A Travellerspoint blog

Prehistoric Sucre and Heavenly Salt Plains

Followed by a quick stop in Chile and back to normality in Salta

overcast 28 °C

Our latest installment brings us up to where we were about 10 days ago.

We flew from La Paz to a place called Sucre, via Cochabamba (we heard some good things about there but unfortunately our time was getting a bit tight for arriving in Brazil to meet our friends so we couldn't stop-over). Sucre is the judicial capital of Bolivia, as Stuart says everywhere we go is the capital of something or the best at something else, a lot of marketing going on.

So, we took it pretty easy there as we were only staying for two days. We did however, go to see the largest paleontological site in the world. That's the most dinosaur tracks found in the one place by the way. There's this huge concrete factory there and when they basically cut straight threw a mountain they found the tracks, thankfully the stone wasn't good for concrete so they built a visitor centre there instead. There's lots of different dinosaur species tracks there, some much bigger than others depending moreso on how they walked rather than their actual size. In the park, Paleontologists (like Ross in Friends) have built life size sculptures of what they believed the dinosaurs looked like.

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Our guide pointed out that they don't really know what colours they were or what they sounded like but they used some artisitic licence; the Brontosaurus was very loud and scary. The Dino bus that brought us to and from the park could have done with new seats.

That night we went to see a film in a local bar called, 'The Devil's Miner'- http://www.thedevilsminer.com/
It's a documentary set in a town over from Sucre called Potosi. Potosi is a very old town that was the centre of silver mining in South America once upon a time. We had considered going there but had decided against it when we met some other backpackers along the way that said the mine tours were very disturbing. It's believed over 8 million people have died in the mines there since they started digging there. Anyway, the film is about a boy of 14 who is forced to work in a mine as his father is dead, he is the breadwinner for his 2 siblings and mother. It's a heartbreaking film but also very educational. Most of the miners who manage to escape dying in the mines through explosions or collapses usually get Silicosis, a lung disease caused by the dust they inhale, they usually die around age 35. The other quite shocking element to the story surrounded the devil worshiping that takes place within the mines in the hope of yielding silver from the mines. Most of the silver is now gone from the mines but they mine for other substances. A really harrowing life that reminded me just how good we got it.

The other big event in Sucre was I managed to get my hair done, it was a very slow process and literally, at points I thought my hair was going to fall out – they didn't seem to have much experience with blondes(bottle or otherwise). Turned out fine though and for 20 bucks I was happy. The place we stayed, Casa Verde, was really nice too. We had, wait for it, BACON AND EGGS for breakfast – awesome. They also had a really nice internal courtyard where we sat in the sun one day...which we haven't done a lot of. Stuart and I are sporting nice 'farmers' tans, soon to be corrected hopefully.

So, onto Uyuni, via the rickety-est, oldest bus we've been on. But, it was surprisingly fine, the ten hours went by pretty quickly, bar one or two points where the road had been sort of washed away by the rain and the driver had to do some manoeuvring.

We arrived in Uyuni around 6pm, this is where the vast majority of tourists start a tour of the Salt Plains on the Bolivian Antiplano. We hadn't booked a tour as its generally safer/cheaper to book closer the source. We had met an English couple on the bus who had a recommendation and the office just happened to be near the bus stop so we ended up going with those guys. Our accommodation that night was fine but there was lots of thunder and lightning so the electricity kept going off. Anyway, on the road at the late start time of 10am the next day. We had a nightmare morning, unable to find any Wifi in the whole of Uyuni. Disappointingly the lonely planet let us down with advice that the Minute Man restaurant had Wifi, the owner chirpily informed us he didn't have wifi but the hotel did and then the hotel, despite offers of renumeration, quite rudely and brutally told us to sling our hook – that's the Tonito Hotel in Uyuni. Just rude which unfortunately was our general perception of many of the local people we had to deal with there. Anyway, I don't like using the blog to bitch unless it really bothered me so onto happier things.

On our tour were the lovely Dan and Sarah, an English couple who're touring South America for 5 months. Carlos from Valencia and Murial from Chile. So, as Carlos was the only Spanish speaker with English he became like a tour guide/translator for the 3 days, for which we are eternally grateful. Our guide, Pedro, aka, Part-time Pedro (I christened him so for his resistance to answering questions when asked and just disappearing all the time) didn't speak English and just couldn't be bothered a lot of the time, he did however, have a nice singing voice.

