After the excitement of Machu Picchu we jumped on yet another bus and headed for Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian/Bolivian border. The small town (Puno) that we arrived at on the Peruvian side had little to offer so we took the first boat of the day to the floating islands, had lunch with the village chief and then hot footed it across the boarder into Bolivia.
The first town we hit in Bolivia was Copacabana where we spent a couple of days. On the first day we met a couple of nice girls from Denmark and took a boat to Isla Del Sol with them the next day. The island itself was both stunning and interesting - once was used as an ancient ceremonial ground for sun worshippers.
AFter a long day on the very choppy lake there was little else to do than go partying which resulted in getting locked out of our accomodation due to returning home way after the little known about hostal curfew... however, after an argument in spanish and a monetary bribe we were allowed back to our beds for some much needed sleep.
Still getting on well with the Danish girls, we decided to travel together via bus to Lapaz. Arriving at the bus stop we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had the whole bus to the four of us. A few hours into the journey - just as we were nodding off to pass the time we were ordered off the bus and onto a tiny passenger boat to cross the lake - our bus precariously followed on what can only be described as a floating piece of wood.
The remainder of the journey was long and somewhat unremarkable, however, goal mission accomplished we found ourselves in Lapaz - the highest capital city on the planet. As such and also being extremely hilly navigating this bussling, busy city on foot was a challenging on the lungs. Lapaz itself is just one massive party venue and all the hostals had reciprocal arrangements allowing you to bar-hop from hostal to hostal until you could hop no more. The day-time activities in Lapaz consist of hangover recovery followed by a trip to the Museum of Cocaine where we learnt that the obscene amounts of the drug that is produced in Bolivia is indeed a problem of US and the poor Bolivian farmers who merely plant, harvest, package and sell the drug to the big cartels are completely innocent.
After only a couple of days in Lapaz we headed South to Uyuni which hosts the worlds largest salt plains.... nearly losing all our clothes which were locked inside a Laundry shop that didn't open on the day we left... luckily Bernie made the most of a small window of oppertunity to retrieve our clothes and avoid a 50+ hour diversion to come back and pick them up.
Immediatly after arriving in Uyuni in the early morning we wasted no time and embarked on a 3 day 4WD tour of the salt lakes and surrounding areas. The small group of six visited a railway graveyard before finding ouselves in the vast, baron world of the Salt plains.... my goodness it is massive, spanninng from horizon to horizon - just pure white salt of which the hard crust has naturally cracked into millions of equally sized pentagon shapes... it really is quite freaky and feels almost Lunar. The first night we stayed at a Salt made hostal (walls, tables... even our beds were made out of salt) just on the outskirts of the Salt plains. Being so remote, there was zero light polution and the extreme altitudes put us above the clouds resulting in one of the craziest skies I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. Not only could we see thousands upon thousands of stars that you just know you have never seen before - you could actually see and acknowledge depth and physical distances between stars. The only thing I can think of that would be remotely similar is the first time you go skuba diving in deep water - when immediately having being submerged you become instantly aware of your own self positioning in the huge underwater world and you feel relative distance to the other objects (fish) around you - as opposed to the feeling you have when you previously look through the glass of an aquarium....anyhow - I'm babbling on but I hope that some of you get me.
We woke up extremely early and headed deeper into the Andean mountains to discover the blue, green and red lagoons all of which were extremely beautiful - again in a very alien way. The temperature plummetted to a balmy minus 20 in the evening so we wrapped up and drank red wine (bottles of it) for warmth.
The next day (if I can call 5:00am pitch black and still minus 20 day) we headed out to look at the natural volcanic giezers emitting plumes of piping hot steam towering into the air above us with such a ferocious noise. From here we drove just a few kms more to arrive at a pool of hot springs - in the middle of this bleak wilderness surrounded by nothing. It was a good 80 or so meters from the 4wd to the hot springs and the temperature had only risen slightly from the overnight lows - and definately still in minus figures so the run from the car to the pools and back again was brisk to say the least but to bathe in steaming hot water on what looked like the surface of the moon was well worth it.
Our Llama laidened journey brought us back to Uyuni where we chilled in our hotel for a mere 7 hours before setting off to catch the 2:00 am train towards the Argentinian border. The train was a very pleasant change to the huge quantity of bus rides we have been taking lately and our tickets allowed us to take breakfast in the diner car which was very pleasant - sat munching scambled eggs at a properly set table whilst the Andean mountain-scapes scroll past your window. The trained pulled into Villazon which was considerably the lowest venue we had visited in weeks and Oh what relief... - I hadn't had a lung stollen whilst I lay alseep in some dodgy hostel as initially thought - now that we are closer to sea level my breathing has returned to normal and I know longer struggle to tie my show laces nor do I wake up unprovoked gasping for breath..... phew - close call or what.
Once we arrived at Vilazon, we caught up with some fellow travellers from the Netherlands, who we joined to wander across the Bolivian / Argentinian border with. After being stamped, we all hopped on the first bus we could to Salta, empanadas in hand.
now something must be said for empanadas - these are wonderful meat/chicken/veggie/cheeses & ham packed pastries that are ooooooooh sooooooo good, especially for travelling with. AND what's more, Salta is renowned for its world-famous saltanadas, which provided us with many munchy-alleviating moments. In order to take advantage of these mouth-wateringly wonders, we stayed in Salta for a couple days. besides gorging on saltanadas, we also experienced the world-renowned Argentinian steaks and I must say that they are good!! We joined our new Netherland friends for a spectacular steaks and red wine feast, and were quite inebriated by the end of the night. Argentina: it's all about the food. On that very note, the next day we stumbled hangover-hungry on a 'buffet libre' just off the main square, where we absorbed the remaining allcohol in our systems with as much steak, salad, pasta, grilled veggies and desserts that you could shake a stick at. It was amazing!!! and sooooo cheap!! for not much more than 10 bucks US, we could gorge ourselves all day if we wanted to - noice!!
Once we were rolling around from eating way too much, and before we became obese, we made our way out of Salta and to Puerto Iguazu, home of the astoundingly spectacular Iguazu Falls, where we are currently staying. Yesterday, we went to the falls and pretty much spent the whole day either ogling over them or feeling their strength from a boat that took us right up to them, completely saturating us in the process. I would highly recommend for anyone going to the falls to take the Jungle boat - it is such an awesome experience and a great way to get into the falls!
Last night, we had a little downer - the steak we ordered came overcooked and had to be sent back, not once but twice, after which we did something we have never done before and walked out of the restaurant and refusing to pay for what we didn't eat.
Thank goodness though for empanadas, which provided us with all the munchabilities we needed.
Today we have declared a holiday, so the plan is to just chill at the hostel - another first for us but no guilt felt as beyond this the plan is looking to be really hectic... it's a dirty job but somebody has to do it.