Mountains, jungle, desert and rum = fun!
Trip Start Dec 29, 2011
29Trip End Jan 20, 2013
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What we didnt realise was that about 45 mins into the bus trip to La Paz they make you get off, and board a ferry and cross part of the Lake- we had taken Valium about 30 mins prior to this crossing so as it kicked in we were told to get off etc. We had no idea what was going on!
La Paz is a pretty nice looking city situated between two large hills and mountains beyond
After we went on the famous Death road which was really good fun. I ended up with two flat tyres which was annoying but the company we were with fixed them quite quickly. When you're on the bike it doesn't seem too bad as the road is about 3 m wide and you really concentrate on what your doing, but when you stop and take photos you realise that there are sheer drop offs up to 600 m where the road ends! The scenery is amazing.
I cant believe it used to be used as the main road to the north from La Paz. No wonder so many cars would go off the edge, there is hardly any room to move for one car! They say at least one tourist goes off the road at least once a month on these bike tours, and every year 2 people die generally from loss of concentration or over confidence.
From the Death Road we ventured into the Amazon via Coroico. We spent 6 days in the amazon. First we canoed three days to where they do the Pampas tour in Rurrenabaque. So we had three days of jungle tour first. It was good but pretty disorganized
The pampas tour after was pretty fun. We saw a bunch of alligators, cayman, capybara (big rodent things that look like giant guinea pigs), anaconda, pink dolphins, squirrel monkeys, birds. Had another night on rum in the jungle which got a bit wild as well.
After we headed back to La Paz on an interesting aircraft and unfortunately Adam's time was up and had to head off home. Not without going off in style- we bought another bottle of Rum and got absolutely annihilated! I'm not sure how he made his flight, when he said goodbye in the morning (after about 2 hrs sleep) I could barely even move!
Michelle and Dave headed south, and I stuck around in La Paz and arranged to climb two mountains
After getting back to La Paz and falling into bed, I awoke at 8 am and headed off for mountain number 2. As with Alpamayo, It took 2 days to summit Huanya Potosi, 6088 m. I was still tired from the first climb of Alpamayo but determined. It was me, a swiss german couple, Thomas and Anke and a canadian girl, Amy (who met us at high camp). Driving into base camp served up some very spectacular views of the Potosi. It is quite a nice looking mountain, snow capped. We arrived at base camp and then loaded up for the walk to high camp (4700 m up to 5200 m). We had to carry all of our gear which weighs up- snow pants, jacket, balaclava, gloves, ice boots, crampons, ice axe, harness, helmet, thermal sleeping bag, plus all of our clothes and water we had brought along
Then we started the decent. By this stage I was absolutley stuffed from the two climbs, a large headache came in from lack of eating in the morning, and probably lack of water. We slowly went down which seemed to go forever. Looking back at what we climbed in the daylight was very cool. There were massive crevices everywhere and large glaciers. We arrived back at High camp and rested for about an hour before heading back to base camp and going back to la Paz. A couple more people hadnt made it to the top. One guy pulled out at the 6000 m mark, only 88 m to go! but he said he was very sick. It was a really great climb and I'm super glad I made it but I cant believe some people take altitude climbing with a whatever atitude- one girl flew into La Paz the day before she attempted the climb and said "i thought I'd be fine' she made it about 1 hour in and turned back- complete waste of money.
From there I caught an overnight bus (which I slept the whole way!) and met up with Michelle and Dave in Potosi. Potosi is known for its silver mines. We went on a silver mine tour. It consists of first visitng the miners market where they shop for there various items
We then went to the refining factory. It looked very 'do-it-yourself' but seemed to work. There were multiple baths and rotating parts and one guy adding chemicals to each one. Then at the end of the line silver sediments into baths and is scooped out, bagged and shipped off around the world, but mainly to Asia. Each miner basically works for himself or in a group and what they mine is judged by eye as to the cost of the silver they extracted. We were told some miners make millions of US dollars, some make very little amounts and it varies from month to month. Our guide (who used to work in the mines) said his friend did very poorly for 15 years, and then the last 3 years he has bought 5 houses in Potosi, one in Argentina which he rents out for 2000 USD a month, 6 cars. The Bolivian football team is owned by a miner. Its quite interesting to walk around and see the various effects the mines have had on certain people. Brand new Hummer cars driving around, and then a really old 4x4.
