly and we arrived a cool 5 hours before our flight was due to leave.
2014_0204_210941_002.jpg

Our flights home were via Dubai which, while long, were uneventful and we were glad to see mum and Peter at the airport when we arrived safe and sound back on New Zealand soil!!! We really enjoyed Brazil and are keen to go back and see more of it. It was very multi-cultural and vibrant, although poverty was evident.
DSC03851.jpg

The end

Posted by nzdora 19:05 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Argentina's North

A surprisingly difficult last journey through Argentina

sunny 28 °C

With the bus finally able to pass through the Andes from Chile to Argentina, we enjoyed the 8 hour bus ride through beautiful scenic mountains into Salta, the largest city in the north of Argentina. We found a nice hostel in Salta and headed straight our for a late dinner. The friendly owner suggested a nearby place to buy empanadas, which Salta is famous for. We shared a dozen meat empanadas ($8) which were absolutely delicious, thin shells of baked pastry stuffed with chunks of beef and veges. We added ½ a litre of Argentina wine when we realised it cost $3. It turned out to be the best wine so far in our entire trip, although to be honest that isn't saying much.

The next day we had a look around Salta, which seemed to be winning a competition against itself for the brightest coloured cathedrals. It was a really nice city and felt a lot more developed and familiar than anywhere we had been in a long time.
IMG_8447.jpg

We also visited a museum which had a lot of old artefacts, including ancient voodoo dolls and well preserved mummies of Incan children who had been sacrificed. After our amazing experience with empanadas the night before it wasn't hard to persuade the boys to visit the ‘Patio of Empanadas’, an open patio with about ten shops, all selling various types of empanadas. Every single one was delicious, although only Peter was adventurous enough to try the tripe one!!!

The next day we had booked a tour up north to see the hills famous for their many colours and the 33rd UNESCO world heritage site we had visited on our trip. Our guide was excellent and also gave us a really good explanation of the history of the area, which was particularly bloody as it changed hands multiple times during the war of independence with the Spanish. After retracing the last 2 hours of our bus ride from Chile we arrived at the cute town of Pumamarca, which is very popular with tourists due to the seven coloured mountains which can be viewed from the town. We were suitably impressed.
large_IMG_8459.jpg
Seven coloured mountains

IMG_8458.jpg
The market

IMG_8466.jpg
Anoher stop at ruins in the valley which used to be a trading outpost

The other main stop was at Humahuaca, a similarly touristy town which is famous for the fourteen coloured mountains which were ok but nothing special. We also stopped at an early 1600's church and another set of colourful mountains, called the 'painters palate' which were nice in the afternoon sun.
large_IMG_8475.jpg
The painters palate

We arrived back in Salta quite late and made the easy decision to get empanadas from the place we went on our first night again. Peter wasn't feeling well the next day, I blame a delayed reaction from the tripe empanadas a couple of days earlier, so David and I explored solo for the day. We went to another museum which was 100% in spanish and looked at all sorts of mildly interesting displays like old vases, cloth, pictures of stern faced revolutionary leaders, and religious paintings. The highlight was the veranda, which had a lovely view of the main plaza. We then had a look in the markets and learnt to be careful when ordering food here, our meal for two was gigantic!!! Most of the shops closed from 2-4 so we decided a siesta was in order. When we woke up at around 5 we were still full from lunch, so we decided to climb the hill which overlooks Salta. It was a really nice climb, with greenery along the road, although it took us about 3 hours return.

The next day the three of us had booked another tour, this one to the wine country of Cafayate, which is in some lists of the most romantic cities in the world. The drive was beautiful and we passed through some very diverse countryside.
IMG_8501.jpgIMG_8493.jpg

We got lunch at the famous Casa de Empanadas and bought more empanadas of course. These were amazing, with blue cheese, goat cheese, and some amazing local flavours. After that we toured a local vineyard and tried the first of the local wines which were fantastic. The late harvest wines were too sweet for us but the rest were fantastic, and we were interested to taste the white wine from the Torrontes grape which the region is famous for.

