Saturday, April 23, 2011

Northern Argentina

From Villazon, we walked across the border to La Quiaca, Argentina. As there is very little to do in La Quiaca, we went straight to the bus terminal to find the first available bus to the city of Salta.

Salta is another nice city, but the highlights are in the surrounding areas. First we went to the north, through the mountains to the Salinas Grandes, in search of some dry salt flats. Then back to the city through the pretty town of Purmamarca, which involves a very steep descent into the valley from above the clouds.

Llamas next to the highway

Salinas Grandes - When rectangles of salt are extracted you can see the pools of water underneath

Salinas Grandes

The road to Purmamarca

Purmamarca market

The next day we went south through the Quebrada de Cafayate to the city of Cafayate. The highlight of this trip is really the journey. There are so many beautiful mountains of all different colors and compositions, and a ton of interesting rock formations.

The Devil´s Throat

El Sapo - The Frog

The flourescent green bush

The Llama building in Cafayate

(For those who look without seeing, the Earth is earth, nothing more)

After Salta it was off to Cordoba, where I voluteered back in 2009. At this point my travel companion and I decided to split up, to take some time off and to each be able to follow the routes we want to. I spent my first day doing a version of "This Was Your Life," in which I visited all of the places I went to in my time here. The second day was Easter Friday, so almost everything was closed. I ended up going to the giant annual artesan fair, which is huge and has artists from all of South America.

Pedestrian shopping street

Parque Sarmiento

Tonight I´m back on a bus, and I should arrive in Mendoza in the morning!

Friday, April 22, 2011


Uyuni the town is quite small, really only serving the purpose of connecting people to the nearby Salt Flats and other natural wonders.The first stop on the tour, on the way out of town is the train cemetary. The town used to have a flourishing mineral extraction business which went bust in the 1940s. All of the trains were just left behind.

Then we went to the salt flats. Because we arrived at the end of the rainy season, the flats were covered in an inch or two of water, which meant that we weren´t able to get the typical pictures of the actual salt, but it created a pretty reflective effect. The hardest part was actually walking around - the water was quite cold and the salt made walking a bit painful.

Piles of salt ready to be shipped out

Our second day on the tour was filled with interesting rocks and a number of pretty lagunas. First we went to what we deemed the "rock playground." Then it was off to three different lagunas, followed by the famous "arbol de piedra" (rock tree). We ended the day at the Laguna Colorada, which is a laguna with water that is a deep red color.

Rock playground

The first laguna

Laguna with ruins

Lunch-stop laguna

Arbol de Piedra

The Laguna Colorada is really, really red (the tiny specks on the horizon are flamingos -
all of the lagunas are filled with them)

On day three we were up at 4:30 in the morning, which was okay because it was freezing and I was unable to sleep anyway. We passed a number of geysers on our way to see the sunrise at the thermal waters. Then it was off to see two more lagunas before taking the long journey back to Uyuni, and our bus for Villazon, on the border with Argentina.

Central Bolivia

From Cochabamba we went to the other capital, Sucre. The question of which is the "true capital" is still a question of debate between the two cities.

While in Sucre we went on a few interesting sidetrips. First we went to a site just outside of the city where they have found a bunch of dinosaur footprints. However, these footprints are especially interesting because, due to tectonic shifts and the movement of the mountains, they are now on a vertical wall. I was expecting it to be a little bit of a hike to see the footprints, and that it was. And it doesn´t help that the altitudes in most of the country make it quite difficult to do any sort of physical activity.

Looking up

Looking out

The "path" we had to walk

We also took a bus out of the city to a small town called Tarabuco. Tarabuco is known for its traditional market. It was a nice day, but not particularly eventful.

After Sucre, we went to the mining town of Potosi. Potosi was at one time one of the richest cities in the world, when the Spanish were extracting silver from the mountains (and sending it back to Spain). Now the supply of silver has been almost depleted, but the mining continues to be the main activity of the city. Although it can be kind of dangerous, we went on a tour of one of the mines. It was okay until we got to the part where you have to go down about forty meters to the second level of the mine. I don´t think I was expecting a proper staircase, but the tiny tube we had to get ourselves down was slippery and really quite scary. Luckily though, we finally made it out (despite bumping my head on the ceiling a countless number of times, but that´s what the hard hat was for).

Tourists used to be able to set off dynamite, but because there are so many miners explosions are done far away from the site where everyone is digging. This is the closest I got to the dynamite.

At the miner´s market, picking up supplies and gifts before heading to the mines

The entrance

The entrance to the old museum (now out of use as there was a cave-in)

Some of the growth on the ceilings

Our next stop was the small city of Uyuni, where we found a package deal to take a three-day trip into the southwest of the country.

Lake Titicaca and the Beginning of Bolivia

Puno is a small, quiet town with not much to do besides visit the lake. While we were there, there were political rallies in the plaza, and that was also interesting to hear the speeches translated to three different languages.

(Of course the police are nearby, just in case)

We decided to take the one-day tour of the islands, which included stops in the Uros islands and Taquile. The Uros islands are about sixty floating islands made from straw. It was strange trying to walk around on the island because it would sink with each footstep. My friend actually took a step at a weak point and made a hole in the island. We then took a ride on a traditional boat to a second island.

The president of the island demonstrates how the islands are created

Our transportation

Island number two

On the boat headed for our next stop

The next stop was Taquile. Taquile is known for weaving - the women make tapestries and the men knit their own hats.

After Puno, we crossed the border to Bolivia. We spent a few days in La Paz, the largest city and administrative capital of the country. We happened to show up during their carnaval, so we got to watch the parade featuring tons of different dances from the country.

The view from our hotel room - La Paz is known for being extremely mountainous

The no-fun zebras in the Carnaval parade

One of the younger dancers

We also took a daytrip to the ruins of Tiwanaku, which is known for its giant monoliths and for being a special place to receive energy from the sun.

Our guide receiving energy from the sun

One of the giant monoliths

Cochabamba, the next stop, was not at all as expected. I had heard it was a great city, but when we were there it was rainy and there wasn´t really much to do.