Tag Archives: Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia – Part 4

Final day of the trip was only a short one for me, given I was crossing over into Chile.  That being said, it started bloody early so we could get to the Sol de Mañana Geysers for the sunrise. This is when they are at their best, and it really is worth getting up early and freezing your arse off to experience!

Sol de Mañana Geysers - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

There are two main geyser fields with plenty of boiling mud,

Sol de Mañana Geysers - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

and hot water that steams in the very cold temperatures at 4800m at sunrise.

Sol de Mañana Geysers - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

And of course the geysers – both small

 

and large

 

And when the sun breaks the horizon – it is truly spectacular!

Sol de Mañana Geysers - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

Just up the road we stopped off at the Polques hot springs for about an hour.  To give you an idea of how much tourism has increased, here is the lineup of cars at this one spot (and it wasn’t peak season yet!)  Back in 2001, we only saw about 2 other cars in the whole 4 days!     

Polques hot springs parking lot - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

Decided to not join the 100 or so people in the hot spring itself (it isn’t that big to be honest) and headed off to the Salvador Dalí desert.   This place is stunning, marred only by those bloody tracks from cars that don’t stick to the marked roads.  Of course they could have been made many, many years ago … but still.   Grrrrrrrrrr…..

Salvador Dali Desert - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve

Then we started heading towards the Licancabur Volcano and the Chilean border, stopping off at Laguna Blanca

Laguna Blanco - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve

and Laguna Verde

Laguna Verde - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve

both of which don’t have anywhere near as much water in them as they used to.

At that point, I transferred to a minivan that would take me across to San Pedro de Atacama, while others in the group made the ~7hr trip back to the town of Uyuni itself.

Overall, it was a good trip.  But I have to admit that it was not as spectacular as the first time I went.  I think this was for 2 reasons:

  1. there really is something incredibly special about the Salar full of water and the surreal experience you get with that
  2. the increase in tourism and the fact that you were almost never alone and were restricted in where you could go was difficult to come to terms with.  Totally get why it happens, but really appreciated the remoteness the first time I went. 

Recommendation:  If you are in Bolivia, you have to do this trip.  There is a reason why it is so popular – and that is because it is absolutely spectacular!   Though I think that if I were to visit this area for a third time – I’d definitely drive myself.  There is so much to see and you are quite restricted on an organised tour.  Salty Desert Aventours were a great outfit – wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

Time:  You can do trips from 1 – 4 days leaving from Uyuni – most people do the standard 3-day trip.  Those trips that leave from Tupiza can be up to 6 days.

Cost:  We paid 1200 Bolivianos (USD$175) each for the trip, which included accommodation, meals and driver/spanish speaking guide.  In addition, we each had to pay 30Bs (USD$4.50) for Incahuasi Island entrance,  20 Bs (USD$3) for the Galaxy Caves, 150Bs (USD$22) for entrance to the Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve, and 50Bs (USD$7) for the transfer to San Pedro de Atacama.

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Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia – Part 3

While we spent the first 2 days of the tour exploring the Salar itself and being blinded by its incredible whiteness, the last 2 days were actually spent south of the Salar visiting incredible lakes and marveling at the altiplano landscapes that I love so much.  This part of the world really is incredibly beautiful!  

Lone vicuña - Bolivian Altiplano

Vicuña in the Bolivian Altiplano. I love these landscapes!

We were going to drive straight through Julaca until I realised that I’d passed through here back in 2001 and I took this amazing picture of a railway water pump with massive icicles hanging off of it.   No icicles this day – but I had to get out and  take a piccy 🙂

Julaca - Bolivian Altiplano

We passed by some amazing bofadels 

Bofadel - Bolivian Altiplano

all of which had llamas grazing.

Bofadel with Llamas - Bolivian Altiplano

The first lake was a little off the beaten path and most tours don’t go there so we ended up having it all to ourselves 🙂

Black lake - Bolivia Altiplano

It was quite close to the active Ollagüe volcano that sits on the border with Chile.   My most touch-and-go travel moment to date was my encounter with 6 men with guns as I was driving alone on the Chilean side of the border out to the town of Ollagüe that sits at the base of this volcano.    It was all good once I realised they were Chilean narcotics police, but when they first blocked my way and got out of the car with their guns drawn – I was panicking to put it mildly!   Apparently the policeman at the checkpoint about 20km from the border thought me driving to the border for lunch was suspicious activity so called them out to intercept me on my way back…

