A Travellerspoint blog

Uyuni - Argentina

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Spent a few days in La Paz getting used to the altitude before heading south. We were there for the carnival Gran Poder, which basically involves the locals all getting dressed up in shny costumes and dancing about in the streets from sunrise to sunset. They all go mental. Never seen so many drunk people. Was great. Felt it would be rude not to join in so got involved in a bit of drinking that night as well.

From La Paz we got another overnight bus to Uyuni. Cheeky bint at the bus terminal tried to con me out of 10 bolivianos but I asked a local how much she paid and she came clean, but went bright red in the face. Wish we'd taken the train. Another ridiculous road made of rocks, bus jolting about for 13 and half hours in the freezing cold. Ended up in Uyuni at 8 am ish. Uyuni is a horrible place. Absolutely baltic, and in the middle of the desert. We had to spend a day there. I don't know how anyone can live there. There was absolutely nothing to do. Lots of manky dogs running about the place. We booked a 3 day tour of the salt flats for the next day, then moped about in the square. Couldn't go back to the room because we'd have died of hypothermia. Had to stay in the sun as much as possible. We slept in all our clothes agan that night, which was good practice for the tour anyway.

Next day we set off into the salt flats in an old clapped out toyota 4x4, with others, our driver and cook. The driver who was supposed to be our guide as well was crap. He didn't speak any English and only told us about 5 things in Spanish the whole trip. Thought the trip was gong to be a nightmare, as about 30 minutes in, the jeep broke down, and we all had to get out and push. This happened 2 more times within the first couple of hours, but after that was ok. Tour was quite good, although a lot of driving. Had a broken arse by the end of the three days. Our group was good as well, two other couples who were a good laugh. A Brummy and a girl from Lima who'd been going out for 3 weeks. She spoke nearly no English apart from being able to whine "Jason" at him every couple of minutes, and he spent most of his time slagging her off and calling her "estupido" which was about all the Spanish he knew. He was a good laugh though, and was good to talk football to someone for the first time in ages. We have been travelling with the other couple, French and South African, since the tour.


The Salt flats were pretty incredible. It is the biggest salt lake in the world. Just a massive expanse of salt, that looks like an ocean of snow, perfectly flat. Quite surreal. Especially the giant chickens that live there that we rode just before lunch.........

We went to the isla de Pescados which is an island with giant cacti, in the middle of the salt lake. Very bizarre.

On the first night of the tour we were supposed to be staying in a salt hotel, but instead stayed in a hotel with salt beds. Absolutley freezing at night. The hotel was in the middle of nowhere. Another ghost town.

(I'm not actually as fat as I look here, don't know what's going on with my big fat face in this picture)

We sat and played cards and drank wth our group. Glad we weren't in the other group who were there. Their conversations were dominated by a guy who we overheard starting two conversations with - "I'm very good friends with a woman who only paints cows...." and "Did you know England has the most varieties of flavours of crisps in the world...." - don't think I could cope with 3 days in a cramped jeep of that. He was a dick.

On the second day we drove all morning and ended up having lunch at a lake with flamingos which Jenny enjoyed.


I enjoyed watching a fully grown adult man of about his late 50's early 60's entertaining himself by throwing chunks of ice at the flamingos. Jenny didn't like him at all. From here we drove some more, to another lake with flamingos in it. The scenery on the way was really spectacular but it was a lot of driving. We saw a "tree rock" on the way which was interesting.

We stayed the second nght at a hostal next to a red lake.....but we couldn't see the red properly because our guide had left late, so it was dark when we arrived. There was a heated exchange between the French element of our group and the guide at this point, as the tour was supposed to involve a sunrise and a sunset on day 1, neither of which we saw. The guide said this was our fault for not getting up, even though he never woke us and was nowhere to be seen for most of the trip.

We spent another cold night in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold on the second night. Again though we got the bevvy in and that eased the pain. We got up the next morning at 4.30am whch was not fun and got back in the bloody jeep. By this stage we were all beginning to hate the jeep, and the guide. We drove up to 4,800m to see some massive geysers which was impressive.


