Facts and Figures
Dec 9th - Dec 16th 2010
Putre (Hostal Calli) - Curuhuara de Carangas (Bolivia(Hostal Kory Wara)
Formalities done at the Chilean exit, we move the couple of Metres to enter Bolivia. First stop the Police - easy, in and out in around 10 minutes then up the road a bit for the Aduana. There are two truck drivers in front of us with loads of paperwork, hmmmm, could be here a while, but the Customs girl is ripping through their papers and then it’s our turn in no time … Bang!!! all the lights go out and the computer shuts down, “no problemo” she says, “cinco minutos para la luz”, 5 minutes?? We are expecting a wait!! She gives us a some paperwork that we have to go and get copied, the power should be back by the time we get back. We found the “closed” copy shop then had to hunt for the guy that is supposed to be working in there, no one seems to know where he is so we sit and wait.
It’s not hard to see the difference between Chile and Bolivia, within the couple of hundred mtrs of the two borders it has changed dramatically. Chile is still very westernised and a well off country, even this far North, but just across the border into Bolivia you can see it is a poorer country. The vehicles exiting are older and less well maintained, a lot of litter lying around and nearly everyone is wearing the traditional Aymara dress which we didn’t see much of in Chile.
The guy from the copying shop eventually turns up about 30 minutes later and we get the sheet of paper copied for 10 Boliviano’s (£1) .. extortionate! Armed with our pricey bit of paper we head back to the Aduana. The queue has got bigger and the power still isn’t on, nothing todo but carry on waiting. There is no bank at the border so we can’t get any local currency. We have some Chilean and Argentinean Peso’s left so Lorraine goes to check out the exchange rate with the local women money changers that are abundant. They will take the Chilean but not the Argentinean so we have £20 worth of Boliviano’s, hope there is a bank in the next town.
The truck drivers in the queue are starting to get a bit irate now, customs officials are wandering around scratching their heads and telling us the power will be back soon. 3 hours after arriving at the border, someone decides that the power isn’t coming back on and that they will have to process everyone manually, 10 minutes and the queue has gone and we are officially in Bolivia .. easy!!
We have gained an hour coming into Bolivia but it now gets dark earlier so the wait at the Aduana hasn’t haelped. The map says that Patacamaya is the first big town, we will head there and see if we can find a bank if there isn’t one on route. Fuel is getting low but I don't want to top up and use the money we have before finding accommodation and a bank.
The light is starting to fade so we decide to pull in at the next village and look for a Hostal. We stopped at Curuhuara de Carangas, a very small village looking like we imagined a South American village to look like. We found a great Hostal right on the road into town, reasonable price and clean and tidy, and we got a welcome coffee when we arrived! Sitting outside drinking our coffee in the last of the sun we heard a scratching coming from a concrete box, the owners pet Armadillo .. So that’s what they look like when they’ve not just been run over by a BMW!!!
Into the town to get food, there are only a couple of small shops in the square that do Cena (set dinner) so we picked the first one we came to. A big bowl of meat and veg soup then rice, meat and veg for 8B’s each (80p). Ciggies and beer bought and we have 40B’s (£4) left, need a bank.
We watched some guys working on the church tower and scrambling around on small ledges, all had safety harnesses on but they weren’t connected to anything until Lorraine took a photo, they shouted something at us then they all hooked up. Maybe we hadn't better hang around too much longer!
Start Mileage - 31,158
Miles - 146
Curuhuara de Carangas (Hostal Kory Wara) - Oruro (Alojamiento Mios)
Slept through till 10:00 this morning, blame it on the altitude as we are still around 4,000Mtrs. By the time we had finished packing and numerous cups of coffee and mate supplied by the owner :-) we didn’t get on the road until 11:30.
We still have about 100 KM’s to Patacamaya and a bank & petrol, and it is raining, not heavy and it didn’t come to much.
We pulled into Patacamaya just as everywhere was closing for siesta!! We asked at the first fuel station where the banks were and were pointed in the direction. Two banks, both closed and only one with an ATM which was also locked up. We waited 30 minutes to see if one of them would open but no luck. I figured we could limp on to Oruro with the fuel we had left and if we got desperate then it wouldn't be a problem using the rest of the cash we had for fuel, Oruro is a big town and must have ATM’s.
The road was long and straight with not much in the way of scenery bar the odd small village.
We got Oruro a big town that made it’s name when the tin mining was good here up until 1985, now the mines are mostly dried up and tourism is the main income..
As we ride into town we passed a huge sculpture in the shape of a miners helmet commemorating the hey day of the mines and then on into town. A very busy place, lots of traffic and noise and on a steep hill!! We found a bank with a huge queue stretching out of the doors so I kicked Lorraine off the back and sent her to wait. On closer inspection it didn’t look like there was an ATM so I asked the heavily armed guard, no there isn’t but take the road into town and we will find one he tells us. Gear on and back on the bike, 50Mtrs around the corner an ATM!! A bit happier now we have some cash. Fuelled the bike up for BOB 100, 27 litres for less than a tenner!!!! Cheapest fuel yet.