Volcan Ollagüe - Bolivian side

The active Volcan Ollagüe

Lunch was at another lake – Laguna Hedionda – and once again we decided to avoid the other tourists and instead pulled up at a different part of the lake shore.   Very much prefer to have just our little group for lunch, as well as our flamingo companions 🙂

Laguna Hedionda - Bolivian Altiplano

Called in at the famous “Arbol de Piedra” (Stone Tree), but the site has been very much ruined by tourism unfortunately.   Lots of tracks between the stone formations, and what bright spark thought painting a massive “baños” sign on one of the most picturesque formations was a good idea?  It was quite clear where the toilets were, and, unfortunately, they were some of the most disgusting toilets I’ve encountered in 10 months 🙁  None of us were willing to brave them!

Site of the Arbol de Piedra - Bolivian Altiplano

Last stop for the day was Laguna Colorada, which, as the name suggests, is a very vibrantly coloured lake in the Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve.  The pink colour is caused by the cyanophyte algae in the lake, and it is an absolute haven for the 3 types of flamingo found in the Salar de Uyuni / Bolivian altiplano region – the Chilean Flamingo, Andean Flamingo and the James Flamingo.

Laguna Colorada - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

When I visited this area last time, we actually stopped on the other side of the lake, not this side.  And one of the most noticeable changes since 2001 is that there are now a lot more restrictions on where you can and cannot drive/walk.  For example – in order to protect the flamingos, you cannot walk down to the lake from this viewpoint.  This is absolutely necessary of course given the massive growth in the number of tourists visiting, but it’s always a disappointment when you’ve visited somewhere 15 years ago and had free reign, but are now severely restricted in what you can do.   Have a similar frustration when visiting San Pedro de Atacama these days.   I remember back in the good old days…. 

Still – it is an absolutely gorgeous setting and loved sitting there soaking in the view 🙂  

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Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia – Part 2

Day 2 of our trip through the Salar de Uyuni had us exploring the Tunupa Volcano.   This was the bit that turned the regular 3-day trip into a 4-day trip and I was super-keen to get out and do a bit of walking again.

We first of all visited the mummies of Coquesa – with a short tour by a local guide who was actually very difficult to understand.  These mummies date to around 700 AD and have been preserved by the cold, dry climate.

Coquisa Cementery - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Then we headed up on a short hike (not difficult at all) to the two viewpoints on the Tunapa volcano.   Actually – there is a higher mirador as well, but you needed a specialised guide for that one.

Tunupa Volcano - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

From these viewpoints you get an amazing view out over the Salar, and a decent idea for how big it actually is.  It is absolutely enormous!  And to be honest, the photos don’t do it justice!

View from Tunupa Volcano - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Of course, you also get an amazing view of the super-colourful Tunupa volcano.  In my opinion – this was much more impressive and colourful than the Rainbow Mountain outside of Cusco in Peru.  And I didn’t have to get up at 3am to do it!

Tunupa Volcano - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

From there we headed south across the Salar towards Incahuasi Island but, rather than joining all the other million tourists having lunch at the island, we decided to have lunch out in the middle of nowhere on the salt flat.  A much better idea 🙂

Lunch - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Lunch on the Salar – served out of the back of our 4WD

There was also a point as we were driving along where the heat haze made some reflections that vaguely approximated the awesome reflections that are possible when the lake is full of water.  I had to jump out and take a picture of the “floating island”, even though it was not a patch on what I’d seen in 2001.

Floating Island - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

We ended up with 2.5 hours to explore Incahuasi Island, which is famous for its large amount of enormous cacti (Trichocereus pasacana according to Wikipedia).

Incahuasi Island - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Given the island is pretty small, this is actually a lot of time.  So I headed up the main track to the top of the island and then did a bit of a choose-my-own-adventure to try to find a place where I couldn’t hear the impromptu concert put on by a visiting school band, and could sit in silence and contemplate the landscape.  Eventually found it on the far side of the island, well off the beaten path and in an area that was full of fossilised algae and coral.

Fossilised Coral and algae - Incahuasi Island - Salar de Uyuni -Bolivia

From there we headed across to the western side of the Salar and, just before leaving the salt flat, stopped and waited to watch one last sunset across the Salar.   Cold thanks to the wind that was howling a gale, but absolutely stunning!

Sunset - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Stayed in another Salt Hotel this night in the small town of Aguaquiza, and headed out to the Galaxy Cave as a night excursion.  To be honest, this was a little underwhelming – the cave is very small though I do admit the structures in the cave were the most delicate I’d ever seen.   What was fantastic was how excited the guy who found them was about showing them to us and to relate the tale of their discovery 🙂

Cuerva de Galaxias (Galaxy Cave) - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Very delicate structures in the Cuerva de Galaxias. Can you spot the elephant in the top image?

