Tuesday, December 10, 2013

La Paz, Uyuni and the salt flats, Sucre and Santa Cruz


So, my last post ended with us traveling to La Paz after spending a wonderful time at Copacabana. I want to make sure you all know about the crazy means of transportation we have taken during this trip, so for sure I will not leave out the story of our bus ride from Copacabana to La Paz :-). We booked our bus ride with the same company (called "Titicaca bus") we used to go from Puno to Copacabana because the busses are new and comfy. So the next morning, we are waiting for our bus with a group of people, when all of the sudden this really old bus stops in front of us... We were all looking at each other, like "seriously"? Yes, very serious, this was our bus! Completely different from the previous one we were on, and different from the nice pictures of the bus they showed us. I was trying to stay positive, the bus was ok and it was only a three hour drive so what is the worst that can happen? So we start driving on a lovely mountain road with lots of curves and clifs, you know what I mean right? The bus is basically driving in the middle of road in these crazy curves, not knowing if behind that curve there is another car coming?! So every 5 min you heard a car or bus honking the horn, probably scared for his life... It was not very relaxing. After 1,5 hour we arrived a the lake again, and the only way to pass it is by "ferry" (read: a small boat fitting 20 people). So we get on the ferry. The "captain" has some difficulty starting the engine, but once it turns on, we are all immediately gassed and I almost don't dare to breath. So disgusting! So we started moving and the boat starts moving left and right, and we going to fall in the water? I feel like an illegal immigrant stuck on a bad boat trying to make it to mainland! After ten scary minutes we made it!! Thank god. From far, we see also the bus on a wooden float. We are crossing our fingers that the bus will make it cause all our luggage is inside :-) So in the end also the bus made it, an the following 2 hours were super relaxing compared to the beginning :D 
So around 18h, we arrived in La Paz. Our first impression was weird: lots of traffic, people everywhere, choas, weird looks, poverty, almost no tourists, ... Hm, not so nice :s . Our hostel is nice though, thank god. At night, we wanted to go to a nice restaurant we read about. We started walking, but off course we could not find the place as google maps was wrong again, and in Bolivia the numbering of houses is not in cronological order. We ended up in a bad neighbourhood, people staring at us and walking into us on purpose. Ok time to leave!!! Instead, we went to a zone called Four Corners, recommended by another traveller we met. At least here we felt safe... We headed back to the hostel early because the manager had told us that we are in a safe neighbourhood, but only till 22h. Not so nice :s. The next day, we walked around in the city but we did not really like it. No beautiful buildings or a nice park, and a bad general vibe.

Mural in La Paz describing colonial history

Che Guevara - ever present in Bolivia

The day after that we decided to do a one day trip to the Tiwanaku ruins. The Tiwanaku civilization is one of the oldest in the world, and ruled over a relatively large part of South America before the Inca's. Last century, old ruins and temples were discovered west of La Paz. Archeologists still don't know a lot about their culture because they had no written communication. We had a guided tour at the ruins and its museum with a small group. We learned a lot that day, it was pretty cool!


Tiwanaku - temple

The next day was our last day in La Paz. At 21h we has our bus leaving for Uyuni. We went to our favorite cafe, called Cafe del Mundo, where lots of young people hang out and you can get a decent coffee (in most places you get Nescafe, oploskoffie). At one point, I decided to book our hostel for Sucre, look for Mastercard.... And it's gone!! Damn! Clappie forgot it in the bank when he withdrew money. We went to the bank to ask for our card back, but it was not possible for some reason. So I tried to call the number to block your card with my cellphone: didn't work. I went to a internet cafe and tried to make an international call: did not work either. How am i supposed to block my g*ddamn card?? So in the end, after lots of whatsapping, my sister called and was able to block the card! Thanks sis :-) But, the day wasn't over yet... At 19.30h, we decided to get a cab to go to the bus terminal to catch our bus at 21h. We asked the hostel to call us a cab but they said at this hour it is impossible to call a cab and we just have to hail one on the street. So, we head up the steep street with all our luggage, in the pouring rain. After 20min we still didn't get a cab. Two cabs even refused to take us. Apparently there was a strike and nobody wanted to head towards the bus terminal. Finally, around 20h, we convinced a cab driver to take us (by offering him some more money), cause we were worrying we were not going to make it. The cab driver estimates 30 min to get there: ok perfect. Well, after 30 min, we were 1km further... The strike was blocking all traffic! Five minutes later, I start looking on the map of La Paz... So I convinced Claudio to abandon the cab and just walk. We had only 25 min left before our bus left!! So we start walking in the rain, uphill of course, with our heavy packs. Grrrr I hate La Paz... But we made it!! Five minutes before departure!! Let's get to Uyuni :-) :-)

