Take me to a higher place

Hola dear readers!

welcome to my post about my adventures in Bolivia.
As I only stayed a couple of days in this country, there will be this time only one single article. However, I have to say that those days were quite an experience!

Indeed, this starts already after the border crossing. The bus supposed to pick us up is not here as expected. The reason for this is that the road is blocked by angry mine workers. They are striking around the country to protest against their poor working conditions. As a French citizen, this is something quite ordinary for me 🙂 However, I’ll realize how tense the situation is between the miners and the Bolivian government (and why our guide and bus driver were a bit worried) only a few days later when I see on television that the miners actually kidnapped the government mediator and beat him to death. Crazy s..tuff!

To reach our next destination, the city of Copacabana on the other side of the Titicaca lake (not to be mistaken with the beach in Rio :)), the bus company organizes a boat as land is not an option anymore. Finally, we arrive there only with 1 or 2 hours delay. The main activity for the afternoon is a short hike on the Isla del Sol (island of the sun). There are many different stories about the origin of this name. Some say that Viracocha, the bearded Inca god who created the universe, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca and created the sun at this location. Some other state that he created his son and daughter here, and those 2 became the first Inca people on Earth.
The hike is quite easy and nice to stretch the legs. The highest point of the track offers a nice view on the Titicaca lake and on some pre-Inca terraces.

Back on land, we all jump back in the bus to our next destination: the city of La Paz. We arrive there in the late evening. To reach my hostel, I take a taxi kindly organized for me by the bus company. Although there is a lot of traffic and the hostel is quite far from the bus stop, the drive doesn’t take long, as the taxi driver has what I call the Italo-Asian driving style, which means arriving at destination as fast as possible pushing others on the way and considering traffic lights only as simple recommendations 🙂
I spend a good first night in La Paz, although my bed is a bit scary. Indeed, it is located at the top of a 3 bed high bunk bed! Luckily, the frame is made of strong wood and keep the whole thing very stable.
The first day in La Paz is quite relax. As I walk a bit around the city, I remember quickly that it is one of the highest city in the world when I feel my body longing for more oxygen only after a few steps.
There are a few things to do in La Paz, like riding a bike on the famous Death Road or going to the top of the Huayna Potosi volcano (at 6000m). The latter is really appealing and represents a really nice challenge for me. However as I didn’t plan to stay long in Bolivia, I choose to skip it and to only book the standard backpackers tour to the Uyuni salt lakes going down through the Altiplano region to the Chilean border.
On day 2, I take a bit more time to visit the city center. The so called witches market is a very strange place to see. Indeed you can find here a lot of small street shops selling the necessary stuff to perform traditional rituals: candles, fake money, candies, but also the strangest and most impressive thing in my opinion, the dead or mummified alpaca babies. Bolivian people believe for example that burying a born dead alpaca under a new house brings luck to its owner.

After that, I walk a bit further up to the Kili kili viewpoint, from where I have a nice view on the city.

For my final day in La Paz, I book a seat at one of the craziest show I’ve ever seen in my life: a cholitas wrestling show. Cholitas are Bolivian women, usually from the countryside, who can be recognized thanks to their traditional dress.
The fights are really entertaining. Of course it is only a show, so hits are all controlled. Nonetheless the physical engagement is really impressive and the wrestlers know how to interact with the public to make the whole experience even more funny.
The show starts with some fights men VS men, then it’s the women’s turn to fight against each other, and finally it’s men VS women (of course women are winning :p). The very last fight is a huge chaos where everybody fights randomly against everybody on the ring.

To have an overview about the life of one of this female wrestler, I invite you to take a look at this interesting short documentary:
Wrestling Woman
After the show, a shuttle brings me to the main bus station where I change for a night bus to Uyuni. It is the main starting point of the tours to the salt flats and to the Altiplano area.

We arrive in Uyuni at around 06:30am. It is quite a shock for my body when we get down the bus. Indeed we are now in a desert area, at high altitude and in winter. During the day, when the sun is up, and there’s no wind, the temperatures are more or less bearable. However the nights are another story…
After a nice breakfast and a short walk in this small city, we load all our stuff on the roof of the 4×4 that will drive us during the next 2 days. We are 5 in the group with Marlies & Martin from the Netherlands and Bryan & Sarah from the UK, plus Paul our driver and Janet our guide.