He then took us to another cave that was full of ancient tombs.   Nothing in them (all looted long ago) but really quite impressive the sheer number of them in this one small place.

Tombs near Aguaquiza - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Then it was up onto a platform to freeze to death while looking at the stars.  Unfortunately, it was fairly cloudy so this wasn’t exactly the success it could have been, and I admit I became an impromptu guide as I pointed out various constellations to the group, and expounded the virtues of visiting SpaceObs in San Pedro de Atacama if they were heading that way.

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Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia – Part 1

Ask me what are the top 3 things I’ve ever seen in my life up until now and I’ll tell you:

  1. a total solar eclipse (from Ceduna in 2002)
  2. Comet Hyakutake (from Siding Springs Observatory in 1996)
  3. the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia when it was full of water (May 2001)

This last was a 4 day trip I did with 5 other astronomer friends out of San Pedro de Atacama, back in the days when this was a relatively unexplored part of the world and few travelers knew about it.    

I remember it being absolutely freezing (we all made a pact to not shower for the 4 days because the facilities were very basic and there was no hot water) and that I had never, ever seen anything like the perfect reflections we experienced there.   My strongest memory is looking out the front windscreen of the car as we were driving towards an island, and not being able to see a horizon line.  At all!  The sky was absolutely clear, the “road” was so smooth, and the reflection was so perfect, that it felt more like we were in the cockpit of an aeroplane flying towards a perfectly symmetrical island floating in the sky.  I will never forget that totally surreal feeling!

One of the few concrete plans I made for my trip this year was that I was going to re-visit the Salar de Uyuni and cross the border from Bolivia into Chile via that route.   I was really curious to see the Salar when it was dry and, given it is such a beautiful area, I was keen to revisit it now that I’m a better photographer 🙂

Turns out, these days, every man and their dog offers trips to the Salar de Uyuni.   However, given that most do 3 day trips, I of course, wanted to do something a little different so managed to round up some other travelers to get the requisite 4 person minimum to arrange a 4 day tour with Salty Desert Adventures.    I actually wanted to do the 5 day from Tupiza – but the timing just didn’t quite work for me.  Oh well, next time 🙂

We started out from Uyuni at 10am to first visit the “train graveyard” just outside of town.  It was OK – but it was crawling (literally) with people, and 10:30am is not the best time of day for photography…

Train Graveyard - Uyuni - Bolivia

From there we headed out towards the Salar itself, stopping waaaay too long at Colchane to see if we could be tempted to buy the standard tourist trinkets and have a quick demonstration (literally 3 minutes) of how they process the salt.  Essentially, they shovel it onto a large BBQ, light a fire underneath to dry it out, add iodine to it, and then package it up into plastic bags which are sealed by a rather over-the-top flame coming directly out of a gas bottle!

Salt Processing - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Next stop was a place where they were actually “mining” (though “collecting” might be more accurate) the salt crystals.   Salt that has been previously lifted was piled into small mounds, and this was being loaded into a truck when we visited. Unfortunately all work stopped and everyone (except the dog) disappeared when we showed up.

Salt collection - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Next up was the salt museum with the massive Dakar monument (and a Toyota Hilux monument) made out of salt in front of it.  Yes – since they moved the Dakar rally to South America – it come through this part of Bolivia on several occasions.  

Dakar Monument - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

The salt museum used to be the really fancy (and only) salt Hotel back in 2001, but it had to abandon operations when the government decreed that their could be no hotels on the Salar itself.  It is certainly a lot more worn than I remember it being and is now used as a lunch shelter for all the tour groups with some more salt statues inside and out.

Salt Museum - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

After lunch we visited a different part of the Salar where the salt cap was thicker and they extract the salt bricks that are used to construct the now large numbers of salt hotels in the area.

Mining salt blocks - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

And then spent a few hours in an area that was completely untrammeled and pristine with the large hexagon formations that are so typical of the Salar when it is dry.   These are formed by Rayleigh–Bénard convection as the water that falls during the rainy season evaporates.

Classic formations - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

It was an awesome place to sit quietly and just contemplate.  

Contemplation - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Though my companions were busy creating perspective photos in the background 🙂

Perspective photos on the Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Perspective photos. OK – so I joined in this one 🙂 Thanks to Kimberley for this pic!