The tourist office gave us the address of and directions to a cheap Hospedaje, easy 8 blocks down and 10 across. They didn’t mention that it was market day every day and that the streets were chocker with stalls, people and traffic trying to work it’s way through. We made our way through and found the Hospedaje without overheating, neither us or the bike!! A nice place, with huge parking and good rooms, right in the middle of a dingey looking area next to the bus terminal, it wasn’t that bad really!
Lots of restaurants and street food to choose from and all very cheap. After dinner back to the room and watch a couple of movies on T.V.
Oruro (Alojamiento Mios)
The hostel owner booked us a taxi to go to the Socavon (Patron saint of the miners) museum in town. When the taxi arrived she told the driver that we knew what the correct price was and he wasn’t to charge us Gringo price!
The small museum next to the church holds a lot of the costumes and other artefacts that are used for the annual “Carnaval”, which is in February so we will miss it! Inside the church is an entrance to an old mineshaft that has been turned into a mini museum. After an hour and a half we had finished with the museums … what to do now? Decided to walk back rather than get another taxi. Had the worst empanadas yet, made with rotten cheese by the taste of it!! There are no shops or supermarkets that we can dive into out of the heat, everything is sold on the street. A hot walk back and spend the rest of the day out of the heat.
Start Mileage - 31,304
Miles - 197
Oruro (Alojamiento Mios) - Potosi (Hostel Campania de Jesus)
Another nice ride today through the mountains, not a lot of traffic and few villages to stop for coffee on the way.
We got to Potosi at around 15:30, the highest city in the world at 4,160 Mtrs A.S.L. and built on a steep hill. With the clutch stinking after negotiating the steep and cobbled streets jammed with traffic we parked up in the main plaza to cool down the bike and me and to look for the tourist office … found it, closed! We have an address of a hostel in the Rough Guide which is about 2 streets from here.
After riding around trying to fathom out the one way system, which wasn’t helped by a recent change in street directions without removing the painted direction arrows from the street!!!!!! Even asking the police for the right directions didn’t work, “down that road turn left then right, go two blocks and it’s on the left” so off we go down that road and turn left, can’t turn right, they changed the direction!!! Arse! Back to the cop and a what are you doing back here look. Eventually we get the direction through the maze and get to the hostel, next problem is getting it off the narrow downhill road, over a high kerbstone and into the up a slope polished and slippery tiled courtyard. Off the road and up the kerb no problem but a tight squeeze through the doors, boxes only just fitted. Bike tucked away in a corner we got unloaded just before an almighty downpour and hail stones! Not going out in this so have a coffee while we wait for the rain to stop.
The rain eventually stopped so we ventured out looking at doing the mines trip while we are here and to try and get info on the road to Uyuni and the state of the salt flat, wet or not! We booked the mine trip for tomorrow, but the reports on Uyuni are conflicting with different tour ops giving different reports, even the HUBB is giving conflicting reports, the road is good or it’s not, the Salar is dry or it’s not …. Tours to the Salar and lakes from here start at US$120 each for a 3 day tour…. Way too much for us and we only want to do the Salar anyway. One tour op told us we could do the 6 hour bus ride from here and do a 1 day trip from Uyuni for a lot less …. that’s what we will be doing then!!
Potosi (Hostel Campania de Jesus)
Not much sleep again last night because of the altitude, lucky we booked the mines trip for 14:30 not the 09:00 one!!
14:15 we wait outside the hostel for the bus to pick us up, 14:45 and no sign of it so we ask the woman from the hostel to call the tour agency to find out what’s going on. 15 minutes later a taxi pulls up with a guide and another guy, someone else the bus forgot to pick up!!!
We met up with the bus at a little shack near the mine where we got into our “mining gear” then back on the bus to one of the 120 mines that are still in operation in Cerro Rico, the Rich Mountain. All the mines no longer have any government funding and are privately run co-operatives. Families rent and work on separate seams in the non profitable mines having to shift 20 Tonnes a day , every day, by hand just to cover the rent, in the school holidays the kids even get to work there. The mines with some major production left in them are solely owned and run by U.S, Canadian and other foreign companies with no profit going back to the Bolivians apart from the government backhanders … apparently!!!
