Day 18

Trip Start Mar 17, 2010
Trip End May 21, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Sunday, April 4, 2010

Day 18: Ollaque to Uyuni
Total - 300km

There are three places marked on the map between Ollaque: Chiguana, Juloca and Rio Grande where there is a good restaurant on the right in a renovated round steel water tank.

Officially the Plurinational State of Bolivia is a landlocked country in central South America. It is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, and Chile and Peru to the west. Prior to European colonization, the Bolivian territory was a part of the Inca Empire. The Spanish Empire conquered the region in the 16th century. During most of the Spanish colonial period, this territory was called "Upper Peru" and declared independence in 1809, 16 years of war followed before the establishment of the republic.

The word Bolivia is derived from Bolivar, the last name of the famous American Libertador Simon Bolivar. The name came about when Antonio Jose de Sucre was given the option by Bolivar to either keep Bolivia (back then also known as Upper Peru) under the newly formed Republic of Peru, or to formally declare its independence from the Viceroyalty of Peru that had dominated most of the region. Sucre opted to create a new nation and, with local support, named it in honour of Simon Bolivar.
The poverty level is around 60%. The Bolivian population, estimated at 9 million, is multiethnic, including Amerindians, Mestizos, Europeans and to a lesser extent Asians and Africans. The main language spoken is Spanish, although the Aymara and Quechua languages are also common.
The large number of different cultures within Bolivia has contributed greatly to a wide diversity in fields such as art, cuisine, literature and music. Bolivia has been constantly occupied for over 2000 years. The ancient capital city was Tiwanaku and dates as early as 1500 BC.It started as a small agriculturally based village. Control of llama herds became very significant to Tiwanaku. The llama herds were essential for carrying goods back and forth between the centre and the periphery as well as symbolizing the difference between the commoners and the elites. The town grew until about AD 950. At this time a dramatic shift in climate occurred.

There was a significant drop in precipitation for the Titicaca Basin. Some archaeologists even venture to say that a great drought occurred. As the rain became less and less many of the cities further away from Lake Titicaca began to produce fewer crops to give to the elites. As the surplus of food ran out for the elites their power began to fall. Tiwanaku disappeared around AD 1000 because food production, their main source of power, dried up. The land was not inhabited for many years after that.

Between 1438 and 1527, the Incan empire, on a mass expansion, acquired much of what is now western Bolivia. The Incans wouldn't maintain control of the region for long however, as the rapidly expanding Inca Empire was internally weak. As a result the Spanish conquest was remarkably easy. A period of political and economic instability in the early to mid-19th century weakened Bolivia. Then in the War of the Pacific (1879–83) against Chile, it lost its access to the sea and the adjoining rich Salitre ("Chile Saltpeter") fields, together with the port of Antofagasta. Since its independence, Bolivia has lost over half of its territory to neighbouring countries in wars. It also lost the state of Acre (known for its production of rubber) when Brazil persuaded the state of Acre to secede from Bolivia in 1903.
In the late 19th century, an increase in the world price of silver brought Bolivia relative prosperity and political stability. During the early 20th century, tin replaced silver as the country's most important source of wealth. A succession of governments controlled by the economic and social elite followed laissez-faire capitalist policies through the first thirty years of the 20th century.

Living conditions of the native people, who constitute most of the population, remained deplorable. With work opportunities limited to primitive conditions in the mines and in large estates having nearly feudal status, they had no access to education, economic opportunity, and political participation. Bolivia's defeat by Paraguay in the Chaco War (1932–35), where Bolivia lost a great part of the Gran Chaco region in dispute, marked a turning point.

The Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) emerged as a broadly based party. The economy grew impressively during this time, but human rights violations and eventual fiscal crises undercut support for the party. Elections were called in 1978, and Bolivia again entered a period of political turmoil. Elections in 1979 and 1981 were inconclusive and marked by fraud. There were coups d'état, counter-coups, and caretaker governments. The reforms and economic restructuring were strongly opposed by certain segments of society, which instigated frequent and sometimes violent protests, particularly in La Paz and the Chapare coca-growing region, from 1994 through 1996.

The government of the time pursued a policy of offering monetary compensation for voluntary eradication of illegal coca by its growers in the Chapare region. The policy produced little net reduction in coca, and in the mid-1990s Bolivia accounted for about one-third of the world's coca that was being processed into cocaine. The coca leaf has long been part of the Bolivian culture, as indigenous workers have traditionally used the leaf for its properties as a mild stimulant and appetite suppressant.

