A Travellerspoint blog

He's Behind You

In the Pampas

sunny 35 °C
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Our time in Bolivia so far had been excellent. The only slight mar was the weather at times and that was to be a decisive factor in any trip to the pampas, more so when flying. The reason being the runway in Rurrenabaque is basically a grass strip. If it rains heavily landing becomes hazzardous or even impossible.

Friday morning arrived and we checke out of the hostal. Unfortunately we had a message. Andreas had to cancel as he had gone into hospital during the night. Not the best start to the day. Fortunately it is easy enough to get back all your money on such trips so at this point we thought he may just catch up with us in a day or two. Naturally as Andreas was not coming at this time neither would Christina.

Disaster number two was just around the corner though. The flight was delayed first and later it was to be cancelled outright for the day. The weather was playing havoc with our plans. On a brighter note if Andreas was better he might make it yet.

We decided overnight that if the flight was cancelled again for a further day we would take the full refund and go elsewhere. After a few phone calls we established that we could get the midday flight no problem so off to the airport we went. I think I might be right in saying that LP has the highest navigational airport in the world. As we arrived along the runway we saw several old worn out planes. We assured ourselves that this was merely the plane museum and there was nothing to worry about!

The plane was a small 19 seater and only half full. The cockpit door remained open the entire journey and it was quite interesting to watch what I would call quite a unique style of pilotting, not that I know anything about it. The journey itself was amazing and worth the 60 dollars alone even without the actual trip when we got there. Not long after take off there was quite a bit of turbulence as we headed between the mountains and through the clouds. It really was amazing just looking out the window. The forty odd minutes passed very quickly and soon we were fizzing along the grass in a seemlessly effortless landing.

Rurrenabaque was glorious. The surrounding jungle was vibrant and the weather fantastic. A lovely change to be back in the 35+ degree weather we had so badly missed over the last month.

The following day we pulled up at the agency for our trip where we were met by 7 others. There were 2 Germans whom we had met in Tupiza previously, 2 Israelies and 3 Dutch. Quite the eclectic mix. Initially we had been told there would be 6 maximum but this seemed the norm in SA by now. Nine in the jeep with a driver and a cook. It would be interesting if nothing else.

After a 3 hour drive we arrived at our boat. It was a long narrow boat with a small outboard motor and would be our transport for the next 48 hours or so in the pampas. The itinerary laid out suggested we would see caymen, piranha's, pink dolphins, anaconda, various monkey's and various bird's. It would be quite something if we got all that in we thought.

The next 90 minutes was spent taking us through the pampas to our riverside accomodation for the next 2 nights. En route we began to see much of the wildlife promised such as dolphins and eagles. The day was glorious and we couldn't have asked for more. On arrival at the accommodation we unexpectidly got a room to ourselves, albeit a very basic one. It was brilliant nonetheless.

Before long all the guys were in the river swimming. The current was immensely powerful though and even the most powerful of swimmers would struggle to get upstream.

As the day closed in we set off to watch sunset at a mirador. It was fantastic and they had beer to boot. After the sun finally went down for the night we headed off with our headlamps and torches to look for caymen. After a while we saw their eyes lit up in the water. It was quite odd being in such a small boat surrounded but we were assured always that it was perfectly safe.

A few of us decided that in the morning we would get up for sunrise. It was well worth it for the noise of the animals awakening if nothing else. Certainly it was quite different to the night before.

The morning was to be spent anaconda hunting. To be fair I had absolutely no idea what this entailed whatsoever. We got ready and off we went. The boat pulled up on a bank 20 minutes from where we were staying and we all got out and into the water. For most of us the water came up to around waist height and we started to wade through lots of reeds and flowers in the water towards an island - anaconda island! As you can imagine it took quite some time to get there. When we finally did the hunt was on but in the end all Ali and I spotted were a few rather large, and somewhat quick, lizards. Quite a dissappointment, although what I would have done if I uncovered an anaconda is beyond me!!

We headed back to our accommodation and went for a swim whilst lunch was prepared. Just as I was about to dive in a caymen was spotted about 5 yards away. I shouted to a few of the lads that there was a caymen behind them but nobody took any notice. It was all very panto like at this point. Our guide had told us he hadn't seen one there in 15 years service. Either way, there he was, all 6 foot of him. Soon enough the lads were out and a little releived although I think caymen are generally harmless but they don't exactly look it!!

