A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

Bolivia - Potosi

13 °C

Potosi, one of the highest towns in the world sitting at over 4,000m. We felt the altitude on our first walk uphill, arriving at our hostel gasping for air and dizzy, with tingly fingers as we got used to the low levels of oxygen!

Potosi, winding narrow streets, old buildings and monasteries from the 16th century, was once the richest town in South America due to a big silver mine. Now the silver is mostly gone but people still mine there looking for other minerals. 12,000 men, no organisation, no regulations, no safety, no lights, no ladders, all crawling, 8 levels and it gets to 45 degrees celcius in the deeper areas.

These guys use their own gear, picks, dynamite (which you can buy on the street), and go for it. They chew cocoa leaves, drink 96% alcohol and smoke cigarettes. It´s infested with aesbestos and other chemicals and even kids work there. Most only live for 10-20 years after they start working in the mines. People die from accidents constantly. Gobsmacking.

You can do tours of the mine and see first hand the conditions these men and children work under, but we chose not to due to the dangerous conditions. The movie The Devils Miner is a must watch which is a documentary that follows a child working in the mines in Potosi.

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Bolivia - Uyuni

14 °C

People say you should only visit Uyuni if you have to...and considering it is right at the monumental salt flats, most people do!

After the high of our 3 day trip, we didn`t expect a lot. However as we explored the town, had dinner and drinks with good people from our tour, we enjoyed our night in Uyuni. The local market was great despite nearly being clocked over the head by an old local lady for almost taking a photo of her food stand.

Our first Bolivian hospitality experience was memorable...6 of us ordered some soup and pizza and started playing cards. It was warm and had a good atmosphere, the only problem was the 3 hour wait for our food! Luckily the company was good.

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Bolivia - Salt Flat Tour

12 °C

Setting off from San Pedro De Atacama in Chile we quickly reached an altitude of 4000m within half an hour and arrived at the Bolivian border crossing. It was quite the introduction to Bolivia. A small building in the middle of desert, with a burnt out bus lying next to it!

After some tasty breakie on the side of the road we entered the national park and visited Laguna Blanca (white), Laguna Verde (green) and Laguna Colorado which was a startling red colour and filled with pink flamingoes! We also stopped off at a natural hot spring where we had a dip and took in the spectacular scenery.. Then we had an introduction to the first Geysers we have ever seen...hot pools of mud and steam spitting up into the air. Hitting the highest point of the tour just under 5000m we were all back in the 4 wheel drive pretty quickly as the smell of sulphur spurting out of the Geysers was pretty overwhelming.

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After filling up on some coca tea and tasty brekkie there was an improvement to our altitude-induced headaches, we headed off on day 2 of the tour. Good company and a cautious driver set us in good stead for a day of driving in our 4 wheel drive. We saw desert, mountains, a few more lagoons and Valles de Rocas...with thousands of year old lava deposits sprawled out across the valley. Tonight we had an interesting homestay in a village, with dinner and lots of card playing!

Last day and we headed straight to the Train Cemetry outside the town of Uyuni. Great old train wrecks left to rust away! Then it was onto the finale...the Salar de Uyuni the world´s largest salt flat! Amazing crisp whiteness stretching out as far as the eye can see...not comparisable to anything we´ve seen before! After lots of fun group pics we finished up pour tour with lunch in one of the Salt Hotels, which made completely of salt, bricks and all!

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Chile - San Pedro De Atacama

25 °C

The crossing from Salta to San Pedro De Atacama over the Andes was amazing. We climbed to 4,500m, passed an array of colourful mountains, landscapes and Salt Flats. The bus seemed to climb forever before reaching the Argentinian border. This was our first altitude test...and armed with bucketloads of water, we did ok.

We then coasted down past 6,000m giant volcanoes to the small town of San Pedro De Atacama (which sits at about 2,500m). It was like something out of an open air museum... mud brick buildings, dirt streets and with loads of restaurants, travel agencies and tourists there was a great buzz to the town.

It sits in the heart of the desert, with plenty to do. A highlight was a visit to the Valle de la Luna and Death Valley, a rare dry and baron landscape that resembles the moon. The sight at sunset was beatuful.

