Tuesday 16 September 2014
If you were ever wondering how to pronounce the Bolivian city of Potosí, I can recommend spending half an hour at the bus terminal in Uyuni and listening to the travel agents trying to fill their coaches. The vociferous calls “¡Potosí, Potosí! – this bus leaves immediately for Potosí!” will haunt us for the rest of the trip.
Some pictures from the now paved road, which was one of the worst ripio tracks back in 2010. The 204-kilometre journey only takes us three and a half hours this time.
Our destination in the distance
¡Bienvenidos a Potosí!
Potosí lies at 4,090 metres above sea level and is the highest place where we will stay overnight.
Not sure whose idea it was but although you should avoid physical exertion at altitude if you are not used to it, we decide to walk the 2.4 kilometres from the bus terminal into the city centre. Of course, it’s uphill all the way…
Next time we take a Micro, ok, dad?
Our chosen hotel has changed ownership, name and room standards, but we find accommodation in the Hostal Felimar, where we are offered the suite on the top floor.
We even have a balcony!
La Catedral – from behind
The main square is closed for refurbishment
El Cerro Rico, the rich mountain, whose silver ore was the reason for Potosí’s former wealth and historical importance
The City Council – illuminated in the Bolivian national colours
In a local fast food restaurant we discover a new favourite…
Pique Macho – with beef, chicken, sausage, goat’s cheese, eggs, onions, tomatoes, chillies and chips
Cerro Rico and Potosí by night – from our own balcony…
Monday 15 September 2014
As we are lacking our own transport…
… we have booked a 4×4 tour of the Salar
The Crew (clock-wise from right): Aida, me, Nasi, Mar, Esthefany (a family from Barcelona) and Marco from China
We see a few places I haven’t visited the last time – which is great!
The Train Cemetery
All tours stop at the art market in Colchani
We rather explore the backyards
Playing with the perspective…
Our Catalan friends fly their flag at every opportunity
Los Ojos de Salar – the Eyes of the Salar, where minerals rise to the surface in gushers
What happens if you set the self-timer to 2 seconds only…
Inside the Hotel de Sal – everything is built entirely with salt blocks cut from the Salar
Lunch in the middle of the salt flat
Llama chops with Quinoa and vegetables
Next stop: Isla Incahuasi, pretty much the centre of the Salar
And then our driver, Enrique, treats us to a little extra tour…
… to the Volcán Tunupa, 5,332 metres above sea level
… where Flamencos (Flamingos) have been sighted
Here they come…
There they go…
We have a last look at the Caldera…
… and the Salt Lake…
Then we head back to Uyuni
… and say goodbye to our new friends – Mar and Esthefany…
… and our driver, guide and host Enrique
What a fantastic day all around – this experience is certainly one of the highlights of our trip!
All pictures of the Salar de Uyuni can be found here.
Sunday 14 September 2014
When the friendly lady at the ticket office tells us that the 204-kilometre journey from Tupiza to Uyuni will take 8 hours, we already suspect that this route hasn’t been paved since 2010. Our suspicions are confirmed when we see the coach waiting for us -
And surely, after a short stretch on the smooth tarmac that now stretches from Villazón to Potosí, another road branches off to Uyuni.
We sit in the first row having a panoramic view of the breath-taking landscape, the villages and the people living there – but also of the mostly single-track dirt road and its wash board-like surface. We see every tight edge, every landslide narrowing the piste even further, we hold our breath at every blind hairpin bend and the many river-crossings with and without water. On the Altiplano we also meet sand dunes and Llamas running around freely. What more could the adventurer possibly ask for?
Some times I miss not being on my bike…
The road climbs from 2,970 to 4,285 metres above sea level
Next stop: Atocha
More than once my dad shakes his head in disbelief that I rode this track on a motorbike and on my own four years ago…
Thanks to our excellent driver, we already arrive after seven hours at our destination, walk straight to the Hotel Julia where I stayed in 2010 and even get my old room on the third floor.
… which offers great views of the main street and the town
Uyuni by night
The Dakar is everywhere
After such an adventurous ride we think that we’ve deserved a treat – our first Llama steak.
Tomorrow we will explore the famous Salar.
