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Salta and north to Bolivia

Rough roads

Leaving cold Mendoza we travelled north to the city of Salta where we stayed in the Backpackers hostel - free dinners were on offer which is always nice. We were delighted to see the sun again and we had another chance to (try) and top up our tans. Argentina made their first display in the world cup while we were in Salta and the locals were going crazy. After the 1-0 win, there were marching bands and parades around the central plaza, you had to wonder what they'd be like if they actually won the Coup de Mondial!! We didn't do much during our stay in Salta, took in a few NBA and World Cup matches on TV and sampled some of the local gin :)

After a couple of nights, we headed north towards Bolivia stopping off in a little village called Purmamarca, home of the mountain of seven colours. This village is really amazing, the walk around the countryside is breathtaking and we treated outselves to a dinner in a local restaurant and were entertained by a live Peruvian band.

We made our way north to the border town of Quinica, the bus ride from Purmamarca was definitely an eye opener as we got a sample of the barren landscape and small towns of northern argentina. The bus was not of the fanchy Argentinian variety that we were so used to but it was the first of many bumpy rides. Houses so remote they made Cordal or Coraleehan look like urban developments! Kids were getting off the bus on their way home from school and walking into what we thought looked like the burren (albeit limestone supplemented with an orange countryside with llamas hanging around at the sides of the roads). We arrived in Quinica, took the short walk over the border to Villazon, changed our clocks by an hour and we were in Bolivia - home of manually flushing your own toilet, 1990s slow internet, unpaved roads and bumpy bus rides not to mention llama everything........

The border town of Villazon was our first introduction to Bolivia and was a good sample of what was to come, the town was chocabloc with busy markets selling everything from food, to llama socks and penknives. Our bus from Villazon to Tupiza left nothing to the imagination - up remote mountain areas on what felt like a dirt track, Claire was clinging on for dear life at one stage when we went through what looked like a make-shift trunnel in the side of a cumbling mountain. Anyway, we arrived in Tupiza in one piece and found a nice hostel to rest our very weary heads. Tupiza was to be the starting point for our tour of the south west of Bolivia and the spectacular Salt Flats near Uyuni. Following from our successful day’s horseriding in Mendoza, we decided we had to sample a bit of action in the valley where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid was filmed so we took to the hills. Our horses weren’t as lively as those up the Andes but the sights were good, there was some sun which is always good and we had a good day around Tupiza.

The following day we had an early morning start and we were off on our four day Salt Flats tour. We shared our jeep with a German girl and a Canadian guy who were great neighbours for the trek and our driver Ruben and cook Ada were there to take care of us. The first three days driving of what felt like the desert took us around green, blue and red lagoons, volcanic mountains, tree shaped rocks, geysers. We were put up in ‘local’ accomodation, the first night we slept on concrete beds with some newspaper on the concrete walls to try and keep out the cold! Lots of pics were taken. Ada cooked up a storm, proving that you can eat well even if it is out of the back of the jeep. She even whipped up a birthday cake when we stayed in the Salt Hotel on the last night (20th). The altitude played its part as well, with lots of sick tummies to put up with but the early morning rise on the longest day of the year was worth the sights of sunrise on the Salt Flats.

After our tour we got dropped off in the small town of Uyuni. It was here I got the news of Granny Banks’ death. How I wished I was back in Ballymote to give everyone a hug but it wasn’t to be. It was a lonely few days but I know she is at peace now and the lovely lady I heard everyone talk about got a lovely send off. RIP Granny.

We had another very bumpy and long bus ride to La Paz, capital of Bolivia and we were glad to be back to civilisation- well if you could call it that. La Paz is an amazing city, the only way I can think of to describe it is a massive department store! The city is an endless stream of stalls selling everything from electronics, souvenirs, household stuff - there was even a street of hairdressers which Murf sampled to get rid of his ginger beard :) . La Paz is built in what seems like a crator and you know all about that when you start wandering around these stalls,, talk about aching calf muscles!! We stayed in the Wild Rover hostel, needless to say an Irish hostel bang slap in the middle of La Paz which was party central. They even had a half way to Christmas party on the week we were there, all that was missing was the turkey and ham.

We had heard so much of the famous San Pedro prison we had to make a tour. Although tours of the prison are ‘illegal’ any tourist can find someone on the nearby plaza who will take them in to the prison and the guards will let you in in return for a nice sum. Its crazy to see what goes on in the prison, once we went through the main gates we didn’t see one prison guard, its basically run by the inmates, one of whom gave us the tour – don’t worry Mammy its relatively safe! The smell inside the prison is disgusting and the conditions are really poor, inmates are allowed have their wives/girlfriends and children live with them inside the prison and there are around 200 women and 400 children living inside – its actually really sad. Saying that, they seem to have the life of reilly! Some inmates and their respective others run stalls, restaurants and shops inside to make a few bob – its like a little town and the day we went in they were just after having a two day party and there were still loads of people hanging around drunk, music blaring and playing pool.

While we were in La Paz, Murf couldn’t miss the opportunity to cycle down the famous ‘World’s Most Dangerous Road’ – again relatively safe - which involves being dropped off at the top of a mountain and cycling down a very steep and narrow road. 25 people have died cyclying down in the last five years, 11 Israeli (they must be lunatics), but with a good guide he arrived back in one piece. After the cycle, all the brave cyclists have a 4 hour bus journey back up the mountain so they could actually see the Worlds Most dangerous road. Murf’s mechanical skills (ahem) came in handy when he had to help fix a flat tyre on the bus on the way up. I gave the Death Road a miss and got treated to a spa day for my birthday – much appreciated after all my hard work :)

When it was time to leave La Paz, we made our way to Copacabana, a little village on the banks of Lake Titicaca (some might say the highest navigable lake in the world ). At this stage we had picked up our new American friend Dave and in Copacabana we met two more travel buddies from Manchester. Its a lovely little town and we took a half day trip out to Isla Del Sol out in the middle of the lake. Its a nice day trip, but they didn’t tell us they drop you off on the north of the island and you have to trek to the south to be collected to head back to the mainland! The legs were killing us by the end of it and Murf had some nice farmers tan lines to show off the next day.

Our next destination was Puno on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca (apparantly 60% of the lake is in Peru and 40% in Bolivia). Our only purpose here was to have a trip to the famous floating islands, which are manmade (of reeds and local plants) islands off the coast of Puno on Lake Titicaca where hundreds of natives live. They speak their own language and love seeing the tourists coming so they can show off their houses and get them to buy some souveniers! We even had a chance to try on some of the local clothing and take a trip on the boats made out of the reeds, very interesting stuff! Leaving Puno it was on to our second destination in Peru, Cusco. The five of us headed down to the bus station, realised we couldn’t make the tourist bus so we had no option but to go for the local bus, which we regretted the minute we sat on it! At one stage a drunk woman came and fell asleep in the aisle of the bus and noone seemed to mind!

In Cusco, we started searching for a trip up to see the world famous Machu Pichu – after the four hour trek on Isla Del Sol we were beginning to wonder how we’d last four days!

Posted by murfclaire 09:02 Archived in Bolivia

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