Travel report 19 - Bolivia.
Luckily there appears to be internet in Villa Tunari, but, opposite of what I expected, it seems very difficult to find enough time to write my story? This is the main reason why I send this story so late, sorry for that ;-)
Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in South America, if you look at her economy, but it´s also a rich country if you look at the minerals that are underneath het soil. Unfortunately they´re difficult to reach and I have to admit that I hope that they will never try to dig for it, because it will destroy a lot of beautiful landscape...
At the beginning of my trip I had no plans to go to Bolivia, because I knew almost nothing about it. However, during my journey I heard so much good things about Bolivia, that I changed my mind and now I´m happy for that :-) This country has really a lot that´s worth to visit.
One interesting thing to know before I start my own story; In spite of (or maybe even because?) the fact that Bolivia is such a poor country, it´s the first country I visit that has a collective union for beggars. All the money each individual collects, goes to that union, which pays with that for the food for all of them. Good idea!
After a bus and a train-ride, which were again, like all the public transportation I had here until now, much more comfortable than the ones in the horror-stories some other travellers told me, I arrived from La Paz in Uyuni.
Uyuni, I found not very interesting. To me it was not much more than a dry desert-town, with wide streets and a lot of concrete. Except from the market there´s not much to visit in town, but I came here to visit its most important attraction, not far from the town; Salar the Uyuni, one of the biggest (12.000 sq km) and highest (about 4000m high) salt-flats in the
Salar the Uyuni, the tour:
The best way to explore the Salar is a tour and I was lucky to start this tour with 6 women and one driver/guide ;-) Late in the morning we al left in a big closed pickup.
After a brief visit to a very small salt factory, we drove into the Salar. Wow, this is amazing to see! An "empty" white flat and a blue sky, for as far as you can see. But if you look closer to the ground, you can see that it´s not really flat, but that it has a total pattern of dried salt in crystal shapes. Driving on this flat gives you almost the feeling to drive
on ice and it also seems to be difficult to guess distances. In this flat area everything looks closer than it is and you can also take great pictures. Two places we visited here were; a hotel, that´s made of almost only salt blocks, interesting.
Isla de Pescado, got its new name, after the Incas left, because it looks from a distance like a big laying fish. But if you get closer, you will discover some funny contrasts; It´s an island of dry coral, in a empty sea, with the shape of a fish, but covered with big cactuses.
After this we drove out of the salt desert, into the sand desert. We spend the night in the dusty, grey village of San Juan, but the night sky was beautiful!
Next day we drove through a beautiful desert landscape, with different colours of sand and rocks, that looks almost un-natural with the total clear blue sky.
Today we visited some beautiful lakes. Some of them gave a great reflection of the mountains behind and the blue sky above, while others provides food for big groups of different flamingos. And I was always thinking that flamingos only life in the warm tropic areas, but that seems to be a wrong thought. On our way to the lakes we visited some special rock-formations, like arbol de piedra (stone tree) which were nice to see and climb. The last and most beautiful lake we visited today was Laguna Colorada. Because of the
different minerals in the ground, this lake has a few different colours like, blue, white, red and yellow/green colours, because of some mosses, magnificent! Next to this lake we spend the night in a hostel/village of the R.E.A-Park, together with a lot of other tour groups. I heard that there drive in total about 250 4-wheel trucks with driver/guides to do this job!?
Day 3, we get up at 4:45h and while it´s outside -9c, we drive to the hot geysers. I found them a little disappointing, because they only released steam and no water. But the hot springs were better than I first thought when I saw them. Not very big or hot, but enough to warm up, with an air temp. that´s still below freezing. A nice way to wake-up :-) After breakfast we drive to Laguna Verde and pass on our way also the (famous?) Dali-rocks.
Because of the weather conditions, to less wind, its colour was now
unfortunately not green when we came there :-(
Not far from this lake we dropped 3 persons out of our group to go to Chile and we started to drive back. Again we could enjoy the view of the landscape around us. It started to go down from a dry desert landscape with lots of different colours, because of the minerals, till some small bright green coloured moss (that feels like plastic), then some green/yellow grass, as hard as the pins of a cactus, until we saw some small bushes. And, like
the other days, we saw during this trip also some small groups of Vicuña´s, Alpaca´s and Llamas. Tonight we will stay in a lovely small village called Culpina "K". This village has a lot more colour than the first one, a nice atmosphere and even some special art on the small squares, nice.
The most important place we visited on the last day was the old train-cemetery. It looked a little strange to see those old wagons and locomotives in the middle of the desert and it could be almost a scene out of a Western-movie. Good for us to take some nice pictures.
Potosi says to be the highest city in the world, at an altitude of 4070m. I´m not sure if that´s true, but it feels at least like a high altitude if you walk up some steep small streets in the city.
During the Spanish rule Potosi was also one of the biggest and richest cities in Latin America. The reason for this was its silver mine next to the city. However the Spanish already took most of the silver out of the mine and the city now lost most of its wealth, they still left a lot of nice decorated buildings, of those good times, in the old centre. This makes it nice to walk around there.
The (Silver)mine, for most travellers the most important reason to visit Potosi. Nowadays they find (almost) no more silver in the mine and are the most important sources of income tin and tourists. A tour through the dark, humid and narrow tunnels is very impressive. If you see the conditions, which have almost not changed since the Spanish came, under which the miners have to work, you wonder why? If you also hear that the average
life-expectation, from the moment the miners start to work in the mine, is not more than 15 years, you wonder even more why the miners volunteer to work in that mine??? Perhaps it´s because the miners are aloud to sell their own minerals they find? But I think that they can´t work in that mine without chewing big amounts of coca-leafs, during the whole day...
Villa Tunari, a small village in the jungle. Its biggest source of income seems to be the car-road from Cochabamba to Santa Cruz, or better, the people who use this road and spend their money in the village during a (short)stop. At the moment I arrived, it wasn´t a peaceful village, because of the noise and view of more than 100 trucks, that were waiting there for a broken bridge. More money for the village...
Inti Wara Yassi, the volunteer project with wild animals, in the small nature park Machia, close to the village and the only reason I came to that village. I thought that it would be very easy to find some time to write my travel stories and that it would be more difficult to write an interesting story about me doing volunteer work, but it turned out to be the opposite.....I got a very interesting main job and together with some side jobs, I´m very busy. But I like my job and even so much that I will stay for 2 more weeks :-)
Next time I will tell you more about Inti Wara Yassi, why my job is so special and even a little dangerous.