A Travellerspoint blog

Sucre

sunny 20 °C

I arrived in Sucre late afternoon, so just had time to have a quick walk round the centre before it got dark and it seemed like a really nice city. And it was, I ended up staying longer than I planned.

The next day I explored more of the city and went to a really interesting museum about indigenous art from the area. It was all about how the traditional designs and techniques had been forgotten but in the last few decades there had been a big effort to revive the traditions. In the evening I went to the main Gringo cafe to watch the film-documentry about the mines in Potosi, after having been there a few days ago it was really interesting hear about the mines from the point of view of 2 boys that had to work there.
The next day I went on a trip to a cement works just outside of town where there are thousands of dinosaur footprints in a cliff face. Can´t decide whether I believe they are real or not, despite our guides insistence that thay had been verified by a team of Swiss paleontologists. But I started to have my doubts when the guide described one of the dinosaurs as being a similar species to the Loch Ness monster, and I really don´t think he was joking. On the tour I met a nice couple from London and an Irish guy and spent the rest of the day with them. I was suppossed to be catching a bus that evening but was persuaded to stay and travel with the English couple the next day.
In the morning I went to the museum of Bolivian history, basically they have been in a lot of wars and lost all of them, so the country is about half the size it used to be. We went to a nice cafe over looking the city for lunch, before having to get the bus in the evening. As usual in Bolivia, at the bus station there was chaos and we ended up being delayed leaving for over an hour because of some pricing scam. But we did eventually arrive in Santa Cruz the next morning.

Posted by katiew 13:20 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Pink Floyd in Potosi

sunny 22 °C

The bus from Uyuni to Potosi took most of the day, its not very far but I am yet to see a proper road in Bolivia. So I arrived in Potosi late in the afternoon and found another really nice hostel to stay in, which for some reason was called the Koala Den even though I can´t imagine many places where koalas are less likely to live than Potosi. Despite Potosi being even higher than Uyuni, it wasn´t actually anywhere near as cold and the hostel even had heating in the evening, so it was a very comfortable place to stay.

The next day I went on a tour of the mines. After getting all the clothes, helmet and torch we went to the market to buy gifts for the miners. This included drinks, coca leaves and dynamite, so it was a bit strange being able to buy dynamite on the street for just over one pound. Then we drove up to the mine just outside of the city. We spent a couple of hours in the mine and that was enough for me, can´t imagine what its like to work there for 10 hours a day. The first part of the mine was OK, but the deeper we went the narrower and hotter the passages got so at times we were having to lie down and crawl through small gaps. At over 4000m and with all the dust in the air at times it was difficult to breath.

We stopped and chatted to one miner for a bit who had been working in the dark for 3 hours alone, they turn off their tourches to save money on batteries. Although it actually seemed to be a relativly well paid job the working conditions are really bad, but there aren¨t many other kinds of jobs in the area. We were told that about 40 miners die in the tunnels each year and they also have a shorter life expectancy than normal because of lung disease caused by working in the mines.
After visiting the mine we went outside and made a few explosives of our own to see the size of the explosion they made.

In the evening I went with a few people from the hostel to see a Pink Floyd tribute band playing in the citys theatre. It seemed to be a big event for the locals and the band werfe actually quite good.

Posted by katiew 18:16 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Into Bolivia and the Salar de Uyuni

sunny

I got the overnight bus from Salta to the Bolivian border where I had no problems crossing over. Immediatle there was a lot of obvious differences between the 2 countires. Bolivia is noticeably a lot poorer, less westernised and less developed than Argentina. But it was easy enough to find a bus to Tupiza, my first stop in Bolivia. I had heard a lot of stories about the poor transport in Bolivia, so was expecting the worst but so far it hasn´t been too bad, not the same luxury you get in Argentina nad Chile though.

I arrived in Tupiza early afternoon and found a nice hostel to stay in. Again after what I had heard from other people I was suprised by how nice the hostel was, it actually had one of the most comfortable beds that I have had for a long time. The claim of having hot showers was a bit of an exaggeration though. I spent the rest of the day looking round the town and getting organised for the next few days.