One of my pet peeves in places like this (and the Atacama desert in general) is that people drive off tracks that are already formed to create new ones – and for no good reason.   These tracks tend to remain for a long time, given there is not much around to erase them, and they mar the otherwise beautiful landscape.   My feeling is that if there is a track already there, you should be trying to follow it as closely as possible so that the landscape remains pristine.  

Keep to the already formed tracks! - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Follow the already formed tracks! Don’t make your own for no good reason!

The end of the first day saw us arrive at the small town of Coqueza which sits at the base of the Tunupa Volcano.  After an afternoon tea of, well, tea, along with too many biscuits, I headed off to watch the sunset on the Salar and found lots of flamingo friends 🙂

Flamingos - Coqueza - Salar de Uyuni - Bolivia

Sunset with flamingo friends

Absolutely stunning!

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More Bolivian Food

As you might expect, I didn’t stop sampling Bolivian food even though I’d overstuffed myself on the Foodie Tour in La Paz 🙂   Here are some of the other Bolivian delicacies I tried in my 3 weeks in the country:

Salteñas

It doesn’t get much better or more Bolivian than this!  Essentially a baked empanada with what seems to be a slightly sweet dough and different fillings inside.  My favourite by far was the spicy chicken salteña from the salteña shop just up from the Alexander’s Coffee shop, right near the Plaza Avora in Sopocachi neighbourhood.   One of my all-time favourite street foods for only 7 Bolivianos each (~AUD$1)!

Spicy chicken salteña - Bolivian Food

Tucumanas

I found these to be quite similar to not-very-flavourful Samosas – deep fried pastry filled with meat, egg, onion and potato.   Turns out that instead of putting the flavouring in the filling, they allow you to choose your own by serving the Tucumanas with a variety of different sauces (olive, peanut, chimichuri, llagua, another that is a mixture of mayonnaise, tomato sauce and mustard) as well as onion salad.  6 Bolivianos each (<AUD$1).

Tucumanas - Bolivian Street Food

Buñuelos

Turns out that Bolivian buñuelos are very different to Nicaraguan and El Salvadorean buñuelos, and I’m afraid to say – nowhere near as good 🙁  Instead of nice fluffy balls of deep fried dough, the Bolivians make a flat pancake of deep fried dough to serve with syrup.

BUÑUELOS - Bolivian Street Food

Cuñapés

A cuñapé is kind of like a cross between a biscuit and a cake that is made out of either corn (the more yellow one on the right) or yuca and has a very strong cheese flavour.   They are more traditionally found in the jungle or the Santa Cruz region of Bolivia, but I came across these awesome ones in Sucre.  Very moreish!

Cuñapés - Bolivian Street Food

BTW – selling food out of little sidewalk displays like this is very common throughout Latin America.

Humintas

Wandering around the Mercado 25 Mayo in Cochabamba one night I came across a lady selling corn-based products with about a million clients surrounding her all hustling to be served.    I eventually pushed through to the front and asked what was on offer and what were the differences between the different products, as they were all called humintas.

Humintas - Bolivian Food

Bought a baked huminta and headed for the central park to eat it.  Oh my – it was heaven!  Promptly went back and bought 2 more of these and one of the boiled humintas to try (still really yummy but not as good in my opinion).   Was kicking myself for not finding this lady earlier in my stay in Cochabamba (it was my last night).  There was no question why she had such a crowd around her!  I reckon she would have sold everything she had within an hour.

Fruit Salad and Icecream

The upper levels of the Mercado Lanza (Central Market) of La Paz are a fruit-salad-and-icecream lover’s heaven!   Tons of fresh fruit that is sliced up in front of you (mine had banana, watermelon, orange, grapes, pineapple, strawberries, mango, papaya and apple), jelly, cereal, yoghurt, cream and icecream served all together in a massive parfait glass.  What more could you want?!  Given the number of locals that are up there and indulging at all hours of the day – apparently not much!  So I had to join them and do it 🙂  And all for only 10 Bolivianos!  That’s about AUD$1.50.

Fruit salad and icecream - Bolivian Food

Cinnamon Icecream

Speaking of icecream, the most typical flavour of icecream in La Paz is cinnamon.   I have to admit it really smacks you up the side of the head to begin with, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not initially, but after a few spoonfuls and once your mouth goes a bit numb from the cold, it’s really quite nice 🙂

Helado de Canela - Bolivian Street Food

Jelly and Cream

I don’t know what this is actually called, and I have to admit that I didn’t try it, but one of the most popular street foods in Bolivia is cup of brightly coloured (and flavoured, I imagine) jelly with masses of whipped cream on top.  Loads of people buy it and it is sold everywhere.

