Travelogue Bolivia 2003
Tupiza to Uyuni – Part 1
February 23rd, 2003
Thursday we came back from our four-day-trip, tired, sunburned and full of impressions.
Monday morning we started at nine o’clock, five passengers on the two rear benches of a jeep, our guide and driver Geraldo and our chef Christina, his wife. We started from Tupiza at 3000m. The first day went by with lots of amazing views. Bit by bit, we ascended following the way Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid took after they robbed their last money transport. We didn’t go to San Vincente, the place where they were shot, because the only thing to see there is a graveyard that looks like all other graveyards of the region and their grave is yet to be identified.
Carmen had bought us a lot of supplies, including a bag of coca leaves. The use is quite simple: tear off the stems, put them between your cheek and the teeth and wait. Some people use baking powder but that is only to produce more salvia and is not very healthy (Unfortunately I was wrong here … the so called bica is necessary to extract the cocaine from the leaves. Please compare my report from La Paz.).. The first times you do it your lips will become a little bit numb, that’s all you will feel in spite of a quite ugly taste. Annotation: The recent riots in Bolivia are also caused by the president’s plans to cut down coca production. Due to international politics, each farmer shall only be allowed to grow enough coca for the local use and thereby stopping the cocaine production and export. Though we all had some coca the height did affect us all, causing headaches, difficulties breathing and nausea. But you get used to everything.
Till evening we had reached 4228m and stayed in the little village / town San Antonio de Lipez. Despite the altitude we played a very amusing game of volleyball with the locals. A wonderful sunset, moonrise and watching the moon and the stars (through the binoculars Priti sold me as she is right now in the plane back to London. A million thanks from me and all the people travelling with me and also the local people I meet and let use them) rounded up the day. I tell you that I will never travel again without binoculars. Did you know that the three stars making up the sword of Orion (at least that’s the way I call the stars under the belt) are actually binary stars and the middle one is a nebula?
Travelling in a jeep with a driver is seemingly the best way to travel a route like this one. With a rented car (which had to be 4×4 and you had to have a lot of off road experience) you would get lost with almost certainty. In spite of not driving yourself you have the possibility to stop (almost) every time you want to enjoy or make a photo. Though we did not have as much time as Priti and I took, probably we two would never have arrived, as we had to do some 200 km of very bad road each day. Most of the time we went through a high and extremely dry but not very hot desert plateau. We all were surprised by the comfort of this trip. We were only five tourists not the possible six, which made a hell of a difference, the food was good and the accommodations were acceptable. But we were up to eleven hours each day on the road and were really tired each evening.
On the second day we reached the ghost town of Ruinas de San Antonio after a few kilometres. Here the people had searched for gold and silver since the sixteenth century, up to 5000 persons had been living here. But the devil was controlling the town (that’s at least what the inhabitants thought) men disappeared or got blind overnight. It is important to know, that for the locals mining is closely connected to the devil who is owner of the minerals. Even today miners sacrifice to the devil before entering the mines. Further down you will find more information about this. After too much of this strange stuff happened the people left San Antonio and moved to the new San Antonio where we had spent the night. Still noble metals are searched in the ruins but nobody spends the night there. They tried to resettle people there in the 70’s but did not succeed.
We passed a few lagoons and an inactive volcano which I hardly remember as the height had affected me and I had a headache and was very tired. It was so bad that I did not enter the thermal baths we reached at 4400m. But I got better after taking a painkiller. We saw the first flamingos then a highlight at highest altitude: bubbling, stinking geysers or to be more exact boiling mud holes at 4955m. I never had seen something similar and it was a relatively harmless way to get an impression of the earth’s volcanic power.