The next day I did a horse trek through the gorges and canyons in the surrounding countryside. This was really good, just like being in the wild west, riding through the dessert past cacti. THe horse riding I have done before has only been walking so doing a lot of trotting and cantering was good fun, but the next day I was feeling a bit sore when I started a 4 day Jeep trip to Uyuni. In the morning I met the guide and the other people I would be going with. It was a bit of a strange mix of people, the guide who didn´t speak a word of English, a guy from Russia, a guy from Australia, and a Japenese girl who didn´t speak that much English and no Spanish, but somehow it actually worked quite well. The first day was a lot of driving up to the altiplano, some good views but there wasn´t really much of anything there. We passed a few small villages which were basically a few mud huts and llamas. The people living there made the people I saw in Mongolia look very wealthy. Its amazing that they can live in these places, at high altitude with land and temperatures that are too poor to enable any kind of agriculture except a few llamas. Our first nights accomodation was basic but again better than I had expected, we even had flushing toilets and lights so i don´t know what everyone else was complaining about. And I finally got to use all the cold weather clothes that I have been carrying around in +30'C for months.

The next day we had to be up at 4.30am to leave by 5.00am. But there was a really nice sunrise as we drove up to one of the highest points of the trip at about 5000m. Most of the day was spent driving through a national park on the border of Chile, where we passed through so amazing landscapes, different coloured lakes with flamingoes, and volcanoes. We had to stop for n early lunch at a miners village for some repairs to our Jeep, are driver blammed the damage on the bad roads, but I think it was more to do with how fast he was driving on the bad roads. In the afternoon we went to a really nice hot springs for a swim, a perfect temperature, not too hot or to cold and in a really nice place. Then we drove up to around 5000m again to see some geysers before dropping down again to Laguna Colorada where we spent the the next night. The Laguna was one of the highlights of the trip, as we got to see a lot more flamingos close up and all the different colours in the water at sunset was incredible.

The third day wasn´t such a long drive and we had a few interesting stops. We went through the dessert, past interesting rock formations and more lagunas before reaching the Salar de Uyuni, the highlight of the trip. We stayed the night in a hostel by the side of the salt flat that was made entirely of salt, including all the beds and furniture. So had a good night there before another early start to see sunrise on the salt flat. it was worth getting up early for as it was one of the best parts of the trip. Only when the sun was up could you really appreciate the scale of the place. As far as you could see there was just salt. We stopped for breakfast at an island made of coral and covered in cacti before carrying on across the salt flat. We stopped a few more times, including one stop at a museum where there were salt sculptures and an area where people are allowed to mine the salt. Then we arrived at Uyuni in the early afternoon.

Theres not really much to do in Uyuni but I stayed one night before getting the bus to Potosi the next day. The only tourist attraction there was a very strange museum with a collection of mummies and deformed skulls, without really any information about them at all.

Posted by katiew 17:32 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

The Atacama

sunny 32 °C

From La Serena it was a long overnight bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama where I spent the next few days. The town is really small with only about 2000 people living here, and a lot of tourists. The main street in the town is full of tour agecies offereing trips to the local sites and restaurants. I found a really nice hostel to stay in, with traditional style buildings made of mud bricks and a thatched roof around a central courtyard. I spent a while walking round the town trying to decide which of the main tours I would do the next day, but in the end gave up and went on got a bottle of wine with a couple of girls I had travelled up from La Serena with. After a good nights sleep I decided not to do any of the tours and instead hired a bike for the day. So I set off into the desert by myself with a sketch map of the area, a lot of water and suntan cream. I decided not to be put off by the name and went to see the valley of the dead. Here I cycled along a track in an enclosed rock valley until I reached an area of sand dunes where the local sport of sand boarding is popular. I decided against trying it and headed back to the main road and on to the moon valley. This was a difficult ride in the hot weather and up a lot of steep hills, but the effort was worth it. The place was amazing. It is one of the most popular tourist sites in the area but all the tours go there for sunset, so I had the entire place to myself. Cycling through salt flats, sand dunes, past strange rock formations, it as like nothing else I had seen before. After climbing up a sand dune to get better views over the whole area, I managed to find a bit of shade to have lunch before cycling back into the town. Luckily the way back was mostly down hill so it was relativly easy going. Later in the afternoon I cycled out the other side of town to an oasis for a swim to cool off. Then in the eveneing I went out for dinner with a group of people I had met the day before. We went to a really nice restaurant in a courtyard with the tables arranged around a fire in the middle. It does get really cold here at night, so the fire was greta.
THe next day I had a very early start, 4am. I went on a trip to the Geysers del Tatio, the highest geysers in the world. Apparently the best time of the day to go is at sunrise, as when the temperature difference is greatest the geysers look most impressive. Very strange to see the boiling water right next to frozen ice. Spent a while looking at the geysers then had breakfast. Thankfully the sun started to reach us then as it was absolutly freezing. To warm up we went for a swim in a hot pool, this was really nice until we had to get out back into the freezing cold air. Then it was a really nice drive back in to town where we saw llamas, guanacos, flamingos and nandus.
The following day I got the bus back to Salta, Argentina. This was one of the best bus journeys I have been on as it went up over the Andes, past salt flats, volcanoes, oasis. At one point I think the road is up at nearly 5000m, so there is snow by the side of the road. Arrived back in Salta late in the evening and just spent a few days there getting ready to go to Bolivia.