The afternoon was to be spent swimming with the pink dolphins so once again we headed off in search of our target. Before long we found a large lagoon area and again the guys all got in. There were probably about half a dozen dolphins that kept coming up and swimming around with us. Unfortunately photo's were at a premium here as the dolphins were hard to follow but it was a fantastic experience.

That evening we headed off to another mirador to watch the sunset again. This time was far better however with the clouds helping the light. We took some fantastic pictures and then left for the evening.

On our final day we opted to go swim with the dolphins again. This time however it was better as there were less people around and they came around more than before. Time was now running short so we headed off to finish the trip with some fishing. Our targer: Piranha's. The fishing was quite tricky and in the end we only caught one. This is despite having about 10 on the hook at various points. The equipement was fairly basic and the bait was never on for very long. The sharp teeth of the piranha managing to rip it off in no time at all.

After we got back to Rurrenabaque we organised a night out with our new found friends. By the end of it we found ourselves in a karaoke bar singing all sorts from Dire Straits to Elvis to the Beatles. Quite a night and it's probably a shame we never did it before we went as it formed quite a good bonding session.

Posted by tricky 14:45 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

My Favourite City to Date

and Cycling the world's most dangerous road

overcast 23 °C
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We left Sucre under a cloud of rain but this was soon forgotten with some on board entertainment in the bus as some young local lads sang us some tunes and played a few instruments. It was all really rather amusing as they were pretty poor but the effort was there so it was worth a few Boliviano's, to shut thewm up if nothing else ....

We arrived in La Paz at 7am and immediately jumped in a taxi. Turned out the hostel was all of 500 yards away and yet the taxi driver still managed to go the wrong way!! On arrival we met a couple called Sam and Abi who were also checking in. A bit early so we all headed off to watch Manchester United in the FA Cup. Typically they lost 0-1 and I was watching it with a Gooner. Like being at home really.

The hostel we chose was the Adventure Brew Hostel. It housed it's own micro-brewery which turned out to be excellent with a good range of ale's and beer's in the top floor bar area. This hostel was definately one of the best we have stayed in to date with plenty entertainment such as live music and video games to keep us occupied as well as a nice food selection.

First up we had to head to the electronics market to replace the camera previously destroyed. This was like mission impossible as nobody would actually let us see the camera features. I imagine it is incase they run off with it as it really is just a market area where most of the equipement is "off the back of the preverbial lorry". Anyway, after a few hours we eventually got what we needed albeit at a cost.

On the Sunday after a short walk around town we found ourselves in a mini-bus heading to the Cholito's wrestling on the outskirts of the city. Hillarious does not do this justice. It was a mere 5 pounds for transport, snacks and front row seats to the 4 hour event itself. There was plenty action outside the ring at our feet and before long Ali had jumped 3 rows back as the chairs came out to hit one another with. As the event went on it got more and more ridiculous and completely Politically Incorrect with the woman's wrestling and the midgets being thrown around (for those interested I have video's). Back to the hostel and we entered the pub quiz. We teamed up with our new found friends and despite being late comers we finished a credible 3rd and netted a drink or two for showing up the quiz master and his incorrect answers.

Unfortunately Ali was still feeling a touch under the weather with a mix of altitude and possibly food so we were taking quite easy to start with here. On the plus side we began to find some absolutely great restaurants not least the Indian, Star of India, the Swiss fondue place and a small Dutch cafe. So a craving was catered for there with the curry.

La Paz itself is quite a bustling city. Many are overwhelmed by it especially with the altitude thrown in. The streets are crawling with vendors for everything imaginable and there are masked men everywhere wanting to polish your shoe's. The markets are a great place just to walk through even if you are not particularly interested in buying anything although we did find oursleves picking up a few things to send home.

One of the main attractions in LP is cycling the death road. It is so named because of the many accidents there, mostly involving lorries and buses although I think 11 people have gone off the edge on a bike to date. These stories are well known and recited over and over within the hostels. So, here I was in LP and I had thought I probably wouldn't do it as I had heard so many people saying they did it but they constantly had the brakes on as they were so cautious. Well, now I was here there was no way I could not do it was there. I teamed up with a guy I met on the Salt Flats called Jose and then Sam and Abi decided to join us too. This was not Ali's cup of tea and she would spend the day at some local museum's.

