Southwest Bolivia – Land of the Incredible
Southwest Bolivia – volcanoes, flamingos, llamas, salt flats, cactus, geysers. It is hard to believe that it is all here.
I have spent the past week or so exploring SW Bolivia – including taking a 4 day jeep tour that allowed us to get into the Salar de Uyuni, one of the largest salt flats in the world. It also took us past geysers, volcanoes, flamingos and lots and lots of open countryside.
Before the tour, I first spent a few days exploring Tupiza with its red rocks, cactus and high desert mountains. It was great to get out and explore the landscape – I went for a few hikes, walked around town, bought the paper and tried to translate stories, went to the market for breakfast (cafe con leche and pasteles – basically fried dough) and ate saltenas (like empanadas but better — filled with meat, eggs, olives and other goodies!).
one of many cactus i took pictures of
cross on top of a mirador overlooking Tupiza, we climbed up there for the sunset (which was not epic)
The tour, though very expensive, allowed me to see parts of the southwest that would have been difficult to see otherwise. I was in a group with 2 Italians, 1 French and myself. Plus our driver and our cook. It ended up being great. The four of us got along great and the views were extraordinary, even with not great weather.
Basically, we spent the better part of 4 days in the jeep and we would get out and look at the ‘main’ sites. Ed Abbey would hate it. But, as I mentioned, it would be hard to get into these areas on my own unless I had own vehicle (note to self, next time I visit South America, it should be by bike or by vehicle!). But, the sites are tourist sites because of how beautiful they are!
Our day would start with breakfast (mate or coffee and bread) and then we would pile into the jeep and head off. Half way through the morning, Clemencia would pass back a snack (yogurt in a plastic sleeve or oreos), we would stop at various sites until it was time for lunch. Then Clemencia would prepare lunch on the back of the jeep and we would eat more, pile into the jeep and head off for more sites. We saw many many lagunas, llamas, flamingos and mountains.
During the afternoon, our jeep was pretty funny. Chewing cocoa leaves is very common in Bolivia (in fact the president wants to export it). Our driver and cook chewed it like it was going out of style – popping leaves into their mouths at a constant rate. We all (Elisa, Tommy, Kevin and I) also had a bag and would ‘chew’ it as well. Basically, you take a wad of leaves – chew them just slightly and then stuff them into your cheek. So, there were times when none of us spoke and we all had big wads of coca in our mouths. The cocoa leaves have a slightly bitter taste and are used medicinally here – good for altitude. But they are used in teas and for chewing and you can buy them at every market. The real connoisseurs (which is every Bolivian) take something alkaline with it to enhance the effects. Clemencia shared some with us and you can tell a difference.
Besides never seeing cactus and llamas and flamingos in the wild before, I had never seen geysers. They weren’t epic like I have heard they are in Yellowstone, but they were still pretty amazing. We got out of the jeep and were able to walk around — some were shooting steam into the air, others were piles of bubbling mud. It was all pretty amazing!
But the part that we were all waiting for was the salar — one of the largest and highest salt flats in the world. I was pretty excited because we were there during the rainy season – which meant that the water on the salt flat would reflect the sky. The pictures I had seen were pretty epic. We went out there early in the morning hoping to see the sun rise, though it was a cloudy morning – though, I am not sure there is a bad day on the salar.
Following the tour, I took a bus to Potosi – a town that sits at just under 4000m (close to 13,000 feet) and is well known for the silver mining operations. One of the big tourist things to do here is to take a tour of the mines (and you can bring the miners gifts like dynamite, cigarettes, beer and cocoa leaves). I am not sure if I will do it, but the town is quite beautiful (stay tuned for another titillating post!)
Take care friends — hope you enjoy the pictures!