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Fresh Orange Juice

Fresh orange juice is a staple street seller throughout a lot of Latin America – and nothing we have in Australia comes even close to being as good as this.  In Bolivia, they make a great show of the peeling of the oranges – displaying the long peelings on the cart and scenting the air with a wonderful citrus smell!  About 7 Bolivianos (AUD$1) for a large cup.

Fresh orange juice - Bolivian food

Sopa de Maní

One of the most typical dishes in Bolivia – peanut soup.  I tried it in Cochabamba (where it originated) and it was OK, but nothing to write home about I have to say.  It was thick and creamy, but it really didn’t taste anything like peanuts…

Sopa de Mani - Bolivian Food

Fricasé

On the recommendation of Carlos at Hostel 3600 (great hostel!), I headed up to J&L restaurant (in a very small street off Boquerón in Sopocachi area – full of locals) where he goes every week for lunch.   I had intended to try the Chairo (which is what he has) but there was only Fricasé on offer – good thing was that was another food on my list to try.

Fricasé turns out to be very tender pork (again) with black rehydrated potatos and white corn in a soupy sauce.  It was absolutely delicious but they gave me about 4 times as much as I could eat!  This plate cost me 35 Bolivianos (~AUD$5).

Fricasé - Bolivian Food

Chairo

I ran out of days in La Paz to go back to J&B Restaurant to try their Chairo, so had it instead in the market in Cochabamba.   Hmmm… will need to give it another go at J&L Restaurant the next time I’m in La Paz I think, as this one didn’t live up to the expectations set by Carlos.  Basically a soup with meat, vegetables and lots of different grains in it.  

Chairo - Bolivian Food

 

 

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Mining Cerro Rico – Potosí – Bolivia

The city of Potosí in Bolivia has 2 key claims to fame:

  1. at 4090m above sea level, is one of the highest cities in the world.
  2. it is the site of one of the richest silver mines in the world – Cerro Rico

Well, it was until they dug all the silver out of the mountain, actually reducing the height of Cerro Rico by about 400m.  

Cerro Rico - Potosí, Bolivia

Cerro Rico standing tall over Potosí

Back in the day (16-18th centuries), the silver was used to essentially bankroll the Spanish empire, making Potosí one of the largest and richest cities in the world.

How times have changed!

Potosí is in dramatic decline and there is a not-so-faint air of desperation about the place these days.  Especially since it is believed that Cerro Rico only has a few years of mining left in it, and is in danger of total collapse given how “Swiss-cheesed” its interior has become thanks to 500 years of the activity.

Cerro Rico and the mines are, of course, the main reason to visit Potosí, so after donning gumboots, helmet and headtorch, and an overcoat and overpants that were 6 sizes too big for me, we headed up to the “Miner’s Market” to stock up on some “gifts” for the workers who allow us to tour their operating mine.  The suggested gifts were soft drink, water, coca leaves (they chew these rather than eat while they are working in the mines to stave off hunger and to avoid eating the toxic dust), and explosives.   How often do you get to buy explosives 😉

Miner's Market - Potosí, Bolivia

Everything a miner could need

From there we went to one of the numerous processing plants in the city – all but 4 of which are currently closed – to learn about how the silver is extracted from the ore.

Silver Processing Plant - Potosí, Bolivia

And we each were given a “silver ring” as a souvenir, though I have to admit that I “lost” mine within about an hour 🙁

Silver Ring - Cerro Rico - Bolivia

We then headed up Cerro Rico to the mine we would be visiting.   Given the mines are all still active, we had to keep out of the way – not only to avoid annoying the miners, but for our own safety.   The ore carts are incredibly heavy when they are fully laden and almost impossible to stop.

 

Each ore cart has 3 guys working it.  The first guy running out the front – he’s doing that to make sure there are no rocks, etc on the tracks that could potentially derail the cart.  The 2 guys on the back are there to try to control the cart a little.  

All three of them work to unload the cart (by flipping the barrel sideways) and then drag it back into the mine once it is empty.  

 

There is only one rail track in the mine, so these guys also work together to overturn the empty cart to get it off the tracks if there is a laden cart coming out of the mine.  Laden carts have right of way.  They then need to hoist the cart back onto its wheels and onto the track to keep going.  

This is what it looks like from within the mine – the front runner has already gone through.  Note the wad of coca leaves in their mouths. 

