It has been quite a week! When we booked our trip we did not realize that we would be in a remote area of the Bolivian salt flats during one of the most interesting elections in American history. On Tuesday, November 8, we arrived at our basic hostel hoping for access to wifi, but alas, there was none. Our intrepid group finally heard the news around noon the next day, from a German tourist at a lake in the wilderness of Bolivia. Once we reached a place with limited wifi, one comment I read was that people will always remember where they were when they heard the news of Trump's victory. I guess an isolated lake in Bolivia makes an interesting memory.
In addition to trying to hear the news while in an area far removed from modern conveniences, I struggled with some sort of intestinal disorder. I have more sympathy for everyone who has been ill while traveling! My illness began shortly after we met the new members of our group and just before a day spent traveling on a public bus with no washroom and then six more hours on a train. Fortunately, we have a well equipped pharmacist from Austria with us and she gave me some drugs which helped.
Our new group consists of just eleven members, there are the five of us who started the trip together in Lima and six new people. Don and I could be parents to the remaining nine as they range in age from 38 to 19. Although we are in reasonable shape, we are definitely older. This was brought home when the pharmacist gave me some tablets. Prior to giving me a pill, she carefully read the instructions on the package. She quietly asked me my age, and when I replied, she flipped the page and read more carefully. She told me that patients who are over 60 had special instructions to follow. Ouch!
Twenty four hours after my first symptoms appeared, our group split up and climbed into three separate 4 x 4's. We spent the next three days traveling over 500 km in these vehicles. Luckily Don and I got to ride in the Lexus, the most comfortable of the three cars. Although there was no air conditioning, we had comfortable leather seats and seat belts. The three vehicles traveled together and whenever we stopped, we shared stories of the ride and our car was the best, which was fortunate as I was feeling quite nauseous for most of the three day trip.
The three day adventure to the salt flats exceeded my expectations. We left Uyuni early in the morning of the 7th and headed for the train cemetery. Uyuni is one of the ugliest towns I have ever seen. It is located on the edge of the salt flats and is dry and flat with crumbling buildings and graffiti and garbage everywhere. The train cemetery was interesting, consisting of trains abandoned by the British when they gave up on mining in Bolivia.
The next stop was an abandoned hotel on the salt flats. Apparently when tourists first started coming to visit the salt flats some entrepreneurs thought tourists would like to stay in a hotel made of salt. Hotel owners in Uyuni were upset as they were losing business, so this first hotel was eventually closed. As we discovered later in our journey, other places have since reopened.
Once we left the hotel, we continued out onto the flats. Don told me that driving across the flats is like driving across a frozen lake. The expanse of white is amazing. We stopped for an hour and experimented with taking pictures with different perspectives. I think the best was a photo of our group forming the letters to spell Bolivia.
The first night we stayed at a salt hotel. Because I was still feeling under the weather, the group let Don and me have our own room. The accommodation was fantastic. Most things in the room were made of salt, the walls, the bed frame and the furniture. The floor was even made of salt. Most importantly we had our own bathroom, with a flush toilet. When you are not feeling well, the type of bathroom you use become very important.
The next day we continued driving along the salt flats. We stopped at one place and filmed our own ubiquitous Pringle's movie, these have become well known for people visiting the salt flats. It was lots of fun and as soon as I figure out how to move it from What's App on my phone, I will share the movie.
When we completed our video, the journey changed. We left the salt flats and headed for more wilderness areas. The goal was to show us volcanoes, colourful lagoons and flamingos. The views we saw were impressive, but the bone jarring ride in the vehicles was difficult to endure. The drivers took us up and over places that could not even be described as roads. Huge rocks littered the paths and sometimes the drivers took us through rough, dry creek beds. No road markers could be seen and I had no idea how the drivers knew where to go.
The second night we stayed in a more basic hostel. This time Don and I shared a room with three other members of the group. Other than lacking wifi as we wanted to find out the results of the election, the hostel was adequate. I was happy to be feeling somewhat better as the toilet in the hostel was pretty awful!
The third day was spent seeing more incredible scenery. I was surprised by the sights we saw on our three day journey. I'm sure we visited places very few tourists get to see.
We returned to Uyuni around 8 p.m. on the third day and we all craved a hot shower and the opportunity to put on clean clothes. The dust from our journey seemed to leach into our clothes, shoes and even into our bags.
The next day we drove on a comfortable bus, along paved roads, to the city of Potosi. This town is famous for the silver mined from the local mountains. Don and I toured a local museum and learned how Bolivian coins were made from the silver. One fact we learned was during the height of the silver boom, there were more people living in Potosi than there were living in London or Paris.
Yesterday we arrived in Sucre. After checking into our hotel, we dropped off our laundry. I was so happy to leave two bags of dusty and dirty clothes with a person who assured me that I would have clean clothes tomorrow!
After dinner, we had a brief tour of the downtown area of Sucre. It is a pretty colonial city and we have two more days to learn more about this lovely town.