Chased by a dinosaur!

Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
1
15
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Trip End Jul 06, 2011


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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Day 27 January 30th - Ok, where am I? It's been a few days since I updated my blog, but I've been having so much fun and unfortunately no time to update. So, thanks for your patience. This is a taste of what is to come!!



Eventually we arrived in Uyuni and I very unclear about where to find my tour. I follow the Australian girls for a few minutes before finding my tour. In a room was a Dutch guy booking a tour, and on a sofa and chair, two blonde girls laid out fast asleep!! Even though I was told to get there for 9am, the tour doesn't start till 1030am, and seeing as it was 7am, I had hours to kill. I went in search of an Internet cafe to find out how Murray got on in the Oz Open, when I stumbled across a corridor with a breakfast cafe at the end, with Internet also. I sat at a table and the Dutch guy came up to me and asked if I was on his tour, which I was.

His name was Abe, 24 year old guy from Amsterdam. He'd been travelling for over 5 months, got attacked by a machette in Cali, Colombia where he had to give up his bag and possessions, loved talking football and sport, and we must have chewed the fat over Ajax for a couple of hours. He was even a mascot for a Champions League Final in 1998 for Real v Juve, unfortunately he walked out with Pessotto, but was so close that he spoke to Edgar Davids and ended up being the only mascot left on the pitch as he was still chatting to Davids!

We eventually killed enough time to return to the tour place, the sleepy blondes had woken up and were infact two German girls, Iris and Jenny. They had caught an overnight but that got in much earlier and had been travelling pretty quickly since they arrived in South America, I will get to know them better as we start our tour. Also on our tour was a great couple from the UK, Sarah (originally from Toronto, Canada) and James (originally from Devon, UK).

1030am came and went. Abe had mentioned that the Bolivian President, Evo Moralez was in town for a football game, and just so happened to be over the road having breakfast!! Abe squeezed into the crowd with my camera and got some pretty cool shots of the guy!!



Once he left, and his 25 cars that were driving with him, we started our tour. The main reason for the tour is of course the salt flats of Uyuni. We all climbed into a 4x4, with Bruno as our driver, not tour guide or English speaking, just a driver.

The atmosphere in the car was awesome, everyone was dead friendly, and the jokes had already started. No matter how the tour went, I was looking forward to spending the next 3 days with 5 awesome people.

We arrived at the train cemetery first, old and disused trains lying around gathering rust and dust. Of course, Bolivia health and safety means you can climb all over these enormous vehicles and if you fall off, so what.

We were only given ten minutes to run around, climb and take pictures, the sights were pretty amazing!

Back in the 4x4 again and off to the salt flats. We were all getting very excited, of course, on the way we pass a market and have 15 minutes to not buy anything but spot a few more pigs!!


Just after this market, we are driving on the salt flats! I can't begin to describe what we were all seeing, but with some rain during this wet season, you weren't sure where the sky actually was!



Now, this part of the tour is why we all forked out a sizeable chunk of cash for a 3 day tour. Bruno stops the car and says we have 5 minutes to take pictures and move on, WTF!! We have grand scenes of using the salt flats for pictures with unusual perspective, but the part he had stopped in was slightly waterlogged, so we were back in the car and moving towards lunch.
A few minutes later we were with about 20 other 4x4s and Bruno said we had 15 minutes till lunch. We head off to find some clear salt flat, I mean no-one in the distance. Abe met some Oz guy who was so helpful, he had brought some toys from the hostel he was staying at, we then proceeded on having some fun, I mean giggling like children. We're all walking around with cheesey smiles inventing new ideas for pictures.
Ok, OK, now I know the title of this blog says being chased by a dinosaur, it literally came out of nowhere and chased the 6 of us till lunch was ready. My efforts to steal this picture failed and I'm patiently waiting to receive the picture by email, once I have it, it'll go on straight away.

