07.12.2013 - 26.12.2013 16 °C
Sajama National Park (7th December - 9th December)
From La Paz we took an early morning bus towards Oruro and changed at Patacamaya where we took 2 minibuses to get to Sajama where Bolivia´s highest mountain is located. The town, if you can call it that, consisted of about 20 families most of whom had a shop or offered accommodation to tourists. The weather in Sajama was not great, grey and raining for parts of each day, and freezing at night! However, during a break from the rain we managed a walk to a laguna about two hours away where we were surprised to find flamingoes bathing in the water. On the way back it started to rain again but luckily we got a lift by with an engineer who was doing a survey of the area. After the rain subsided we climbed a nearby hill which gave a fantastic view of the valley, it was only a shame that our view of the volcano was clouded.
Cochabamba (10th December - 12th December)
We had originally planned to stay in Sajama for longer but seen as the weather was rubbish we came to Cochabamba a day earlier than we had planned. It was a long day of travel and started with a minibus at 0600, which we made sure we were early for as there is only one a day. Being early thankfully meant that we got the two front seats rather than being cramped in the back - about 18 people for 12 seats! From Patacamya where we were dropped off, we waited for a Cochabamaba bus to pass. Eventually one passed and we negotiated with the bus boy the fare - there was only 1 seat left so for the first half of the journey I had a luxury wide leather seat while Alice was up front sitting beside the driver! The journey to Cochabamba was supposed to take about 6 hours but we found out there was roadblocks all around the city so we feared spending hours or even the next night on the bus. Luckily for us, we joined the roadblock at about 1500 and by 1615 the road was opened. Soem other people in our hostel who had gotten night buses the night before were forced to wait all day but we got lucky with only an hours delay. Our hostel in Cochabamba was a twenty minute ride out of the city which was a negative but it was a lovely big building with lots of space. As the bus drivers were still striking, there was no public transport, making access to the sights a little difficult and expensive. On the first day we explored Cochabamba in the pouring rain, visiting a convent and wandering about. The next day the weather cleared up and we went into town again and took a cable car up to a statue of Jesus (at one point the largest in the world!). Cochabamba was a nice enough city, but not much to detain us as tourists for too long.
Oruro (13th December)
From Cochabamba we went to Oruro a day earlier as we were scared we would get caught in blockades again and miss our train. Oruro didn´t have much to offer but we visted the cathedral in the morning which had a minethat you entered from within the church which was very cool! In the afternoon we took a train to Uyuni.
Uyuni (14th December - 17th December)
The purpose of coming to Uyuni was visiting the salt falts so we spent the first day organising a tour. The operator we wanted to go with didn´t have a tour running the day we wanted so we were forced to find another operator to go with, but thankfully it turned out still to be a great trip. At night we went to see a traditional dance performance by a group from La Paz - the start time was billed as 1930 so we turned up for then only to be told by the show director that they wouldn´t start until 2030 as no one turns up on time round here...in the meantime we wandered about the town, almost catching a glimpse of the president who was in town to give a speech...but also turned up over an hour late, so we gave up waiting for him and went back to the dance performance instead.
The next dat we set of on our 3 day tour of the salt flats. The first day we visited the salt flats which were an incredible sight with pristine white as far as the eye could see. It was amazing and completely different to anything we had seen before on our trip. The next however, the weather wasn´t as good and it was very cloudy. We stopped to see a volcano as well as at multiple lagunas where we got amazingly close to the flamingoes. We spent the night in a hostel next to Laguna Colorado, the most beautiful lake of the trip, with pink ,blue, green and white coluring caused by different algae in the water. On the third day we were up at 4.30am for a visit to some impressive geysers and hot springs before dropping some people off at the Chilean border then driving 8 hours back to Uyuni, a long day for all of us!
Tupiza (18th December - 20th December)
We took an overnight train to Tupiza where we went on a walk in the amazing red valleys that afternoon, managing to get lost (typical Bolivan walk with a crummy map and no signposts!), and ended up scrambling up and down loose rock slopes to get between the valleys. The next day we went horseriding for the first time in our lives which was great fun! I was a bit nervous at the start as we were beside the main road however the horses couldn´t care less. We went a walking pace for most of the trip however we did get to try both a trot and a canter, where we were both surpised how fast it was! The rock formations in the valley we went up were interesting however both our bums were hurting by the time we got back!
Potosi (21st December)
Potosi is famous for being the highest city in the world as well as the hill Cerro Rico overlooking the city which has been mined for silver since the 16th century, making the city one of the richest in the world at one point. We organised a mine tour where we went into the mine to see what life was really like for the miners. It was an eye-opening claustrophobic experience. There were three levels to the mine and Alice and the other boy in our group never made it past level 1 because of the heat, dust, claustrophobia etc. That meant it was just me and the guide for the rest of the tour. I got a good understanding of how the mines work and the appaling conditions in which the miners work. The average life expectancy of a miner is under 55 and they will likely die from silicosis. They only receive a salary based on the quantity and quality of the minerals they find so they don´t have much incentives for example to make safe tunnels. It was also a bit frightening how easily the guide pointed out arsenic - it´s fair to say I was glad to get out alive!
Sucre (22nd December - 26th December)
We had chosen to spend Christmas in Sucre, as we heard it was a nice relaxing city at a lower altitude which equals warmer weather. Unfortunately when we arrived when it was raining but the weather did pick up for us as Christmas Day approached, and we had bright sunshine for Christmas day and 25 degrees, quite a change from what we are used to for xmas! We treated ourselves to a "luxury", but actually very cheap, B&B so enjoyed relaxing in the courtyard whist waiting for Xmas dinner to cook. Sucre is called the "white city" and was full of lovely architecture which was nice to wander around. On the other hand, the city was full of beggars and homeless people, including lots of children, which was sad to see. For Christmas Day we planned to cook our own meal so enjoyed shopping for all our ingredients at the market. On Christmas Eve we went to Midnight Mass which was an interesting experience but very long - over an hour and we didn´t realise how much sitting and standing we would have to do! On Christmas Day we went for a walk in the park and handed out some sweets we had bought to the homeless children. We then began cooking our feast of roast chicken, homemade stuffing, roast potatoes and carrots and stuffed courgettes. For dessert, we had the most sweet and sickly banoffee pie Alice made. After a rest, while lieing on the sun loungers in the sun we went for another walk to a viewpoint over the city to hand out more sweets. We then spent a very amusing half an hour sitting in the main square watching lots of children play with the presents Papa Noel had given them. The most amusing was watching a young boy who had been given a remote control car which flipped - his reactions were incredible and had us in fits of laughter! From Sucre, we are taking an overnight bus tonight to the Argentinian border, looking forward to more good weather, steak and wine!