At 3:30 o’clock with 3 degrees Celsius and bibber cold wind we got up today and started at 4:30 o’clock to our third day in the salt desert. We packed the breakfast pancakes for later. Most of the time we drove “offroad” through the sand. No roads. Carlos on the passenger seat had to wake up our driver “Rudi” several times yesterday, the Carnaval was probably very exhausting. Also today he did not make a very awake impression. The jeep had neither air conditioning nor heating, to de-ice the windshield Rudi put a plastic bottle filled with hot water on the dashboard. In his moments of wakefulness he drove like in the Dakar Rally, which actually already led through the Salar de Uyuni. At the photo points he then met up with his colleagues. But we could have done worse. From other travelers we heard that the drivers were drunk, or in the middle of nowhere the car broke down. So in that respect, everything was ok and we all achieved our points.
At sunrise today we saw geysers steaming, and at 8:00 am I went swimming in the hot springs near Potosí. The water was bathtub temperature and after two days without a shower it was wonderful. The kids were too cold, Carlos put his feet in, Sarina struggled with the high altitude air and Reiner had a bit of a stomach upset, so I was the only one out of our jeep in the water.
The springs are located directly at the volcanic lagoon “Tarapaya”. There were llamas and flamingos running along the shore. Then we saw “color layered” mountains and many different “moonscapes”.
At 9:00 am we reached the border to Chile in Hito Cajones (4480 meters above sea level). First from Bolivia leave, approx. 20 minutes queue before the border house, then in Hito Cajones entry to Chile with customs control again good 30 minutes. From there it was then still 45 km, which drove us a small bus. In San Pedro de Atacama we rented a room in the Hostal Siete Colores and had a look at the city. In small stores and on a vegetable market we have bought for the dinner. Today we had jacket potatoes with Uyuni salt!
We all slept quite well in the salt hostel. One toilet for 20 people was a bit sparse, but surprisingly you wouldn’t have to stand in line. Our driver picked us up a little later than we agreed, so we didn’t leave until 10:45. Today several lagoons with flamingos were on the program. The flamingos are in shallow water.
At the second stop I sunk so deep in the mud,it took my shoe off. I looked worse than after a mudflat hike! Also many llamas and even two ostriches were standing at the roadside. It went kilometer far by desert landscapes, which would go through smoothly as moon landscape. An active volcano was also visible from afar.
In the evening at the accommodation, again a 6-bed room, I first washed my feet and put on warm clothes. For dinner we had vegetable soup, spaghetti with tomato sauce and a bottle of wine. We go to sleep early today, because tomorrow the alarm clock will ring at 3:30 am.
After our rather meager breakfast, we went to the town to draw cash. Only one ATM still had cash because of the carnival days. Accordingly long was the queue. But after half an hour we had our money and could go on the planned tour to the salt desert and the salt lake Uyuni.
Yesterday on the train we met Sarina (ex-Bremer) and Carlos (Chilean) with their daughters Nayeli and Nagore and spontaneously joined their jeep tour 3 days from Uyuni to San Pedro. We were picked up at 10:30 am from our hotel and then we went first to the locomotive cemetery. Many old steam locomotives stand in the middle of the desert and rust away. Behind them the panoramic landscape of the Andes.
After that, we drove to the huge salt lake, which is usually dry at this time of year. However, our jeep drove through knee-deep water, because there have been very heavy rains in February. The salt crust is up to 80 meters thick and there is water underneath. Once in the salt we tried to take pictures with optical illusion, because this is especially possible here. This was more difficult than we thought, because the depth of field has to be taken into account. In the end, though, we managed to get some nice photos.
After that, we went to a water level spot where you can take a funny shot of your reflection in the water and the clouds. The sunset on the lake with a bottle of “Beck ‘s” was also very spectacular. Lunch and dinner is included and I got omelet with vegetables. They also had potato soup, chips and chicken for the non-vegetarians.
We sleep tonight in a surprisingly cozy salt hotel in a 6-bed room.
Very comfortably we traveled today, from 14:30 to 21:20, with the “Expreso del Sur” from Oruro to Uyuni. It runs only Tuesday and Friday. And then there is a second train on Wednesday and Sunday that runs the route from 19:00. These are the only passenger trains that leave from Oruro!
