A Travellerspoint blog

Drunk and sleepy drivers

La Paz, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Ascencion De Guarayos, Villa Tunari (Paque Machia), Inta Wara Yasi


View Destination - south on ew5827's travel map.

To say our journey to La Paz was quite dramatic is probably an understatement. We'd heard the driving was quite dangerous in places but we hadn't expected a fist fight with the driver while the bus was in motion!...

We travelled overnight from Uyuni and I fell asleep for most of it. While I was sleeping, some of the passengers realised that the driver was drunk and recklessly overtaking other vehicles, so they confronted him. Things escalated and to Chris' horror (I was sound asleep) one of the passengers started trying to punch the driver while the bus was still moving! They eventually got the driver to pull over and then some of the passengers threw him off the bus. (This was in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night.) Chris tried to stir me through all of this but somehow I managed to ignore it all. In one way I'm quite glad I did as it sounded terrifying! As dawn broke we drove into the next town where we stopped for a while, while there was much debate about who would drive the rest of the journey. Our Spanish wasn't good enough to follow the discussion but eventually a teenage boy took the wheel. He clearly hadn't driven a bus many times before, if at all, as he kept crunching the gears and stalling. It was a bit of a hairy journey but we finally made it safely to La Paz and were very glad to step off the bus for the last time! Drink driving is sadly quite common in this part of the world, at least it was when we were travelling. Some bus drivers have a caffeine/alcohol concoction to help them stay awake on the long journeys and clearly ours had drunk far too much.

After the beautiful wilderness of the Salar de Uyuni, La Paz was a whole other world. A bustling, lively city with the suburbs as far as the eye could see, up into the surrounding hills. We spent most of the week here, enjoying a bit of civilisation and glad of some respite from travel before we made our next move.

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My memories of La Paz are a little hazy in places 10 years on, but a few things stick in my memory. Exploring the city with lots of narrow streets, jostling past the many other people moving about their daily business around the city is the main one. We went to Plaza Murillo one day where there were hundreds of pigeons. For some reason I got a bit obsessed with taking photos of them that day.

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We visited Jaen Street another day which is a pretty colonial street with musuems and shops. I bought some jewellery here made of dried fruit and seeds that I still have. Chris fell in love with some masks that we bought and sent home but sadly they got smashed in transit. We found a small art gallery not far from the bottom of Jaen Street where we met the artist. I loved his work and I bought a small water colour from him that was painted on the back of piece of writing paper (all I could afford at the time) but I'd have loved to have bought one of these pieces below.

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The other thing that sticks in my mind is of course food related - we went to a "backpacker famous" breakfast place and I had the biggest fruit salad I've ever seen in my life. Needless to say I didn't manage to finish it on my own but it was very tasty!

From La Paz we had plans to work in an animal sanctuary called Communidad Inti Wara Yassi. They had two parks at the time (they now have a third) providing refuge to a wide variety of animals. One of the parks primarily focuses on large cats including pumas and jaguars and we had heard that some of the tamer ones previously rescued from being pets were actually taken for a walk each day by those looking after them! Communication and travel being what it was, they couldn't guarantee a position when you arrived so we just had to turn up and hope for the best.

It was a long journey from La Paz to Santa Cruz de la Sierra and then up to Parque Ambue Ari which took the best part of three days. On part of the journey from Santa Cruz we had a near collision into the back of another truck as our driver fell asleep at the wheel. Everyone else in the truck was also dozing off in the midday heat and I was sat in the middle seat. I saw the truck getting closer and yelped at the last second just in time for our driver to come to his senses and realise what was happening. Everyone else thought I was a mad foreigner for shouting randomly!

Sadly, when we arrived they had all the helpers they needed. We could have stayed and waited a couple of weeks in the hope someone left and we could take their spot but given our travel time was not so abundant by this point we decided not to do that and instead to risk travelling to their other park in the hope they had need of us there.

