Sunday, 29 April 2012

Like a Kid at Christmas

Anna had booked our first nights accommodation in Sao Paulo and had only gone and booked an actual hotel room - complete with hot water, white fluffy towels and pillows, even a flat screen tv and a pool!

When we checked in and got into our room I did the only thing which seemed logical - jumped up and down on the beds for a while!

Anna had lugged a little parcel with goodies from home for me too. By this point I was literally like a kid at Christmas! Included in parcel was:
- Dairy Milk caramel (about 5 bars and a pack of buttons)
- Thai sweet chilli sensations
- Black eyeliner
All from Anna, but I also had a few little cards and presents from some of the girls at Wax.
- Invite for Jo's wedding
- Vogue from Lucy
- Hair conditioner from Jess
- Probiotics and hot cross buns from Pip

THANK YOU ALL SOOOO MUCH, literally made me so happy! Little things from home when you are travelling really do make all the difference!

We just chilled at the hotel that night and treated ourselves to a couple of cocktails (our first Caipirinha), some Brazilian beer and some dinner before heading to the room to take the longest, hottest shower and crawl into bed. We had both had long days travelling but more so Anna who had been up for over 24 hours.

The next morning, we were even too excited to sleep and started gossiping at 4.30am! Note the time on the clock in the photo, we had already been up 2 hours and decided it was an acceptable time to paint our toe nails!

We slowly got dressed, tried to kill time and make a plan for our 2 weeks until it was a suitable hour for breakfast.


The Arrival of Anna

My flight to Sao Paulo went without hitch and the weather in Bolivia gave me more of a sign than ever that it was time to leave - solid rain from the time I left the guest house to the airport.

But as we flew into Brazil the sky brightened up and again there were some amazing views from the plane window.

I landed at 14.45pm and Anna had been at the airport since 6am. When I was going through customs and passport control, I was getting soooo excited to see her and wanted to rush through as much as I could! But I did make a quick stop in duty free as there was a Mac, it was an avoidable force pulling me in and telling me to buy a new lipstick!

After missing each other about 3 times and wandering around the airport for 20 minutes, Anna and I finally found each other and had a suitable greeting with screaming, hugging and a few tears! I didn't realise how much I wanted to see her familiar face and someone that actually knew me after 6 months. Amazing...

We jumped in a taxi and headed to the hotel, chatting non stop all the way. Well obvsiously we had ALOT to catch up on!


One Night in Santa Cruz

I arrived in Santa Cruz and got settled into my hotel only a few hours after leaving Sucre.

Santa Cruz is at sea level so it was sooo hot compared to the temperature I had been used to in Bolivia, but it acted as good prep for Brazil!

Santa Cruz itself and the people who live there consider themselves more Brazilian than Bolivian as the city is more cosmopolitan, it's close proximity to Brazil and because of it's vibe. This means that there was visibly less poverty here and there was a high percentage of what seemed to be richer, upper to middle classes dressed in western clothes rather than the traditional dress which was worn throughout the rest of Bolivia.

The city had a vintage feel about it with lots of 20s esc architecture mostly centred around the large main plaza. There is a really relaxed attitude here too, with people enjoying the setting and just relaxing in the plaza and watching the world go by. There are even chess boards built into the park tables, and every single one was being used with the majority having a little crowd of locals watching and giving tips and game strategy advice to the players.

As much as I liked Santa Cruz, I was quickly reminded that I was infact in Bolivia when I stumbled across some sort of protest outside a justice office. The angry mob outside where chanting, shouting, banging, beating and using all sorts of force to get down the doors of the office in the hope of getting the policemen at the entrance to let them in. I carried on watching for a while to see the outcome but made a quick exit when they started to let off fireworks at eye level into the mob and at the crowds in the main plaza!

After that, I did a bit of shopping - I wanted some new clothes for Brazil and everything was so cheap it would have been rude not to! I then went for an early dinner before heading back to my guest house to relax before leaving for the airport the next day. My flight from Santa Cruz to Sao Paulo was at 11am and I needed to leave early to beat the morning traffic getting out of the city.


3rd Goodbye to Alice

When we woke up on Thursday morning, we were both feeling alot better so got up relatively early to make the most of our last few hours.

I packed my bag and got everything airport ready, which took longer than normal as I needed to throw a few things away because by this point I was well over the weight allowance. Llama jumpers are not light - ha!

We headed down to the market to get some fruits to eat for an early lunch with some Swiss cheese and crackers we had bought when we first arrived. We wanted to have a mini last supper, which was soooo good after not eating the day before!