We stay on the salt flats longer than we should, but after 3 heavy days in La Paz, a bumpy bus journey and uncertainty about this tour, we are all so happy as to what we are doing and the fun we are having. The salt flat is super hot, we are all exposed to the sun and there is no cover. After 15 minutes of this, my arms are red warm, sadly we walk back to the 4x4 and enjoy a lunch of avocado, tomatoes, cooked chicken, rice and some pop. Once this goes down, we are herded back into the 4x4 and set off again, not knowing that we had 3 hours of driving ahead of us!! Abe and I had opted for the back seat, where you were unable to stretch your legs, well, you couldn't even sit properly, of course like the gentleman I am, I moaned the whole way!! It gave us 3 hours to get to know each other better, talk about the awesome pictures we had got and all the fun we had. I feel we were also lucky to have such a cool group to spend 3 days with, of course British humour from myself and James helped with this as well as a cheeky Dutchman and the very amusing Canadian/British Sarah and two German girls who laughed at all our jokes!!

We drove and we drove and we drove, I don't think Bruno has a very good idea of estimating how far away places are, plus he was a super slow driver. I guess this could be seen as a positive seeing as 13 tourists have died in the salt flats since 2008 with drunk drivers being the main issue! I felt safer as we met Brunos children, why that would make you feel safe I don't know, but it did. We were looking for a place called San Cristobal. The last time I went to a place called this was in Mexico, it was a beautiful city, cobbled stone roads, I even rode a horse to another village, but when we arrived at the Bolivian version, it was more like random, dirty worn out huts in the middle of nowhere. Bruno stopped off at a couple of places, was turned away and carried on. We realise he's looking for a place for us to sleep for the night, so for a 3 day tour, nothing is infact organised, just sorted out as you go along. We all begin to grumble, and fear for what we will be sleeping in. We finally enter a wet dark damp courtyard, a lady is walking by with a carcass of some type of animal, although Jenny and I fear it was last nights hostel guests. Sorry, not hostel guests, more like stable guests! Our thoughts now turn to alcohol, it's about 6pm, and we're all hoping for a few drinks to get us through the evening.

We unload the van, we have two rooms to split between, 4 in one, 2 in the other. As the 'nice' guy I am, I volunteered Abe and I for the two bed one. He has a go at me for being too nice, but I promise him a bed time story.

The room wasn't too bad, I mean I've slept in worse, there were a minimum of three blankets, how cold will it get? We also hired sleeping bags, some sort of protection from the cold and bed bugs I assume. There was a long corridor of tables, and there must have been another 3 groups staying at the same place. The showers were cold, the electricity was not going to be turned on till 7pm and the toilets, well, if you found one with a seat, there was a barrel of water outside with a little bucket to help you flush! Hmm. We sorted ourselves out, and sat around a table as a group and luckily James and Sarah brought cards. Bruno serves us hot water with choice of tea of coffee, but the tight git did not splash out on tasty biscuits, we got crackers! Tasteless crackers! The next table over got some biscuits, so somehow Abe managed to obtain a few for our group. It was then I saw the Koreans again!

So, you remember my day trip with the Frenchman on Easter Island? Yes? No? Well on that trip were 3 Koreans. On the plane back to Lima, I saw the same 3. On the bus to Arequipa, I saw the same 3. I saw the same 3 in Puno. I saw the same 3 on the boat from Isla de Sol to Copacabana. I saw the same 3 at the bus station in La Paz. And now, out of all the 80 tour groups in Uyuni, they are staying at my stable! Of course they find it very amusing to see me again, how could you not recognise the red hair and red face!! I tell my group and they find it extremely funny, I guess I am being followed, or somehow they have my exact trip details? Well, the only person who knows my exact route is I, so I'm guessing an unbelievable coincidence and a very small world!

Back to the night, we find some beers and bottles of wine and play cards for the rest of the night. Abe, the mathematician he is, loves playing cards and teaches us all how to play poker. We bet with another set of playing cards. Sadly for him, where he knows where to fold, the rest of us just go all in and he is the first to lose all his chips! Dinner was fine, some sort of meat, again maybe guest from last night, or a dog or a llama, came with rice and fries. Around 1030pm we're all tired and head to bed. The light switch in the girls room (yes James, the girls room) was broken so someone tied the two wires together and told them not to touch it. We were told lights out was 1030pm, but now I assuming the drivers were having a few beers till after midnight so the girls had a tough time trying to drop off. Abe and I read some, chatted for a bit and then I was out cold. During the night, I was dreaming of waterfalls, rivers, oceans, all sorts of water features, and when I woke at 3am, I knew, somehow I knew, if I went back to sleep again, my sleeping bag would become a water feature! So, I dragged myself out of the bag and covers, stuck on my shoes, it had rained so the ground was wet and dirty, Abe had fixed the door to our room closed with some sort of pole, I woke him trying to remove that and did not enjoy having to creep into the bathroom with a wet dirt covered floor. Disgusting! Anyway, I felt much better, but in trying not to wake Abe again, I just could not get back into my sleeping bag, so I gave up and slept under the various blankets.