On our first morning we tried to withdraw cash and it was here where we first ran into trouble. We had exchanged some US dollars which has lasted us for the first few days but now needed some cash from an ATM. Having not had trouble anywhere else we assumed that Argentina, being more developed, would be a breeze. There were only 2 ATM's in Cafayate, and the banks didn't open on the weekends (we had arrived on Friday night). One of the ATM's didn't work with our cards and the other has run out of cash! We queued up for an hour a second time after they topped up the ATM at 10am but the ATM ran out of money before we reached the front of the queue!!! We counted our money and had about $14 between the three of us until we got back to Salta in 2 days time! We managed to make it last by restricting our vineyard visits and food options to places which would accept payments by credit card.

We visited some amazing vineyards but our clear favourite was El Transito, which had both delicious wine and a friendly, rugby-obsessed owner - we got in really well and ended up purchasing a fair amount of wine, some of which might even make it back to New Zealand!!! The first night we had a delicious Argentinean dinner with am amazing steak - the excuse of needing to pay with credit card 'forced' us to splash out on a nice meal.
IMG_8572.jpg
El Transito

That evening we tried Fernet, an Italian liquor which is very popular in Argentina and to be honest we hated it. We spent the last of our cash money on more empanadas for dinner and the next day we had ate bread for breakfast at our hostel and then were starving when arrived in Salta at 3. We finally found a working ATM and got a fantastic lunch, before discovering our next mishap. The laundromat where we had left our washing which we had left a couple of days earlier was shut as it was Sunday, and we had already booked an overnight bus out of town. Peter and Laura were keen to forgo the washing but David decided he would wait and bought another bus ticket for the next day.

Peter and I set off that night, leaving David to a night alone in Argentina. Our overnight bus arrived in Resistencia, halfway across Northern Argentina to Iguacu falls, early the next morning and we spent a reasonably quiet day looking around. It is famous for its sculptures which, while numerous, were not particularly varied or interesting. Meanwhile, David had found a hostel and become a walking, talking advert for travel in Bolivia for other tourists. After his extra day in Salta during our bus ride he caught an overnight to catch up to us.

The next morning we met David and our washing and jumped straight on another 10 hour bus to Iguacu - where we saw the final amazing nature of the trip and got our first taste of Brazil.

Posted by nzdora 17:17 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

A dash of Chile (and a dash more)

San Pedro de Atacama (and San Pedro de Atacama once again)

semi-overcast 20 °C

The Atacama desert is the second driest place in the world behind Antarctica. Incredibly it rained for us. Lucky us?

In fact, when we tried to cross the Andes to Argentina, the snow had closed the pass - stranding us for an extra two days. Fortunately this wasn't a terrible place to be stranded.

We arrived at 10am, tired from our 4am start on the salt flats tour. Immediately we noticed a difference from Bolivia - we had gone from South America's poorest country to its equal richest. The food was more varied and included fresh vegetables, the accommodation was nicer, and the bathrooms had toilet paper.
P1040598.jpg

We met an eccentric Hawaiian-shirt-clad man called Christian who appeared on his bike every time we walked out of a hostel, offering to show us the way to the best price in town - so we went to his place, a little way out but comfortable, and it included a kitchen and decent wifi. All the prices in town were more than twice that in Bolivia.
2016-02-27_06_50_32.jpg
After lunch with Lisa (a kiwi that we met on the shuttle from the border) we took a nap, undertook some research and explored the town. Although we had read about renting bikes to visit the valley of the moon, nobody would let us rent their bikes due to the impending rain and the damage that the salty mud slush would do to the bikes.

