Thursday, April 25, 2013

Salt Flats of Bolivia. Uyuni to Jirira. Posada Dona Lupe is a must stay!

This site is obsolete

This bus is freezing! 
The window has slowly worked open.
My attempts to shove a plastic bag in the gap is somewhat dismal in stopping the freezing wind.
My back aches.
I feel a right sciatic pain.
My socked feet are completely numb, yet in pain.
I am twisted into two seats with my son on my lap, swathed in two blankets, as thick as horse-rugs.
They are so warm, yet I so wish for another, as they do not vet the cold nearly enough.
So I sit as we twist through this snaked road, and watch as the sun rises.
I watch signs change for llamas, alpacas, ostriches, and biqunyas.
And the wildlife present themselves sporadically along the road – it is glorious to see. 
We pass mining towns, deserted mines, deserted houses, poor houses, and desert sands.
Slowly we see blue or pink salt pools by the side of the road.
Then dusty Uyuni is upon us.
We are over one and a half hours late, and this will cut my time down to find a tour for today.

As we disembark, we are ambushed by a good dozen or so Bolivians
armed with pamphlets to book Salt Flat tours.
I say a quick prayer for God to guide me as to whom to use.
I am over being ripped off by tours. Yet we want to leave today.
A lady keeps approaching me – she only speaks Spanish but I am drawn to her.
She grabs my suitcase and we head off to her office – 3 blocks away.
She informs me a man who speaks English will be there soon.
It is in a restaurant so we order desayuno – or breakfast.
After a good half hour he arrives.
He speaks a little English and I specify I want to stay in a Salt Hotel,
and we decide on a two day tour.
He throws in today’s breakfast for free.

I have less than an hour to repack my bags, sleeping bags and then discover we need
old shoes and clothes – oops – we just gave them all away in Arequipa – oh well.
The 4WD arrives.  “Uyuri Tours – 20 years and first company on the salt flats”
sports their door sticker.
We introduce ourselves to the other 4 clients.
There is a lady who has flown from Japan just to see the Salt Flats.
She thinks my son is gorgeous!
We talk and I discover she has paid about a 1/3 of my price.
I am also told we get special treatment.
Ninos (my son) gets the front seat at all times.
Guess this comes with the price.

We head off and visit the Train Cemetery.
This is close to town and we climb about old rusty beasts.
The railway line fades to oblivion in the distance.
We are told we have ten minutes – this turns into at least ½ hour.

We climb back in and offer the Japanese man the front seat.
My son starts a big whinge about how we paid premium for that seat.
The driver tells him he is not to sit there again.
I feel bad.
I talk to my son about sharing.
After a dusty ½ hour we head onto the salt flats.
We visit a small town, and shop at the markets.
We add to our international Christmas Tree ornaments
– we are collecting key-rings and turning them into decorations
for our International Christmas Tree.
I am amazed how inexpensive things are and have to hold myself back from buying more.
But fortunately we are out of time.
However, I do buy salt dice; a salt pot; and a salt trinket box -
– all of which my son has licked to confirm they are salt.
Cramming back into the old 4WD, we head off to the salt piles. 
We are told this once was a lake.

Now we are presented with men with shovels making piles of salt to dry it.
Old trucks drive away piled high with the dry salt.
Bicycles lay near where the men sit and rest.
You can only see their eyes – they are completely wrapped up.
The white salt acts as a mirror to the sun, and burns the skin.
Small pyramids and cones of salt sit in divided squares.
Many are surrounded by water.
We jump around and take some funny snaps.

My son eats the salt.
Licking his hands he is amazed that what looks like snow, is salt.
It is as cold as snow outside.
Only a few degrees Celsius.
Next thing I see my son land in the water.
He has attempted to jump a salt pile and fallen off.
Shoes off, he is hopping around complaining about the freezing temperatures.
We have a great time – our Japanese lady on our tour has our camera and takes some great shots. 
Climbing over bags, I notice how dust has now become the underlay for salt.
Things are filthy.
Next, as we drive over the white salt plains.
We are informed we have a strict 10 minutes for photographs at the Salt Museum Hotel.
No way !!!
I have so wanted to see this.
And my son has lined up a heap of poses he wants to try for infinity photographs.

And I need a toilet.
We race around.
We meet some Australians who help us with our photos.
We laugh as my son decides he wants to “kiss Mamma’s butt”.

Then there is the island of flags.