After choosing a tour operator for our upcoming 4WD jaunt into Bolivia, we loaded up on more water, some snacks and changed some Chilean Pesos for Bolivianos. Bring on the Salt Flats!

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Argentina - Cafayate

27 °C

It was a bit of luck we were approved to do some WOOFING (Working on Organic Farms) just outside the town of Cafayate a couple of days before arriving. Ony a few hours drive from Salta the climate of Cafayate was so different, a lot drier with red dusty hillsides and cacti!

We were working on a gorgeous property that produces wines, and arriving just after the wine harvest, we were kept busy producing jams from all the left over grapes. The property consisted of a big farmhouse surrounded by many lush trees, 4 cats, a friendy dog, roosters, chickens, tiny chooks, some ducks and a pig! We also got to help out with all the animals as we learnt the daily routine of the farm.

We organised a sunset horse-ride with a local who took us through the fantastic countryside on our last night, which was a great way to end our time in this beautiful part of the world.

As we waited for our bus to leave we managed to sample some delicious organic wine at one of the many Bodegas (wineries) in Cafayate town centre, and enjoy some sunshine in the quaint plaza, before we jumped on the bus back to Salta to connect us through to San Pedro De Atacama in Chile.

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Argentina - Salta

18 °C

Salta has such a different feel about it to the rest of Argentina. It`s humid, gritty and has street food galore. It´s now starting to feel like we´re getting close to Bolivia!

With a gorgeous central plaza and an interesting Archelogica ¨mummy¨museum we filled in a couple of days here easily. The trip up to the mirador was a nice adventure on the cable car with great views across the valley and town. The lush surroundings and waterfalls made it even feel exotic!

After trying some local humitas (corn and maize snacks) at the central market we were geared up for a week of WWOOFING on a property in Cafayate....

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Argentina - Cordoba

After a fancy ´Cama´ night bus, we arrived in the second largest city in Argentina. We stayed 2 nights, so mainly explored the city centre.

Beautiful buildings, the countries oldest cathedral, some great pedestrian shopping streets and a cool plaza to relax in the afternoon. Cordoba is a great university city where we also experienced some of the cities nightlife and mingled with other travellers and locals.

A massive downpour on our last night resulted in us wading though water up to our knees as the streets in the city centre turned into rivers!!

With a fresh set of dry clothes on we made it onto our night bus heading north to Salta...

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Argentina - Mendoza

27 °C

Mendoza, Argentina´s wine capital, there was so much hype and it was nice, but not quite as amazing as we were hoping!

We enjoyed a day trip to Lujan, the quieter of the two wine regions nearby. We went with a great group we met through our hostel and hired some bikes to visit the wineries in the area. The experience was fantastic, including tours of gorgeous wineries, detailing the production of wine from grape pressing to bottling, including sampling some unfiltered wine, and many types of wines produced in the area. We also had lunch in a gorgeous vineyard and after a few more wineries swayed our bikes towards a Chocolateria to finish the day off!

Our trip into the Andes mountain range to view Mt Aconcagua (the highest mountain in all of the Americas!) was spectacular. As is was offseason, we were unable to hike or camp so we did a day trip up with a group stopping at various sights along the way reaching an altitude of about 3,000m where we walked a circuit (slowly!) and ate lunch whilst viewing the peak.

We stayed at Mendoza Backpackers which was a great social hostel and organized many excursions, including the trip we took to Aconcagua as well as a second winery day to the town of Maipu.

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Chile - Valparaiso and Vina Del Mar

20 °C

We didn´t really know what do expect with Valparaiso and after being spooked by the odd beings near the bus station, it seemed a bit strange. After a taxi to the hostel that view quickly changed.

Winding, narrow and steep streets that never seemed to end, street murals, live music, colourful buildings and a gritty feel, this place is one of our favourite cities on the trip so far. We walked for hours, and just wished we stayed longer. The hostel was a winner too, good people and a great night out in one of the many bars.

La Sebastiana was also good to see (house of famous poet Pablo Neruda) and gave us a panoramic view across the unique city.

We also went to nearby Vina Del Mar, Chiles big beach destination for people from Santiago and across in Argentina. The cold and cloudy day meant for a quiet grey beach so we weren't able to experience it in full flight!

Next up, an overnight bus across the massive andes to Mendoza...

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