A Travellerspoint blog

The Bus Ride From Hell and Beyond!

Sucre-Uyuni-La Paz

Warning in advance for this one folks, there’s a few details into the effects of travel so far on our bodily functions.

Well as nice as it was not living out of my pack in Sucre, we were getting itchy feet and it was definitely time to move on. We ended our stay in Sucre in style, starting Friday night with the traditional Bolivian cooking class at the school, where once again the teachers cooked and we drank vino then going out on the town and to the local clubs. Biddy and I ended up with separate bunches of people and I’m not sure where I went but I know Biddy and a couple of our pals crashed a wedding reception with a stray dog that had taken a liking to our friend Olly and humped his leg for a good 45min while he walked and tried to escape. The dog eventually got kicked out of the reception much to Olly’s relief by some of the wedding guests.

Still in Sucre:
This is a real moth. Waaaaaa!


Some of the Spanish School students at our leaving do

At the Mirador (Lookout) at Sucre. Day after our leaving do, feeling a little under the weather :)

So we left on the Sunday 19th December. I was at the end of a nasty cold but otherwise we felt fine as we left for Uyuni, Southern Bolivia. We travelled on an old bus for 4 hours to a small mining town called Potosi where we didn’t realise we had a 2 hour stop over. So we went and ate some chips and fanta (the only vego food we could find), actually I ate most of the chips and that may explain while I was in the state I was in a couple of hours later.

We boarded another little old bus for an 8 hour bus ride on a very bumpy road to Uyuni. I took my usual travel ginger tablets as I have been getting travel sick on the bus rides so far but nevertheless I still started to feel very nauseous and so began “the bus ride from hell”.

Biddy was also feeling very unwell. She had tonsillitis and a chest infection but half way through the bus trip I threw my bag at her and tried to get up but just vomited into the aisle, then the bus driver stopped for me while a Bolivian stranger helped me off the bus so I could continue my business outside in the freezing rain. But it didn’t stop there, oh no! I proceeded to vomit for the rest of the journey in a bag, not in a bag, out the window and out of the taxi when we arrived at 1am on the 2 block drive to our hostel. Then at the hostel I was sick all through the night and decided that it was probably gastro and not just travel sickness that caused this one.

I have also self diagnosed myself with Giardia thanks to the internet, and in the words of biddy both of us just wanted to do a ‘mighty great s**t’ instead of water and gut pain. My bowels have not been normal for weeks and apparently these symptoms last for 6-8 weeks (google them if you like, they’re not pretty hehe). I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a normal bowel movement so much in my life. I finished my antibiotics boxing day so hopefully things improve! Haha! I hope I haven’t grossed you all out too much!

So the next day instead of showing up at the tour office in Uyuni town at 10am for a 3 day tour of the Bolivian Salt Flats that I had booked, we laid in bed and slept (and went to the toilet constantly). On that note, I’ll also mention that the hostel didn’t provide toilet paper and biddy and I had bought a limited supply of tissues. Also they only let you have max 5 min showers and bang on the door if you take too long and the beds collapsed into a cavern when you laid in them so they swallowed you up like a hot dog and couldn’t roll over. They had also taken the power sockets out of the room so we couldn’t freely use the electricity. We had to go to a power point in reception and apparently leave our stuff on the floor there to charge. But laptops and Ipods used too much electricity and were restricted to ½ hour only of charging. Our second hostel in Uyuni that we stayed in after the tour was not like this at all and the staff were much more pleasant. So next morning I dragged myself to a stall around the corner to buy water and toilet paper. At 5 pm we staggered to the tour office, apologised and arranged to start the tour the following day. We then went to get some dinner (which lasted all of about 15min in my belly) then went to rest for a big day that was to follow. The past 24 hours we had just been taking it in turns to look after each other depending on who was feeling worse at the time, again I am so glad to have Biddy to travel with because that experience would have been unbearable on my own.

So the salt flats were amazing, I think we would have enjoyed them a bit more and been our lively selves if we weren’t so crook. We went with a company called Red Planet had a great guide named Oscar who was enthusiastic and very knowledgeable, but the other people on our tour (there were 6 of us crammed into the back to rows of the 4WD for 3 days with the guide and the driver in the front) were borr-ing!
There were two Japanese girls who were sweet but spoke very little English and a Bolivian couple that by the end of the trip we were close to throttling. Every time we stopped they took a million photos of each other from every angle and wandered off so we all had to sit around the van and wait for the to make their way back on Bolivian time (which is generally whatever you want it to be, nothing is set in concrete. I don’t think I’ve seen a clock here yet that has the same time as my watch or any other clock!). Also Biddy and I tried very hard at the start to talk to them and stimulate conversations with the bit of Spanish we had learnt but they didn’t ask any questions back and eventually we ran out of things to ask/say.