Saturday 13 September 2014
A rest day can start with a lie-in – or with editing photos in bed and almost finishing a new post before breakfast. At some point we may abandon our duties and vacate our room (so that it can be cleaned), climb the roof terrace -
- and enjoy Tupiza from above -
Possibly we then go to the bus terminal to organise our journey to Uyuni the next day, followed by a stroll through the central market -
As it would be a shame to spend such a beautiful day indoors, we may carry on exploring the town -
Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Candeleria
On the main square – Plaza de la Independencia
If you look closely you can see that the letters are made from cactus wood
It could be that we even climb the Cerro del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús -
Seems that there’s a bridge gone missing…
Nobody around who we could ask what happened here…
The Bolivian Coat of Arms
Home country or Death – we will overcome
And, after returning to the hotel and doing some more work, we may still go out looking for a nice restaurant, spot a procession on the way, curiously follow the people to a church and attend a Bolivian service -
Little did we know that we would need all the blessings we could get the following day…
Thursday 11 September – Salta to Humahuaca, Argentina
After an opulent breakfast we leave the Hotel del Antiguo Convento and head for the bus terminal, passing the old convent itself.
The bus takes us north zigzagging through Güemes, Perico, San Salvador de Jujuy, Tilcara and, climbing gently from 1,190 to 3,240 metres above sea level, to Humahuaca, our destination today.
Some impressions from the road -
We still contemplate taking the train occasionally
In Jujuy we have to change buses – the one in front is probably better suited to cope with the altitude. As it is quite a logistical challenge to shift all passengers and their luggage we wonder why they didn’t use the newer model in the first place.
Mmm, it was probably a good idea to stick to the bus…
Welcome to Humahuaca
We find a nice little hotel in the middle of town -
- then we set out to explore the city, which has its own distinctive culture and where the heaviest fighting in the country during the Wars of Independence between 1814 a 1821 took place.
Monumento a los Héroes de la Independencia
Of course, such a special place is also quite touristy
The Town Hall
The much contemplated railway…
In the evening we enjoy the regional cuisine: aubergine with goat’s cheese and a Quinoa casserole
Friday 12 September – Humahuaca to La Quiaca, Argentina, and on to Villazón and Tupiza, Bolivia
Breakfast is rather frugal – but typical for the region
The bus to La Quiaca, the most northerly town and starting point of the famous Ruta 40, leaves at 10.10 hrs – or 10.40, but we don’t really mind; we are on holiday.
And promptly, half a mile further down the road…
5121 kilometres to Ushuaia…
From the bus terminal it’s less than a kilometre to the border, so we cross La Quiaca on foot to see a bit more of the place.
Ok, we admit defeat – travelling by train is definitely not an option
Both Argentinean and Bolivian immigration offices are conveniently in the same building; we fill in the necessary formularios, get our stamps and walk over the Río La Quiaca into Villazón in Bolivia.
The Dakar Rally has been a huge event in Bolivia
We rest for a few minutes on the main square -
- find the only cash point in town relatively quickly (thanks to Open Street Map on my phone) and head for the bus terminal. We have just asked a local señora if we are in the right place – like in many towns, there are different terminals for local and national/international connections – when we are approached by another lady: Van a Tupiza? Great, that’s exactly our destination today!
We pay the stately amount of 15 Bolivianos (£1.34 / €1.69) for the 90-kilometre journey…
Our luggage is securely fastened on the roof rack
We sit right in the front next to our ‘chofer’…
… and enjoy splendid views
It seems that our chauffeur has spent a bit too much time watching Formula 1 but at least they have paved the road since I’ve last been here on my bike, and so we already arrive after 1.5 hours in Tupiza. One of the many demonstrations in Bolivia blocks the first bridge into town.
Fortunately the activists decide to abandon their protest and let us through. While I am dealing with our luggage, Johannes makes friends with the locals.
The Hotel Mitru, where I’ve stayed in 2010, is only a few streets away and we get an excellent spacious room on the first floor. And the receptionist, Edgar, even remembers me and gives us a good rate.
We feel quite tired from the journey and only leave our accommodation to have dinner at the Churrasqueria Moises – a huge mixed plate with beef filet, chops, chorizo, salad, potatoes and rice.
Tomorrow we will grant ourselves a rest day – Tupiza is such a lovely place.
Due to non-existent Wi-Fi and flaky internet availability in the places we stay, I’m falling more and more behind with keeping you up-to-date on a daily basis. Therefore we’ve allowed ourselves a rest day today and I will give you just a brief overview of our recent adventures.