Miles walked 0.64
Temperature 25C 80F

Day 28 January 31st - Getting up was fine. We had a 7am start, some breakfast of bread rolls (I'm beginning to get totally fed up with dry dry bread, no tasty jam in sight, not even a dash of vinegar), a couple of cups of coffee later and we're ready to go. The German girls braved a shower so were taking a bit longer to get ready. Not sure if this bothered Bruno or not.

We decided on taking turns for the worst seats in the 4x4, I got the front seat, with loads of leg room, for my little legs! We were told to bring loads of water and snacks for our trip, so far I had barely touched my water and was so not in the mood for pringles or cheese puffs!! The cheese puffs became a bit of a symbol for our trip, they were treated delicately, placed at the front so everyone knew where they were, and if they fell, a concerted effort to retrieve them. I actually thought I would be sick if I ate just one, so enjoyed making a false fuss of them.



We drove for a few minutes and came across some crazy rock formations, again easy to climb and the drivers couldn't care less if we fell.



I'm glad I was at the front of the 4x4, I'm in Bolivia, driving off road through amazing desert, past landscapes you would not imagine existed in Bolivia and snow!! There were plenty of stops for photos, of course the Korean truck stopped more often than we did.



Right, I guess it's now time to introduce the rest of the group. On the photo of the 6 of us, starting from the left is James. This guy is very cool. He was a little quiet to begin with, but that might have been down to chatty me or cheeky Abe. James used to work for RBS Investment banking in London. He lived there with his fiance Sarah (who I'll come to in a minute) after meeting her 8 years ago on a trip with friends to Canada. The night they first met, Sarah was feeling awful and had to be dragged out of her apartment in her PJ's to spend an evening with James and his friends. They hit it off, James spent some time in Canada on a Visa before Sarah eventually moved to London on a Visa. I like the story as she could have so easily blown the first night off feeling terribly ill, but she didn't and they also prove that a long distance relationship can work. They both quit their jobs before their trip and will be moving to Toronto in April. James is from Devon. He supports Sheffield Wednesday (I really enjoyed a good chat about old Wednesday players, ie Hirst, Waddle, Walker, Pressman, Woods, Jonk, Carbone, Di Canio etc etc ) and his cousin is Dave Richards, chairman of the Premier League. He has a great taste in music, lived a busy life in London and has travelled all over the world with Sarah. He also loves rugby union, I mean loves it big time! James was great to hang out with and I really enjoyed his company.

Next, is Sarah. As you already know, she worked in London and is lucky enough to have a company that is also based in Toronto so needs to be there for work in April, while James will be a kept man!! Sarah is an incredibly beautiful Canadian and one might argue she is more white than me? Well, she has more freckles at least. She has a cheeky sense of humour and can banter with anyone. They work together very well as a couple and even after 8 years, you can still sense that extreme close bond and spark for each other. Sarah also has a tell it straight attitude and one night in Santiago, told me to 'grow a pair', of course I didn't, but she was very patient with me and very caring too. Like James, I also really enjoyed hanging out with Sarah, somehow, even though I had only known them for a few days, I trusted them 100% and thoroughly enjoyed the fun we had together. A couple you know wouldn't mind you stopping over for a few days in Toronto, maybe for a Niagara wine tour on bikes?

