We almost skipped Bolivia entirely because of its elections. Held on 20 October, the elections resulted in massive protests as the sitting president, Evo Morales, declared victory with only 47% of the vote. Deadly unrest gripped Bolivia in the aftermath, and La Paz and Potosi were immediately struck from our itinerary. However, Oasis thought we might be able to zip in and head directly to the Salt Flats of Uyuni if luck was on our side. We didn’t want our pricey $160, 10 year multiple entry Bolivia visa to go to waste, so we were happy with the new plan. And yes, luck was on our side as we were able to bypass the road blocks of La Paz. The Salar de Uyuni, set in the Andes in southwest Bolivia, is the world’s largest salt flat and we are so glad we got a chance to see it. Our overnight trip of this 11,000 square kilometer prehistoric lake that evaporated was surreal as we made the village of Coqueza our home for the night. Nestled at the base of the Tunupa Volcano, we were able to walk among the resident llamas and pink flamingos. Later in the afternoon, we were driven up the volcano to explore the caves containing the mummies of Coqueza, which date from 1200 AD and have intact hair, skin and fingernails! Watching sunset over the salt flats was magical as was our late night star gazing under the milky way. Just spectacular. The next day, the bright white salt flats served as the backdrop for countless perspective photos with props – dinosaurs, wine bottles, Pringles cans to mention a few. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to Incahuasi Island, a cacti infested island built on coral fossils and the remains of an ancient volcano. To round out our tour of Uyuni, we got to visit the abandoned train graveyard which beckoned us to climb and explore. From Uyuni, we drove south towards the border of Argentina, praying that the notorious road block in Tupiza could be avoided. Luckily, we were driving on a Sunday, and managed to drive through Tupiza without any problems. However, at our bush camp in Modesto Omiste, our truck got stuck in a riverbed and we had to get rescued by a digger. Even though our short visit to Bolivia was a bit touch and go, we enjoyed our 6 day whirlwind visit. We would like to visit La Paz, Death Road, Potosi, Rurrenabaque (gateway to the Bolivian Amazon), so a future trip to Bolivia is definitely in the works. Gotta make the most of our 10 year visa!
Bush Camp, Modesto Omiste – the river bed of Rio Mojo ended up being our bush camp site just before the Argentina border crossing at Villazon. Our truck got stuck in the river but it was a picturesque place to be stuck for a few hours. Phenomenal sunset with gorgeous colors, not too many bugs, and loads of places for a bush poo/pee.
El Tonito Hotel, Uyuni – Great place to stay in the center of Uyuni, perfect base to explore the nearby salt flats on a day trip. Excellent pizza restaurant, Minuteman Revolutionary Pizza, inside the hotel. WiFi signal strongest in the common area near the reception. Excellent breakfast buffet for 35 Bolivianos (Oasis discount) with homemade waffles, pancakes, muffins, eggs, cereal, fruit, juice, tea/coffee. Comfortable and clean rooms were ensuite with hot water showers. The staff here is very helpful and friendly – they let us borrow toy props to take out to the Salt Flats for free. Laundry is quite pricey here…about $10 for 3 KG of dirty laundry.
Hostal Tunupa, Coqueza – This simple but clean hostal is at the base of the Tunupa Volcano in the middle of the Salt Flats of Uyuni. The beds were comfortable and had several layers of warm blankets for the cold nights. Bathrooms were shared facility, mens and womens. There was a shower with an electric hot water heater system but we didn’t try it. No WiFi. Meals served in the common area in the central courtyard. Rooms have thin curtains that let in lots of light so bring an eye patch if light sensitive.
Hotel El Mirador, Copacabana – Comfortable hotel right on Lake Titicaca in the lovely seaside resort town of Copacabana. WiFi in the reception area, poor reception on 4th and 5th floors. Nice balcony overlooking the lake. Friendly and helpful staff. Ensuite rooms with hot water showers. Beds here are super comfortable.
23 Oct – Puno – Copacabana, Bolivia
Sleep in today as breakfast wasn’t until 8 am. Worked on the website and suddenly got the word that we were headed to the border of Bolivia at 11! Big surprise because as of yesterday, we were supposed to wait 24 hours to figure out if it would be safe for us to cross. Managed to get the Peru section of the website posted before hurriedly rushing to the meeting point with our bags. About 15 minutes out of Puno, we heard an ominous sound…a sharp crack, followed by metal falling to the ground. Another drive shaft issue, which was particularly annoying because Will had spent time at the workshop in Cusco and they certified all was good to go. Thankfully we had broken down in a decent place with plenty of room for vehicles to pass. Amazingly, Will managed to fix the truck in only 90 minutes, so it wasn’t that long of a delay. Truck lunch was great, roasted chicken ripped to shreds, salad and French bread. Short drive to the border and super easy border crossing…no need offload our bags. Then a short drive to Copacabana’s Hotel Mirador while we had a truck party – introducing everyone to FDNCTP! Fabulous location right next to Lake Titicaca where the party continued. Free dinner of trout included in local payments. Great day!