So the first day of the tour we went to a train graveyard just outside of the city. These trains used to transport the areas rich minerals to Chile for exportation overseas but they were abandoned in the 1960s after Wall Street crash and the minerals lost their value and all the rich mine owners packed up and left. They were then used then in 70s and 80s as passenger trains but there is no trees for miles and these trains ran on coal so they were expensive and eventually replaced by diesel trains that still run today a few times a week.



Then we went to a basic community run salt refinery to see the process of converting it to table salt.


Then we went out to the salt flats themselves and took the photos that you have to take when your there!









We then went to a cactus Island in the middle of the salt flats. It takes 100years about for a cactus to reach 1m. Some of these cactus were over 10m!! Oh and of course there were llamas!





The group we travelled the salt flats with

I can't rember whta these animals are called but they're like fine coated miniture llamas and they were nearly hunted to extenction a few years ago because their wool is so soft but now they are a protected species.




That night we stayed in a hotel made almost entirely of salt: walls, floors, ceilings, tables, chairs, bed frames, etc.





The second day we left at 8:30 and drove to see some lakes including the famous Red Lake. It contains a red algae, which not only turns the lake a red colour, but almost changes the pigmentation of the equally famous pink flamingos that eat the algae and are native to that area. We were reaching altitudes on this tour above 4000m so this really wasn’t helping our sickness situation.



In the afternoon we drove further south into the Bolivian desert and saw the ‘rock tree’ and other interesting rock formation made by volcanic eruptions . There were a lot of volcanoes in the area, most inactive.




Our drive Ronaldo and guide Oscar

That night we stayed in a very basic refuge where it was rumoured got easily into the minuses over night. Our guide made us all a hot water bottle each and me and Biddy prepared ourselves with thermals and jumpers and thermal sleeping bags and 4 woollen blankets and although it was cold, it wasn’t that cold and we very quickly kicked off all these layers. Biddy’s nights were spent coughing and coughing and coughing and my were spent waking up every hour to run to the toilet so you can imagine we weren’t overly impressed to be woken up at 4am on our last day to see the sunrise from the crater of an active volcano. Our driver however, like most Bolivians here, had no apparent need for speed so we practically missed the sunrise and Biddy was ready to murder someone if she missed the reason she got up at 4am.

A couple of kids at the refuge that sang traditional xmas carols for us (in return for a few bolivianos)

Fortunately for Biddy though she had no problems sleeping in the car, no matter how bumpy it was while I tried desperately next to her to sleep without any luck. The volcano was pretty impressive though and there were bubbling mud pits that were boiling at about 150degrees, holes in the ground blasting out steam and unfortunately a thick cloud of stinky sulphur in the air.


Boiling mud

We then went right to the southern point of Bolivia to the Green Lake (green because of the copper and arsenic that exist in the water) and on the other side of the mountain range behind it was Chile on one side and Argentina on the other. We then went back up the road and had breakie at some thermal hot springs and by now there was enough sun so stripping down to bikinis and climbing into the steamy 35 degree water wasn’t so ghastly.


We then began the long drive back through the desert on a short cut back to Uyuni, stopping for lunch and arriving about 6pm. Me and Biddy were more than happy that the tour was over and crashed instantly back at our new hostel.

So it twas two days before Christmas and the plan to go back to Potosi on a bus the following day (a town of pretty much nothing) for the Christmas weekend waiting to do a mine tour on the Monday no longer seemed very appealing. So we gratefully rested in this new hostel in our private room with ensuite (for about $10 each per night), had pizza for dinner at a nice pizzeria directly next door and made the decision to go back to La Paz the next day instead as we had some friends there and it least it might feel a little more cosy and Christmassy.

So our bus was the following night at 8pm (Christmas Eve) and it was a 10 hour bus ride. Biddy was feeling nauseous the whole way so it was my turn to attend to her again as I felt more human. Biddy opened the window at the start so she could have some fresh air but then the window was broken and kept flying back open every time we went over a bump, Half way through the trip a rude Japanese guy came and yelled at Biddy for the window and she couldn’t explain that it wouldn’t stay closed... poor Biddy! We arrived in La Paz at 6am Xmas morning. We were the last to get off the bus and it was pouring with rain. We just threw ourselves into a taxi who then took us to our hostel. After a brief kerfuffle checking in (the hostel hadn’t received our booking that we made on hostelworld.com the day before) we were finally settled. I still had one single thing I wanted to do before I slept and that was talk to my parents on Skype as Perth is 12 hours ahead, Biddy wanted to the same but the hostel staff didn’t know the right password for the WIFI so we tried for over an hour and again luck was not on our side so eventually we crashed exhausted into bed to sleep for a few hours.

