Tunupa Volcano

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
1
76
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Trip End Nov 04, 2008


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Where I stayed
Tunupa Hostel - included in tour

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, March 14, 2008

The four of us met at 9am to have some breakfast before we started our 4x4 tour at 10.30 am.

We quickly found out that bunches of tourist groups roaming around at the same time together with slower bolivian service creat a huge bottleneck in bars and restaurants. There is only about 10 in Uyuni, and only about 5 serve breakfast.

We tried at the "16 de Julio", a place that serves excellent Muesli and cooked breakfasts with fruit juices, but after 30 minutes wait we decided to move to a different one (Kactus) as we only had a few minutes left to pack and go to the agency.

It was funny to see Mike with half a hair cut. He tried the night before to shave all his hair but at 7pm the water at the wonderful "Residencial Sucre" (never go, its a total dump) was cut and didnt come on until 7am next morning. Luckily we had already had a shower...

In between the breakfast we also rushed to the train station to get tickets for the 18th of March towards Tupiza. There are only 2 trains per week going in that direction (in any direction actually) so tickets disappear well in advance.

When we arrived at the train station we had to take a number and wait (like at the supermarkets to buy fish or meat) and it seemed to be endless. We only found out when it was our turn that they were not selling tickets for the train next Tuesday until Monday morning. This would be tricky given we would be in the middle of the dessert with no phones. It was good that our agency (Blue Line) offered to get the tickets first thing Monday and sort everything out. This would be crucial later on as many people have had to rent a 4x4 or get strange bus connections as the tickets went out very fast.

Anyway, we all packed our stuff onto the Toyota 4x4 (most of the cars around here are Toyota Landcruisers and the youngest are about 12 years old!).

Our first stop was the "Cementerio de Trenes" (Train Cemetry) which has quite a few old locomotives rusting in the dessert. Uyuni used to be an important rail point for all the mining industry of Bolivia and the railway was built between 1856 and 1859. It has since become less used to take minerals to Chile, and even the passenger train only works from Uyuni to the border with Chile (Abaroa).

Second stop was at the entry of the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats of Uyuni) where the town lives from the salt industry. Basically they do everything manually as the pictures will show, and there is not much money in it. 50 kilos of salt go at a rate of 8.5 Bolivarianos (about 70 cents of Euro) and that is when they are all packed and prepared in 1 kilo packs.

We then proceeded into the Salar de Uyuni, a place we didnt imagine existed on Earth. 150 kilometres from North to South and 250 kilometres from East to West, metre after metre of salt, salt, salt. In some of the places the salt goes down up to 180 metres deep!

The photographs probably do not show how large the salt flats are. Sufficient to say that once you are in you see nothing around but flat and white, and mountains very far away. Just amazing.

Anyway, during the trip our guide Grober explained quite a few things on the different areas we passed and we chatted about Bolivian politics and situation. At the moment a lot of changes are going on, and not all easy for the country. Evo Morales is the President and forms part of one of the three indian groups that live in Bolivia (Quechua, Aymara and Guarani). Evo is pushing laws and changes to increase the presence of indians in the state administration and has given all civil servants, teachers, etc 11 months to learn the language of their region.

This will help indians to adapt but will obviously cause conflict when civil servants are fired for not learning the language. I think they have some secret assistance from Catalunya...he he he

There is little more to say about the Salt Flats as the photographs show everything. Riding over them in a 4x4 is a great experience and we are so happy to have paid a little extra to travel only 4 plus driver and cook. We have seen other groups (mostly Israelis who hate releasing their Bolivarianos) travelling 8 to a vehicle. Doing that for 4 days is torture.

We arrived at the small town of Coquenza (with about 4 families) where we stayed the night. Its at the base of the Volcan de Tunupa which is an incredible setting for the sunset.

Food during the day was excellent, with the cook preparing everything on a gas cooker as we went along. The Llama meat was the treat of the day...and it tastes great.

One last note: today makes exactly 3 months since we dropped out of the rat race and started travelling, and every day is getting better! I can only tell my old colleagues to keep working hard (those 8am to 8pm working days plus the additional blackberring). I still have shares in the company that I want to get rid off but wont do it until the value increases! So keep going boys and girls...
 
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