Oh – where is that loo?
We go into the museum and we find we have to purchase an item at a massively inflated price to enter.
We decide the price of the Banos at $1 AU is our entry ticket. 

As we go in, again I find my son enthralled by the taste of salt.
He is licking things.
I inform him it is meant to be pretend licks.  

Our guide comes and ushers us back to our vehicle.
Our 10 minutes turned into 40 minutes.

He puts his foot down.
We laugh as we notice the speedo isn’t working.
The fuel gauge says empty.
The crack in the windscreen is held together with a boliviano coin. 

We feel after 1 hour that the horizon has not changed.
We have been heading for the volcano.
It seems no nearer.
After what seems an eternity we discover it is nearly 3 pm.
We have had no lunch.
The conversation has died.
I am thankful for my snack pack – a good Mum always has snacks!

We arrive at a rundown Hostel.
We meet the Australians and their team again.
We all sit down for lunch. But the other 4WD has a tablecloth and superior food.
I am internalising the fact I have been overcharged. 
We discover this is where we are meant to stay.
It is a dump.
And it is dirty.
In fact the old lady sits in a dumpy room and charges us to use the toilet.
I then see the terrible room all the rest are sharing.
It has rusty beds, and a mismatch of old linen.
I go to our guide and explain
I am not happy.
For the exorbitant amount we paid compared to others,
I do not want to stay here.
This is meant to be our treat.
To stay in a Salt Hotel.
He tells me we have hotel rooms.
When he shows them to me, they are OK, but I am internalizing my disappointment -
- that this is no Salt Hotel.
I tell him “no”. My son tries to take over and shows him the big “Tahua Hostel” logo
painted to completely cover the wall.
He says he will take us elsewhere.  “Yes please”.
We go outside and then I see my boy chasing llamas and alpacas all over the place.
Next there is one sniffing my hair.
We converse and take some great snaps.

The tour doesn’t want us to leave.
But I want to see the Salt Hotel – my dream.
We drive off for another 20 minutes and come to Jirara.
It is only a hostel.
By now I am in tears.
We are shown a lovely room.
It is so much better.
We are also told we will eat here.
I decide to say yes, even though we are the only guests.
The salt bricks and décor are great.
The rest of the property is rustic.

The town is lonely.
He drives us out to the salt lake and leaves us - and says he will be back in 30 minutes.
As we stand in the vast expanse of white, I feel this is a place of complete quiet -
– a place to hear God, and to feel him.
I feel we are in exactly the right place in our journey of life.
1 hour later it is dark, we are freezing, and our guide returns.
He drives us 500 metres and drops us back to the hostel.
I am completely confused what happened in the last hour.

We grab our jackets and wander around the town.

It is getting dark and the battery is drying on the camera.

Time to explore in the morning.
We head upstairs for dinner – soup and spaghetti.
Nice – the soup is fabulous.
As we go to bed, the old lady fills our hot water bottle in the lovely (kitchen) cocina.
We have stepped back in time.
I am so pleased we are here.
We snuggle into bed and watch a movie.
What a huge day!
Bolivia is amazing.
The Salt Plains are amazing.
This little town of Jirira, has been forgotten in time – it is amazing!

We recommend this Salt Hotel - it is gorgeous, and the family is incredible.
We also recommend Uyuni Tours for assisting us whilst my so was ill - especially the driver and lady in the office.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From La Paz, by bus to Uyuni with a maniac driver at night

This site is obsolete

After feeling so ill yesterday, I am pleased to wake up feeling pretty well over 
the altitude sickness I have had. 
Breakfast for 2 of us is included at Hostel Isodori’s for less than $1 for both of us (6 Bolivianos).  
It is basic, but that is all I need.We head off to book the bus to Uyuni.  
We are absolutely thrilled. 
We are early enough to get the front seats. 
Right at the top.  
Directly in front of the window, over the driver.
We head back to pack.  
Then head back with our big bag.  
It is madness to cross the roads.  
So to take only one, I can guide us through our dodging of the crazy traffic.
We then find warm coats at the bus station for about $10 each.  
It takes us about 1 hour to sift through styles and sizes as she will only bring one out at a time. 
But we get there, do the deal, and return to the hostel for some blog time.
Then some school work for my son.
It is his first day after the school holidays, and he is not happy.
So I return my thoughts to easing him into the joys of learning.
I also try and book a hotel or a tour. 
I must have sent out 40 emails. 
I soon learn that in Bolivia, you don’t email. 
You just turn up and hope.  
I also find web-sites seem to only have dorms listed, and many don’t show me the price 
for a private room. 
Or if they do, they are way more than if we just arrive and pay.
Before I know it, 6 pm has rolled around. 
We have half an hour to board the bus. 
So we charge over, winding through the traffic.  
We discover a great inexpensive restaurant in the centre of the bus station.  
For just under $3 we eat a nice salad, rice and fries.
We find the place to pay the bus station tax 
(I only learnt this from the monitor in the restaurant – 2 Bolivianos), 
and it takes us a few walks of the bus station to work out where to pay.
We wait, til past 7 pm – the local ladies love my boy’s hair and all stroke it and talk to him -
– of course he hates the touching, but poses for a picture.