We set off quite early in the morning after a briefing at a local cafe. After an hour or so we had reached the starting point. It was called La Cumbre and stood at 4,850m. It was snowing. Do people normally cycle in the snow I asked myself? Still, the roads looked clear mostly. We were each issued with a bike measured to pre taken specifications. The bikes were US made Kone's and would probably set you back 2.5 grand apiece so at least the equipement was top quality. After another safety speech and a swig of 96% alcohol we were off. Later I was to see on the video that I was the only one who actually drank the stuff out of the 14 on the trip. This is the alcohol the miners in Potosi drink to numb everything.

The death road totals 64km's which is made up of 34 on tar followed by 30 on gravel. When we started downhill the snow had turned to rain and the road was very slippy but you could still clock a credible 60 kmph. The day would be split up into many smaller sections so the group would not disperse too much either although we did have guides (Dave and Jube) at the front and back to monitor everything. By stage 2 we had our first casualty. A girl, who in my opinion should have never been on a bike, came off and slid across the road. We waited while some help arrived and she was taken off to hospital with her poor husband in tow. Later he told me it was 15 stitches and 400 dollars added to the day. So now there were a round dozen.

Soon we hit a drug control area where we passed through with ease. Apparently it is the drug making equipement they are after as opposed to the stuff itself. The route around here was definately fast and furious and at times it was quite difficult to see despite having ski type googles on. No real issue though as coming off here would merely be a bad injury, not death.

When we got to the gravel section there was another briefing on the obvious dangers and pitfalls. One of the main problems was the change in the side of the road we had to cycle on from the first half. On roads here it is the right hand side, but on area's with severe drops it is the left hand side. The gravel section had severe drops so the left hand side it was and obviously the drops were on the left too. Large sections of road now had 400m sheer drops to the side. You go off you die, it's pretty much that simple. The rain had stopped now but that was as much to do with the fact we had dropped 1500 - 2000m as anything. To be fair I think the rain was a good thing. It helped to compress a lot of the gravel thus making it less slippy. The next few sections were great fun and although we had to exercise a lot of caution at times we really got some super fast sections in too. It turned out Jube was the Bolivian downhill cycling champion several times over. I cycled up front with him for quite a while and on one section I got a little too close to him and hadn't realised he was teeing himself up for some jumps so despite not particularly wanting to I flew over them too. Perhaps not a choice I would make if I did this again!!

It had been quite some time since any real incident but before long Sam came off his bike badly. "Quite close" said his girlfriend. A gashed arm, sore knee and no doubt a knock to the confidence was the worst off it though and at least he managed the majority of the ride.

The end of the cycle was soon after and we arrived at a refuge for injurred animals. We had a small meal here with a beer and collected our t-shirts to mark our achievements of the day. Stories were of course shared on close shaves and the likes.

If anyone ever choses to do this activity I can not recommend Gravity enough. In fact you would have to be insane to use any other company. They have an immaculate record and are the only company who could provide evidence of emergency care and equipement. The chats were informative, well structured and importantly they got everything to do with safety across. The equipement was the best on show too. Well, that's my plug and it was free.

I returned to the hostel to find that there was a poker competition that night. What a day!! I had managed to get a curry the night before and this was probably my only other craving of late. By the end of the night we had started a cash game and early into the small hours I had my pockets full, enough to pay my bar tab for the week easily. Result.

By now our friends Andreas and Christina had arrived in LP. With them we planned the next part of our adventure, a trip to the pampas. The pampas/jungle area is in Rurrenabaque north of LP. There were two options, bus it for the best part of 24 hours on a notoriously bad road or take a flight for 40 minutes. So, despite our reluctance to take a flight within SA we decided that this really was a no brainer and the flight won us over and the trip was booked.

Posted by tricky 13:38 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Sucre

Bloody Rain

sunny 24 °C
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From here on in our trip is very much decided on a day by day basis. We have a target of being in Peru to start the Inca Trail on 29th March and that's about it other than the D day of 24th April in Lima when we head home.

Our first decision was whether or not to stop in Potosi, a famous mining town. To be honest it is known for little else than this and being the world's highest town so we decided to give it a miss. As we passed through on the bus and it poured with rain we decided that the right decision had been made. Many traveller's stop over here to take a trip down the mine and play with dynamite which anyone can buy down the local store. For us though there was little appeal in going down the mines which are mined in a way similar to what you would have expected a century ago! Unsurprisingly life expectancy here isn't exactly favourable.

