EXPEDITION PART TWO
SUNDAY 4TH APRIL – SUNDAY 11TH APRIL, AREQUIPA TO LA PAZ, written by Alice Machin.
HAPPY HAPPY EASTER! Oh it was rather sad not be eating hot cross buns and missing out on the traditional Easter egg hunt. However, when we heard the bells of the cathedral ringing at 8 o clock we had a sudden urge to go to mass and leapt out of bed and ran all the way to to the Plaza. The cathedral was packed so we perched on some railings near the front. It was in true South American style, very unlike the conservative well organised mass in England, but the priest was passionate and it was enjoyable. The ususal happy verging clappy Catholic music! It lasted just over an hour after which we had a peaceful wander in the deserted cloisters before going back to the hostel to pack and have the last shower as we weren´t sure when we would be seeing another bathroom of that sort in the near future. The rest of the day was spent as we liked, pottering around the beautiful cobbled streets and buildings of Arequipa, which we were quite sorry to leave. After a delicious Mexican supper we boarded our night bus to Tacna at 10pm. I foolishly got rather excited at the prospect and thought of taking pyjamas and my sleeping bag. Alas, it was not such an excitement. It was a double decker affair, quite comfortable enough. We awoke in Tacna at 4.55am ahead of schedule.
We lay and dozed ontop of our rucksacks in the bus terminal until it became light and we embarked on the breakfast that I and Olivia had been sporting in bolsas plasticas like bag ladies since Arequipa. Soon after, we climbed on a second bus crossing the boarder to Chile and we arrived in the not so delightful town of Aricaafter a stressful form filling and customs which included taking all our luggage on and off the bus twice. By evening we had a very definite and negative opinion of the grim monstrosity of the town where we were let loose to run wild all day. It was dirty, smellyand grimy. We roamed around the usual markets, smelt the rancid smell of rotting fish from the port and luckily came across a charming restaurant with an equally charming owner where we spent the majority of the day gorging and internetting. We ate supper in a very local little resto where I was lucky but the others didn´t have such a good experience. We caught a night bus to San Pedro de Atacama at 10ish, with reclining seats and blankets it was rather luxurious and we slept well apart from it was very vexsome as we had to disembark twice during the night for bloody checks where our bags were searched.
San Pedro is a charasmatic although touristy colonial little town in the middle of the desert. Rustic and old fashioned with a attractive white church and low buildings. Lots of very smart looking restaurants with fun deco, but far out of our budget unfortunately! We explored the quaint markets and found a wonderful pottery shop before lunch and picnic shopping for tonight. At 3pm we set off in two vans to visit the mini salt flats and a laguna where we swam and floated in exceedingly salty water like the dead sea, such fun! An adventurous few submerged themselves in a small mud bath which reeked of bad eggs so didn´t truly appeal to me. The salt dried on our bodies in a thick white crust. We carried on along a bumpy bumpy road to a little pair of lakes called the ojos where the boys jumped into icy water. Finally we drove to the salt area which was interesting. The sunset was beautiful, with a line of volcanoes on the horizon which divide Chile and Bolivia. Our drivers brought us Pisco Sour and tortilla chips and we munched our picnic of empanadas, salami and hard boiled eggs. A long potholed journey back. We stopped at one point to look at the stars which were most amazing and so brilliantly bright.
Wednesday 7th April. Ciao Chile, Buen Dia Bolivia! Six thirty wake up. Rob prepared a scrumptuous breakfast of creamy porridge with peaches. We got a private bus to to the boarder of Bolivia where we piled into 3 Toyota Landcruisers. A very rutted road (as we are becoming accustomed to) but enjoyable day in the Eduardo Abaroa National Park; deserty terrain, volcanoes and wierd and wonderful phenomena. Firstly we stopped at the Laguna verde, where we experienced an incredible transformation; as the wind increased the minerals in the water mixed to make the water ´green´ slash turquoise. On the way to lunch in a little place called Polques we passed the Dali rocks (Daliesque big stones protruding from the sand which may or may not have inspired him). We met ourtwo cooks, Daisy and Beatriz and lunched in a building where tours like us go with our cocineras. We had a feast! The surprisa of the day was thermal waters! There was a pool in the rocks where we bathed in steaming water naturally heated by volcanic/ geological actions beneath the earth. It was so theraputic, like a bath. The next point of excitement, equally bizarre, was the geysers.. kind of rock pools of boiling, bubbling muddy liquid, also caused by thermal heating underground. Right next to the hamlet where we stayed the night was Laguna Colorada aka Laguna Roja, so beautiful and full of flamingoes, who we slyly approached (walking backwards) for photographs. It got chilly as the sun set…… apart from we´re in Bolivia now, this was a recurring joke over the next few days! The building in Huaylljara was basic and the lavatories were rather smelly but we had thick alpaca blankets and the tea and biscuits. We played cards until supper which consisted of soup (which is usual here before any meal), rice, chicken and grilled plantain (bananas). We went to sleep clad in as many clothes as we could fit on.