 

In the main exit tunnel, there would have to have been a cart a minute on average coming out – usually more.   It was surprisingly busy!

We visited a few different areas of the mine including a place where the crew were preparing for a new blast.  

Preparing to blast - Cerro Rico - Potosí - Bolivia

We watched while one of the miners sorted the dynamite, and then hid around the corner with crew, waiting for the blast to go off.   I felt the compressive blast wave before I heard the dull thud of the explosion – it was quite an experience – and more than a little scary given the thought of the mountain potentially collapsing on top of you!

While the crew waited for the majority of the dust to settle (about 2 hours), we headed up a different tunnel to visit El Tío – the spirit of the underworld of Cerro Rico.  He is the protector of the miners who offer him cigarettes, alcohol and coca leaves to keep them safe and help them find the next vein of riches.   Clearly he finds his job quite difficult given that Cerro Rico is also known as “the mountain that eats men” due to the number of deaths that have occurred there.

Tio - Cerro Rico - Potosí - Bolivia

In fact, the working conditions of the miners (~15,000 men each day work the mines inside Cerro Rico) are very, very poor with minimal protective equipment.  The average life expectancy of the men is only 40 years due to Silicosis from breathing in the dust, and I have to admit, you don’t get very far into the mine before you notice that it is much harder to breathe and the air has a faintly “sweet” smell to it – apparently due to arsenic in the dust.

In another part of the mine we found a miner (the guy with the bandanna) taking a break from drilling holes for dynamite sticks.  We ended up chatting with him for quite a while about the pension he was expecting at the end of his lifetime in the mines.  It will be ridiculously small, and he was one of the well-off miners who are actually part of the mining cooperative!  The majority of workers get essentially nothing for having ruined their health in the mines.

Drilling - Cerro Rico - Potosí - Bolivia

All in all it was a fascinating look into working silver mine, but also a very sobering experience to understand the conditions in which these guys work and the limited prospects for their future.

 

Recommendation:  This is an interesting but confronting and slightly heartbreaking excursion.  If you are claustrophobic, you may find that you will not be able to cope with entering the mine, which is dark and the tunnels generally less than 2m high.  Even I walked through much of it slightly bent over and I’m only 165cm tall.  We had 2 people from our group of 8 decide not to enter.  I went with Koala Tours who have tours in the morning and the afternoon and were a good outfit.

Cost: ~US$15 (with Koala Tours 15% of profit goes to mining community) + you are expected to buy some gifts for the miners at the Miner’s Market. 

Time: ~4 hours

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Exploring around Sucre – Bolivia

While I was in Sucre, I really wanted to do another multi-day trek – but unfortunately the companies I emailed never responded to my enquiries (a very common and frustrating occurrence in Bolivia).  I subsequently told one of the companies about this and the person I was talking to seemed genuinely horrified that nobody had gotten back to me.  He went and found my email in their system, and sure enough – there was no reply.  He apologised profusely.  I pointed out (though not quite in as many words – too nice for that) that had someone replied, I would have been able to join the trek that was scheduled and they would have made more money.

Anyhoo – this left me with limited options of getting out of the city to explore the surroundings.  So I popped my head into most of the agencies in town to ask what they had going on over the 4 days I’d be there.   Turns out, all but one had absolutely nothing.   Now I realise it is low season, but there were a reasonably large number of gringos in Sucre … how can they not have any groups going anywhere??!!  So I signed up for the 1 day tour with Cretassic Tours.

The main reason I was keen on this tour was that you got to walk part of the Inca Trail that exists in Bolivia (just to be different, I’m keen to walk the less-well-known Inca Trails that traverse a lot of the Andes in South America 🙂 Like when I hiked the Inca Trail in Ecuador ).   Actually, it turns out this trail near Sucre was built by the Yuras well before the Incas (hence it is actually known as the Pre-hispanic trail), and is quite different to the typical Inca trail.   In particular, it is much wider and does not have any stairs.   This was because its original purpose was for trade between the highlands of Bolivia (quinoa) and the jungle regions (coca leaves) and was designed for the llama herds that would transport the goods between the two.

Pre-hispanic (Inca) trail, Sucre, Bolivia

When the Incas came to this part of Bolivia, they simply acquisitioned the trail and improved upon it, including adding some features to help with water management.