My son gets his energy out by climbing on the bars.

There is about a ½ metre first step up the bus.  
We grab our front seats and the driver soon works his way through the corridor of buses, 
with only centimetres to spare each side.

As soon as we are in the traffic, we work out we have a speed demon driver.
He weaves his way through the evening traffic.
I am amazed that there are people walking on the highway; minivans stop with no warning, 
and market stalls are along the side.

I love the way the traffic lights have only red and green. 
There is a huge numeric display that gives you how many seconds you have til it changes. 
 Our driver shoots a few red lights any way.
Somehow, we are held up for over 1 hour – 
- it seems there is a paperwork problem at one of the check points.
As we head towards the country, the roads are a myriad of dusty detours.  
Single lanes in both ways.  
It is completely dark - no street lights. 
Our driver is completely crazy.  
Sitting at the front, we see every scary move he makes. 
In fact, at first we laugh.  
He overtakes, and snakes his way, dodging oncoming traffic with complete wanton abandon.  
Soon he is out of control.  
He is on the wrong side of the road, discovers he can’t get back into the line of traffic in time, 
so hits the ditch on the opposite side. 
Then, without slowing, he charges along, dodging poles, rubber tyres, and cement barricades.  
Finally this ends when he has to merge for another checkpoint.  
By this time we have stopped laughing.  
We are praying.  
Soon the bus is filled with sleeping sounds.  
The man behind sounds like he is breathing from an oxygen tank -
- but it is just his snoring. 
Another one snores with the rhythm of a bandsaw.  
I think I am the only one left awake.  
I notice every passing vehicle flashes our driver. 
He is a danger on the road. 
He only turns his high beam off right as he gets to an oncoming vehicle, 
blinding hundreds of drivers over the hours.  
At 2 a.m., I still can’t sleep.  
Finally I pull the front curtain and try to crawl into a comfortable position. 
But because he drives at great speed to overtake, the brakes to pull in, it is a rough ride.
This is one long night !!

La Paz - altitude sickness can halt you in your travels.

Altitude sickness in La Paz
I wake feeling like I want to vomit. 
It is just like morning sickness. 
But I feel dizzy. 
I can’t breathe.  
I have a mild headache.  
I don’t want to eat.
We find an English church to go to, and they pray we will feel better. 
A lady drives us to the local Mega mart. 
A shopping complex for the rich, and for the Gringos.  
I can hardly breathe as we walk around to find a bank, and get my son food. 
I feel so ill. 
We find a bank that works for us – yeah.  
I pull out a mass of money as I know the next town has no ATM.  
I get my son some lunch and we catch a taxi back to the Touristic Area. 
I hope to find a tour to book for tomorrow. 
 I can hardly walk.  
We taxi past some amazing wall art.
South America is graffiti crazy.

I pass so many bargains, yet I have no desire to shop.  
We finally get two quotes from travel agents.  
I soon realise it is cheaper just to go to the Salt Flats and work it out in town. 
We pass the church and take a rest.

We try to get a taxi back.  
But we walk for over 1 hour. 
I pass these little girls dressed in Bolivian national dress.
They must only be about 4 years old - so cute!

I feel like I have the flu.  
We finally walk all the way back to the hostel – no cab. 
I put myself to bed with a hot water bottle.  
I have heart pains and chest pains.
In fact I work myself up that I could be so ill.
Then I have a big cry.
I think the fact I am using an asthma puffer and finding so hard to breathe, is just scary.