We left after breakfast at a very civilised hour which has been rare in recent days! The morning sights were the arbol de piedra (eroded stone in the shape of a tree), el desierto de Siloli and another few lagunas which are becoming not so exciting. We saw plenty of Vacuna (a wild type of Llama/ Alpaca), a couple of tornados, mirages, very dramatic scenery; snowy peaks and smoking volcanoes against a bright blue sky. Sulphorous smells invaded the air. There were also zillions of rock towers which are built by people as offerings to the spirits. They believe that the volcanoes and mountains are spirits. It is also worth noting that this terrain is very suitable for car adverts and constantly reminded us of them. We stopped in a rocky area for a picnic lunch. During the afternoon the desert turned to more lake district like country which I found slightly mundane. We stopped various times to see Laguna Negra, some volcanic rocks. the first train track in Bolivia (and a well timed train), an active volcano, and a mini salt flat before we arrived in a small town/ dwelling marginally larger than last night but very similar, called San Juan. We threw our bags down, then went to see dead people at Necopolis; an ancient kind of cemetry nearby. Quite macabre, but interesting. The tribe people before the Incas (c. 2000 years ago) buriedtheir people in tombs above the ground built from coral rocks – fascinating – this area was once beneath the sea. We peered into these beehive like tombs with holes facing the sun through which we saw bones in foetal positions, pottery, and drabs of clothing. We walked back under an incredible sky with a crimson sunset. Tea and supper of spahetti bolognese were consumed within a short space of time.
Friday 9th April. We bundled into our Toyotas at four thirty am, wrapped up in scarves, hats and gloves as it was terribly cold. We drove for about an hour on to the Salt Flats where we got out into the cold to watch the sunrise. Next we visited FIsh Island/ Isla Pescado, a coral island in the middle of the Salar which was thousands of years ago under sea, lots of coral and ancient enormous cacti. After a walk to the highest point we ran down for pancakes and dulce de leche and tea! The next couple of hours were spent taking weird and wacky photographs on the salt with funny effects. It is incredible the flats are 60% the size of Wales (country not animal, I was slightly confused early in the morning!). We had an intense debate later about whether the flats should be mined for lithium. We also saw the Salt Hotel which was apparently illegal! We witnessed an hysterical Japanese television program being filmed. LUnch was in the middle of nowhere. Last of all we clambered amongst rusty steam train remains near Uyuni. It wasn´t the greatest town; small and tourist filled and nada to see. However, after messing around for a couple of hours we had supper at an amazing Pizzeria owned by an American and his Bolivian wife. Great deco and atmosphere. We climbed on to the worst night bus EVER at 9pm.
Saturday 10th April. We barely slept a wink because it was so bumpy and freezing despite the blanket and there were constant stops. We arrived in La Paz at 7am a grumpy group!
La Paz is so high and a jumble of buildings across the mountains. We checked into our hostel where there was a free pancake breakfast! We were left to our own devices for the rest of the morning. Auriole and I found one nice little part of the city; a square surrounded by old buildings and an immense cathedral with vast columns. Back at the hostel a rather embarrassing series of events followed which were all down to the fact that the girl´s bathroom was full so I decided to shower in the empty men´s, until my spotty underwear was discovered and war ensued! In the afternoon we we went to the Gravity office who are the best company for Death Road. We had a full briefing and glove and helmet fitting. Ahhhhh, quite terrifying! But if we are too scared on the day we can jump in the bus/truck that follows us down the mountain. We then went to another crazy adventure company for ice climbing boot trying on. We dined at a proper English pub called Oliver´s travels which was exciting; Sheperd´s pie, bangers and mash etc. A proper hostel experience with lots of random men in our room. The prospect of bed hopping was slightly terrifying!
Sunday 11th April. Eggs and bacon for bf!! At 8 we boarded a bus which took us on a bumpy and windy road up and up and up to the ice and snow. We were kitted out with retro ski wear (mine was purple and orange salopettes – particularly dashing!), kind of ski boots, builder style helmets, and lethal axes and spikes to attach to our feet. After a 45 minute climb in all our gear, we plonked ourselves on rocks at the bottom of rather an impressive big glacier with a snowy peak in view for an early picnic lunch pre climb. It was provided by the company and in true Bolivian style included chicken and chips and rice. There were three climbs depending on the daringness of the climber. For the most adventurous a steep highty option, another similar but not quite so scary, and glacier travel which involved climbing up and down and along into the glacier. This was my first and quite exciting! With the axe, which we threw at our highest reaching point, we hauled our legs up and clung on with the vicious spikes. The coming down I found personally more exhilarating; we leant back at a right angle to the ice, held by rope, and jumped down as the rope was unreeled. WHilst we were cautiously clambering, Rob was running around up and down the glaciers with out a rope – YES YOU ARE THE BEST! We were surprisingly tired after a couple of hours on the ice. Back in La Paz at 5ish…. We packed our bags for the Amazon. Enormous 5 foot pizza to end our stint in La Paz! We went to bed having nightmares about Death Road tomorrow….!