Saddlin' up in Tupiza

Trip Start May 06, 2007
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Trip End Jul 22, 2007


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, July 2, 2007

The area surrounding Tupiza, in southern Bolivia, could come straight out of the American Southwest -- brightly colored rocky hillsides, jagged formations, and strange looking badlands in all directions. It's also where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, two robbers a la the Wild West, were reputedly killed after robbing a payroll. There's a movie about them starring Robert Redford, I think.

Rolling in at around 4am, I quickly found my way to Hotel La Torre, which is quite excellent. $3 per night for my own room (shared bathroom), and the place looks more like a fancy residence, with a living room with TV, dining room with a harmonium, and winding staircases with upper level walkways overlooking a common decorated foyer. They also have their own tour agency, but I decided to go with the more well known "Tupiza Tours," which came well recommended in LP as well as from my tour guide in Uyuni. Little did I know...

So Tupiza Tours has this thing called the "Triathlon," which is just a marketing name for a one-day tour of the area using three modes of transportation: Jeep, mountain bike, and horseback riding. It sounded perfect for me, so I signed up and went.

THE GOOD
- Scenery was FANTASTIC. Rivals the most scenic parts of cowboy country in the US, from what I've heard. Lots of cactuses, canyons, badlands, rock formations... beautiful.
- The bike ride was ... well, it's hard to comment when I had just recently done the World's Most Dangerous Road... but yeah, the bike ride was nice. Very easy, just going down a flat dirt road, through a cool tunnel, and ending at a rock tower formation.
- Horseback riding was fun, if a little on the slow side most of the time. My horse, Junca, was pretty tame, with the exception of a few gallops which often came out of nowhere. It was so easy to imagine myself in an old Western movie. I'd never wanted a cowboy hat so badly. Oh, and it was fun chasing down some pigs for a few minutes on horseback -- turns out pigs are actually pretty fast when they need to be.
- The tour company lunch included something called a tamal (spelling?), a corn meal ball filled with llama meat. Tasty!

THE BAD
- The area is EXTREMELY dusty, so biking down the roads and getting passed by a truck meant inhaling dirt for the next 5 minutes, which was usually when the next truck would pass.
- Sometimes the Jeep would pass very scenic areas, only to make a planned stop at a rather unimpressive location, or at a place where the sun was in a horrible place (i.e. right above the formations) and you could barely see them without squinting or going blind. A little better planning would've been nice.
- One day just isn't enough -- one needs several days of exploring to really soak it all in.

THE UGLY
- For some reason, even though the tour agency had such a good reputation, they just weren't on top of their game that day. The horses weren't there when we showed up for that leg of the trip (we had to wait for a while), the Jeep wasn't there when we returned from the horseback riding part (waiting yet again), the food (although not bad) was extremely insufficient for a full day, and their bikes were frankly in horrible condition. However, I took all of this in stride and didn't whine about it (see below).
- Normally I don't disparage fellow travelers, but I can't deny that I didn't particularly enjoy (some of) my company on this trip. It's hard to describe... a mixture of complaining about everything, insulting fellow travelers' nationalities, insisting on maintaining a running commentary on everything anyone did, and mocking the local people and culture. I did my best to ignore it all.
- The city has no ATM. I wish I had known that earlier.

In any case, I'm glad I came to Tupiza and caught a brief glimpse of its natural beauty, but the mines of Potosi await....
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