Tuesday 9 September – Resistencia to Salta, Argentina
We sleep surprisingly well in our modest chamber, head back to the terminal to buy tickets for our onward journey and then take the local bus into town to find a nice little café and have some breakfast.
In the end we spend five pleasant hours in the Heladeria (ice café) Luigi being pampered by the friendly waitresses with café con leche, freshly pressed orange juice and delicious pastries. Apart from indulging ourselves in local delicacies we even get some work done: editing photos, writing our journals and another blog post and sending emails to the loved ones at home.
When the electricity fails (a common occurrence in this part of Argentina), we go for a stroll through the city of the sculptures, as Resistencia is dubbed for its many pieces of art, all exhibited in public places for everyone to enjoy.
We return to the terminal with plenty of time to spare and sit on the terrace watching the world go by until our bus to Salta arrives. It’s almost dark when we set off, so we wouldn’t have seen a lot of the Argentinean Chaco – had it not been for the brightly shining moon.
Although the bus stops often, we still get a good night’s sleep and arrive relatively refreshed in Salta.
Wednesday 10 September – Salta, Argentina
From the terminal it is only a short stroll to the first of the accommodation options I have in mind and Bingo! – we get the most wonderful room of the whole journey so far at the excellent Hotel del Antiguo Convento. It is also the most expensive but I can negotiate a 20% discount and the facilities, the quality of the fittings and the helpfulness of the staff are worth every peso.
Johannes could happily stay here for two weeks… But we have a loop to finish. After settling in we head into the centre of Salta to ask at the tourist office what we should see.
Basílica Menor de San Francisco
Cabildo de Salta
Catedral Basílica de Salta – Santuario del Señor y Virgen del Milagro
Through the park along the Avenida San Martín we walk to the cable car that takes us up to the summit of the Cerro San Bernado, where we have a splendid view over Salta – before descending via the 1021 stone steps back into town.
A seemingly harmless bottle tree…
We briefly contemplate visiting the village of San Lorenzo, as recommended by the friendly señora at the tourist office, but decide that we’d had enough excitement for the day and return to the Old Convent Hotel. We only leave to have dinner at the Corredor de las Empanadas next door – also well worth a try when you are in the area.
Johannes can’t manage one litre of Cerveza on his own – the things we do for our parents…
Enjoying some excellent local dishes – Tira and Cazuela de Cabrito
Well, after a day in Salta we can say that everyone we have spoken to about Argentina hasn’t promised too much…
We have changed our original itinerary; from Asunción we won’t be carrying on through the Paraguayan Chaco to Bolivia via the Mennonite Communities, but go south again to Argentina and on to Salta in the north-west of the country. Literally everyone I’ve talked to about Argentina told me that I must go to Salta. We will miss one of my favourite places in Bolivia, Tarija, as a result as we will only join the original route in Villazón, but thus I will also see something new.
In the morning we still have some time to enjoy the sights and delights of Asunción.
Pantheon of the national heroes
The Lido Bar by day
Then we catch the first bus of the day to Resistencia, the capital of the Chaco region in Argentina. It should arrive in plenty of time to give us the chance to catch a connecting bus to Salta at either 19.00 or 22.00 hrs.
We have not even left the Paraguayan capital when the bus breaks down…
After two and a half hours we can finally carry on. When we arrive at the border there is a huge traffic jam – six double-decker busses (like our own) are in front of us, each taking half an hour for all passengers to get their exit and entry stamps and have their luggage checked – or searched if they are unlucky.
We are allowed to cross the bridge at José Falcón on foot; and although I know that I shouldn’t, I take a few pictures of the chaos around me. And promptly, when I return to the bridge, I am stopped by an officer who politely asks to show him my photos and delete one after the other…
Dusk is falling when we can eventually travel on. To cut a long journey short, when we arrive at Resistencia it is already 23.00 hrs and all the connections are gone – the next bus doesn’t leave until 18.00 hrs the following day. We are stranded. Now in Europe, you would be accommodated in some nice hotel at the bus company’s cost and be paid some compensation on top but we are in South America (count yourselves lucky the next time you’re about to complain).
The most the bus company can do for us is that the friendly agent walks with us 100 metres from the terminal and shows us a hospedaje they normally use in emergencies like ours. The room is cheap and once upstairs we understand immediately why.
The communal bathroom
It’s already after midnight, the town centre is another five kilometres away and we are absolutely knackered from the journey. So we decide to stay and file this night under Experiences.