A Travellerspoint blog

On tour in a 4x4

Part 1 - altitude sickness, llamas and basketball

sunny

We caught an early morning bus to the Argentinian/Bolivian border where we joined a queue and began a very long wait. There appeared to be only one or two officials dealing with a line of people which was increasing by the coach load, not very efficient and in the end we queued for over two hours. At the other side however the queue had magically disappeared and we were through Bolivian immigration in a jiffy. We then walked into town and quickly found the bus station where we bought a ticket to Tupiza, 90p each for a three hour bus ride, we liked Bolivia already! A quick lunch accompanied by a sad looking dog and we were on our way once more.
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In Tupiza we were hoping to organize a tour which would include visits to the various natural wonders of South West Bolivia and would finish in the town of Uyuni quite a way to the North. Once we found somewhere to stay this possibility was soon confirmed as almost immediately we were asked if we wanted to go on a tour. Usually, as you have probably gathered, we are pretty against tours but in this instance there is no other way to visit the area as it has to be done by four wheel drive. After settling into our room we went downstairs and although we didn't ask for it to be, the tour was described to us. It would be four days and three nights, and in all likelihood it would be just us and another couple of people, as well as the driver/guide and the cook. We liked the fact that it wasn't going to be a big group but this fact did have its downside, it was much more expensive then we'd thought. For this reason we went away to think about it and tried to find other companies to ask but only came across one which was the same price. In the end we signed up for two days time with our hotel tour company and had our fingers crossed it would be enjoyable.

For dinner that night we found a lovely small restaurant that did massive portions of meat for very little money. Just as we were getting towards the end of the meal we were joined by a man that had been in the queue with us at immigration, we'd only exchanged a few words but he seemed nice enough and we were happy to chat for a bit. Unfortunately this was a bit of a mistake because he was seriously annoying and some of what he said still erks us now. He was from Germany, I would guess in his 40's with very bad hair but he did speak very good Spanish. He proceeded to make us feel bad/stupid for not being able to speak more, he described how he'd been travelling for years and felt like he discovered countries such as Vietnam and Laos because no one else was there when he visited in the 80's and finally he criticised the speed at which we were travelling, basically saying we were going to fast. He also did some rather rude and slightly racist imitations of Indian people when describing his experiences in Burma and how 'there was too much Indian influence' there for him. We were pleased when dinner was over.

The following morning we went down for breakfast and were joined at our table by a young guy called Yuri. He explained that he was half Spanish and half Dutch but had been living for the last four years in Birmingham while he attended Aston University. We chatted away while we ate and then said our goodbyes as he was off on the tour that day. Little did we know we would see him again. The rest of the day we took it easy, just mooching around the town centre which is really quite sweet especially the plaza. Then at lunch we had a bit of a near miss. Adam asked me to see whether the German guy was in the restaurant, I couldn't see him but as we ventured further in he was sitting round the corner. Knowing that if we had to eat with him he really wouldn't enjoy his meal, Adam told him we were going to check somewhere else and we might come back. I think he picked up the atmosphere though but thankfully we haven't seen him since, so any awkwardness has been avoided. In the evening we climbed up to a little Mirador where there is a large statue of Jesus and also some good views of the town and surrounding hills.
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We then had dinner and called it an early night.

Next morning we had breakfast which is where we met our tour companions for the next couple of days. A young, married couple called Antonia and Ian.
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They had been together for four years and met in the UK but Antonia was in fact German and Ian Irish. They now live in Germany although for the last few months have been in Buenos Aires where Ian had been studying and Antonia working. We were then introduced to our driver who was Raphael, he spoke almost no English but thankfully with a combined effort we muddled through and even managed to have a few conversations. Then on the edge of town we picked up our cook, a lovely lady called Margherita. One of the things we'd immediately noticed since being in Bolivia was the very traditional dress that the women wear. One of the main things is their skirts, they wear many at once as well as lots of petty coats which give them this quite rotund shape on the bottom half. They then were little cardigans or brightly coloured shawls and they finish it off with a bowler hat at a jaunty angle. Margherita did wear a hat but she always wore her hair in the obligatory plaits and she was a complete sweetheart. There was another jeep setting off at the same time as us and we would basically spend the next few days in and out of each others company, always staying at the same places but we didn't meet them properly until the first evening.

We left Tupiza and climbed in altitude as we drove along a rocky road with the Luna valley below. The landscape as it would continue to be over the come days was stunning.
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The rock formations looked prehistoric to me and a couple of dinosaurs would have finished the picture off nicely. I have to say geology never interested me at school but here I could kind of see why it grips other people. We stopped for a few photographs and a bit of a walk before continuing on.
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The group in the other 4x4 said they were scared as they drove along the narrow roads with the steep drop down but it never even crossed my mind. I had complete faith in Raphael and we just relaxed, looking at the scenery and we got to plug in my ipod which was cool.

Next up was a lunch stop in the middle of a big pampa field with grazing llamas all around us. We climbed up over a little hill for the views and also to answer mother natures call before stuffing our faces with Margherita's great cooking.
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Which was continually good and we had some of the best food we've had in South America, certainly the most nutritious. After lunch we drove on again and stopped in a tiny village where a lot the buildings were built using the very rich dirt so everything was a warm red colour.
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There was a group of kids hanging around and we managed to decipher that they wanted us to follow them to their school.
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There was one girl who was more confident than the others who quickly went and got a basketball and soon enough we were playing a game of the oldie foreigners vs the kids.
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I shall mainly blame the altitude and not our complete lack of skills for the bad show by us, Adam and I ended up playing on our own against two of the children and we were beaten very badly. One of them had a great jump shot!
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We waved goodbye to the kids and drove on to another village which we believe is where Margherita lives most of the time. She dashed off somewhere and we walked around. There were another couple of kids here but unfortunately they weren't quite as nice. Straight away they were asking for money, or Antonia's hair clip which was a bit sad. Soon enough though it was time to say goodbye to them and we were on our way to the little village where we spending our first night. Here we were shown to a room with four beds and we had a little bit of a sit down. One of the things we were all aware of was the altitude as we were now quite high up, around 4000m. We were all feeling extremely tired and I had a bit of a headache. To help combat the effects we sat down for a little snack and some tea made with cocoa leaves. It was here that we introduced ourselves to the people in the other 4x4. There was a young couple from Holland, Matheus and Anna and then a couple of girls from Finland, Anna and Anne.

After the tea and biscuits we went for a little walk around the village and found another basketball court. There were a group of older girls playing and after a bit of negotiating by Adam they let us join in. So it was Matheus, Anna, Adam and I shooting free throws which we were all pretty dismal at. When we had to go retrieve the ball we were all really out of breath after just a short run, also due to the altitude. Once we'd all managed to sink one basket we decided to call it a day so we headed back in for dinner which was great. First of all we had a really hearty vegetable soup, you don't get that many greens in South America, there is a lot of meat and carbs so this was much appreciated. When we were all stuffed to the brink we went out to have a look at the stars but could only manage it for a little while because it was so cold. The stars were lovely but I think they got better later in the night because they looked great when I made a quick sprint to the outside toilet.

As this turned into a long entry I've split it in two, so this is the end of part 1!

More Soon,

Laura & Adam

Posted by LauHot10 12:48 Archived in Bolivia Tagged round_the_world

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