After lunch, my taxi arrived around 11.45am and Alice and I said an emotional goodbye to each other for the 3rd time! We definitely wouldn't be bumping into each other again as I was going to Brazil and Alice was heading back up towards Peru for her flight home in a few weeks time.

I had mixed emotions when I drove off in the taxi - I was really sad to be leaving Alice (who stood and waved me off from the hostel doorway), but I was sooooo excited about my next 2 weeks as I was not only headed to Brazil, but Anna was flying in and we had a whole 2 weeks holiday together! Eeeeeeeeeeeek

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time and boarded my flight which was taking me to Santa Cruz, on the other side of Bolivia to get me closer to Brazil. The flight was so short, only about 40 minutes (much better compared to the other option which was a 25 hour bus ride) and it was quite a clear day meaning the views from the plane window were really nice and crisp below the few clouds.


Getting Sick in Sucre

That night Alice and I both felt awful with terrible stomach aches and nausea. This continued when we woke up the next morning and throughout the day. I think we had both caught the weird stomach bug, which apparently was going round the hostel we stayed at in Potosi so we were bound to pick it up.

Rather than spending the day in bed (which we both could have easily done), we went for a light stroll around town taking some photos and hoping the fresh air would make us feel better. Sucre was actually a really modern and beautiful city, particularly when compared to the other places we had visited recently, so we found it really nice to feel a little bit like we were in a familiar environment. We hadn't really experienced that since crossing the border into Bolivia!

In the late afternoon we spent a few well needed hours on the internet catching up on bits we had to do and uploading photos. Travelling life admin!

We finished our day with another light stroll and at least 3 full laps of the 2 supermarkets looking at all of the food we missed and hadn't eaten for ages - just a shame we didn't want to eat any of it as we were feeling so ill. We also stumbled across tomato juice, which we had been searching high and low for since Carnaval. Again typically we found it on a day where there was no way we could stomach a Bloody Mary!

By this point we were both feeling absolutely exhausted and feeling quite weak as we hadn't eaten all day, so decided to call it a day and have an early night.

Not an ideal situation for our last full day together before we were to go our separate ways!


Saturday, 28 April 2012

Off to Sucre

On Tuesday morning we packed our bags once again to head to our next town- although this time with a backpack of clean clothes as we had just had our laundry done.

I was flying from Sucre to Santa Cruz in a few days and Alice and I wanted some time in Sucre to spend our last few days together there.

Sucre was only 2 hours away from Potosi and to get there we opted for a taxi to save ourselves from another bus ride. The cost was pretty much the same and we knew we would get there much quicker and in more comfort. Alice had caught a weird stomach bug and wasn't feeling her best so the thought of getting on a bus was not overly appealing!

Another bonus about getting a taxi was that we could get him to stop anywhere we wanted on the way. He pointed out a famous castle with a cool turret bridge, so we pulled over for 10 minutes to take a closer look and snap some photos. Couldn't ask that from a bus driver!

Once we were settled around 3pm, we treated ourselves with a trip to a real supermarket (our first in a few months) and bought some delicious food to cook at the hostel. In memory of Chanelle and Pam we made Med Pasta (with a few essential Bolivian substitutions due to lack of ingredients) - yum!


Friday, 27 April 2012

Mine Tour

Bright and early on Monday morning we got up and signed up for the famous Potosi mine tour. Again this is a proper 'travelling' activity to do because everyone is intrigued to find out about a fully functioning and active mine. So the tour takes you into the mines to see the miners and the terrible conditions that they work in.

The city of Potosi is famous for it's mining heritage and at it's peak was once the most lavish and extravagant city in the whole of Bolivia due to the money that the mining brought in for the economy. It is now in slight disarray and is no longer doing so well, but the mines are still active and thousands of Bolivians work there.

The conditions are awful and the average life expectancy of a worker in the mine is just 50 years. There is no governing body or health and safety laws, meaning there is no minimum age and the youngest in the mines is around 10 years old. But women are restricted and are not allowed to work inside because an old superstition says they will bring bad luck.

Miners all work for themselves and are not monitored by anyone so this means that they can work as long as they want, as long as they need, or as long as their bodies can cope. Some work 20-24 hours a day for 5,6,7 days straight, whilst others work relatively 'normal' hours. Coca leaves help them to do this as they give energy, keep you awake and kill your appetite meaning the need for breaks is somewhat removed. I still think it takes ALOT of will power to work those hours in a mine with no light or glimpse of the outside world, let alone without breathing some natural air for a few hours per day.

