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Sucre, Bolivia 24.9.15

September 24, 2015

Salar de Uyuni 17.9.15

Welcome to Bolivia.One of the world’s poorest nations and it took less than an hour driving on their dirt oads for us to appreciate the problems they have. The Immigration officer at the border was nice and friendly, no computers out there, all writen out by hand. Then he said we had to go to the Aduana office some 80kms on to get the TIP for the vehicle. He didn’t mention the Aduana office was some 25kms up a 5026m altitude blind alley meaning we went there, signed in, then had to drive back to continue our journey. Seemed strange.

The roads have been bad the last couple of days. Took us 9 hrs to cover 185kms today most of it at a crawling speed. The exhaust pipe snapped and we have a few more rattles that weren’t there previously. Most of the trip yesterday was in the higher part of the Altoplana with most of the drive well over 4000 metres. Looking for a place to camp was difficult. I was wanting to drop below 3000m but had to make do at a secluded spot some 4450 metres high. It was a cold night. We had enough bedding but the cold crept in to join us. Three is not company. For the first time I suffered from increased heart beat and had a bad night. We have been told that coca leaves are good for altitude problems, we bought some in San Pedro as well as coca infusions and coca sweets. Not sure if I would have been worse without them.

But on the plus side, the country, though barren is spectacular and to see the Bolivian farmers and herders in their traditional dress spells out in no uncertain terms you are in a different country. We had to laugh, after an hour of corrugations we hit this outpost that had a barrier across the road. The young lady wandered over with a clip of tickets in her hand and asked for 10 bolivianos ($2AU) as a toll fee. The money went to the upkeep of the road we were about to travel on the ticket stated. Great, we thought, a better road. But no, there was no difference. Just more of the same. At least we helped a fellow traveller out who’s battery had died. This area is very remote, similar to the outback. One never passes someone in distress. We helped tow him back to some sort of civilization.

There is a problem with the water tank, I think the water froze and split a hose when expanding meaning there was a bad wake up call on finding no water in the tank this morning and this area devoid of excesss water.

This salt lake before us is the one that makes a mockery of depth of field. Where someone standing way back behind someone else gives you the impression they are standing next to each other but one is much smaller. We shall see tomorrow

Potosi 19.9.15.

Salar de Uyuni is the biggest salt lake in the world. Over 10,000 sq kms of pure white hexagonal shaped pattern with island of coral rock apppearing out of the vastness. It also houses enough lithium to fuel every ipod and battery in the world fo the next 100 years. The only island that has any infrastructure is Isla Incahuasi where toilets, a cafe and souvenir shop have beeen built to cater for the many 4wds that bring tourists to the lake as part of their three day south west circuit tour. To drive across the salt is quite an experience and can be a challenge at time if you lose your sense of direction. The surface is firm except cloer to the island where the salt crust is thinner and the soil underneath soft. We met two couples on the island, a French Canadian and a French couple, one of their big vehicles became bogged in the mud in trying to get close to Isla de Pesado, it took them two days to get it out. There are no facilities to help people in this predicament. We decided to spend the night camped on the salt at Isla de Pescado but had no problems. The expectation was to have the uninhabited island to ourselves but this young German appeared out of the blue. He was cycling south from the US.

The first town of any significance when exiting the salt lake in the east is Uyuni. A dust blown blot with little going for it apart from the train cemetery on the edge of town. Locomotives and rolling stock used when the mines were in full capacity now sit forlornly as people help themselves to parts they need. It is a desolate scene.Ten years ago there were no asphalt roads in Bolivia. Since then they have been spending squillions on infrastructure and the road from Uyuni to Potosi was an example of the finished product. The country is mountainous, no sooner do you climb over one high pass, descend then start the climb again. Many deserted houses, many llamas and few people. They had the cheek to charge us 10 Bolivianos ($2AU) to travel the 207 kms!Potosi clings to the sides of Cerro Rico or Rich Mountain. Plundered by the Spaniards who sent tons of the silver mined in the mountain back to Spain to pay their debts. Tens of thousands of the locals were killed while mining and the mountain stands like a forboding sentinel over the city. The city of 145,000 is built on the side of the mountain and the streets are amazingly steep. I was following the GPS to get to the residence here that allows overlanders when she put me onto this street which must have a one in four gradient. At 4000 metres on a gradient like that the bakkie had no hope. Jane, the GPS adviser, managed to find us an alternative route that though steep, was manageable.

There is a referendum in Bolivia today. The state of Potosi wants to become an autonmous region and the country voted today. No problems but the authorities legislated that no vehicles could be on the road from the start of voting, 8am, until polls closed at 6 I thnk it was. That is over the whole country. It didn’t affect us as we needed a break and where we are staying isn’t too bad. In fact it was great walking up to the city centre with no vehicles on the road. Last night there were endless traffic jams and it was a challenge driving. To take a day off and wander around gazing at these wonderful churches, government buildings and sumptious private residences was a real joy. Sitting in the main square eating delicious empanadas washed down with feshly squeezed orange juice was a delight.

Sucre, 22.9.15

By the sound of the celebrations that carried well into the night there must have been a ‘Yes’ vote in thee referendum. The best ear plugs are essential when travelling.

Sucre is less that 200kms from Potosi but such a diffence. It was the capital of the country and is still looked upon as the city that sets the highest of standards for the rest of the country. At an altitude of 2500 metres it has a very agreeable climate with little snow and good average temps for most of the year.

Camp sites are rear in Bolivia and Alberto and Frederica have reopened their front yard to cater to small overlander vehicles. Only three blocks from the main plaza and a lavaderia arouund the corner to drop the dirty washing off at it is perfectly placed. Alberto orgainized a couple of welders to come around to dismantle the exhaust so it could be welded and while doing so discovered the front wishbone that had been welded in Santiago had broken complettely. Louis, Alberto and Frederica’s son, took us to the Nissan crowd in town only to find the part would be coming from Japan at a 45 day delay. The alternative was to lift the motor, take out the wishbone and strengthen it with a steel plate before re welding it. Sounded an expensive job but if the welding of the exhaust is to go by it shouldn’t be too bad. $10US to dismantle exhaust, weld and reassemble. Things are cheap in Bolivia. We have opted for the welding job.

Sucre is lovely. The city square adorned withh mature trees including the ubiquitous eucalypt in flower at the moment even with parrrots feeding from the blossoms. So many churches and old buildings. The streets are very narrow and the pavements sometimes a scant 500mms wide. Felicidad took Joan up the the Central Markedo this morning to buy some meat. Not sure what some of the cuts were that she brought home, but made a nice meal tonight.

The French Canadian couple we met on the salt lake left this camping place this morning only to be replaced by a French couple in a Landrover Discovery conversion even smaller than our casa chico.

One Comment
  1. John and Angela permalink

    Hi Joan & Gary,

    Very pleased to hear from you again. There was a big earthquake in Chile recently and although we assumed you were well away

    from there we did hope you were both OK.

    Fascinating blog as always and reading it makes us appreciate how lucky we are to live in Bellingen.

    Sorry to hear about your vehicle problems and hope the coca tea is helping with the altitude. Take care of yourselves.

    Look forward to your next instalment.


    John & Angela

    PS. Would have been very interested in the old locomotives

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