25.02.2008 - 28.02.2008 25 °C
The 5th country of our travels was to be Bolivia. Many good and bad things are to be seen here if the stories are to be believed. First and foremost on our minds however was the early border crossing. We had left Salta at around midnight and the bus was due in at 5am local time. The idea was to give ourselves plenty time to get through customs and sort out a bus up to Tupiza. By all accounts the border was not somewhere you wanted to be stuck for 24 hours.
As it happened the border crossing could not have worked out much better. It was the middle of the night, very dark, and a there was a lot of activity in the area with market stall workers setting up for a days trade. However, there was no queue at all to cross over and we were ushered through fairly quickly and stamped with a 90 day visa for Bolivia. Normally you would have to ask for 90 days rather than 30 but the chap must have been in a good mood.
Walking into any new country is always strange, but no more so than here. Straight away you could see that the next month or so of our trip would be quite different to the European styled Argentina we were finally leaving behind once and for all. Eight Argentina stamps in the passport is quite enough for now I think. We pulled in at the bus station and within minutes we had our ticket to Tupiza. Reports varied on the length of the journey but the girl told us it would be circa 2 - 3 hours. Only a quid though so we could hardly complain. A similar journey elsewhere would have been 5 times that.
The journey proved quite interesting with the bus jam packed. If there were passangers on the roof I would not have been surprised. The landscapes were similar to that which we had seen around the north west of Argentina. Rolling mountains, vibrant colours and very dusty roads.
Tupiza itself was a small bustling town. By now we were at 3,000 meter's but initially it didn't feel like we'd climbed almost 2,000 in the last 24 hours. A young lad met us at the bus station and led us to the best hotel in town, the Mitru. We'd read plenty about this place so it was a relief to get a nice room there as much of the rest of town was basic at best. No time was wasted and we were in the office booking up some activities for the next few days. I'd wanted to go horse riding for quite some time and this seemed as good a place as any to saddle up. Additionally the famous Salt Flats tour would start here and finish up in Uyuni and great reports of this agency had met our ears.
The following day Ali and I set off down to meet our guides for horse riding. After an initial reluctance to get on the horse Ali got the helmet she requested and we were up and running. There were only the two of us but we soon met up with another group of 5 and we headed off up into the mountains together. The scenery there is stunning as we followed a dry river bed winding its way upwards. Now and again my horse would race off but I seemed to be handling it ok for my first time in more than half my life. On the other hand Ali's horse was fine with going at no more than walking pace, but I could sense that was just fine with her. After a few hours of riding we stopped to take some pictures and have a rest before heading back. By now we both gained some more confidence and the trip back was less stressful than it could have been.
One common story from Bolivia is the use of blockades and protests to get points across. That morning we were awoken at around 5am by a marching group down the main street. The protest was regarding paved roads, or rather the lack of them I think. As such nobody could come in, or out, of the town by vehicle that day. This of course resulted in lots of buses arriving but being turned away with everyone on board having to walk the last few kilometer's. In turn the town was very busy that night. Normally Tupiza is very much a stop over point for the Salt Flat tour.
The other story revolves around the quality of the food. We'd heard good and bad but fortunately neither Ali or I are particularly fussy. Eating out turned out to be somewhat like a treat. For some reason most of the eateries in town were based around an Italian influence. The lasagne, pasta's and pizza's were great. The price's weren't half bad either witha good main coming in at 2 or 3 dollar's.
It was time to get our feet back on the ground now though so we decided to do some hiking around the town the next day. The horses were great but it's hiking we like and a bit of excercise wasn't going to kill us. We headed off in the opposite direction this day loaded up with plenty water. Again we followed a dry river. My thinking being that you'd have to be completely moronic to get lost this way. We walked for hours and got some fabulous shots of the local area. Tupiza seemed to have far more going for it than some people had suggested.
In the evening we met up with Andreas and Christine. They too were planning the Salt Flats tour but they were to be a day behind us. We all went out for another Italian meal and hit the sack pretty early for what was to be a few busy days ahead.