From there we drove to some natural hot springs from a volcano. This was a bit of an ordeal, getting in and out, as the air temperature was below freezing, and there were no changing rooms. Was nice when we were in though.


After this we went to see a green lagoon......which was green. Wasn't that impressed by that. We then returned to the red lagoon, which was impressive in the sun, although there were a lot of dead sea gulls around the edge which wasn't great.


Saw loads of llamas and alpacas and vicuñas on the way there.

We then spent the next 7 hours in the jeep driving all the way back to Uyuni. I never want to get in a jeep ever again.


In order to avoid having to spend any longer than necessary in Uyuni, and the very real possbility that I might try to kill myself if we had to spend another day there, we got the overnight train south to the border with Argentina at Villazon. This started off very well, nice comfy seats that reclined, heaters at our feet and a video of a greasy haired guy singing lilting ballads on the TV. However, 10 minutes into the 10 hour journey the old, fat woman wedged into the chair behind turned into a pig and snorted the whole way. This wasn't any normal snoring either. It was as if she was trying to do it as loudly as she could. Eventually I turned round and shook her to try and get her awake. Tried this several times to no avail. She kept on for almost the entire journey. When she did eventually awake she was leaning forward and coughing on Jenny's head. Jenny thought there was mucus going in her hair. Then she shook Jenny's seat when we came into the station because she wanted to be the first person off. I thought Jenny was going to have an episode.


Crossing the border into Argentina was painless enough. The difference between Argentina and Bolivia is immediate. The roads have tarmac and painted white lines, the buses have toilets, the public toilets have a seat and systern as opposed to a hole in the ground surrounded by faeces, and the toilets don't have stinking bins full of used toilet paper next to them. Argentina is so much more developed than Bolivia. It seems very westernized/European compared with everywhere else we have been so far. We travelled by bus to Salta, where we are now. We are stayng with Eva and Jo from the tour. Went out the other night and had Parilla. This is amazng. For about 3 pounds each we sat and the chef brought out various different cuts of beef, pork and chicken to us, which we ate off chopping boards. Was so good. The Steak here is unreal. After about 15 rounds of this and 2 bottles of real nice red wine we went out for a few drinks in the swanky bars around here. Was good fun. Next day we met our waiter in the street, absolutely pissed out of his face, at about 12 noon. He took us to another restaurant for lunch, where we bought him some drink and he proceeded to slur Spanish at us for the next 2 hours. I told him I was a lawyer and he called me el Doctor for the whole time. He was very very drunk and strange. He kept looking at the ceiling and saying that he was getting messages from God that Jenny and Eva would have children next year. Very strange.


Had really good steak last night, more of the same tonight I think. It's so good and cheap. Going to end up a big fat bastard by the time we leave here. Going to spend a couple of days here, then head south slowly working our way towards Buenos Aires. Plenty of vineyards and steakhouses to stop at on the way.

Posted by calumfife 14:46 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

suicide shower


Throughout central and south america we have had to endure the terrifying experience that is using a suicide shower. As far as I understand it works by pumping 220 volts through the cables (attached by selotape) directly into the shower head. This results in a combination of electricity and water inches above your head when you stand under it. This heats the water. It has also given both me and Jenny electric shocks throughout our travels. On our pampas trip we met a New Zealander called Mickey who is an electrician. He said that back home if he was to wire a shower up like this he'd be put in jail. Not so over here.

Posted by calumfife 13:36 Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)


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Rurrenabaque is described in the lonely planet as a frontier town. It's a bit of a dump. I was a bit disappointed by it, especially having suffered the ridiculous bus journey to it. Turns out there are about 6 flights in and out of the town every days, so having thought it might be quite untouched by gringos it turned out to be a total tourist trap, with about 20 different tour agencies and overflowing with numpty travellers in clowns outfits - cowboy hat long greasy smelly hair and beard, stripy colourful clown's trousers, jesus sandles sometimes with socks, carrying a colourful material bag made from the same material as their trousers, carrying a guitar that they cannot play. Of course I recognise that I am a traveller too, but I feel it's important to publicly distance myself from these people as they make me feel sick.

