Jun 13, 2012

No Jeep no Bolivia

Scenes from the Train Cemetery in Bolivia.

What a trip! The roads in Bolivia or the bus service is not for the faint hearted. The airlines are not better. Protests, cancellations, frequent delays make it hard to predict travelling and (in my case) departing from the country! All of this should not deter you from seeing this amazingly diverse and vast natural territory though. Bolivians are nice and friendly. Some of them refuse to live by the standards of a consumer society, probably explaining why they go for the under dog. Many things are under developed but maybe this is not a bad thing.  

Salar Uyuni, Bolivia.

Maybe because of the roads, jeeps are popular in Bolivia also for sightseeing. So, To see the famous Salar (salt lake) we had to take a driver and a jeep in Uyuni. But even getting to Uyuni required a journey! First, we took a bus from La Paz to Uruora. We then took the train to Uyuni in the wagon clearly designed for tourists:-). After spending one night in Uyuni, we met our fellow jeep passengers in the morning. So the dream team consisting of 2 Turks, 2 French, 1 German and 1 Spanish was thus established for the coming three days. Our first stop was at the train cemetery. After that, we hit the dirt road, literally. Our trip required us to sleep at a different place every night. It also met we sometimes had to share room with each other which most of the time did not have a private bathroom. It also meant that sometimes there was no toilet paper and no hot water. I am therefore warning you that if these amenities are important to you, this trip may not be for you but then you will miss out the whole natural beauty!   

Famous llamas of Bolivia.

Lago Colorado in Uyuni, Bolivia.

After the Salar, we entered the next day the national park and went directly to the Lago Colorado. This was one of the moments of the trip not only because we spotted many flamingoes. But also in the morning the mountains were reflected in the lake, creating an amazing scenery. This contrasted with the emptiness of land so strongly! It should also be said that during the trip we went up to 5000 metres which allows one barely breathing space. Due to this harsh climate with rain in summer and snow in winter, there a barely any people who live there. In this setting, one truly appreciates what a valuable commodity water is because at night with temperatus way below freezing, the water freezes while cars' engines are covered for protection. This triangle of Chile Bolivia and Argentina feels truly like space! 

Beyond that mountain is Chile.

This is the dirt road in Bolivia.

After being deprived of modern life's amenities for days, you should have seen me arrival in Sucre: the oldest city in the country. It's colonial architecture, its taken care of streets full of university students was such a nice change. I also indulged by staying in a nice place like El Hostal De Su Merced which I can only recommend. What was interesting during the trip was that I kept running into the people that I saw in Uyuni. In fact, as I was sipping my beer in the hotel's pretty terrace, the waiter came to inform me that my fellow Spanish traveller from the jeep was there to see me! 

Desierto de Siloli, Bolivia.

In Sucre there is a lot of history. I loved Casa de la Libertad which provided a lot about the history of the country and the liberator if the continent Simon Bolivar. In fact, the country is named after him. The casa used to belonge to Jesuits who have established one of the oldest university in Americas. More importantly, Bolivia was born here. A declaration of independence, as in many countries drafted and signed by lawyers (30 of the 48)was prepared in Sucre but ironically because of silver mines in Potosi that were being taken to Europe, Bolivia was the last country in South America to gain independence from the Spanish crown. Travelling to South America actually makes one weary of Spanish I must say! I also learned here about the colors of the Bolivian flag: Red means blood, green nature and yellow mines. One of the places to see in Sucre is Mercada, the market. The folk museum is also interesting for its masks. Due to proffessional deformation, I also went to the Supreme Court of Bolivia located in Sucre and was impressed with its beauty. However, seeing a chapel right at its entrance was shocking and was proof of why there was so much teenage pregnancy and no abortion in this very Catholic country. 

Sucre, Bolivia.

A female butcher in Sucre's Market, Bolivia.

Lastly, we went to the Amazonas. Now that is a complete change of scenery! It is humid and warm but only an hour flight away from La Paz, the capital. We flew to Rurre and were greeted by our guide. Then, by boat, we were taken to our natural lodge! I was very much impressed by how simple everything was and kept so natural. The room was all from wood, beds had nets and hammacks were the norm. It was eco tourism in its best with our local guide being from the community in the forest. He took us to the village where we weer shown how sugar canes were squeezed to produce juice. We Saw the village school and the church where people were gathered to watch TV. He then took us to the forest were we traced animals like foot prints of jaguars. We saw amazing butterflies, a giant turtle, monkeys, whistling birds of all sorts and huge ants. We went to a waterfall and swam in water. This was the only swimming opportunity since it is impossible to swim in the giant river that has an amazingly rapid current. The river also has cat fish in it which we were served with. It was also very interesting to see that our guide had a cure for everything from the forest. Bad stomach? Let me cut a piece from this tree, boil it in water, drink it and you will be fine. You need mosquito repellent? Let me cut that from here sothat you put it on your skin. In the end, from the Andes to Amazonas, Bolivia offers an amazingly diverse natural tourism adventure for travellers. Just be a little bit ready to accommodate the country on various modes of travel! 

A view from El Hostal
de su Merced in Sucre, Bolivia.

Amazon's leg Rio Bene, Rurre, Bolivia.