That night the storm came, but before the clouds came we did go for a walk to see if we could see the stars. The next morning the three of us took a run to the ruins of the hillside fort of the Atacama people, which allowed us to truly see San Pedro - in the middle of an empty desert, San Pedro is an oasis of green next to the river which flows from the Andes.
large_2016-02-26_09_53_46.jpglarge_2016-02-26_09_52_58.jpg
After we met up with Lisa again we booked a sunset tour of the valley of the moon - which was spectacular. We drove to various scenic spots before seeing the day end from the top of a ridge overlooking salty outcrops of rock and an immense sand dune.
large_FF629394C86D00A9C2B33ED29D030840.jpg

The next morning we had planned to bus over the Andes to Argentina, but overnight the storm had snowed in the pass. The pass didn't open this day, so we decided to try again the next morning. We used the afternoon to relax, eat and catch up on all things internet. One added bonus was the beautiful snow on the mountains on the horizon.
large_P1040619.jpg

The next morning we again tried to leave and despite the pass being opened, the only scheduled bus had preemptively been cancelled. We again tried to find other forms of transport (eg minivans or taxis) but the bus companies have a monopoly at this time of year. We booked a bus for the next morning - what would be our fourth of the two we had planned. This plan had the added bonuses that both Peter and I could watch a game of football each, we could visit the meteor museum across the road, and that we could try to see the famously clear night sky.

The meteor museum was professional and explained the different stages of earth's development and the role meteors have played.
P1040621.jpg
After the museum we enjoyed a home cooked dinner and then walked out of town to sit by the river to stare at the stars. Peter had downloaded a night sky app so we were able to identify all the visible celestial bodies.

Even though we spent two extra days in Chile, we weren't worried. We really enjoyed the small part we saw and particularly the tasty restaurant food and other first world reminders. We look forward to coming back to visit Chile one day.

Posted by nzdora 09:12 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Walking with dinosaurs

The second half of Bolivia - at altitude in Cochabamba, Torotoro, Sucre, Potosi, Uyuni

rain 13 °C

We arrived back in La Paz and our first feeling was relief at the much more livable temperature, having gone from about 200m to 4,000m above sea level. We checked back into our old hostel and had a quiet afternoon, eventually going out for dinner with our Swiss/Dutch/Australian friends from our Amazon tour at a nice place they recommended. We played cards with them (I think this is a major part is why we got on so well) and enjoyed more friends time.

The next day Laura and Peter made a start on souvenir shopping as we are finally getting close enough to the end of our trip to warrant the extra weight. The variety of merchandise available was quite amazing.

We bid La Paz goodbye and jumped on a bus to Cochabamba, the culinary capital of Bolivia. Unbeknownst to us, we arrived at about 8pm on their biggest carnival party night. We had some trouble finding accommodation, for the first time in our trip. We had places turn us away because they were full of people from all over Bolivia and the world. It was almost ten by the time we found somewhere, but we had sure wandered through a lot of the city and seen a lot of people in some amazing outfits. We decided to pass on going out and instead set out early the next morning. We explored the market La Cancha which is the largest in South America. It was all local stuff and we had had enough very quickly. We got a cable car up to a Christ statute which is the tallest statute of Jesus in the world!!! (Technically there is one in Poland which is larger if you include the height of the platform and the crown).

large_DSCN0136.jpg

Afterwards we walked to the start point for a "bike art tour" but we ended up exploring some of the street art ourselves because the tour only had one free spot when we arrived.

large_P1040454.jpg

That evening Peter wasn't feeling great so he opted to spend a couple of days convalescing while David and I got a 6pm bus to the 'nearby' national park of Torotoro which didn't arrive until 12:30am. We met up with three other tourists (the only other ones on the bus) and started hunting for hostels that were open. After about 20 minutes of knocking on closed doors (many of which had signs that promised 24 hour reception) even the park benches were looking appealing, but eventually Lily came to the door at Hostal Las Hermanas.

