So, after another overnight bus trip, we arrived in La Quiaca!! This is a boarder town in Argentina and is quite a bizarre place (especially if you are Australian and have to fly off the continent to enter another country)! Everyone gets off the bus and heads to the Argentinian-Bolivian boarder by foot. One moment you are in Argentina and the next step you are in Bolivia!! We attempted to catch a cab to the bus station but they wouldn’t accept Argentinian pesos!! Everyone that doesn’t exchange money in the Bolivian boarder town must use the one ATM in a back street!! You have to get a reasonable amount of money out as there is not many options along the way to La Paz! You don’t feel too safe when you are withdrawing the equivalent of 7 average monthly wages in Bolivia.
We were lucky enough to get a ticket on the bus to Tupiza (despite some confusion, language barriers etc) and left that morning for Tupiza, where we were to start our salt flats tour. The bus ride itself was a bone rattler! Never been shaken that bad before, bitumen is yet to get to southern Bolivia.
Tupiza was a nice little town and pretty much revolved around the tour. There are a few companies running the tour from Tupiza (though we suspect its the same company under different names)!! We had our tour booked by Viache Tours, it was so nice just to have everything organised! We stayed in our first hotel of the trip and it even had a pool!! It did have shared bathrooms though, so don’t think we are too soft!! The tour company also owned this hotel and a few shops around town!! We figure they must employ the whole town almost.. 110 families they claim.
We took a small walk around Tupiza in the evening and started to feel the effects of the altitude (3000m). We probably walked 500m up a small hill and were pretty puffed! Headaches were also the norm!
The next day we set off on our tour. We had a Toyota LandCruiser 60 series, a driver, a cook and 3 other tour-ists (Allesandro, Nadia and Laura. We had met Laura at Salta). Fortunately, Allesandro was able to speak Spanish and we were able to communicate with the driver and cook!! We were really lucky with our group and have had an awesome time.
Firstly we did a lot driving up very steep mountain roads that fall off VERY steeply to one side and were physically a one way road but practically worked as a 2 lane… we learnt this as the driver would occasionally honk as he came to a blind turn and also when we scraped (which could have turned out MUCH worse) past another 4wd!!
The first night, Jo played soccer against some local kids (8 year olds), but got dumped from the team after he couldn’t handle running around at 4200moh. It was very embarrassing.
The landscape changed so much over the 4 days of the tour. We got as high as 5000m when we visited a geyser- was awesome to see!! The altitude leaves a terrible headache, a little nausea and breathlessness whenever you try to do something aside from sitting!! The breathlessness was made worse at night by the extremely thick blankets that we needed to stop freezing at the very basic accommodation on the way and the blocked nose and cold we have developed!! The nights reached minus 10 and there was no heating. Wouldn’t advise wine as a means of helping warm up at an altitude, only makes things worse!!
We have too many pictures from this trip, so a small selection is below… We are also catching up a bit, so this is sent to you from La Paz. At least we can handle the altitude now!