Tupizzaria with Salt – Tupiza to Salar de Uyuni.

25 Mar

It’s been a long bus ride from Potosi to Tupiza – we’re travelling with fellow Brits Beth & Adam, it’s hot, it’s a long time since we left Potosi, they’re unwell and we could all do with getting to our respective hostels. The bus stops, great we’re here, actually no we’re not;  there’s no town to be seen. We’re halted at a road block behind a parade of trucks, buses, cars and vans – our driver turns off the engine in sympathy for his fellow motoristas who are protesting at having to renew their annual licence in La Paz. It seem’s we’re not going anywhere for a while…

Sitting patiently for 2 minutes I’ve quickly had enough of waiting; time to get things moving – a stroll past the line of vehicles reveals a couple of things; firstly that with the Old Bill looking on, we’re likely to be here for quite some time, second that the town of Tupiza is by my reckoning only a couple of k’s away and thirdly that if we abandon the bus and walk it, we could be drinking a beer within the hour.

Okay so maybe it was a bit further than it looked, and yes Adam (who was sick out of the bus window on the way here) maybe isn’t quite in the best shape, but sitting idly by won’t get him to a hostel bed any quicker. So it is around 2 hours later that we make it to our respective hostels; conveniently, as we have had to walk the length and breadth of the town to get to hostel Los Salares we decide (whilst still puzzling over why the Lonely Planet enthuses so much about this anonymous town) to reduce our stay from 3 nights to 2 as it’s safe to say we’ve seen the place.

It is on horseback that Kelly & I spend the next morning – I am excited at the prospect of riding again and am really looking forward to the next couple of hours. This is somewhat in contrast to our guide, who is half asleep, bored and doesn’t know the horses’ names.

After a short while I decide to liven things up a bit with a canter, my horse needs no encouragement as we go charging off along an old riverbed at a fantastic pace, so much so that my cap flies off. I whoa, whoa, whoa the beast, finally stopping and turning to see our guide attempt to pick my hat up on the hoof – this does not go well for him… He ends up on his arse with the saddle on top of him. We stand and wait while he sorts himself out and catches up to us, he is not happy, not happy at all.

He demands I get off the horse, telling me I can’t control it, taking umbridge at this popping of my newly formed horse-riding bubble, I do so reluctantly. The horse with perfect comic timing decides this is his moment to make his escape and disappears off into the bush, gold. Sometime later our amigo returns with the errant horse, he takes us to some rock formations.

“These are shaped like penises”, he says. I have my back to them, largely uninterested. “Can you see them?”, he asks.

“It’s alright mate”, I say, staring straight back at him. “I can see one from here.” Childish and unecessary I know, but we put up with him for the rest of the morning nonetheless.

Returning to Tupiza for a bite to eat we are underwhelmed by pizza restaurant after pizza restaurant, so after a feed on Tupizzaria St, we decide with Beth and Adam on a tour agency for a 4 day, 3 night tour of the salt flats. After careful consideration (read: cheaper than the other one), we settle on La Torre Tours. We spend the afternoon provisioning ourselves for an early start the following morning.

Leaving town sometime after 9am we spend our first hour driving around in circles collecting provisions and putting air in the tyres. This results in an enthusiastic initial spell of driving by our guide Rodrigo through the stunning Sillar area to catch up, and a fair bit of squealing and pinching from Alicia, who is our cook and Rodrigo’s “friend”.

Two hours later Rodrigo’s enthusiasm has led to a puncture in our only spare tyre, he slows down a bit after this, though probably more so as a result of the relentless pinching.

That day we head at high altitude through abandoned ruins of a town and stop to take in the view of Laguna Morejon which at 4855 metres above sea level is truly breath taking.

Despite our late start and puncture we cover more ground than expected, thus as we meet up with one of the other jeeps for dinner we’re told we can leave a little later the next day. Kelly & I celebrate this great news by throwing caution to the wind of the effects of altitide sickness and crack open a bottle of red – dispensing aspirin to the other La Torre driver who has an infected tooth and coca leaves to one of the other trip members who is struggling with the altitude, seasoned travellers us.