We woke all too soon so that we could arrange a group and a guide for a full day at the park at Ciudad de Ida ("City of Rocks") and Cueva Humajalanta (Bolivia's longest cave passage). The three others from the night before joined us, alongside driver Jose and guide Jesus. The national park sits near the ridge of the Pacific and South American tectonic plates, consequently there are many exposed layers of earth from historical times - including footprints from the times of the dinosaurs. Jesus called the park a "history book".

large_P1040460.jpg

At the city of rocks we did a 3 hour loop hike. The views of the exposed layers was amazing from where we began.

DSCN0154.jpg

We saw some interesting caves, rocks that looked like animals, ancient cave paintings, and old Bolivian ladies looking after flocks of sheep and goats.

DSCN0159.jpg

After completing the walk with panoramic views over the strange layered rocks, we returned to the van to drive to the caves. Before entering the caves, however, we had a look at three sets of dinosaur footprints left in the mud 80 million years ago.

large_DSCN0171.jpg

After clambering over rocks, squeezing through small gaps, and sliding down parts of the cave on our rear ends, we returned to the town of Torotoro.

DSCN0183.jpg

We didn't plan on the five hour walk to the waterfall the next day, but this included a larger set of dinosaur footprints. Instead we opted to see these that evening with our driver Jose. This was hugely impressive - the different species, the clarity of the prints and the fact that they were all apparently heading North together.

large_DSCN0190.jpg

The next day we ate at the local market where we'd eaten all our food in Torotoro town, bid farewell to the giant dinosaur statues overlooking the church from the centre of the square, and caught a van back to meet Peter in Cochabamba. Unfortunately the road from Torotoro to our next stop, Sucre, hasn't been built yet, so returning to Cochabamba was effectively going the wrong way for five hours. The three of us caught up over dinner and then found an overnight bus to Sucre, which again (like our bus to Rurrenabaque) arrived at 4am - hours earlier than expected. The bus trip was reasonably eventful as we stopped in the middle of the night to tow another bus which had slipped partly over the cliff!

Luckily Laura had bookmarked the location of a decent hostel, who let us check in at 7am - and so we slept during the day, ate, did washing, and explored the market which we would return to several times in the next two days. We had decided that we were better off relaxing and taking "rest days" in the less expensive Bolivia than spending more time (and money) later in Chile, Argentina or Brazil.

While in Sucre we visited a dedicated dinosaur park and museum. Excavations for a concrete factory had revealed hundreds of tracks in the side of the cliff making up the largest area of dinosaur tracks in the world - the flat surface which had been walked 65 million years ago is today at a sheer 70 degrees!

IMG_7788.jpglarge_IMG_7790.jpgIMG_7805.jpg

That night we walked up to a cafe with a lookout over Sucre.

IMG_7741.jpg

In Sucre we learnt a lot about Bolivia's history and politics. Peter and I visited the House of Liberty - an historic building where Bolivia's independence was signed, the original Argentinean flag is housed, and where there are many artefacts and paintings from Bolivia's turbulent history. We filled in the rest of our time in Sucre by shopping, eating and enjoying the beautiful public squares and buildings.

IMG_7857.jpg

After taking the short bus to Potosi, we enjoyed a huge carnivorous dinner for $8 each including a beer. Potosi is an important silver mining town which in the 17th century mined and minted 80% of the coins produced globally (at this time the Spanish currency was globally recognised - a sort of USD of the time). The town is now well into its decline, with the low quality and quantity of metal able to be extracted today and the low global silver price.

On our first full day in Potosi we went on a tour of one of the active mines. The group purchased gifts for the miners, which our guide Willie handed to the miners we met on the way - which did make them more glad to see tourists than they would have been otherwise. At the start of the tour we pushed Laura in the minecart into the mountain, and at the end we gifted coca leaves to a devil statute, and sat to learn about the superstitions, jokes and comradery of the miners.

large_DSCN0207.jpgDSCN0220.jpg

That afternoon we took an excellent tour of the House of Money - formerly the busiest mint in the world. Over the three centuries of the Spanish colonial exploitation of silver in Potosi had a huge human cost - with eight million deaths of indigenous Bolivian and African American slaves shared between the mines (accidents, silicosis) and the mint (mercury fumes from the fire, losing fingers in the press and overwork).