Pre-hispanic (Inca) trail, Sucre, BoliviaGiven that we started at the highest part of the trail at Chataquila, it was a very pleasant 1.5-2 hour hike down to the valley floor at Chaunaca.  The upper reaches of the trail are mostly original and made of quite large rocks placed together to form the path, but towards the bottom the trail has had to be reconstructed, and they have used much smaller rocks for the job.   Give me the orginal trail any day!  It was much easier to walk on.

Pre-hispanic (Inca) trail, Sucre, Bolivia

Almost original part of the pre-hispanic trail. The rocks making it up are quite large.

Once we’d reached Chaunaca, we jumped back in the 4WD and headed to Maragua for lunch at what seemed to be a deserted hostel, and then to the lookout over the Maragua “Crater”. 

Maragua Crater, Sucre, Bolivia

Can you spot the “crater”?

I say “crater” because this feature is not caused by a meteorite or a volcano or anything as sudden and dramatic as that.  Apparently it is an example of where several geosynclines are meeting in the one area.   And to be honest, it is nowhere near as obvious and pronounced from the ground as the other craters (meteoric and volcanic) that I have seen.  I miss studying geology!

After our short visit to the “crater”, it was off in search of more dinosaur footprints.

In search of Dinosaur Footprints, Sucre, Bolivia

First up though – were more marine fossils.

Marine Fossils, Sucre, Bolivia

As we were walking along, our guide, Grover, was telling us how he very recently discovered the biggest dinosaur footprint ever found.   Given the amount of joking around he’d done throughout the whole day, we all went “yeah sure”.    We didn’t get to visit that footprint (though it was quite close by), but instead visited more trackways, similar to what I’d seen in Toro Toro National Park.  

Dinosaur Trackways - Sucre, Bolivia

They really were lots of them, and all over the place.

Dinosaur Trackways - Sucre, Bolivia

More Theropod tracks (believed to be Carnotauro Sastrei),  Sauropod tracks (believed to be Saltasaurus Loricatus) and Ornitischia tracks (believed to be Ankylosaur).

Dinosaur Footprints - Sucre, Bolivia

They were cool – as dinosaur footprints tend to be – but I think I was a bit dinosaur footprinted out by this stage :-/    The craziest thing was hiking away towards the car and looking back to see the local kids playing soccer on the dinosaur trackways.

Kids playing on dinosaur trackways - Sucre, Bolivia

We stopped off at a beautiful lookout in the Cordillera de Frailes to break up the trip back to Sucre – and this is where Grover proved with news articles that in fact he did discover the largest dinosaur footprint very recently.   This, after me telling him about “the boy that cried ‘wolf'” earlier in the day 😉 

Cordillera de Frailes - Sucre, Bolivia

 

Recommendation:  I highly recommend the one-day trip, particularly if you haven’t stopped off in Toro Toro National Park.   It gets very hot so take lots of water as well as sun protection.

Cost:  250 Bolivianos which includes an English-speaking guide, transportation and lunch.

Time: 8 hours

 

 

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Cooking Class – Papas Rellenas – Sucre, Bolivia

Turns out cooking classes are very difficult to find in Bolivia!   However, upon looking at all the pieces of paper pinned on the noticeboard in Condor Cafe (highly recommended place to eat!) in Sucre, I came across an offering by La Boca del Sapo (the Toad’s Mouth).  

Moises, who runs the classes, decided to run cooking classes to help save up while waiting to obtain his visa to the UK- very entrepreneurial!  And he runs them out of his own kitchen, with a maximum of 4 participants.

Unfortunately I was really not feeling well this day, but went along anyway to learn how to make Papas Rellenas – one of the most popular and common street foods in Bolivia.   As the name suggests, these are mashed potato balls that are filled with something – in our case egg or cheese.

It is a remarkably simple dish, the most “difficult” part of which is making the sauce that accompanies it.  And even this is not difficult – chopping up tomatoes, onions and capsicum and then cooking them.

Papas rellenas - La Boca del Sapo - cooking class - Sucre

The fiddly bit is getting rid of all the eyes out of the potatoes, but then they too are super-easy — you just cook them in water until they are ready to mash.  The trick is to get the mash very fine – which turned out to require a fair amount of shoulder power when using forks to achieve this end.

Papas rellenas - La Boca del Sapo - cooking class - Sucre

Meanwhile, we also made some llajua – a spicy Bolivian sauce that is served with just about everything.   Crushed tomatoes, chilli and herbs basically – but I thought this stone and crusher that were inset into the bench were super-cool!   Had to be careful though not to crush fingers!

Papas rellenas - La Boca del Sapo - cooking class - Sucre

We then got a production line going with making the potato balls that had the egg or cheese (and in a couple of sneaky cases – egg AND cheese) inside.  These were then dipped in egg wash and flour before being deep fried.