Following the refinery we drove to one of the many mine entrances on the mountain which overlooks Potosi. The mines are Co-op run, and actually run quite well in terms of a Co-op. We walked 3 km through the tunnels and exited on another side of the mountain
- A lot of tourists dont want to go into the mines as they dont want to see sad poor people working in such dangerous conditions, underage workers. In reality about 16 people die per year in the mines, 10,000 people work in the mines. This is quite eye opening when you see the conditions. The underage miners are illegal in terms of the law but no-one stops it- our guide started when he was just 10 years old, but he like all the other miners actually choose to work there, and now the older guys see our young ex miner guide and tell their kids- dont go to the mines, go to school and be like Pedro and get into tourism, so the the young popuation of the mine is decreasing. When people say they dont want to see sad people- the miners in there are quite happy and proud to work in the mines. And poor- well it varies, everyone in there will earn differently. He said the 'poor' people still earn enough to feed and supply for their family and so they are still better off than the beggers on the street. As an ex miner it was good to learn what actually occurs in the mines- other companies falsify tales to make the tour more interesting or shocking to tourists
Its really quite strange how it works- as a miner you go into the mine, choose an area where you see part of a silver seam, and start digging. Other miners know its your area and wont dig there. You could do everything yourself, or form a group of 2 or 20 and share the load (and the profit). They have no geologists or engineers, all the supports, the directions they dig etc are all done based on their own experience which is really quite amazing.
After the tour we went back to town. We were going to go on a city tour but thought it was too expensive, but our guide decided to take me, Michelle and a Chilean girl on part of the tour for free. He took us to the cemetery- we were lucky to be there on a Monday. Each Monday the people from Potosi go to the cemetery to remember their loved ones. Its called a day of the souls. We walked there and the cemetery was huge. We bought a bottle of Chicha- Inka beer (non alcoholic) out the front and went in. The cemetery is arranged in work profession order- as no-one can generally buy some land of the cemetery, the profession form together to buy a large part i.e. all teachers are buried together, miners, doctors etc. Most are buried in tombs which are stacked several people high. Those who believe they should be buried in the ground can be done so also. We went to the miners co-op section which was very large. Pedro our guide knew about 12 people who lay rest here. Many of his friends were there drinking the strong alochol, chatting and remembering their friends. A lot of widows were there as well. We went down and they were playing a coin throwing game- whereby you have to throw a coin and try and land it in a brick with a small hole in it
After Potosi we went to Uyuni and went on a 3 day tour to the border of Chile. The first day we visited the famous Salt Flats- the highest salt flats in the world. They cover an area of about 12,000 km squared so they are absolutey huge. We visited an old train cemetery first which was quite interesting to see many old rotting trains. Then we drove over the salt flats. The white landscape extends vastly in all directions
The next day we drove a lot, we stopped at four lagoons which were full with flamingos. The last one was coloured red which looked quite nice during sunset. Along the way we entered the Dali Desert. Very dry landscape with volcanoes popping out everywhere. Again we stayed in salt built accommodation. The final day started very early to catch sunrise but missed it driving out to where we needed to be. We stopped finally at some geysers - these are natural vents pouring hot sulphur steam from the volcanic ground. Boiling mud pits were also dotted around. The whole area reminded me of the moon or mars surface. After that we made our way to the border where we hopped on a bus and headed into Chile. We dropped from about 4500 m to 2400 m in about 1 hour and arrived at a small but touristy desert town called San Pedro.