Before we could head into the mines themselves, we were required to put on boileresc type suits with wellies and helmets. So our first stop was to go and get suited and booted whilst having a briefing in an attempt to prepare us for what was to come.

Once we looked the part, we stopped off at the 'miners market' which is set up especially for miners and their families to be able to get everything they need. It is just a little street filled with shops selling essentials and to enter the mines we needed to buy a few small gifts to give to people inside. The essentials to a miner are (in this order):

- Coca leaves to chew all day to give them more energy and kill their appetite as no one is allowed to eat in the mines
- 95% alcohol (which tastes like paint-striper) which they swig from the bottle throughout the day as if it is water. Some people do this to help kill germs, others just to make the whole experience more bearable
- Dynamite and fuses for blowing holes in the mines to make more openings for mining (not at all safe and definitely not environmentally friendly). AND anyone can just stroll into one of these shops and buy it over the counter!! There really are no health and safety laws in Bolivia!
- Water and sugary drinks as the mines are sooo hot and to give them energy

Not wanting to buy anything to dangerous and outrageous, Alice and I got a couple of bottles of water and a huge bag of coca leaves to give out along our way.

Next we went to the factory where they remove the minerals and silver etc from the waste rock in order to sell on. We watched the process and saw the conditions here which were 1000 times better as the workers were not in the mines themselves.

It was then time to go into the mines and visit 3 different levels to see what they were really like. All in all our time in the mine was expected to be around 1hr30 and we were warned that it was going to be tuff and hard going. The opening and starting walkway was small but at human height so we were able to walk only ducking or with bowed heads for about 10 minutes.

Things then got a little more intense as the tunnels got smaller and lower meaning we had to crab walk through them. The air was getting thicker, it was getting hotter and most of us were starting to panic and had to constantly remind ourselves just to stay calm and breathe. At this point a couple of our group got a little freaked out and decided to be guided back to the entrance and wait for us in the fresh air.

We then climbed through some really low and daunting tunnels to get to a shrine of the 'mine god' that they worship, celebrate and give offerings to - normally empty alcohol bottles and coca leaves. But the god we saw was also decorated with streamers and paper from the recent Carnaval celebrations. Our guide gave us quite a bit of information about everything here in an attempt to keep us seated for 15 minutes so we could all have an opportunity to calm down and relax.

That was the end of level 1 and to get to level 2, we had a 15 minute climb down. The tunnels and trackways here were so low in most places that we had to crawl on our hands and knees to fit through. The temperature was getting hotter and the air was getting more sickly and dusty the further we went. It was also getting darker and darker the further we moved away from the natural light, so we only had the torches on our helmets to rely on. The whole time we were all chewing coca leaves, which are foul, bitter and a disgusting texture to have in your mouth but we needed them to give us more energy and to help with the altitude fluctuations.

The climb down was quite daunting but my attention was focussed on getting there safely rather than the small space surrounding us. At level 2 we encountered our first miners to talk to and see them actually working. One guy was coughing up blood and washing it down with the neat alcohol which was pretty horrific to see as he didn't seem to be bothered by it at all - must be a pretty regular occurrence.

The climb down to level 3 was the longest and continued on for about 30 mins. The air was so thick and the gas/ sulphur smell was so strong that you could hardly breathe. It was like your lungs, the air and the walls were closing in. The temperature was around 38 degrees by this point. About 10 minutes into the walk to level 3, I started to get freaked out and decided the only way to calm down was to get the hell out of there, so with an escort I began the 30 minutes walk back to daylight and clean air! By the time I got outside I was covered head to toe in dirt, was drenched with sweat and to be honest was so glad to be out of there!

After getting over the shock of the tour, we got back onto the bus and went back to the hostel around 2pm. Alice and I showered and changed and headed back out into the city for the afternoon. We only had the rest of the day to enjoy Potosi as the next morning we were leaving for Sucre and we wanted to make the most of it.

A very testing but interesting day with the majority of my limits pushed to the absolute maximum!


Thursday, 26 April 2012


The next morning Alice and I decided to leave Uyuni as soon as possible, there was really nothing happening in the town and we wanted to get to somewhere with a bit of life and atmosphere.

We headed to Potosi on the bus which was a mountainous and bendy ride for about 4 hours.

Potosi is officially the highest city in the world at 4090m and luckily as we had been at altitude for so long, we didn't feel too bad.

