Often considered one of South America's more corrupt, poverty-stricken, and chaotic countries, Bolivia is also a country full of fun, adventure, and diversity. If you can handle the fact that nothing ever works, that no price is ever fixed, and that even the most basic everyday systems are not as you expect (or simply are not), then Bolivia is definitely worth the effort. Also (on the altiplano, at least) home of the world's highest everything.
What can I say? A mad country deserves a mad wrapup. Bolivia has been a hectic month of much adventure, much frustration, much laughter, and much excitement. In some ways, Bolivia has been very much what I expected it to be; but in most ways, it's been quite a lot more than I ever could have anticipated. It's a land where nothing works; and where anything that does work, works in a way that defies all logic. It's a land where everything is cheap; but where you're still getting ripped off at every turn. And it's a land where, if you can see the funny side of things, rather than just getting angry at them, you can have an absolute blast. I can see why everyone's heading to Bolivia these days.
We got up early to see a geyser erupting into the sunrise this morning and then we only had to endure the cold for another five minutes. Before we knew it, our Salar de Uyuni tour group had arrived at the most fabulous hot-spring-heated thermal bath ever! The air was absolutely freezing this morning. This made it only all the more unbelievably pleasurable to jump into a pool of app. 42°C hot water (also a bit painful, at first). Followed by a delicious breakfast of pancakes, and a visit to the Laguna Verde itself. Great end to a fabulous three-day tour.
Following our cold final night in Bolivia last night, our Salar de Uyuni tour group awoke to an even colder morning, at about 5:30am this morning. We took off in time to arrive at the geysers of Sol de Manaña, watching the hot thermal water spew out of them and into the sunrise. Check out the photos and video.
My final night in Bolivia was spent in an extremely basic lodging, adjacent to the Laguna Colorada (which was the final sight of our Salar de Uyuni tour for today), where we were very cold indeed. We combated the extreme cold of the high-altitude, non-heated night with a combination of games (Yahtzee, with my salty dice; and cards), food (badly cooked spaghetti), and alcohol (fine Chilean wine, and some shots of premium Chivas whisky). The alcohol, in particular, proved to be an effective way to keep us warm and unconscious through the night — wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
Bought this bar of "cacao puro" chocolate at a little market in Potosí, and I decided to crack it open this morning, and to give it a try. Most disgusting chocolate I've ever had. I don't think there's much in it, except raw cacao ground into a powder, and lots of rough sugar. Everyone in the group tried it, and found it equally sickening. We couldn't finish it, so we gave the rest of it to our guide. Keep away from traditional Bolivian chocolate!
Yesterday, we did the actual salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni. Today, we were done with the salt flats, and what we saw at each stop of the 4x4 was lagunas, lagunas, and more lagunas (lit: "lagoons"). We saw Laguna Colorada (lit: "colourful lagoon" — so called for its striking red, blue, white, and grey colours), as well as various other lagunas, most of which I can't remember the name. Also saw lots of cool pink flamencos (lit: "flamingos") in the lagunas, and a tonne of vicuña (small furry animals, kind of like something in-between a llama and a deer). Spectacular scenery all the way.
The second day of our salt flats tour, began very early this morning, with a wake-up at the Hotel de Sal at 5am, and a freezing-cold start to the day's 4x4 driving, at 6am. We drove for about two hours, hoping that our feet wouldn't completely freeze in our boots before the sun rose (which it did, thank G-d, during the drive); and then the first sight of the day was the famous Ollagüe volcano. Although you can't see that much of the volcano — since it sits on the Bolivia-Chile border, and since most of it is on the Chilean side — you can still see the smoke rising out of its active cone, from which lava apparently spews quite regularly.
Very awesome place: a hotel on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, built almost entirely out of salt! For the first night of our salt flats tour, we stayed in this ingenious and quite luxurious place. Impressive building, great rooms, and nice food. They also sell Chilean and Argentinean wine (which we bought, and drank — and it was good, unlike Bolivian wine).
Great little kid, and the eldest son (out of three kids) of our tourguide for our three days in the Salar de Uyuni, Raul. This was Willy's first time tagging along with his Dad on a salt flats tour, and he loved it. He was brought along mainly to help with the cooking, but also to see how the tourguide thing is done (he'll probably be a guide too, one day), and just to enjoy the ride. I gave him my salty dice at the end of the trip.
Our three-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni began with lots of salt this morning, and it continued at lunchtime with lots of cacti (that's plural for cactus!). We visited "Isla Incahuasi" (lit: "Inca House Island", with "huasi" being "house" in Quechua), an island in the middle of the salt flats, which is completely covered in cacti. The Incas planted them there during their heyday, to mark the island as a place to take shelter and to set up camp, when making the journey across the salt. And in the wet season (Nov-Apr), when the entire salt flat gets flooded with about 50cm of water, this place really is an island.