We start the tour at around 10:30am by visiting a train cemetery where we can see old locomotives dating from Bolivia’s past when the salt exploitation was still running. Here lays also train 66 made famous by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. These infamous outlaws robbed this train in 1908.
We quickly see that we are not the only ones here. Indeed, all the tours operators are following the same route and so all the Jeeps follow each others and visit the same places at about the same time.

From the cemetery we then make our way to the village of Colchani, where we visit some salt miners workshop to learn about the basics of salt production. After that we drive to the first highlight of the tour, the famous Salar de Uyuni aka the Salt Flats. The landscape is simply stunning. I have the feeling to be in a giant snow field, except that the snow is not snow but salt.

The location is very famous to take eye tricking pictures.
Here is the result of one of my creative moment 🙂

After that, we have lunch at a kind of small village entirely built with salt bricks. This village is also used as a base camp during the motorsport Dakar race.

The first stop in the afternoon is the Incahuasy island (fish island), followed by the Phia Phia island. On those islands, we can see giant cactus and rock formations of petrified coral. Indeed, this region which is now at some 4000 meters above sea level was once directly at sea level.

We then drive in direction of the San Juan village where we will spend the night. On the way, we have a long stop in the middle of the desert to witness the sunset. However, as the weather is not good for that, we just take some pictures playing with our shadows.

The accommodation is quite comfortable. As the area is a protected area, there are some restrictions, especially no heating in the rooms. To survive the cold night (around -10°C), I sleep with all my clothes on including the jacket in my sleeping bag, plus 3 blanket layers on top 🙂
On day 2, we wake up shortly before sunrise.

After a nice breakfast, we jump in the Jeep to drive to our first stop, an old Inca cemetery called the Cementerio de las Chullpas. This cemetery is quite weird, as it is hidden in a cave.

A few minutes after, we arrive at the Chiguana desert. The area is very scenic. The mountains and volcanoes surrounding (like the volcano Ollague culminating at 5840m) are very impressive and it’s nice to see petrified corals one more time.

After a longer drive in the desert, we stop in a rocky canyon for a nice lunch in the nature.

The afternoon is really nice as we pass several lagoons with different colors. The colors are changing in function of the different minerals produced by the surrounding volcanic activity. On some lakes, we also get to see flamingos. To protect them, a line not to be crossed was installed around the lakes. As lot of tourists are not respecting that, our guide Janet, a small but energetic woman, chases them to bring them back behind. To make her action more meaningful on the long term, she also starts shouting at the Jeep drivers that are not informing their passengers correctly and let the tourists damage the environment without saying anything.
The scenery is unforgettable. The mountains, the amazing color of the lakes and the flamingos, all of this contributes to have amazing postcard views.

After this first series of lakes, we stop at a rock park to take pictures of the arbol de piedra, a famous rock formation with the form of a tree.

The last stop of the day is at the laguna Colorado. The particularity of this lake is again the flamingos living there but also the nice red color of the water.

We spend the night in a high altitude village. The night is the coldest one I’ve ever lived in my life. Again I have all my clothes on in my sleeping bag and this time 5 blankets on top, but this is barely enough to get warm due to the very low temp (-20°C). Fortunately, we had some wine and a couple of beers to help us fall asleep 🙂
The last day of the tour is a rather short. We wake up again very early. The first stop after breakfast is at the geysers Sol de Manana. The scenery is quite impressive. It’s very nice to see the light reflection of the sun rising on the vapor.

After that, we get some time to bath in the hot water of hot springs nearby. The experience is amazing. I didn’t want to go at first, fearing for the moment I would have to get out of the water, but the group pressure made me change my mind, which at the end was an excellent thing 🙂dscn6143
After this refreshing episode, we get back in the jeep for our last kilometers in Bolivia. The last stops are the Dali desert, Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca. Those are all natural places resulting from the volcanic activities in the area. After a last group picture at Laguna Blanco we then head to the Bolivian/Chilean border to finish the tour.

A few minutes later, we arrive at a small house, which is actually the Bolivian immigration office, to get our exit stamp. After having said goodbye to Paul & Janet, we then get on a minivan to enter Chile.

Goodbye Bolivia, it was hard but nice visiting you 🙂 Chile here i come!

Oh and btw, here is the song that inspired the title of the article:
Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike Higher place


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