Papas rellenas - La Boca del Sapo - cooking class - Sucre

The final product!   

Papas rellenas - La Boca del Sapo - cooking class - Sucre

To be honest, papas rellenas is far from my favourite Bolivian dish.  Quite bland in fact…  But it is what a lot of Bolivians eat!

 

Cost: $100 Bolivianos (assuming 3 or 4 people)

Time: 3 hours

 

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Street Art – Bolivia

Those of you who have been following along for a while know I love checking out street art.   And I’m pleased to say, Bolivia’s cities have a lot to offer!

La Paz

I really wanted to do the Murals and Urban Art Tour of La Paz, but the difficulties of travelling by myself hit again … there was no group I could join and it was prohibitively expensive to do it alone.   So I just took photos as I came across things.  Here are some of my favourites (besides the Zebra ones).

La Paz - Street Art

Also loved this series of tiles promoting the care for kids.

La Paz tiles - protect children

And these sculptures were amazing as well!

La Paz Sculptures

Cochabamba

Despite travelling to Cochabamba primarily to visit the Toro Toro National Park, I found myself really enjoying the city.   Nice chilled place to hang out, and tons of street art to keep me walking around and exploring!

Here are some of my favourites.

Street Art - Cochabamba

Also found some very cool doors 🙂

colourful doorways - cochabamba

Sucre

I got a bit slack in Sucre and didn’t take too many photos.   Also – there just wasn’t as much street art around in the centre of Sucre because of its world heritage listing.  It is known as the “white city” and indeed it is incredibly clean and incredibly white!  Not much room for street art in that, however, I did find these 2 pieces just up the road from my hostel.

Street Art - Sucre

And there were plenty of quite artistic signs about not attaching posters etc around the place.

Street Art - Sucre

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Cañón de Toro Toro and El Vergel – Toro Toro National Park

Our final day in Parque Nacional Toro Toro we did the excursion to El Vergel and the Cañón de Toro Toro linking up with Chiflon Qaqa.

The day started out with more dinosaur footprints just on the outskirts of town.  This time, footprints from Ornithopods (left), more Theropods (centre) and some Sauropods (right).   It was interesting to learn about the different walking styles of the dinosaurs – e.g. Sauropod tracks are not as “clean” because their back foot comes up and overlaps where their front foot was, obscuring the footprint.   

Toro Toro National Park - dinosaur Footprints

It’s also really amazing to see the trackways!  Though there are many throughout the world (thanks Russ for introducing me to the world of dinosaur trackways in prepping for Earth Story), this is the first time I’ve seen them.   And they really are everywhere near Toro Toro.

Dinosaur Trackways - Toro Toro National Park

It was quite a nice hike from there out to see the Cañón de Toro Toro – an impressive canyon with vertical walls 250-300m high.

Cañón de Toro Toro

Actually there are several such canyons in the area, its just that this is the easiest one to get to!

From the lookout at the top, we started down the 1000 stairs to reach the bottom of the canyon.   The day was really starting to warm up … hiking out was not going to be fun!

Cañón de Toro Toro

The “reward” was a swim at the El Vergel waterfall which, in the rainy season, I’m sure is impressive.   Hmmm….. not so much at this time of year (OK admittedly this is only part of it – the prettiest part 🙂 ).  There was actually lots of water to swim in, but it certainly wasn’t the beautiful, clear pool at the base of the waterfall that I was expecting.  And no, I didn’t end up going in.

El Vergel waterfall - Toro Toro National Park

After hanging out there for about an hour or so, it was time to hike out of the canyon.  It was very hot and there was lots of boulder scrambling and goat-tracking along cliff edges.  If you don’t like heights and/or are not in good shape – I wouldn’t recommend this hike.   Just stick with the lookouts at the top of the canyon!

From there we circled back towards Toro Toro via more dinosaur footprints, and we even saw a talon (right)!

Toro Toro National Park - dinosaur Footprints

It was a very hot walk and I really, really appreciated my Coco icypole when I got back to Toro Toro.    Then it was back in the minivan for the 4 hour trip back to Cochabamba!

 

Recommendation:  This is a hot walk so take lots of water and sun protection.  If you suffer from vertigo/don’t like heights/aren’t in shape – I’d stick with the top of the canyon and not go down to the waterfall.

Cost:  100 Bolivianos for the guide, shared between however many people are in the group (maximum of 6)

Time:  7-8 hours

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