Rurre is really only a stopping point from where everyone books tours into the jungle or pampas, so we didn't spend long here. We did leave the booking of the pampas tour for an extra day, as it started to rain as soon as we arrived. The temperature also plummeted which was crap. Typical that we go to the jungle and it's as cold, if not colder than Scotland, and pissing with rain. Anyway, we booked our tour and got going the next day. It was raining, and had been all night. This made the 4 hour journey to the pampas crushed into the back of a very old 4x4 with 7 others quite interesting. Even better was that the road to the pampas is normally just a dusty dirt track, that had turned into a swamp, so we had to go twice as slowly as normal, and take a run at some of the muddiest bits. On our way we pssed the same bus that had brought us to Rurre, slid into a ditch at the side of the road listing to one side being pulled out by a truck. The rain continued the whole way to our destination. The tour hadn't started well, and when we got out at Santa Rosa for lunch, which was a cold plate of soup followed by a cold piece of brown meat and rice, with undiluted orange juice, things were not looking good. Also, everyone else seemed better prepared than us, with rain coats and sleeping bags, neither of which we have. The group that we had was a really mixed bag, but turned out to be a really good bunch of people, all up for a laugh - Danish, New Zealand, and Dutch/Irish couples and a Londoner.


We eventually ended up at the River Beni, in the rain and transferred into a narrow boat. It was only here, that I realised that I had forgotten to pack the camera. Jenny found this hilarious. She didn't speak for some considerable time.


Although we were getting pretty wet and freezing cold, the journey to our accommodation, up the river, through the pampas/magroves, was incredible. The wildlife here is unreal. No more than 10 mins into the trip and we saw pink dolphins, - the ungliest of all the dolphins - squirrel monkeys, which we stopped to feed bananas - not sure how ecologically/environmentally responsible that is, but it was amazing to get so close to them - a capi bara (not sure about the spelling), and every 20metres there were huge birds of prey, herrons, kingfishers, storks, and a toucan which was very cool.

After 2 hours or so chugging up the river looking at the wildlife we ended up at our camp. Accomodation was basic, very small wooden beds with midge nets attached. I fell through the first one that I tried.


That night we had a couple of drinks in the bar at the place where we would be spending our second night and had quite an early night. Didn't get much sleep that night, as there was a cat with kittens mewing the whole bloody night right by my head. Also one of our group turned into a pig as soon as the lights went out, snorting and choking the whole night.

Next day we got up early to go look for anacondas. This is the main selling point of most of the tour groups. Thankfully the rain had stopped and things brightened up from this point, and we got some proper jungle weather. Unfortunately this brought with it wome proper jungle mosquitos which bit us all to death. There was not a lot of science involved in the search for the anacondas. We got kitted out in wellies with holes in them, got our boat to a big field/swamp with ankle deep and our guide Jose told us to 'spread out and look for anaconda, if you see one shout Jose'. So we spent the next 3 hours trampling about the swamp looking at our feet, hoping to either see one or stand on one. Unbelievably, after about 3 hours another guide who we almost bumped into found a baby one. It was about one and a half metres long. Was amazing to see it.


As with the monkeys though, I'm not convinced that draping the snake round foke for photos, then hiding it and shoving it in other groups face is entirely fair on the snake. It got it's own back by shitting on most of those who got their photo taken.

We went back and had lunch and after, went fishing for piranha in the river. On the way to all of the activities we continued to see tons of wildlife, a huge 3m or so alligator swimming about where we fished. The fishing was good fun. Jenny was the star of the fishing, catching 3, then to the horror of Jose throwing them back.


We went to another site to fish, and one of the other groups was playing football with the locals so I got involved in that for a while. This was a mistake, given the swarms of mosquitos trying to eat me after. That night we went out to look for alligators and caymans. Took the torches to shine from the boat. Could see hundreds of red eyes reflecting back from the glare which was quite smart. Then Jose clambered off into the undergrowth and came back with a tiny baby Alligator, which got a good blinding from all the photos, and then thrown back. Was all pretty interesting.