Next in the picture is Iris. She is from Germany, spoke perfect English and was on a 3 week holiday with her close friend Jenny. A very friendly young lady, enjoyed joking around and had a great sense of humour and adventure. She took some stick about her new boyfriend of two months being left at home in Germany, I think he was a pilot. She met Jenny while studying medicine but gave that up to teach languages. We teased her about being a little gold digger as she also loved working as an assistant to rich guys who travel the world, and also she went to Iran without a visa, without appropriate dress and also without telling her mum, just to meet her boyfriend, who left her at the airport!! Anyway, she was fun to hang out with and a girl who gets lots and lots of attention wherever she goes. I don't put this just down to her looks, she is a happy person, loves conversing and has lots of interesting stories. Ok, and yes, she looked great in a bikini, read on and you'll see (don't worry, I already told her the same and she knows it anyway). Again, Iris has already said I should pop over to Germany, she couldn't quite understand that I'm kind of homeless, ie my brother is looking after my laptop and junk but I had a great time meeting her and spending time with her.

Next is me, ginger, scared of the sun, commitment and memory loss but loves to chat, tell jokes and tell funny stories. The group say I'm too 'nice' but I like to think I am just being myself and they would have the exact same experience with my brothers.

Then we have Jenny. Lives in Hamburg Germany, is a qualified doctor and has the world at her feet. An incredible mind, fluent in perfect English, some Spanish and French. She is thinking of practicing medicine abroad or might undertake an MA in something else. She lived in Indiana for a while when she was younger and is lucky enough to have relatives in Lima, Santiago and South Africa and maybe other places too. She loves to travel and has had great adventures with her friend Iris. In some ways they are complete opposites but I think that's why they go together so well. She has a great sense of humour, and seemed to laugh at most of my jokes. I chewed her ear off for hours on the 2nd day of our Uyuni trip, she was asking about my time in NYC and what it was like working for a bank, etc etc. I really enjoyed spending time with her and really enjoyed talking to her as well. I got her in trouble when she was in Chile, I was trying to organise a night out in Santiago and a trip to Mendoza so I sent a few emails, little did I know her boyfriend has her password to check her emails??? Firstly, WTF is that about and secondly, no, my emails were clean and to the point, ie meet here, we're going there etc. So, some German lad is on the phone asking who the F*** is dis Tony!! Ha, well I haven't emailed since. She also has an infectious smile. Another amazing person I've been lucky enough to meet on my travels.

Last is Abe. I've mentioned him already, but I love this guy. Always happy, smiling, joking, great to travel with and someone who I will definitely be going to visit in Amsterdam. He also told me a few times I was too 'nice' and shouldn't be. Don't worry sister-in-laws, New York Tony isn't going to resurface. Also, after a few hours of knowing me, turned to me and said, dude, writing a blog is gay, I just laughed at him. From then on though, the blog became 'bgb' (big gay blog) and any drink I ordered always came in a girly glass, so big gay drink.

Anyway, back to the tour. We had another long drive to get to lunch. Soon, we were passing hot desert with snow topped rocks! You just couldn't believe what you were seeing. Ahead was a section of road that was dissected by a small river. Out of four 4x4s, the first car went through fine. Our guy, Bruno, stopped, got out the car and looked a little nervous. Great!! So the first car driver, jumped in our car and got us through the river. The third car got through fine, and is pictured doing so. The fourth guy, put his foot down and flooded his engine and the car stopped. This is also pictured. 
  
Now, we now had some time to kill, the girls found a small rock wall to turn into a bathroom while the lads and a Danish couple played Abe's 'see how far you can throw a stone' game. Anyone seen me trying to thrown a javelin or a cricket ball will know this is not my game!!

The 4x4 was drained and started and we were off again. Next on the trip was Flamigo's. I guess this isn't quite the same as Flamingo world on the IOW, this is their natural habitat. As usual, kicked out the car and told ten minutes, I think so far on the trip we've had less than an hour out the car actually seeing Bolivia but this is a cheeky way of getting to the Chile border.




There was a sign at this stop saying no peeing, but of course, they had toilets which you had to cough up to use. After only knowing James and Sarah for a day, poor Sarah has to frequent the restroom often, and it's eating in James' beer money!!

Soon we are stopped off at some rock face to enjoy lunch of breaded chicken, potatoes, vegetables and pop again. There is shade, but it's too cold. Then there is desert, but it's too hot. I settle for the shade with my jacket!! Lunch was very tasty, he always gave us loads of time for lunch but not for what we actually paid to see!! Over lunch I talk to Jenny about cats, she has two, one called Louis who is very 'friendly' and anytime she has house parties this cat stays up and hangs out with all the drunk guests!! I talk about our Sam and wrestling big dogs like Lottie. I think the conversation came up after seeing a rabbit like creature in the rocks, of course we tried to feed it some carrot. 