If we had got the bus we would have stopped at a “gift shop” where we could have bought gifts for the miners which is the tradition, Coke (not the nose candy type!), cigarettes , coca leaves and even dynamite. Every now and then there is a grotto dug into the mine walls with a figure called El Teo, The Uncle, the underworld god of the miners very devil looking with red skin, horns, huge penis etc., and each mine has a main El Teo which is celebrated every Friday by the miners that still believe in him as a protector and provider with lots of neat alcohol being consumed and poured over the statue and a few fags being lit and stuffed into Teo’s mouth. After a chat and handing over the last gifts to the miners we started to make our way back out of the mine, we were headed down one tunnel when a miner stopped us because they were blasting that way, so we turned around and started to make our way up a rickety ladder into another chamber when the guy that turned us away came tearing past us and shot up the ladder before we had all cleared it. A couple of seconds later there was a heavy, dull thud, the floor shuddered and a big cloud of dust came pouring up the shaft as the dynamite went off!!!! A bit scary ……
A good 3 hours crawling around the tunnels and shafts to see the mines workings and the history of it made a good day.
Back in town we went and booked the bus to Uyuni and the Salar trip after making sure we could leave the bike and gear at the hostel. We even got a discount on the tour price as there was no English speaking guide available for Wednesday .. Bonus!
Potosi (Hostel Campania de Jesus) - Uyuni (Hotel San Salvador)
Up early this morning, I still haven't changed my watch since we entered Bolivia!! Sort out the rest of the gear we are leaving here in storage and have breakfast. We had the choice of an 11:00, 11:30 or 12:00 bus, we booked the 11:00 so got a taxi to the bus stop in plenty of time. It wasn't a proper terminal so we couldn't get any agua caliente for the flask, going to be a long 6 hours without a coffee! The bus arrived on time and loaded up and left on time at 11:00.. We went around the block and parked on the other side of the road where more people and luggage got on .. this is now the 11:30 bus, are we going around the block to our original spot and be the 12:00 bus as well!!!!
We get going, the road is asfalto for most of the way, some good ripio and a few muddy roadworks, we could have done it on the bike no problem .. Bummer! And it would have been more comfortable, the busses seats feel like they are just planks of wood, it is hot and dusty so windows closed - we cook, windows open - we choke, and no coffee supplied!!
Uyuni greeted us with loads of rubbish everywhere, not a good first impression but the town itself isn't too bad. The hotel is a bit grotty but cheap, and right next to the bus stop so we don’t need to cart our gear too far.
Found a nice Mexican restaurant and had some spicey food, first for a while, Macho Pique, beef, tomatoes and chilli piled on top of a plate of chips .. nice.
Uyuni (Hotel San Salvador)
The restaurant we ate at last night had eggs and bacon on their breakfast menu so we head back there as we haven't had bacon for ages. Even though it was American bacon it was still nice, though not enough of it. After breakfast we walk round to the tour office to pick up the transport for the trip. 7 of us in total packed into a 4x4 and a bit late leaving.
First stop was the Train Graveyard where all the old engines were dumped when Uyuni wound down from being the main hub for transportation of the minerals mined here when the bottom fell out of the industry in Chile and Argentina.
Second stop was at the salt processing town, museum and tat stalls, we bought some tat!!
Next stop, the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt pan in the world, 10,582 square KM’s .. and it is as dry as a bone .. I’m gutted, even more so when I see a couple of bikes on the Salar. Back to the “cattle truck” to go to the next stop, the first hotel on the Salar, built entirely from salt 40 years ago … I can still see the guys on bikes riding in the distance … grrrr!!
We had lunch, Llama steak, at Fish Island, a volcanic piece of rock sticking out of the salt with some old cacti growing on it and it cost an extra BOB15 to climb the rock, even had to pay the entry to go for a pee .. Lorraine was busting so she paid for a ticket and walked up to the top, when she came back I used the ticket for the loo!!
Not a bad day, would have been better with the bike and not being a tourist though. The Salar is a place that you don’t need the crowds, a personal thing.
As we got out of the 4x4 at the hotel, there was a guy stood just looking at us, we thought “what’s his problem?” then we recognised him, it was Hubert (and Leticia), the Belgians we met in Tucuman and Tilcara …. small world, they are staying in the same hotel as us too!
We went back to the Mexican restaurant for dinner and only just got a table as it was busy. While we were sat there a couple of locals came in and started talking to two French girls sat across from us then the local guys left, two seconds later one of the French girls started shouting that her bag had been pinched, no one noticed it. One of the guys apparently said he had been sat at that table earlier and dropped something, while they were looking under the table the other guy lifted her bag and legged it. Luckily she noticed before they had got too far and got her bag back .. A sharp reminder!!!
Had a couple of beers with Hubert and Leticia, they had done the 3 day tour on the Salar and didn’t recommend it, cold nights, cold food and rubbish guides, glad we are skinflints and booked the cheapest option!
Uyuni (Hotel San Salvador) - Potosi (Hostel Campania de Jesus)
Met up with Hubert and Leticia for breakfast before getting the bus back to Potosi.
An uneventful if uncomfortable trip back, we slept most of the way on the bus that boasted “Elegance, Security and Comfort, not quite I’d say.
Back at the hostel and we have to get all the gear out of storage and start to repack ready for the off tomorrow, shower and bed.