Early Days in Bolivia; Heaven and Hell

Day 1-3, the first days of my trip. What do I have to say? It started in Chile but I was keen to get outa there and into Bolivia where I can pay R2.50 for an hour of internet. So where to start…. Probably the stunning (and in the true sense of the word) landscapes right? well Im afraid that if I even try to explain what I have seen over the past few days it will just end up being a couple descriptive words on a computer screen. How am I supposed to describe it all? I honestly feel that I can’t. Or I could but I would hardly be doing it any Justice. But lets give it a try…..

A very popular way of entering Boliva is through the North of Chile where an all expenses paid tour takes you on a three day adventure in what has to be one of the highest deserts there is. On the first day pretty much everyone feels like shit thanks to the altitude. At the least its hard to breath while just walking, most people get a headache and some are unfortunate enough to get serious altitude sickness. Im happy to report that I only suffered a headache and a general unwell feeling for the first day. On day two you realise just how shitty you were feeling once you are more or less aclimatised.

There are about 20, probably more, volcanos in the area… most of them are dormant but they make for great views and beautifully coloured lakes thanks to the minerals. Blue, green, white and red were the colours of the lakes up there. Aside from lakes there are interestingly shaped rocks from being windswept and sandblasted over centuries, geysers that bubble and boil water and the base of volcanos and not to mention the highlight of it all, the Salt flats. Incredible.

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According the my chosen title there’s a hellish part too, no? Well, lets just say it had nothing to do with the altitude or feeling shitty. Lets begin on night two, just before day three, the final stretch. We each took a delicious hot shower and then had an equally delicious dinner in an amazing salt hotel. After dinner they sent a poor 15 year old boy who we had not yet exchanged looks with, let alone words, to come and collect 10 Bolivianos from each of us for the shower we took. That really pissed us off. We had gone without one the first night because it didnt exist and we had no problem with that. Even though 10 bolivianos isnt much at all we refused on a matter of principle. Tell us before hand maybe? Plus we’re all overly aware of being taken for a ride as tourists. A big thing in Bolivia.

The plan was to wake up at 4, eat at 4:30, leave at 5 and watch the sun rise over the salt flats. Our guide cleverly forgot or didnt think it necessary to tell us abou the time change and so there we were, ready for action at 3:30…. We had charged our cameras that night in anticipation of the thousands of photos we were going to take the next day.. Or we thought we did. Turns out they switched off the electricity as we slept. My battery died around 8am. You can imagine my rage. I had to try really hard to just enjoy the insanely beautiful scenery around me without shootin gany of it. We reverted to an iPhone to take all the silly pictures that are such fun to take.

By the time the tour was over it was about 12pm on Sunday. The town of Uyuni pretty much only exists on tourism because of the exact tour Im writing about. But the palce is an absolute hole. Buses to wherever we were going only depart at 8pm so we busied ourselves as best we could until then. I had to finish crossing the border anyway since we crossed into Bolivia in the middle of nowhere where they are aparently not capable of issuing a visa or letting me pay for it. No problem, its easy to do once in Uyuni. Yeah right.

The guy who worked there was absoltely clueless. That’ll be $135 US. ummm, no it wont. Im South African, I pay about the third of that price. Ummm, no you dont, everyone pays and they all pay the same. No they dont. Yes they do.. and on it went. He didnt even know that Danes dont pay anything at all since they’re in group one of three groups regarding this visa. South Africans are in group two and Americans in group three.

I stormed off to an internet cafe where, surrouned by every young boy in Uyuni loudly palying Doom or whatever stupid computer game it was, I tried to retrieve information about this visa situation (this is when i found about about the group thing). Ater googling the issue for about an hour and frustration and tiredness taking over (remember the 3am start), I finally found some info (although outdated) about the topic. Plus it was in his language so thats a bonus. I go back there and wait outside (he opens up the migration office just to sort me out, its otherwise closed). He doesnt seem to be showing up at the 6:30pm pre-arranged time. My bus is at 7:30, Im not happy. Finally he shows up and despite my best efforts and best spanish he is still not budging. Then, like an angel from heaven, some man arrived who actually knew what was going on, said of course you pay less, found a list of prices (which i had been asking for and was told didnt exist), put a stamp in my passport, took my money and it was over. I could have thrown a party then and there.

Everyone I had met and knew in Bolivia was going to La Paz that night. I on the other hand headed for Sucre, where I am now, on a bus full of locals. It arrived in Sucre around 3am and while most of the people left the bus at that time, a handful of us remained to continue sleeping till the sun was up. Who knew that was possible…. suited me just fine!

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3 thoughts on “Early Days in Bolivia; Heaven and Hell

  1. Jackie bourhill says:

    Souinds like a nightmare! Well done for sticking to your guns Vicky. That guy would have pocketed the extra money. I wonder how many people he has caught?

  2. James Bourhill says:

    Dont say I didnt warn ya.

  3. J Reid says:

    Good on you Vix. Keep us posted on your exciting journey.

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