After a few drinks on the second night, there was a strange incident where the police showed up and told us all to go to bed, even though we were in the middle of nowhere, with no neighbours, and we were only talking. They brought someone with a video camera and a camera who was filming and photographing us which was very strange. Hopefully this won't stop us getting out of the country.

Next morning we were supposed to get up for the sunrise, but our guide slept in, which was ok, cos 5.30am is a bit early for both of us. The Danish contingent weren't very impressed, having already voiced their disaproval of Jose the day before. We did however go to swim with the pink dolphins. Most of our group did this, although the dolphins weren't really interested in getting too close. Neither me nor Jenny did. Water was freezing, and black, and 5m deep, and we'd already seen alligators and caymans swimming about just down river. After my shark experience I'm treating any water with a bit more respect.


We left the pampas later that day and got the boat and the jeep back to Rurre. All in all the tour was really incredible. The wildlife was really spectacular, and from the boat we could get really close to it. Just as well I forgot the camera then......we're going to get some photos off the others in the group.

When we returned to Rurre we all got our free t-shirts and went out for a meal, and then us, Mickey and Rochelle and Sam went out and got absolutely plastered. Was great fun. Ended up in a really weird little place after hours where this old boy played Bolivian music and a bit of La Bamba, after some heckling, on his guitar. He was really good. Next day we had to get up and book ourselves a flight out of Rurre. There was no way that we were getting back on the stinking bus. We went and got some breakfast, and I got into an argument with this old guy who sold banana bread in the town. I think he's a bit of a cult hero amongst the tourists, as the bread's supposed to be good, but he's a religious nut, and was talking at the table next to us spouting some pretty bigotted nonsense, so I decided to set him straight (was still a bit pissed from the night before). We ended up doing a bit of shouting at each other in the street and, as far as I remember it, we both agreed that he was wrong and a tosser. All good fun.

The down side to not getting the bus return to La Paz was that we had to get a tiny little plane back. Actually turned out to be very comfortable and only took 1 hour, instead of 22, and felt a lot safer, which was a real bonus.


Back in La Paz and staying a couple of nights before heading south to the salt flats. There is a big festival on in La paz today which is interesting. All the main roads are closed and everyone is drinking. There is a parade of people with all kinds of colourful costumes and scary masks dancing round and round the streets to band music.


May try to join in a bit later.

Posted by calumfife 11:45 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

La Paz - Coroico - Rurrenabaque

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Went on our mountain bike tour down the world's most dangerous road. It should be called the world's most ridiculously dangerous road. We met the tour people in the morning in a cafe in la paz, and took an hour bus ride up to the top of the road, 4750m. On the way up we had an official sign pointed out to us at a safety check point that read that gave a tally of the number of people killed on the road this year......13. At the top we stopped in a freezing cold car park and got into all our gear. Was so so cold. I was wearing 4 tee shirts to begin with. Got 5 mins to get used to our bikes, which were amazing. We then all got in a circle and the tour guide did a kind of naff prayer to some inca god to keep us safe and passed round some turpentine that we all took a swig of and poured on our front tyre to keep us safe.....then we were off. Jenny was very nervous.


The first 20km were pretty easy going, all free-wheeling down a tarmac road to get used to the bikes.


Then we had to cycle up a pretty steep bit, ending up with everyone in our group getting off and pushing. Trying to do any exercise at that altitude is a joke, I tried to be the hardman and cycle up past a few of the others in the group and felt like my head was going to burst and that my lungs were filling up with blood.

Once we'd got up this the road split into two, the old road and the new road. Most of the trucks and buses etc now take the new asphalt road, although there are still the odd lunatic or two that choose the scenic route up/down the old road. Luckily we didn't encounter any trafic other than other cycling groups, which is just as well, because the road is a total joke. It is literally a dirt track, 3 metres wide with a cliff on the left side that at points undercut the road and fell away 800m, waterfalls falling onto it at points, cliff eating big chunks out of it, and littered with crosses all the way down, signifying where people have disappeared over the edge.