We sat first class in padded armchairs with plenty of legroom. There were blankets and fans. There were several movies in Spanish playing on a TV in the car. There was also a piece of prepackaged cake and a tetra pack of juice. The second class differs from the first with smaller, not so comfortable seats, but was also all nice and clean. In the evening we went to eat in the train restaurant (40 seats). The steward cooked everything fresh on an open flame ( just peeled potatoes). There was a good crowd. We got the last omelet with vegetables and the last 2 cans of beer. Was delicious.
The train ride itself offered a great view of the landscape. Large expanses of water next to the track where the train flushed flamingos, dogs racing the train, lots of llamas that couldn’t be bothered. The mountains in the background, steppe, vastness and a beautiful sunset. We also met a colorful mix of very nice people on the train. Japanese, Canadians, Chinese, Austrians, Argentinians, Chileans and an ex-Bremer. Maybe we will see one or the other again on our upcoming 3-day trip.
The Monday of the carnival in Oruro is dedicated to the Diablada and Morenada. These are traditional dances, which should remind of the colonial times of the Spaniards. Indians and later also African slaves had to do forced labor in the silver mines at that time and were driven there chained together (rattles). The Morenada is said to commemorate a slave uprising in which a beautiful slave girl distracted the slave driver and got him drunk. As a result, the caporal (slave driver) had to stomp grapes. The story is re-enacted with costumes in the folklore festival square in front of the cathedral “Iglesia del Socavon”. Also the fight between the angelic army around Archangel Michael, against the devils (or deadly sins) is performed dancing. All in honor of the Virgin of Socavon (patron saint of miners).
In the afternoon, the dancers say goodbye to the Virgin. They enter the church dancing without masks and ask for strength and success for the coming year. We had to admire the condition of the carnival dancers. After three days of almost dancing uphill in heavy costumes and sometimes adventurous shoes!!!
We took the cable car in between to the “Monumento a la Virgen del Socavon” , a large statue of the Madonna on a mountain. From up there you have a great view over the city. We also had a look at the church. Very beautiful with blue sky and many angels. There was also a devil mask with lots of fresh flowers at the feet of the Virgin at the altar. In front of the church there was a kind of fair. Among other things, whole cakes were auctioned off like in Hamburg at the fish market. We ate baked bananas and corn on the cob. After dark we took a cab back to our hotel.
At 6:00 am the bus started for Oruro – 10:00 am arrival. Our hotel Oruro Inn is located not far from the new bus terminal, between unfinished houses and streets, just outside the city. Here in Oruro, Carnival is celebrated in a big way. Practically 3 days continuously. We took a cab into the city and watched the spectacle from 13:00 to 21:30. We sat on a grandstand on the front bench. Lots of brass bands, fantastic colorful costumes and great dancing! There are only foot or dance groups and bands in the parade. Some girls wear boots with dangerously high heels. Many costumes look insanely heavy. Sometimes there are groups of 100 or more people jumping back and forth in formation. During breaks, the kids splash each other with foam cans. Sometimes even innocent bystanders get splashed!
Many vendors come by the stands with cotton candy, beer, cake, selfie sticks, etc. We sat with very nice, fun Bolivians. Reiner and his “neighbor” bought each other a beer.
Today’s parade is scheduled to continue until 5:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Unfortunately, we got a little cold and after getting up early we were tired. A cab brought us back to the hotel.
The bus to Bolivia La Paz left this morning at 6:45. The border crossing was in Kasani. We walked from the Peruvian border post to the Bolivian one. Just past the border in Copacabana we had to change buses and wait two hours for a smaller one.
We passed the time with a game of Carcassonne. Reiner won twice. A few kilometers further, everyone had to get off the bus again. We were supposed to cross Lake Titicaca by ferry. The bus crossed on an extra raft. Each passenger had to buy a ticket for 2 Bolivianos. But since we hadn’t changed any currency yet and the ticket seller didn’t want to take USD, we stood there with our USD and couldn’t get on the boat! A Japanese tourist spontaneously gave us the 4 BOL (0.50 EUR), so the trip could continue. While driving through the Bolivian capital we saw a carnival procession on the other side of the street.
So we arrived at 18:00 in La Paz bus terminal. Actually we should be there already at 15:00. Our hostel is just around the corner from the bus terminal. We did not find a restaurant. There was noodle soup for Reiner and banana and Pringels for me.