The next day was referendum day in Bolivia (which we now know was lost 49% to 51%). I have to correct from our last blog that the president hadn't already changed the constitution to allow himself a third term, in fact a court ruled that his second term in reality was in fact his "first term" under the new constitution. Due to the referendum, everything was closed and we knew we couldn't get to Uyuni. We had a quiet day, but did manage to walk to top of hill for a view of town and of the famous mining mountains.

IMG_7890.jpg

After our enforced day off, we set out for Uyuni - but not before we toured the San Francisco monastery. Although we were shown Bolivian paintings of Jesus (which depict the Romans wearing Spanish conquistador clothes), bones in the crypt, and the church itself, the activity which impressed us most was the 360 view of Potosi from the roof.

DSCN0226.jpg

We were efficient on arrival in Uyuni - finding accommodation, booking the classic three day tour and also a night visit to the salt flats for sunset that day. To Peter's delight, there were vast areas of the flats covered by a few centimeters of water - making for a giant mirror. In particular this made for a unique sunset.

large_IMG_7988.jpglarge_IMG_7975.jpg

There were too many clouds to see stars, but instead we enjoyed a fierce thunderstorm on the horizon until the driver told us we should probably get going earlier than planned due to the weather change.

large_IMG_8023.jpg

The salt flats are a photographer's heaven. Unfortunately for us our time was curtailed there - partly because the water on the salt flats meant that our three day tour took a modified route where we had an extra three hours driving on the first day (the only day on the slat flats) and partly because we started an hour late due to the disorganization of our tour company. Despite this being the worst tour company we have had (due to misinformation, broken promises to the others in our group, delays and the guide being inflexible), we made the most of our time on the flats. At the time the white was too bright to see, but looking at the photos afterwards we were very happy.

We started the tour at the train graveyard.
IMG_8056.jpg

Tourists often use the expansive flats to play tricks with perspective - and we were no different…

large_IMG_8089.jpg

We had hoped that our guide would bring a dinosaur toy (as many tour companies do) so that we could continue our waking with dinosaurs theme, but instead we had to make do with yet again meeting a giant unicorn.

IMG_8071.jpg

After enjoying the dry part, and visiting a “salt hotel”, we also stopped at an underwater area to add to our photos from the night before.

large_IMG_8165.jpg

Because of the water, we then turned back to the town of Uyuni and drove anther few hours to our overnight stop. The next day we joined back up with the usual route, visiting four lagoons in the flat highlands between Bolivia and Chile. We saw flamingos in lagoons backed by snowy mountains and climbed unusual rock formations.

large_IMG_8286.jpg

At our final lake - the red coloured Lake Colorado, we saw the unusual sight of one llama having its way with a female, only for another llama to gallop over and push him out of the way - taking his place!

P1040585.jpgP1040587.jpg

On the third and final day of our salt flats tour (and our last day in Bolivia), we woke up at 4am so that we could visit a geyser for sunrise and then a hot pools at 8am before we finished the tour at the Chilean border at 9am. At the border the officials only let one or two people into the room at a time - and we are fairly sure they tried to scam everyone one by one. They asked us to pay around $3 to exit the country, flashing an official looking piece of paper. When we insisted on a receipt they quickly pivoted and said - you were on an expensive salt flats tour? Your tour included the exit fee. Of course our tour was the cheapest we could find, and didn't even include the $2 entry to the hot pools (which we had been promised when we booked).

On reflection the salt flats were among the most unique places we have visited and we are glad we did it - even if the tour covered the bare minimum. We have some incredible photos (especially from Peter) which we didn't even appreciate fully at the time. At this point we waved farewell to the picturesque, underdeveloped, inexpensive and welcoming Bolivia.

Posted by nzdora 15:38 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 29) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 »