It was about 3pm by the time we had got settled into our hostel, so we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city trying to get a feel for the place. It was a Sunday and lots of things were shut up, but we saw a few parks, plazas and churches in the city centre as we were staying only a few blocks away. As the evening drew in, we went to a little market to pick up a few bargains - it's strange because nothing is open Sunday during the day but at night the place comes alive with business as usual.

The hostel had a little TV room, so we made the most of it with an early dinner and chilled night watching a film - almost the same Sunday evening activity as at home!


Salt Flats Tour - Day 3

When our alarms went off at 4am, our first words to each other were about how freezing cold it was! All 7 of us were sharing a room like a giant sleepover and were tucked up under at least 2 blankets with all of our clothes on. As I said we were at around 4500m altitude so you can only imagine, we were going to be cold until at least the sun came up.

The basic hostel meant that electricity was only available in the evenings from 6-9pm, so when we were getting ready we had no lights at all. Luckily a few of us had torches so that we could at least change and clean our teeth.

By 4.15am we were in the truck with the heating on full blast, en route to our highest (and coldest) destination so far at over 5000m.

Again I can't remember the name of what we were looking at (probably because this was now over 6 weeks ago!), but basically there were high pressure, natural jets of air coming out of the ground. In some places the air was so hot that it was making the ground bubble - I suppose it was similar to a live volcano. It was really amazing to see and like nothing I have ever seen before, BUT I could not get over how cold it was, my body was numb and all I could think about was getting back to the semi warm truck!

We then headed for breakfast - yogurt and pancakes with this delicious caramel spread (thank goodness they don't sell that at home). Stuffed to the brim, we headed outside to watch the sunrise over a lagoon with a natural hot spring at the shore. We were all desperate to go in as the temperature was hotter than a warm bath, but we had to mentally prepare to take our clothes off in the freezing cold weather beforehand! We walked as close as possible before changing then literally ran at full speed into the water to try and avoid too much of a cold shock. The spring was gorgeous, with a view to die for and the water was so hot and relaxing that it was hard to force ourselves to get out over 45 minutes later.

Once we had dried off, we set back off in the truck for our last stop at the desert which is named the Salavdor Dahli desert as it looks alot like the painting - although apparently this wasn't his inspiration.

We then had a solid 6 hour drive back to the little town where we had stayed on the first night for a quick lunch stop before heading back to Uyuni.

We arrived around 5pm and had a fair-well supper with the boys, who were leaving on the bus that night.

An amazing few days, with LOTS of landscape photo shots.


Salt Flats Tour - Day 2

The next day we got up for breakfast and were packed, ready to leave and piled into the jeep around 8.30am.

After promising to detox (which lasted about 1 day), we were all a little hungover from playing games and drinking rum in our room.

We had a busy day ahead of us with lots of driving in the desert while stopping on the way at famous view points and lagoons. From horizon to horizon there was nothing ahead of us but desert and it was going to be like that for the next 2 days. Toilet breaks consisted of stopping and finding a place that you were slightly sheltered, which in the middle of a mostly flat desert is pretty hard!

First of all we went to a rocky part of the desert, and the rocks were actually the result of volcano eruptions hundreds of years ago. In the distance, we were surrounded by volcanos (some of which were still active) and mountains. By this point we were very close to the border of Chile. It was a strange contrast being in the middle of the dry desert and looking around to see smoking mountains, sand and snow.

We then set off on a 2 hour drive through sand dunes and dust tracks to a famous lagoon - but I can't remember the name. The whole area that we had entered was the Reserva Nacional De Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaron - and it is a protected area.

Again the scenery was pretty epic with mountains in the background. The weather was nice and sunny too so the waters were really calm, meaning that the reflections of the scenery in the water matched up perfectly. We had lunch here - some yummy chicken with pasta and veg, before moving onto the 'rock tree'. Again this is formed from volcano eruptions and happens to look like a tree. Apparently it's good luck to visit....they obviously expect alot of people to come here, because there was an actual toilet block nearby, luxury!

At this point we were at an altitude of around 4500m and were all getting more and more effected by it.

Our next stop was a famous red lagoon, and here over 2000 flamingos live in the wild! Ahhhhh, it was so nice to see, especially as they are classed as quite an exotic animal. The colour of the lake was so vibrant and it was hard to believe that it was natural. We spent a while here flamingo watching from a distance and spotting the pink birds on the red and blue waters.

Around 4pm we arrived at our hostel, which was very basic with barely any running water - nightmare when you are covered in sand and dirt from the desert! We all knew we would be covered in a layer of grim until the end of the trip and had come to terms with it.

We spent the evening playing cards before having an early night in preparation for a 4am wake up call the next morning.