The bus journey lasted around 10 hours in total and we arrived in Sucre in total darkness. Sadly now we are further up north the days seem much shorter again. However a short cab ride and we found our hostel, an old colonial building with several courtyards. Unfortunately the weather over the next few days didn't permit a lot of time in these.

Sucre is often mooted as the Fiorentina of Bolivia due the the many many white buildings and tericota roof's. In between the dark clouds and rain you can definately see it's beauty.

The third of the main stories in Bolivia revolves around hygiene and illness. Unfortunately this along with the altitude began to catch up with us. To be honest nothing was that bad and we have been quite lucky to date too. We searched out some herbal remadies which have since helped immensely.

One attraction of Sucre was the persuit of more outdoor activities. The weather was not to be too kind to us however and most of our time was spent acclimatising to the altitude and when possible having a wonder around the town. In my head I was still not sure if I was going to cycle the most dangerous road in the world so I went on the look out for a cycling trip to ease myself back in. After all I hadn't been on a bike since I left home. I found a great trip through a local guide which involved four 20 minute decents and a 50 minute one to finish with. The weather combined with zero interest form anyone else put paid to my great intentions however. The cycling would have to wait for now.

Just to keep us on our toes we found ourselves in the middle of another protest. This time thousands of locals were up in arms over a decision to take away many of the towns powers as the judicial capital of Bolivia. Or at least that's what we made out. Tyre's were being burnt in the main square and a few notable people were making speeches from the town hall. Every now and again a bit of dynamite would explode and shots could be heard. As we tried to make our way out the national anthym started and of course a local indicated to us that we should stop in our tracks and respect it till the end. All in it was pretty exciting seeing all this happen but as usual we jumped out of our skins at the bangs that marked the end of the protest.

I decided to substitute the cancelled cycling attempt with some more horse riding. I had enjoyed my last trip immensely but Ali chose not to come this time around, instead chosing to go to the spa and get a massage and manicure. Far better she would say, and perhaps so.

As it turned out it was raining. This seemed to be the norm in Sucre during our brief stay!! The rainy season was meant to be at an end, or at least that was in our plan!! The horse I got was rather large and the "cowboy" let me know I had been fortunate enough to get the frisky one. What does that mean? Well, I can now tell you it means that it likes to gallop. A LOT. Some of the others on the trip had a good laugh as my horse would jolt off with me hanging on for dear life. I bloody well enjoyed it though. I am just glad nothing got in the way that we had to jump over. The camera had been playing up over the last week what with the dust in the dessert, the altitude, heat and no doubt general age. Well, it's life was about to end. I took aim for a scenic picture and the good old horse decided it was time to go. I drop the camera and then turn around to see another approach. Of course it was never going to go around the camera. I am now in possession of a horse trodden camera. Sadly there were circa 120 pictures of the Salt Flats on there that will never be seen again. On the plus side a few friends have chipped in by giving me copies of their's whilst they were on the same tour.

As was the norm by now we met up with quite a few familiar faces in Sucre. This will be a common theme in Bolivia/Peru no doubt as more than ever we find ourselves following the "Gringo Trail". Going off the beaten path is possible but not always advisable here. Not to worry though as there is plenty to see and do on it.

Posted by tricky 12:00 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The Salt Flats Tour

from Tupiza to Uyuni

overcast 20 °C
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We left Tupiza at a respectable 9.30am on our four day trip to the salt flats of Uyuni. We shared a 4x4 with a young couple from England called Amy and Ben and our driver and guide Fernando. After packing the jeep with supplies and backpacks we were off in convoy with a few others. Everyone seemed excited as this is a huge highlight to bolivian travel.

The first few hours were driving through beautiful canyons and then over high passes. Again it was a wonder that the jeep could stay on the road and indeed a miracle that there was a road there at all. You certainly wouldn't want to meet anything coming the other way and thankfully we didn't!

We had a lovely picnic lunch with the other group surrounded by grazing llama before continuing our climb to San Antonio de Limpez at 4200m. This tiny village of mud houses high on the altoplano was our base for the night.Richard,Amy Ben and I had a tiny room with four of the most uncomfortable beds and a tiny room next door with a table and four chairs. As soon as sun set here it was bloody freezing and it was the first time any of us had felt the cold in a while. We stayed huddled up in our room to keep cosy though and it was fine.