I wouldn't say the mood in the 4x4 got bad, but we got a little fed up of stopping at random places for ten mins here 15 mins there. What we all wanted was more time at the salt flats and a TOUR GUIDE!! We were lucky that Abe spoke Spanish, Jenny also, but we all wonder what we missed out on.
We soon came to a controlled crossing where there was an entrance fee. Literally after leaving this place, we were at our hut for the night and it was still only 305pm!!! We were all unhappy about this. Especially as we had just passed the red lagoon, that wasn't red at this time of year!! Jenny seemed bummed out most of all. I guess her and Iris only have 3 weeks on holiday and three days is with this tour and day 2 is over already! I cheer her up showing her a picture of my nephew Easton and his parents and of course everyone finds my brothers message on the back amusing 'Dear Ant, Easton can't wait to meet his Uncle Tony, so he can do a big poo for you!!'. The German girls decide on a nap, Iris has a bad headache, and the boys and Sarah find some beer and start playing poker again. This place is slightly better than the first night, although there was a dead corpse of an animal laying out drying on some tyre. We were all in the same dorm tonight and outside the room was a long corridor perpendicular to the room with the toilets to our left. The toilets had seats but while we were playing cards, this awful smell kept wafting over. We opened one window, then two. I had enough so went to investigate, of course someone hadn't flushed one of the toilets, gross! But this didn't help. Over time, I guess we didn't notice it as much. James brought out his iphone, so we had music, beer, cheesey puffs, poker and we played with pebbles for say $1 and another deck of cards so a card was a $5 bet. We must have played for hours. Sarah popped off for a nap and an Aussie joined us called Perry. He told us he was on a detox as he spent 5 nights in Loki La Paz at the hostel bar, and was taken to hospital twice in that time. He also talked about trying some cocaine, blah blah blah, he was OK, just not the kind of conversation I was interested in.

Soon it was dinner. I woke the girls up, I bet they wish I hadn't now. It was gross! It was disgusting! But I had seconds! We're talking spaghetti that had been cooked for hours and the sauce was a mix of tomato, red onion, maybe a pepper and what seemed like ketchup. No-one finished their plate, we asked why no meat, but the meat doesn't last well this long into the trip. Now the dead animal out front looks tempting. At around 730pm, Bruno, tell us we're waking up at 330am for a 4am start. He was so adamant about this, kept wiggling his arms and saying quatro, quatro!! Right OK, we had saved two bottles of wine for the evening so now it was time to drink them and have an early night. This we did. Apart from one aspect. Ok, this is going to be difficult to describe, but you know that feeling, say when you were 10 and on a school trip. You're in a room with some of your buddies and you are trying desperately hard to keep quiet but any sound has you giggling like a girl. You know that feeling? I can't remember how it started, maybe we mentioned the spaghetti, maybe someone made a funny noise, I know I referred to 330am wake up time as F**k o'clock, but for ten minutes later we are all in uncontrollable hysterics. When it did go quiet, Sarah said she was in tears and James had in fact moved under his blankets to soften the giggling noises. Amazing. I'm laughing right now in an Internet cafe in Cordoba with people looking at me weirdly!! I haven't laughed this much for a long long time!

Miles walked 0.53
Temp 25C 80F

Day 29 February 1 - We got up at 330am. We packed, brushed our teeth and were ready for 4am. The two other groups in the hut weren't up and our driver nowhere to be seen! We were all furious! We did hear some drinking going on in the night, Abe found the drivers room but only found beds that looked like they hadn't been used and 30 empty beer cans! Great! No cell phone signal, there is nothing that we can do, it is also pitch black outside. Around 430am, the other two drivers turn up and start loading their 4x4s, but have no idea where Bruno is! Great! The Germans are fuming! The Canadian is livid! I keep swearing. Just as the last truck is about to leave, Jenny stops him and he agrees to drive around the area looking for Bruno. It's 510am, and just as the guy is about to pull away to try find him, Bruno appears! Do you think he said sorry? I don't that word exists in Bolivia. Abe gives him some grief in Spanish but he just kept saying it's not a problem, it's not a problem. Unhappy and tired we leave another hut, and worst of all Sarah very unwell, probably from last nights spaghetti, which is still sitting there on our table. Awful!