Next morning we’re away by 7.30am and by 8am we are stopped to take pictures of a llama farm.

“Vamos, chicos”, says Rodrigo, and we pile back into the Land Cruiser. 10 minutes later we’re stopped. It seems that Alicia has left her mobile phone behind at the overnight stop – we’re given the option of accompanying them back or hanging out with the llamas – we opt for option B. Adam is convinced that this is just a ruse and that far from heading back to last night’s resting place, our driver and cook are just parked up over the brow of the nearest hill.

Sometime later we’re collected, ahem, with no questions asked. We head for our lunch stop. It takes us sometime to realise (read: fellow travellers begin stripping off) that we are at Aguas Termales – the thermal pools. By now, with 10 other jeeps depositing their travellers in the underwhewlming kiddie-sized pool, we enjoy lunch, over which we catch up with the other La Torre gang. They are not happy as their driver is now semi-concious with pain and they are unnerved. Some of them want to jump in with us, the consequence of this being we won’t be heading to see the next couple of lakes. Not happy with this option, I volunteer to drive their jeep and Kelly rides shotgun, selecting the tunes and passing coca leaves around. It is much fun, and we arrive happily at Lagunas Blanca & Verde a little later on.

From here we take in some Geisers (a little disappointing following the ones we saw near San Pedro de Atacama) and then onto Laguna Colorado with its rose coloured water and flamingos.

It’s a cold night at our digs. But Adam and I spy an underused woodburner. We set about gathering kindling until a kind hearted indigenous lady sees what we’re up to and wanders over. She douses 2 logs in diesel, throws in a match and shuts the door, job done. I guess it’s not what you know…

Day breaks and we are frozen, the jeeps are iced over as the first rays of the mornings sun peak over a far away ridge.

We head first to the rock formations at Arbol de Piedra, finally obtaining a photo without an Israeli in the background jumping on the rocks.

As the jeeps roll up we swiftly depart, having the next couple of stops to ourselves – Laguna Negro & the ‘Condor Rock’. Condor? Ahem, it looks more like a clothes hanger if you ask me.

Closing in on Uyuni, we stop at the rolling stock graveyard, Cementerio de Trenes. We pause for half an hour before heading to our hostel and the promise of a hot shower. But it’s 3 o’clock and there will be no hot water til 6pm so we waft into town to take in its delights. We find none heading instead for a beer and then back for a wash, our first since Tupiza and an early night.

Day 4 starts at 4.45am. This is what we have been waiting for; the trip out onto the Salt Flats. Arriving at 6am, just in time for sunrise, we stand shivering as the light changes, the temperature climbs and the size of the place becomes apparent.

It is like nowhere I have been before – immense, white and absolutely flat – it is jaw droppingly beautiful and the silence spectacular.

We spend the next couple of hours like 6th formers on an art assignment – playing with scale, size, distance and pretty much anything that comes to hand. It is childlike fun on Bolivia’s goldmine. The salt flats contain one of the world’s greatest deposits of Lithium but as yet president Evo Morales has rejected Western companies offers to extract it in commercial quantities – preferring instead to foster a Bolivian strategy and approach for cashing in on this valuable commodity.

Back in Uyuni we are unceremoniously slung out of our hostel after lunch, bags and all, seems the tour didn’t include bag storage for an afternoon. We’ve 8 hours to kill before the bus to La Paz and I know just the pub…

Cheers for now

Matt x

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3 Responses to “Tupizzaria with Salt – Tupiza to Salar de Uyuni.”

  1. Lynn Morzenti April 24, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    Great pics!! Really well done and funny!! xx

  2. Father Bear April 26, 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    I liked the grumpy groucho humour. You must get it from your mother.
    The little and large photo artwork is brilliant.
    The rusty train reminds me of one I saw in Malaysia, which I thought was waiting to be cut up for scrap until someone said time to get on and it started to move off!

  3. Wendy May 13, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Love the photo-art! Have put this on my bucket list after reading your account!

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