It was another two day journey back to Santa Cruz de la Sierra and then back west to a town called Villa Tunari where Inti Wara Yassi founded it's first park, Parque Machía, on some land loaned by the town. This is where we spent the next month and the roundabout week of travel around the country to get there was so worth it in the end...

Posted by ew5827 09:45 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Not everything is what it seems

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia via Desierto de Siloli and Salar de Uyuni


View Destination - south on ew5827's travel map.

Setting off from San Pedro coincidentally we joined up with another French-Canadian couple for the tour, a father and son. First stop was the border from Chile into Bolivia. It wasn't anything more than a shack really, exposed to the elements and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. A cold wind was blowing as we waited for our papers to be processed and curious Andean fox came to see if there was anything worth scavenging. It was the most incredible setting for a border crossing.

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From that point on it was breathtaking view after breathtaking view. We set out making our own path across the plain; there's no roads just the tyre marks of other 4x4s to follow, or not.

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Throughout the day we visited several beautiful lakes. Each lake was a different colour due to the mineral content churned up when the wind blows. We were fortunate with the clear blue skies and dramatic clouds for some beautiful panoramas.

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Laguna Blanca


Laguna Verde

Laguna Verde

We also visited Sol de Mañana where there are geysers and hot mud pools, and consequently an acrid sulphurous smell!

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Laguna Colorada, was the most dramatic in colour of the lakes that we saw with red water. There was a flock of flamingos in the water. I'd never have expected to see flamingos to be in a place like this.

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On day two we continued our journey through the Siloli desert where there are many fascinating rock formations formed by the wind erosion over many many years. One of the most impressive is Árbol de Piedra (the Rock Tree) which stands about 7m tall in the shape of a tree.

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Further along our journey we came across these little cuties. They're called Viscacha, related to chinchillas I think.

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Our next stop was Laguna Honda; coming down from a slight elevation gave us a great view of the whole lake - my camera lens couldn't quite capture it all.

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We stopped for a bite to eat with another picture perfect view and the company of some opportunistic gulls eagerly flying around us.

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Then finally we started to see what we had been waiting for - signs of salt and that we were finally nearing the Salar de Uyuni! Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat. In the middle of nowhere, we came across an old railway line, or not so old, as we actually saw it was in use as a small train came past us!

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That night we stayed in a hostel made of salt - the walls, beds, chairs, everything was made of salt bricks, except the pool table! :)

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The next and final day of our tour we got up before sunrise to start our drive out onto the salt flats. The sunrise was beautiful, exaggerated by the mirror image on the glistening salt. Well worth the early start to the day.

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Stopping for photos we had some of the longest shadows I've ever seen, stretching out across the flat.

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On the salt flat, there is a bizarre sight - a hill/mound covered in cactus. I suppose it's not such a bizarre place for cacti to be given it's by a desert but it looked odd popping up in the middle of the salt flat. The rocky hill is called Isla Incahuasi in the native language, Quechua, meaning House of the Inca. It's all that remains of a volcano that lay beneath the prehistoric lake before it dried up and became the salt flat.

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Leaving the cacti behind, we continued out onto the salt flat, as far away from anything else as we could. I'd previously been to the Makgadikgadi Pan in Botswana but I hadn't made the most of the photo opportunity to play with depth perception there so I was keen to do better here. As you can see we had some fun with it!

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After freezing our fingers taking lots of silly photos we drove off the salt flat via a site to see how the locals process the salt.

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Our guide, who I sadly can't remember the name of now, then took us for some tea as his home. He had a very cute little puppy who stole the show and it was a nice end to the trip with him.

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Our final stop was the train graveyard before we finished the tour in Uyuni town.

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This is where we parted ways with the French-Canadian couple we’d been travelling with since the Galapagos. They went south to explore more of Chile before island hopping across the Pacific Ocean to Australia – another incredible adventure for another day perhaps. Next stop for us was the Bolivian capital, La Paz...

Posted by ew5827 17:54 Archived in Bolivia Tagged landscapes mountains lakes volcano geyser Comments (1)

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