My son happily plays computer games, and I sleep - and snore so he tells me. 
The day is a write-off.  
I have taken Panadol for the fever, anti-nausea pills, gastro pills, and finally I fall to sleep.  
I hope tomorrow is a better day.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

From Puno to Copacabana to La Paz, Peru - Mum and child travel journal

This site is obsolete

We have booked Peru Tours.
Today is the first day the border of Peru has been open.
We have already lost money on a tour (with Escandinavia Travel) we booked to complete this,
that were unable to complete the journey, and refused to refund us.
The driver picks us up at 7 a.m.
He grabs 5 Bolivianos for bus terminal tax.
We ask for a front seat, so after waiting 1 hour, the bus finally turns up,
and he juggles passengers and puts us about ½ way.
We have a fabulous view of the lakes, local markets -
– mainly selling bulls and cows, and local houses.
We arrive at the border.
We are told to exchange money here as we need it for part of the journey.
I am warned that the Bolivian border sometimes does searches.
If they find you have US$, they will confiscate it, saying it is counterfeit.
So I roll it up, and hide it in my shoe.
It is an uncomfortable walk – first to two offices on the Peru side.
Then a 300 metre walk to the Bolivian side.
There my son decides to throw a temper tantrum because I won’t buy him Pringles.
So as we wander off discussing his junk food intake, we lose the bus.
Next thing I know, we are stopped by police and asked for our documents.
On completion of a mini interrogation in Spanish, we are pointed back toward the Peru border.
I find the bus, and have a stern talk with my son about why we don’t start fights at border crossings!

In a few minutes we are in Copacabana.
We are told to change buses – grab our bags and stack them in a n office.
But we can’t find the office. Rows of buses hide it across the road.
Finally, someone finds us.
10 minutes of our 1 hour in Copacabana is gone.
A brisk walk down the road, leads us to Lake Titicaca.

We try 3 places to buy lunch.
Eventually we order an overpriced pizza.
I down a bottle of drink while we wait.
The pizza arrives, right at the minute we are to get on the bus.
We tear up the hill.
The pizza box is the thinnest of cardboard, and my son is clutching it for dear life. 
By the time he is on the bus, it is completely upturned and squashed.
Not the best bus food for a windy road.
I go and find the bags.
It is then I discover we have a 5 hour trip and no toilet on the bus.
I charge off, and have to find my way around backs of buildings.
I have learnt to carry my own paper.
I pay my 2 Bolivianos, and make a mad dash back to the bus.
I regret that drink!
We wind through the hills, eating cold and squashed pizza. 
We only manage a couple of slices each, and give up.

My son has a little sleep, and I contort in the seat waiting for the next Bano.
We reach the lake, and I make a mad dash.
It seems like 500 metres to the toilet.
I pay again.
I am quite over the paying for toilets!
We race to find the bus loaded on a ferry – which looks like it might sink.

We take a motor boat – it fails to start, and it finally limps its way slowly over the lake.

We are greeted by a lone alpaca, tied to a reed seat.

 My son enjoys a jelly for about 20 cents.
We hop back on the bus, passing ladies washing their clothes in the waterways.
Rich and poor houses are along the shore of the lake.
Magnificent hotels are all along the shore -
– oh I want to stay here!
The scenery changes.
Windows on the bus close, and people don coats.
Snow covered mountains drawer closer, and it seems to take forever to get to La Paz.

We pass a multitude of poor little stores...
... mainly with ladies sitting and knitting on the doorsteps.
We see a market, shrewn with litter.
It is so poor.
This is a shock to both of us.

The driver stops ... we are presented with one of the biggest cityscape's I have ever seen.
My son makes a movie.
He says he will not leave my side.
It goes on forever.
We arrive in La Paz.
But instead of going to the bus terminal, the bus stops in the centre of town.
So my plans of booking a hostel near the terminal have all gone pear shaped.

We share a cab to the bus terminal with some others from the bus.
He speaks Spanish.
He pays his share.
The driver then tries to take us to a different hostel.
I tell him where it is and he won’t listen.
We are 2 blocks from where we dropped the others off.
He takes over ½ hour to get there.
Then he tries to charge us double taxi fare.
We negotiate – really it is not a big deal, but the principal annoys me. 

The hostel is run by Christians, so that helps and surprises us.
We get a clean room.
This place is freezing. It is so quiet.
We try to find a restaurant but it is getting dark, and it is only local food.
We eat little, buy a few snacks at a store and head back.
I boil the “immerser” to fill the hot water bottle.
We tuck into bed.

NB: I have now received 2 emails from Escandinavia Travel
telling me to stop bugging them and too bad about them ripping me off.
They tell me they don't care, and have so many more tourists it doesn't matter.
I guess in blogging, I also aim to help prevent other tourists having the same fate.
So if just one person reads this and saves their money, I will be happy.