So for sure Bolivia was the country in which we took some horrible busses. The bus ride to Uyuni took us 11 hours, and 2/3rd was on an unpaved road. I slept the whole bus ride so that was awesome :) We arrived around 8h in the morning. When we got out of the bus, there were some agencies offering three day tours, but we had already made up our minds to go with Your Travel agency, as a Brasilian couple recommended it to us. We also  thought that maybe with this agency it would be possible to do a two day tour (instead of 3 days), but in the end we couldn't. So, we did the three day tour, starting at 11h that day! We got some breakfast and hopped on the jeep with 5 other people - a couple from Paris Elise & Gerome, Fernando from Brasil, and Geraldine from New Zealand. None of us were mothertongue Spanish, but our driver/guide Augustino couldn't speak English. But somehow we managed :) I am actually surprised of the amount of Spanish that I understand. It is really similar to Italian, and here in South America they speak a lot slower than in Spain so it's a lot easier to understand. So I am now at a stage that I can order a meal and some drinks and say basic things, which is awesome. Hopefully I can improve my Spanish a bit further when I am in Mexico! Anyway, back to Uyuni: The first day was the best day for us. We saw the salt flats which were incredible, and also some kind of cactus island which was really cool. The first night after we arrived at the hostel, we also drove back into the desert to see the stars. First I did not want to go cause I was tired, but Claudio convinced me. Luckily! We have never seen SO MANY stars EVER. It was wonderful and deserves a spot in my top five moments so far.

Our group

Optical illussion :)

The next two days were more focussed on seeing different lagoons (including flamingo's). We also so different types of rock formations, and beautiful nature. The last day, we  went to the hot springs - that morning it was freezing, we were so high (I think around 4000 meters), so I decided not to go in the springs as I did not want to get undressed :), but Claudio and the rest of the group went. The last thing we saw was a beautiful canyon type of land, with a small pond. There were lots of animals there, it was really beautiful to see. Compared to the first day, we drove a lot more so it was more tiring, but the views were spectacular.

Laguna Colorada


At the canyon

At the hot springs

The last day we arrived in Uyuni at 18h, stayed overnight, and the next morning we left for Sucre. We took a bus from Uyuni to Potosi (3.5 hours) and then a taxi from Potosi to Sucre (which was 8 EUR for 2.5 hours, unbelievably cheap). The hostel we booked in Sucre was so goooood. The room was spacious and clean, we had a private bathroom (= my new type of luxury :D), you had a lovely garden in which you had a kitchen and could cook, very relaxed vibe, modern art everywhere. If you are ever in Sucre, stay there! The name is Casarte Takubamba. Originally we only wanted to stay 2 days, but we loved our hostal and the city a lot so we booked two more nights. After all this moving from one place to another it was nice to have 5 days in one city, with good weather, good food, lots of beautiful buildings, parks, plaza's, ... We even went to the cinema one night, as they were showing certain movies in their original language. we saw the Counselor, drank some coke and ate popcorn.... it can be so nice to do normal things for once.

On Saturday night (30/11) we took the night bus to Santa Cruz, which is about 500 km. For sure, this is the worst bus we have taken so far. The bus was really dirty and disgusting, the driver was a maniac, and the toilet on the bus was closed (you couln't use it, it costs too much effort/money for them to clean it). And you all know that I pee A LOT cause I drink so much water. Luckily we stopped one time after 3 hours for a toilet break. After 12 hours, we finally arrived. It was 4.30h in the morning, which was not convenient though. The bus company told us we were going to arrive at 6h, and every bus we took so far arrived at least one hour later, so we estimated to be in Santa Cruz around 7h, have some breakfast and then head to the hotel. But as I told you, our bus driver was crazy and drove like a maniac so we arrived too early. We took a cab to our hotel anyway, and hoped it would have a 24h reception desk. We knocked on the door and YES, we could enter! Even more awesome: we could check in already and got our room! So around 5.30h, we went to bed again and slept till 9h... sometimes you can be lucky :)

La Recoleta

On our way to Sucre (Potosi)
Main plaza - Sucre

Santa Cruz itself is very different from the rest of Bolivia. People here are more wealthy, everything is more westernized, and you have less indigenous people here. They also explained me that Santa Cruz actually wants to be independent from Bolivia, and are not big supporters of Evo - the socialist president of Bolivia (comparable in his politics with Chavez). The city itself is not very beautiful. It is nice, but Sucre was a lot more interesting. We were only 400 meters above sea level, the lowest we have been in Bolivia, and you could feel this in the temperature: 35 degrees! There were palm trees everywhere :). It was also very humid, so my hair was out of control (a bit like Monica in Friends when she goes to the Caribbian for her honeymoon with Chandler ;) ). We were happy we stayed in Sucre a bit longer, because Santa Cruz was really too expensive.

View over Plaza 25 de Mayo - Santa Cruz
Mural in Santa Cruz

So last week Tuesday we flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Actually, we flew  from Santa Cruz, Bolivia to Asuncion, Paraguay, to Sao Paolo, Brasil and then from there to Buenos Aires! It took us 12 hours.... TAM Airlines had changed our flights, the bastards ;). We were sure our luggage was never going to arrive - I mean, three flights, come on... But they did, HALLELUIA!

Buenos Aires, Iguazu (where we are now), Lima and Miami will be for the next post.

Hope you all enjoyed the stories and pictures!

Lots of love from beautiful Argentina <3

Marz & Clappie

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