We're on the way to a geyser and then some hot springs. Bruno's driving is poor, he's all over the shop, Jenny is in the front seat keeping an eye on him and making sure he stays awake!
So, we're in the desert, it's been super hot and now it's snowing!! At the geysers were are covered in snow and are walking in soggy sticky clay!




Again, we had the usual ten minutes to look at this amazing natural phenomenon. Steam was blowing everywhere, you were walking around with shoes twice their size in clay and snow covering your jackets. I was quite happy to kick Bruno's car to get the clay off and then moving onto the hot springs. It's very cold at this point, the girls (James included again) had out the sleeping bags, Abe and I just manned up on the back seat.

I've been looking forward to the hot springs, when we got there the little git only allowed 15 mins. There was a small changing room, at a cost and soon we were stripped off in in the spring. It was perfect, going from near freezing conditions to a warm warm spring, just perfect! I've tried the one near Machu Picchu and it was great that day as it was also raining, so you're body was superhot but the rain cooled you off via your head. The German girls took one look and decided to skip, no it wasn't the look at me, but some German lad had a quick chat with them and insisted they strip off and get in, which they did.



The pictures are more powerful than words in this instance, it was just so satisfying. Similar to a beach, getting out wasn't fun, I slipped on some seaweed, was walking through clay and had the awkward couple of minutes of trying to get dry in the changing room, whilst getting dressed whilst not losing anything. Well, I lost another pen, one I had been given as a gift from South Africa. I did go back to look but it had gone. There was a small room where breakfast was being served and then we had one last stop before the Chile border. The girls had found out that there were more geysers to be seen but drunk Bruno had skipped most of them, there goes his tip!

We arrived at the green lagoon, feeling better after a dip in the spring and then Jenny realised she didn't have her camera. This is bad. There were all her pictures of this trip as well as a trip to London with her boyfriend that she had not downloaded, as well as the expensive camera itself. The green lagoon didn't seem as significant now. We searched all over the car, her bag and all I could suggest was that Abe on his way back to Uyuni with Bruno (as he was on a night train from Uyuni to Salta that night) went back to the spring and the geyser to search. Bruno didn't give much hope, assuming it had been pinched. Sadly when Abe did go back there was no sign of the camera. Jenny took it pretty well and I have so much respect for her for that. For me, it would have ruined my day, maybe the next 4/5 days, but for her within 30 minutes, she was laughing and smiling again.

We were at the border while Chile. We loaded onto another bus, said goodbye to Abe, didn't tip Bruno and the 5 of us drove over the border and the driver exclaimed 'CHILE! CHILE!'.



I found Bolivia tough going. The altitude in La Paz really got to me and I was low for a couple of days, but the Isla de Sol was amazing and I was so lucky to have been on the same trip as James, Sarah, Abe, Iris and Jenny. I was not going to miss the bumpy dirt roads, continuing to have to pay for the restroom, and being so far above sea level. I do miss the salt flats, the hot springs and fun bond the 6 of us had for 3 days. So, if you're going on a tour of the Uyuni flats, research carefully, try negotiate a better price and be aware that our 3 day tour actually lasted 47 hours as we were dropped off at Chile. Abe's journey back to Uyuni was a 12 hour drive with Bruno drinking cans of beer. Ensure you get adequate time at the salt flats or find a way of getting there yourself. It was still a fun few days!
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Comments

Pete on

BGB - perfect...couldn't have put it better myself!

The Real Toni Border on

Good!!! No New York Ant...That is bad....Normal Ant good.....Sounds like you had a great time mate!!!! I would have been pissed about that whole tour thing but oh well you made a bunch of new mates and all is good. The one thing I am slightly confused about is that both of your brothers have had long distances relationships that worked out....is there something that the sister in laws need to know :-)

Glad you are having a good time mate....

Kimberly Border on

Hey Ant,
Great entry! Sounds like you met some fabulous friends even if the tour was disappointing. That's the thing you'll look back on and laugh about.
Yes, I agree with Toni about the long distance thing!!!

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