Posted by katiew 19:00 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Valparaiso

sunny 25 °C

The overnight bus to Chile was OK, but didn´t have much chance to sleep because of the border crossing, passport checks, baggage checks and customs etc. I arrived in Valparaiso at about 6am. Well at least I thought I did. I got off the bus at what I though was Valparaiso, but I soon realised it was actually the next town along the coast, Vina del Mar. I thought it was about 30 minutes bus ride to Valparaiso so I decided to wait at the bus station until it got light at about 7am and then try and find a bus. As it was Sunday morning I didn´t think buses would be running that early and I ddidn´t think turning up at a hostel that early without a reservation was a good idea either. But after waiting at the bus station a while I realised that actually Chile was an hour behind Argentina so it was only 5am so I had a long time to wait. Later I was chatting to a guy who told me it was actually only about 5 minutes to Valparaiso, so at about 7am I gave up waiting and went and got a taxi instead. This also didn´t go quite according to plan as it turned out the taxi driver had no idea where he was going once we got to Valparaiso, so after driving around for a while, stopping 3 times to ask other taxis for directions I eventually made it to the hostel, only to find that they had no spare beds. Luckily the guy there wa really nice and phoned round several other hostels to find somewhere for me to stay. Turns out Valparaiso is a very popular place for a weekend break, so took him a while to find me somewhere and there were no spaces left in dorms so I had to go for a more expensive single room, but by that point I didn´t care. It was only a few minutes walk down the road though and when I arrived the room was worth the extra cost. For only 3 pounds more I actually had a family room with 2 beds, a sofa and private bathroom in a very nice hostel. It was also really good as I was able to check in straight away and get a few hours sleep before breakfast.
I ended up having a really nice day in Valparaiso. Its a world heritage listed site and is a great place to spend the day just wandering round the streets. It is built on a big hill rising up form the coast. It has been destroyed several times by earthquakes so there is a strange mix of architecture from a lot of different ages. There are loads of cobbled streets and alley ways between the different styles of houses all painted different colours and with a lot of street murals. So I spent most of the day just wandering round the streets. My hiking in the Andes over tha last few days proved to be good training for the very steep streets. I also went to Pablo Nerudas house and that was really interesting. After visiting the one in Santiago a few months ago it was interesting to compare the 2 and find out more about the man. So I had a busy day there seeing most of the sights and then left the next day on the bus to La Serena, a town on the coast further north.
I just stayed in La Serena a couple of days before getting the bus further north to San Pedro de Atacama. Its a small town without a lot to do, except a couple of interesting museums and a beach. The highlight of my stay here was a trip to the observatory. The area is famous for astronomy and has all the biggest telescopes in the world because of the surrounding hills in clear skies with very little light pollution. The first part of the evening we spent outside looking at different types of stars through a telescope and identifying some constallations. Then we went inside to use a bigger telescope to see Mars and Saturn. The view of Saturn was amazing as you could see the rings and one of its moons. They also showed us some really intersting photos of other galaxies taken from the huge telescopes in the area.

Posted by katiew 13:55 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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