In 2006 Morales won the election with 53.7% of the votes, an absolute majority, unusual in Bolivian elections. He was sworn in on January 22 for a five-year term. Prior to his official inauguration in La Paz, he was inaugurated in an Aymara ritual at the archaeological site of Tiwanaku before a crowd of thousands of Aymara people and representatives of leftist movements from across Latin America. Though highly symbolic, this ritual was not historically based and primarily represented native Aymaras — not the main Quechua-speaking population. It is worth noting that since the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century, this region of South America -with a majority native population- has been ruled mostly by descendants of European immigrants. In August 2007, more conflicts arose in Sucre. Bolivia has had a turbulent political history and it maybe there is more to come.

Many ecological zones are represented within Bolivia's territory. The western highlands of the country are situated in the Andes Mountains and include the Bolivian Altiplano. The eastern lowlands include large sections of Amazonian rainforests and the Chaco Plain. The highest peak is Nevado Sajama at 6,542 metres (21,460 ft) located in the Oruro Department. Lake Titicaca is located on the border between Bolivia and Peru. The Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, lies in the southwest corner of the country, in the department of Potosí.

The weather in Bolivia can vary drastically from one climatic zone to another. The summer months in Bolivia are November through March. The weather is typically warmer and wetter during these months. April through October, the winter months, are typically colder and drier.
In the highlands, the weather can be very cold and temperatures frequently go below zero at night, especially on the Altiplano. Snow is common in Potosi during the winter months and sometimes also falls on La Paz and Oruro. In contrast, winter in Sucre, Cochabamba and Tarija on the Cordillera Real is a time of blue skies and comfortable temperatures.

Bolivia has the lowest GDP per capita in South America. However, the country is rich in natural resources. Bolivia has the second largest natural gas reserves in South America. Bolivia is also estimated to have 50%-70% of the world’s lithium. The light metal is used to make high-capacity batteries used in electric cars and such, the spinoff effect of lithium mining could cause Bolivia to become the, so to speak "Saudi Arabia of the Green World".
Bolivia's ethnic distribution is estimated to be 30% Quechua-speaking and 25% Aymara-speaking Amerindians. The largest of the approximately three dozen native groups are the Quechuas (2.5 million), Aymaras (2 million), then Chiquitano (180,000), and Guaraní (125,000). So the full Amerindian population is at 55%; the remaining 30% is mestizo (mixed Amerindian and European), and around 15% are whites.

The white population consists mostly of families of relatively unmixed Spanish ancestry, descended from the early Spanish colonists. These have formed much of the aristocracy since independence. Other smaller groups within the white population are Germans, who founded the national airline Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano, as well as Italians, Basques, Croats, Russians, Poles and other minorities, many of whose members descend from families that have lived in Bolivia for several generations. Some 40,000 German-speaking Mennonites live in eastern Bolivia.

The Afro-Bolivian community numbers more than 0.5% of the population descended from African slaves that were transported to work in Brazil and then migrated westward into Bolivia. They are mostly concentrated in the Yungas region in the department of La Paz. There are also Japanese who are concentrated mostly in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and Middle Easterners who became prosperous in commerce. Altogether Bolivia is an amazing mixing pot!

Bolivia is one of the least developed countries in South America. Almost two-thirds of its people, many of whom are subsistence farmers, live in poverty. Population density ranges from less than one person per square kilometre in the southeastern plains to about ten per square kilometre (twenty-five per sq. mile) in the central highlands. (Which is about the same as around Nick’s farm in Wales).

Uyuni is a town in the Potosí Department in the south of Bolivia. The town's primary function is as a gateway for tourists visiting the world's largest salt flats - the Salar de Uyuni. This is at an elevation of 3,670 meters above sea level.

One of the major tourist attractions of the area is an antique train cemetery. It is located 3 km outside Uyuni and is connected to it by the old train tracks. The town served in the past as a distribution hub for the trains carrying minerals on their way to the Pacific Ocean ports. The train lines were built by British engineers who arrived near the end of the 19th century and formed a sizeable community in Uyuni. The rail construction started in 1888 and ended in 1892. It was encouraged by the then Bolivian President Aniceto Arce, who believed Bolivia would flourish with a good transport system, but it was also constantly sabotaged by the local Aymara indigenous Indians who saw it as an intrusion into their lives. The trains were mostly used by the mining companies. In the 1940s, the mining industry collapsed, partly due to the mineral depletion. Many trains were abandoned thereby producing the train cemetery. There are talks to build a museum out of the cemetery.
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