24 Oct – Copacabana – Uyuni
A restless night’s sleep due to dogs barking and Robby’s drunken snoring. Up at 4:30 am and on the truck before 5. Jurgen and Raki plus Cam and Will had to be woken up and we were on our way 15 minutes after schedule. Beautiful sunrise and everyone off the truck when we got to a ferry crossing. We piled into a small boat and Spongebob crossed Lake Titicaca on a separate boat. Super long drive day today as we have to cover over 700 km. Bathrooms have been disgusting and we feel gross using them. Will got pulled over at a police checkpoint, possibly due to speeding? Truck lunch was ham and cheese sandwiches with salad. Spongebob got stuck in the sand briefly and Will, Brad, and Bert helped dig and the rest of us pushed. After several iterations, we were free and back on the road. A wine bottle burst in Jeremy and Bert’s locker and Danny had directed half the group to sort out the overhead shelves and throw away junk and old water bottles. Half the group started drinking early, resulting in wine pong between Bert/Alli and Jeremy/Danny. Our hostel was El Tonito hotel and we were given a private room. Awesome since we had been expecting dorms. Pizza at Minuteman Pizza was fantastic…buffalo chicken with blue cheese. Got money out of the ATM and paid Danny 1360 Bolivianos for the salt flat tour tomorrow.
25 Oct – Uyuni – Tunupa
Had the breakfast buffet at the hostel for 35 Bolivianos each (Oasis discount). Walked around the local market before pickup at 10 AM. Amanda, Tom, Jurgen, and Alli joined our jeep for the ride out to Colchani. There we had a brief tour on the salt harvesting before free time to shop. We bought a colorful llama, perfect for our photos tomorrow. Then on to the salt flats (Salar de Uyuni), where we took photos at the Dakar rally monument and the salt hotel. I stuck my hand into the pool of water and when it dried, my hands were salty. After a quick photo stop of the colorful Tunupa Volcano, we had a lovely lunch of chicken, potatoes, pasta and a banana for dessert. Afterwards, we climbed into the jeep for the drive up to the mummies of Coqueza. Rebeca and Raki were the only two to hike up to the viewpoint of the volcano while the rest of us rode back down. There were friendly llamas I played with when we had afternoon tea. Sunset was amazing, long shadows, pretty colors and 2 streakers (Jason and Robby) who jumped in front of everyone’s time lapse videos. After dinner, Izzy showed us how to take photos of the milky way and did portraits of everyone. The result was great…what a difference a good lens makes!
26 Oct – Tunupa – Uyuni
Robby got up early for sunrise. Breakfast was at 8 am and we drove to Incahuasi Island afterwards. This stop was better than expected, with great views on an easy hike around the island. It was 11 am when we decided to drive to the middle of the salt flats for photos. Danny was amazing, spending nearly 2 hours as our photographer with loads of props and limitless ideas. Loads of good photos and 2 hilarious videos of us running out of a Pringles can and crawling into a Jagermeister bottle. Our driver kept falling asleep at the wheel and Alli freaked out since he kept denying it. Danny switched to our jeep and kept him awake with tons of questions. Lunch at the salt hotel was next, and our chef had prepared a tasty lentil beef on rice meal. I wish we could have her join us for the rest of our trip! From lunch, we drove to the “eyes eyes of the salt flat” and then we went to the train graveyard. It was fun crawling around the trains and taking photos. The showers back at the hotel were bliss…hot water! Our clean laundry cost us 80 Bolivianos which was very expensive. Dinner was early at 6 pm and we indulged in small pizzas followed by chocolate cake and icecream.
27 Oct – Uyuni – Mojo Riverbed Bushcamp
The lentils for lunch yesterday took their revenge this morning as we were both explosive. Neither of us felt like breakfast so we organized our lockers and were all set for the 9 am departure. First priority was to refuel and top off our water. Then we started driving toward Tupiza. Truck lunch in a dry river bed of guacamole, salad, cheese and salami slices and bread. I avoided the salad because the lettuce came with lots of protein and was wilted. Raki told the group about Diwali, the festival of lights and one of the most important holidays in Hinduism. We drove through the town of Tupiza and then started looking for a bush camp before the border with Argentina. The GPS coordinates for last year’s bush camp didn’t yield a desired location so Will and Danny decided to scout a new location. Down in a river bed, Will ran out to scout ahead and decided to try and cross the river. As anticipated, we got stuck right away. Rather than try to dig our way out, the decision to get some assistance tomorrow was the answer. Tents were set up and the next 2 cook groups (Cuy~ Bert, Amanda and Danny plus Mono ~ Robby, Lisa,Rebeca, and Will) had to cook. Apparently, raw food cannot cross the border but cooked food is ok.
28 Oct – Mojo Riverbed Bushcamp – Purmamarca, Argentina
A digger was at our bush camp early this morning to rescue us. Too bad it wasn’t big enough. So a request for a bigger bulldozer was sent out while cook group made eggs for breakfast. Right on cue, the bulldozer showed up on time and Spongebob got unstuck! We had to carry the metal sand mats for about 20 minutes until Spongebob reached a stable area to load up. Then we were on our way. The border crossing into Argentina at Villazón was ridiculous. Slow line to get stamped in (we were never stamped out of Bolivia) and we had to take everything off the truck for inspection. What a cluster fuck since our shit is spread out in the locker. Needless to say, we were the last ones off. Poor customs dog was scared of Spongebob. I felt poorly all day and managed to get some tuna down for lunch. Laying on the beach helped, and by late afternoon, we reached Purmamarca. The first campsite pissed Danny off so we went to a different place, La Casa Encantada. 3 shared toilets and showers, slow WiFi. We set our tent up on the patio with Bert and Ernie (Alli). Chili con carne for dinner at 9:30 pm. Hopefully I don’t regret eating it tomorrow!