We were instructed to aim our wheels in the left hand tyre tread all the way down. Was so so much fun, and Jenny began to get into it the further down we got. Was so so dangerous though, and it didn't feel like it would have take too much to end up out of control and over the edge, especially as the competitive edge and confidence levels rise the longer you're on the bike. We were told a couple of horror stories on the way down, at the most dangerous points about cyclists who had ended up at the bottom of the cliffs, which was reassuring. But we both survived and it was all good fun, and we both got the t shirts to prove it. All in all we descended to 1100m, 64km, in about 4 hours.

From here we opted to stay ina little town on the hillside near where we finished, rather than take the van back up the most dangerous road, back to La Paz. We got dropped in the centre of the little town called Coroico, and promptly ended up in one of the hotel vans to be driven off to see what they had to offer.


Coroico is a really really pretty little place, perched on the edge of a spur overlooking a valley and then beyond that both jungle covered hills and snowcapped mountains in the distance. Very picuresque. The climate here was much nicer than La Paz too, although it transpired we spent most of our time in the clouds whilst there. Anyway, we got taken up the hill to a hotel which offered us the most amazing deluxe room with TV for Jenny, balcony with amazing view over the valley, pool, hammocks, and sauna, all for 6 pounds a night which was nice. So we ended up staying here for 4 days. Got a bit stuck. Was so nice to sit in the sun again after so long without it. Also the place was so cheap to eat in. I convinced Jenny to eat in a little local place down an alleyway, which was busy every night with locals. She wasn't feeling well and so got a plate of rice. I got a massive bowl of soup and steak, rice, salad and chips for 38 pence.....which was nice, and I'm still alive.

From here we took a bolivian "taxi",


to a small place that smelled of urine, and had the most disgusting toilets in the world, in order to take a nightmare bus to Rurrenabaque, where we are now, on the edge of the Amazon basin, in the middle of nowhere. The reason the bus was so bad is a combination of the fact that: it drove at 15 mph the whole way here picking up everyone and everything in its path; there was something in the luggage compartment (other than the bag full of chickens that was taken off when we eventually arrived) that absolutely stank of meat/fish/dung that smelled the entire 17 hour trip; the trip was 17 hours long; there was another selfish person who liked the smell of their own farts; and the road was the continuation of the world's most dangerous road so the double decker bus teetered its way along the same 3 metre road with sheer drops, coming face to face with trucks every mile or so and having to reverse back to find suitable passing places, edging closer and closer to the edge to do so. Jenny had the windo seat, and we were on the top deck on the cliff edge side, and was a bit traumatised by the whole experience, so we may have to fly back.

Arrived here safely yesterday, and have booked ourselves onto a 3 day tour of the pampas to hunt for anacondas, pink dolphins, monkeys etc. Should be good, apart from the mosquitos which have bitten us both to death already. Also not looking forward to the spiders/scorpions in the jungle, have seen some dried ones in a restaurant here and they look big enough to eat a dolphin.

Posted by calumfife 10:16 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Puno - Bolivia

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From Cusco we got another freezing cold overnight bus to Puno, on the shores of lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. We arrived at about 5 am and were hassled by a guy offering accommodation in the town. We were too tired to argue and just went with it. The accommodation turned out to be nice and cheap which was a surprise. Unsurprisingly the guy who kindly took us there had his own motives......selling tours on the lake. At 5 am, having had no sleep and absolutely freezing, I wasn't in any mood to be going on an overpriced tour that started at 7am. The guy was very persistent, standing in the doorway, eventually we told him that he should come back later (meaning never). Jenny opted to wear all her clothes in bed to deal with the cold. Puno is so cold. Even more so seeing as I got fed up of my Nicaraguan hairdo and opted for an army issue one. Bad timing given the climate.