So, the first part of the tour started just outside Uyuni at the train graveyard. When Bolivia was exporting all its silver there were a lot of trains running to the coast to meet the ships bound for Europe. Whatever the trains were run on, coal I suppose, wasn't readily available in Bolivia and ultimately they ended up scrapping rail transportation. This is where the trains come to die. Not very interesting but nice photo opps.

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The second stop was the highlight of the whole trip, which makes me think it's a good idea to start in Chile and end in Uyuni if you can as it's one of the last things you do. So, the salt plains were formed millions of years ago when the earth was still shifting and the continents were forming. The sea had come in as far as what is now Northern Bolivia so when the land kept moving into one huge land mass, a huge salt water lake formed. Over time the lake dried up and what you got left is the Salt Plains, they are also very flat. Apparently NASA use them for calibrating their satellites with the earths location etc. So, you can see from the photos, but the only words we could use to describe was heaven-like. Because of the time of year we were there, they are actually flooded and you can only go so far into them but it was magnificent. I didn't know much about this place until we started travelling but I would add it to the things to see before you die list. As the land is so flat and because its so huge there's nothing in the distance, the water then reflects the sky and hey presto – it just looks like heaven. The other cool thing that happens is there's nothing to compare anything with so perspective goes out the window. Check out the silly photo that evidences this, it took us ages to get right by the way!

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From the Salt Flats, we drove and drove and drove. Eventually we came to a tiny town where we stayed, surprisingly we actually got our own rooms. We met an American guy, Pete, there that night, he was riding a motor bike from Buenos Aires, up trough Chile and Bolivia on his own for a month. He had had a crash that day in the middle of the desert and was a little worse for wear. We shared our dinner with him and he bought us two bottles of wine – bargain, and a good ole chat.

The next day we were on the road (when Pedro got around to it) and it was mountains, lagoons and funny shaped rocks. It was mind-blowing just how much the landscape would change in the space of ten or fifteen minutes, for example, we'd be driving along between green lush areas, with towering snow-capped mountains around us and then we'd be in a huge valley/canon with only dusty rocks and cacti around us, oh and a few chinchillas. That day was pretty tiring as most of it was spent driving with the occasional dive out of the jeep for photo opps. This tour is like a photographers dream pretty much as it is a series of pretty/unusual things to take pictures of.

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Night two, the place we stayed was a bit baron to over state it, the six of us shared a room, after quite a few necessary beers, It had a thatched roof and concrete beds...oh the joy of backpacking. Anyway, we were up before dawn the final day, 4am to be precise(the one time Pedro was on time). Some of us got better sleep than others as it would appear we had a few sleep talkers amongst us, to be fair Sarah was self-confessed but the intermittent 'Tengo Frio”(I'm cold) from Murial during the night startled us now and again. We had been encouraging Carlos to help her out with that but our plea's fell on deaf ears (Carlos is a Physicist and Murial is a Geologist - match made in heaven me thinks...or on earth in a scientic way as the case may be!).

The reason we were up so early, sort of still escapes us, as the first stop was the natural geysers, which shoot out of the mountain. When we got there is was dark so you couldn't actually see where they were, or more importantly where they would soon be, i.e soft ground that would cave in soon and turn into one. Poor Carlos nearly fell into one; I think he is now campaigning on a full time basis for barriers to be placed around them! Then Murial went missing and we thought, oh now, maybe she's fallen in a wannabe geyser, but actually she was fine – Dan had been shouting her name from the jeep window for quite a while in the style of Murial's angry dad from Murials' Wedding so that kept us entertained and fighting off the hypothermia for a while – I don't think she got the joke though. So, onto the hot springs – which were very nice, a toasty 38 degrees Celsius when we had been freezing our bums off so far that day. Unfortunately, we were all really shattered that day, three days in the jeep, pretty tough accommodation, the high altitude and the beers the night before all combined to pretty much knock us out on the way to the Chilean border. There we departed company with our new friends, we were really lucky to meet such nice, entertaining and chatty people, much like ourselves really! So Stuart, Carlos and I bailed out and joined the border crossing brigade for San Pedro De Atacama.

