Bolivia - Strikes, blockades, and a lot of salt!!!
After taking the night bus from Peru, we arrived at Copacabana, a small town in the north of Bolivia situated on Lake Titicaca. The Lake sits between both Peru and Bolivia and from here we visited the Isla del Sol which, legend has it, is the Inca creation site and the birthplace of the sun in Inca mythology. We spent a couple of days relaxing here and our plan was then to head to the capital, La Paz, for a few days of mountain biking and mountain climbing before traveling south to the salt flats in Uyuni.
The journey to La Paz was slightly more difficult than it should have been as we were sold tickets for a bus that didn´t exist but we soon realized that this was a common occurrence in Bolivia and it was just a matter of waiting until a bus did turn up that felt like going to La Paz! Thankfully we only had to wait an hour or so and once in La Paz we planned to spend the next day mountain biking down the ´World´s Most Dangerous Road´ at Coroico. The road is so-called because it has the greatest number of fatalities per annum. It stretches 64km and is just over 3m wide in parts. What makes it so dangerous is that there are 3600m drops over the side of the road - no barriers - traffic - and Bolivian drivers! Unfortunately though, within hours of arriving in La Paz, Paddy started to feel unwell and after a visit to the local hospital it transpired that in the 3 days since we´d arrived in the country he´d picked up a lodger in the form of a stomach parasite so it was a course of antibiotics and 2 days in bed for him whilst Debs went alone and thankfully managed not to fall off the bike!
Whilst Bolivia is a fantastic country, traveling around is not easy and strikes and blockades are a daily occurrence. When Paddy started to feel better a couple of days later we headed straight for the bus station to take the next bus to Sucre, only to be told that there were blockades en-route. We had the option of waiting for these to pass (days/weeks) or flying to our destination. We chose the latter and spent a day in Sucre seeing the delights of the hospital as by now Debs had picked up a similar infection!
As soon as Debs recovered, we headed to Uyuni in the south of the country to start the salt flats tour. The bus company told us this would take 10 hours by direct bus from Sucre to Uyuni. We arrived at the station and were pleasantly surprised to find that not only did the bus exist but it was relatively new (less than 20 years old) and above all, it was actually traveling to Uyuni. So far so good. The ´direct´bus did however involve a change and a 3 hour wait at a town called Potosi. Not so good but we were used to this by now so went off to explore the town and returned 3 hours later to catch the connecting bus. This time the bus didn´t look quite as great (closer to 40 years old than 20) but Paddy looked at the other buses leaving for Uyuni and decided that although our bus was far from luxurious, it was definitely the best of a bad bunch. He was wrong - it was the worst of a bad bunch!! During the next 2 hours the bus broke down 5 times. The final time was in the middle of the desert, at 11pm and the temperature was minus 10 degrees. At this point the driver admitted defeat and called out for a replacement bus. This finally arrived 3 hours later at 2am by which time we could no longer feel our feet! Dave/Ali - we are eternally grateful to you both for telling us to take our sleeping bags on buses in Bolivia!!! Anyway, we finally arrived at our destination at 4.30am - a mere 6 hours later than planned!
Once in Uyuni though everything became easier. We decided to treat ourselves to a night in a luxurious Salt Hotel just outside the salt flats before taking a 3-day tour of the southwest circuit and the Salar de Uyuni. This trip was an amazing and surreal experience. We traveled around for 3 days in a 4x4 with 7 other people visiting numerous sites in the area - the main one being the Salar de Uyuni. This is the world´s largest salt flat which covers 12,000 sq km. It was once part of a prehistoric salt lake which dried up and left the salt flats in its place and it truly is an amazing place to visit. The tour then continued to the surrounding areas and over the next 2 days we visited coloured lagoons, volcanoes, flamingos and desert landscapes before a spectacular conclusion on our final day to a geyser basin at sunrise where we spent an hour wandering through boiling mud pots and sulfurous fumaroles.
Bolivia was a challenging country to travel through and patience and a strong stomach are essential but it is a fascinating place and the scenery is just incredible. However, time was pressing. The final stop on our Uyuni tour enabled us to jump off at the Chilean border and the lure of good wine proved too much so off we hopped to start our tour of Chile….