We got up the next afternoon and had a look around the town. It didn't really have very much to offer, other than tours on the lake. We decided to just go down to the port and get on a boat there, rather than taking an organised tour. We ended up waiting for about an hour on a rickety old boat until the captain, who was a pirate with one eye and a big scar on his face, had the requisite 7 people. Fortunately some more tourists pitched up, just before we were about to tell him to stuff it. We got underway, and set off onto the lake....very very slowly. Turns out the engine (outboard motor of sorts) was homemade by the pirate captain and consisted of a big mess of metal with a tube leading from it into a can of petrol on the boat with a pump that he squeezed by hand. When the engine died (which it did several times) the pirate would put his mouth over a piece of metal protruding from the engine and blow/suck into it, which made a gurgling sound which seemed to do the trick. All very strange, but we did only pay about 2 pounds so can't complain too much.


The purpose of the trip was to visit the Uros people, who live on floating islands on the lake. This was quite interesting. The islands are made entirely from reeds, as are the Uros houses and boats. You could feel the ground moving underneath, which was quite strange.


All in all we went to 3 of the islands and then returned to Puno, very slowly. We had been told that the Uros actually probably wouldn't still be living on the lake, were it not for tourism, and that was pretty clear form the fact that they spent most of their time whilst we were on the islands trying to sell stuff. We were even sceptical as to whether it was things they had made, as on one of the islands they seemed to be buying souvenirs to sell from a guy from the mainland. Or maybe I'm a bit cynical. Anyway, the tour was interesting all the same and the children running to get into any photos being taken,for a small price, were entertaining.


Lake Titicaca itself is pretty amazing as it's so so blue, and massive. It's full of trout, and I became a bit addicted to trout soup which only costs about a pound per cauldron. From Puno we headed further round the lake and accross the border into Bolivia. Crossing the border was relatively simple for a change. You feel the difference between Peru and Bolivia instantly......in the wallet. Bolivia is ridiculously cheap. It's great. It's also a very poor place though, and there are lots of children working, and begging which is not so great.

We ended up in a place called Copacabana on the shores of lake titicaca, and spent a few nights here. We met up with Moanie Peter and Sally and a few of their mates here and had a heavy night out with them which was fun, until the whole place closed at 12am, and huge packs of dogs came sniffing about us, as we were trying to sniff out some more drink. This Copacabana was very different to the one that Barry Manilow sang about. So so cold, and a bit of a dump, apart from the shore of the lake which was nice.


From Copa we got another bus to La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia. This was an interesting experience. About half way there we had to get off the bus and get on a boat across a short stretch of the lake to the other side where we were reunited with our bus, which had travelled on its own boat across.


All very surreal. We made it safely to La Paz and have spent the last 4 days here.


La Paz is an interesting city. Really busy with street sellers. There are lots of Chola's, traditionally dressed woman, selling their goods on the pavements. We are staying in a hotel right next to the famous witches market which is a very strange place. It consists of the same Chola women with stalls, except they sell really weird and disgusting things in the name of magic/medicine.

Llama foetuses, bear claws, bird heads, dried baby llamas, dried frogs, stuffed armadillos and cats. All a bit creepy. Jenny is horrified by the Jaguar furs of which we have spotted a few, and she hasn't been shy about her disgust. I've told her to be careful though or she might end up a dried frog in one of their baskets.

Other than this we've just been wandering about, as there is plenty to see here. We have plucked up the courage to book ourselves on a mountain biking tour down the world's most dangerous road tomorrow. It is a 50km road descending from 5000m to 1100m lined by a cliff which has 500m sheer drops at some points. It has gained its reputation from the statistics which detail that 100 or so deaths occur on the road a year from cars etc plummeting over the edge. The road is a dirt track most of the way and can get as narrow as 10 feet at points. This would be ok were it not for the buses and trucks that still use the road. Going to take it very easy I think. After completing this we intend to head into the jungle to the amazon for a tour to catch some anacondas. All very exciting.....

Posted by calumfife 12:58 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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