When we arrived we had to go through Immigration, which was fine, but slow. Then we had an awful time finding accommodation and ended up paying a lot for a very noisy hostel run by a drunk teenager. We met Carlos for a few beers in the afternoon. San Pedro De Atacama is a nice little town, but its clear it only exists for tourism. If we had been staying any longer than one night we would have done a sandboarding excursion which looked great. There was tonnes of other trips you could do from there but alas we were only passing through. But for sure, there was an instant change in how people looked, dressed and how people operated etc the minute we got across the Chilean border. Its much more European and smiley I would say.

The bus to Salta in Argentina was fine, bar a completely unnecessary overly long stop at immigration. There was one person dealing with all the coaches of people coming through, but we got there eventually, again going through four seasons in one day.

Salta is a big town in North West Argentina, similar in size to Edinburgh. It has a beautiful town square which is surrounded by shopping streets and comes off as very continental, people here have more money than anywhere else we'd been to date I think. We took it really easy here for a few days as we were pretty exhausted from the Salt Plains tour and from all the time travelling. Word to the wise btw if you are looking to get the bus from SP de A to Salta book it asap as it gets full early, we ended up having to pay an agent to sort ours and I'm sure he ripped us off.

So, in Salta, we did very little but do some more travel organising for the next week (which was a bit of a nightmare thanks to the uber prices of everything in Brazil), chilling and a little bit of shopping. Do I have anything major to say about Salta? Not really, apparently there's good horse trekking there...

As I write this we are on a coach to Puerto De Iguacu, 22 hrs thank you very much. But surprisingly, its been one the better ones for me. The seats are huge and I had a new book. But definitely the key ingredient to success is flat roads, the mountains are a killer, terrifying in fact I would say. So, not so much the length of the journey as the quality. One slight hiccup was when we had a pit stop at about 9pm, I don't have an idea where it was but I have never seen anything like the bugs there, they were massive, and there was so many different types....scary, scary place, looked liked a plague of locusts had been sent to descend on that town.

We have to cross the border from Puerto De Iguacu, Argentina to Foz De Iguacu, Brazil once we arrive, then we will be making our way to what looks like a cool country-side hostel outside the city. Our friends Woody and Di are due to arrive tonight all going according to plan and then our holiday within a holiday begins. We will go to see the Falls tomorrow and we move to Ihla Grande Sunday for a few days chill before the chaos of Rio where we have a whole week, followed by a whole week in Buzios, we won't know ourselves being so stationary...bring it on.

Sucre
Costa Verde Hostel – v.nice, 9/10 the owner even got up at silly o'clock to make sure we had a nice brekkie the day we left
Joyride Cafe, overpriced Gringo hang out but the movie nights are worth a visit, 15 Bolivianos pp
Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant –7/10 very tasty beef and green peppers but didn't have any white wine(!?)
Dinosaur Park – well worth a visit

Uyuni
Girasoles Hostel – 7/10
Italiana Pizzeria – 5/10, there's a few with the same name so sorry but can't identify specifically but not great we were a little sick after
Minuteman Cafe/ Hotel – don't let you use the Wifi contrary to Lonely Planet
Estrella Del Sur Salt Plains Tours – Generally good, our guide was a good driver which was the main thing but lets just say he was lacking in the personality department a bit and not helpful. We paid 450 Bolivianos for our tour and 150 on top for entry into the park. Accommodation is BASIC.

San Pedro De Atacama, Chile
Chaxa Hostel – 7/10, nice enough place but the teenager that was on duty had a party and then was absolutely steaming with a mashed up nose in the morning when we were checking out. Weird.
Estrella Del Sur – booked our bus for us to Salta and I'm sure put about 50% commission on it and we had to sit in the office for about an hour while he sorted. This guy and his bro in the Uyuni offices are all talk and chancers if you ask me, take them with a pinch of salt, I'd still use them for the Salt Plains tour though. For the bus go straight to the bus company Geminis, you'll have to call them as they don't have a website.

Salta, Argentina
Hostel Del Centro, 9/10, nice backpacker hostel except some fatties kept eating all the brekkie before we could get to it
City Bar/Cafe – 3/10, made us sick
Flecha Bus, there's an office in the Cinema Opera in town but they're opening hours are really unreliable. Be prepared to start paying for transport, ticket to Iguacu about £70 one way.

Posted by kelandstu 07:42 Archived in Bolivia Tagged hot_springs lagoon salta bolivia potosí geysers dinosaurs san_pedro_de_atacama uyuni sucre salt_plains train_graveyard

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