Bolivia Part I - First steps in this great country and getting ready for the Salar de Uyuni

First steps or first swimming moves ;-) At Lago Titicaca even big buses raft over the lake for sometimes there's no bridge closeby. We could hardly believe it when those huge vehicles floated around next to us on these wooden 'ships'.

 

This time we give you a glimpse into overlander's daily life. Every week or so we need to fill up our water tank. Sometimes you simply get it at gas stations, sometimes you have to be a bit more creative. E.g. once in Nicaragua we were so desperate after a day of unsuccessful search for water when a truck overtook us. It had loaded barrels of fresh water so we simply followed it through many small villages until it finally stopped in front of a distributor. They were really surprised when they heard the whole story but laughed and filled up our tank.

 

This time we had spotted a tap in the middle of a village square. We asked some locals if they thought anyone would mind and they didn't. Our tank is huge and with the filter (the blue thing in the pic) and low water pressure it takes a while. So we just hung around there and smiled to locals passing by. Imagine this situation in a German village! We don't think people would have been that relaxed..

 

La Paz is a really exciting city. We spent there a few days mainly for getting ready for the Salar the Uyuni. The good thing about that is that you see places and meet people you wouldn't get to know on normal sightseeing trips. Mechanics, backstreet shops, markets for spare parts etc. The nights we spend on the airport parking lot. Not the most quiet place on earth, but that's also vanlife...


Bolivia Part II - Salar de Uyuni

Wow!!! We have been looking forward to this since we started to plan our trip. When we were finally there we couldn't be anything but overwhelmed. We felt like little kids playing in the first snow of the year. Crisp white and glittering hexagons for miles and miles.

 

The days before entering the salar we felt a bit tense. We had heard a lot about the risks of getting stuck. Especially around the entrance/exit points and around the islands it can get pretty muddy. But as we were there in dry season the entrance went really smooth. Exiting was more exciting. There was this huge puddle, I sank in and it went up and and down heavily. For the water we couldn't see anything and just kept going - screaming and hoping for the best. Luckily all worked out and after 2 days my wheels were on solid ground again. I'll miss the crunching sound while driving ;-)

 

Can you imagine to swim in the Dead Sea and not being able to take a shower afterwards for days?! Well, then you know how I felt. We went to several villages to ask around. Once they told us they had no water at all for the pump was frozen, others told us for the water shortage in the desert they were not allowed to wash cars (we support that). In the end I had to wait until we reached Calama, Chile. Guys, that itch!!! At least my drivers felt with me and didn't take a shower either.


Bolivia Part III - Lagunas Road

After the Salar the Uyuni we drove on into the South Lipez Region to do the famous Lagunas Road. This one's a real adventure. You are permanently on altitudes above 4.000m for more than 360km. So you shouldn't get altitude sickness for it's not that easy to make your way down. At night we had temperatures around -20C and in the morning I needed some time until I was able to get going. I felt really close to one of my drivers who can be a bit slow in the mornings, too ;-)

 

However the landscape was spectacular. We had already seen a lot of altiplano but nevertheless we really enjoyed the views. Those moments when you ask yourself how far the human eye can see. We saw loads of bright pink flamingos, enjoyed the different colors of the lagunas and parked right at the edge of a field of steaming geysers and bubbling mud.

 

Frankly the driving wasn't fun for me. It was mainly washboard and a lot of sharp rocks. The other downside was that the area isn't really remote any more. Loads of tourists do the trip from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Uyuni in Toyota Landcruisers driven by locals. Because of the bad tracks and the wish to drive the tourists to their destinations as quickly as possible makes the drivers create new tracks whenever it's possible. So in many areas the feeling of untouched nature is long gone.


Bolivia Part IV - Silver Mines of Potosi

At about 4.000 meters altitude, tiny amateurishly built passages and thick dust are everywhere. That's the situation in the silver mines in Potosi. The big companies have left and local people try to get their share of silver out of the meager leftovers by prospecting on their own. Potosi might be the only place in the world where you can buy dynamite at nearly every market stall for a few bucks. 

My drivers visited the mines for a few hours, coughing and a little shaken when they came up.

The mines were built by the Spanish who forced the local people to work down there. Because a lot of people refused to do so - for reasons everyone can imagine - the Spanish tried to convince them by installing figures of gods down there. They're called "tios" now since in Quechua there's no sound for the Spanish "d" so "dios" couldn't be pronounced properly. The local workers still seem to pull strength from them and keep offering them things like beer, alcohol and coca-leaves. To respect their rituals my drivers joined in a few of them and needed to spend the rest of the day with me in a quiet parking lot...