After an interesting supper of vegetable soup with chips in it (yes its not just the harpins who put chips in there soup!) and llama and mash we had a few games of cards then off to bed. After such a crap sleep in our terrible beds wew were glad to be up at 5am and on the road by 6.

Our day began driving past a ghostly desserted village under the shadow of Volcano Uturunco which stands at 6008m. We drove through desert and scrubland for hours before beginning to see the beautiful lagoons and salt lakes we had come to see.

Seeing as none of us were brave enough or insane enough to take an ice cold shower that morning we were all very glad to stop off at the thermal pools for a wallow and some lunch. It was amazing to lay in the hot mineral waters and gaze at the dessert and distant snow capped mountains.

From here we drove through the surreal Desert of Dali which was exactly like being in a salvador Dali painting. All twisted trees and gnarly rock formations, beautiful red and pink colours and the sky was an electric blue that was almost blinding.

We passed thousands more llama as well as Vicuna and then lagoons full of pink flamingos. Our final stop before our next lodging were some hot mud and steam geysiers. All very interesting but by now we were so high up and it was freezing and blowing a gale so we had a quick look and then were on our way.

Our next night was spent at a hostel in the middle of nowhere at 4007m. It did however sell alcohol though so we had a bit of a night of it with the other group. Five nice guys including Yoritk from Amsterdam and Jose from Madrid.
We all had a good night and it was fun trading stories. I had my first bottle of Bolivian wine and I don't know if it was that of the altitude but I spent most of my night in the bathroom! At least the toilet was indoors here so it wasn't too bad. Everyone else got a better sleep though and even a lay in till 7.

The next day poor Richard had a huge lump on his head were he had smacked it off a beam the night before. Bolivia isn't designed for tall people and he must have hit his head dozens of times by now. Even I have started stooping an I'm a short arse. Anyway Julia our cook made pancakes for breakfast and that took some of his pain away.

Day three began at the most stunning Laguna Colorada. This is a huge blood red lake reflecting the mountains all around and a haven for thousands of Chilean flamingos. When we arrived they were all beginning to wake up and they put on quite a show for us. It would have been fantastic to sit there all day watching them but we had a busy schedule ahead.

The next few hours were spend speeding through the atacama desert,the highest and driest inthe world. It certainly felt like we were on top of the world. Dispite being so barren we passed by another 5 lagoons and three snowy volcanoes. All three were active but only steaming. Still no molton lava for Richard. Then the Valley of Rocks wich speaks for its self and loads more photos. Our last nights accomodation was the best and we had our own room and the first hot shower. It was great to feel clean again and the group smelled a lot better!

Our last day began with a 4am start so we could get to the salt flats for sunrise. This didn't seem like such a good idea after another night spent mainly in the bathroom and 2 hours sleep.

Fernando did his best but after driving for over 2 hours in the dark the sun had already began to rise as we sped onto the salt flats. When we did get to the edge of the salar de Uyuni it was worth every minute of tiredness though. The flats were covered in a couple inches of water and just looked like mirror as far as we could see. The sunrise and the pinks and blues of the clouds reflected in this eternal mirror and we all just stood in silence looking.

We then drove for about half an hour through this shallow lake blinded by the salt and seeing a few workers gathering up the strange salt pyramids that were all around. The Salar de Uyuni is the biggest in the world at 10500km2 and is the biggest reserve of natural minerals in the world such as lithium, pottasium and nitrogen. We had breakfast in a hotel made of salt before driving into the middle of nowhere to take lots more photos. Again it would have been amazing to stay here for hours and hours looking in wonder but our trip was almost over. We passed a local town at the edge of the flats to see the salt being cleaned and packed before driving into Uyuni.

We had a visit to the train cemetery here,a reminder of the towns past as a railway centre and we had our lunch here amongst the rusting engines and carraiges. We all said our goodbyes to new friends before heading to hostels or ongoing buses.It was a fantastic trip with so many memories to remember and another reminder of how vastly diverse south America can be.

Posted by tricky 11:58 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Entering Bolivia for the First Time

Tupiza

sunny 25 °C
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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.

Posted by tricky 11:56 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

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