I felt very, very homesick and once we got up about 11am I spent the whole day trying to find a familiar Christmas meal, breakie with bacon, roast for dinner, anything that would make it feel like Christmas but alas I never got there. So had a very normal lunch (Fijian chicken and rice with a fried banana) and dinner and the same place (there wasn’t much open). We then spent almost an hour in the rain with our friends looking for a bar that existed on the map but not in real life where other friends supposedly were waiting... without a jumper or a coat. Drank more vino tinto with dinner and went back to our friends ‘party’ hostel and partied until 2am. Finally came home and got the internet working and spoke to my family on Skype so I ended the day at 3:30am finally feeling a bit of Christmas cheer.

The next day we went for a tour of the San Pedro Prison in La Paz and this was quite possibly one of the most-strangest experiences of my life. If anyone has read the famous book Marching Powder they would have some idea of the horrific history of this prison. This book has been bumped up my list of books to read after my tour today. Basically, the guards are on the outside but inside the prison is run by the prisoners themselves. It used to be a very dangerous place and people would get killed all the time, stabbed to death and thrown into a garbage heap and nothing was ever done about it. Now they have a proper little society and government inside. They have delegated heads of sections and one senior delegator. They can buy/rent a cell if they have money ranging in size and comfort depending on the cost. They have shops and everything they need in there. It is like a little village. Some of them even live there with their wives and families and they have a kindergarten for the kids. Sundays and Thursdays are official visit days but woman can visit at anytime providing they pay 5 Bolivianos or 10 if they stay the night. People work and have different roles and look after each other. Biddy accidently said to our inmate guide “you never have to leave!!!”. To which we just stared at her in disbelief. :)

We weren’t really sure how the tours worked, only that tourists could do them on the weekends. So waited outside the prison where family members of the inmates were queuing up for the Sunday visits and finally I got up the courage to ask a scary armed guard about the tours. We then got escorted by a scary lady with drawn on eyebrows to a man at the door of the prison who took us inside to a guard/police officer where we left our belongings (cameras and mobiles not allowed so sorry but no picture folks) and paid our $400 Boliviano entrance fee, about $60AUD.

We were taken into the prison then and into the hands of the inmates. Our guide was a young guy who spoke great English and was a convicted drug dealer although he said he only had a small amount of drugs on him and the police lied about the amount they found on him so that they could send him to prison. I felt very sorry for him because he gets out on 7th January but has no family or friends and has never had a visitor so he has no one to celebrate with when he gets out. We also had a guard come around with us. All the guards are inmates that are given these roles by the police and help to maintain the peace within the prison. In return the get a reduced sentence. They are all convicted murderers we found out afterwards. When we found this out neither of us could look at him. Eeeeek!

All through the tour we were offered handcrafts the inmates had made, it’s how they make their money and make their way in the prison. We found out often by helping them we were also helping our guide who would be rewarded by the guys we bought off later with things like protection, nicer food, etc. The motto of the prison is ‘everything is legal as long as you don’t get caught’ but before you freak out tourists do these tours every weekend of the year and as a major source of income for the inmates, as their customers, they go out of their way to ensure we are safe and no harm comes to us. If something bad were to happen to a tourist in there, that man would be a dead man because it would ruin the reputation of the prison and tourists wouldn’t go there anymore if it was dangerous. It was still a very frightening and strange experience nonetheless and when the guide asked me to give him a discrete tip so no one else esp the guard would see so it wouldn’t be taken from him later. I then became extremely nervous and was suddenly aware of how much the guard was watching every move me and Biddy made, obviously aware that the guide was trying to get his own tip secretly. But I gave him $50 Bolivianos eventually and found I was shaking uncontrollably. It was just so strange. All the inmates can mingle and wander around out of their cells between the little sections as they please (unless they are in solitary). The maze of alleyways feels like you could be walking down any street in La Paz.

At the end of our tour we were taken into a room and were informed that was where we ‘officially’ tipped and if we wanted to, buy drugs (cocaine and marijuana). I was shocked and asked how do people buy drugs and then walk out when there are police swarming the prison outside and our guide informed me that most of the money made from the drug sales went to the police anyway! Man, how corrupt is that! So Biddy and I hurriedly left a very generous tip and said we were ready to leave. I think we held our breath until we were safely out of the prison. It took us a good hour after leaving to recover from the whole experience!

We had lunch at a Lebanese Vego place (first time in a while food hasn’t given is a belly ache) and then got a taxi to the major cinema on the other side of town. When we were in La Paz lat time about a month ago this was the only cinema that had Harry Potter 7 in English. We walked in and I looked at the programme and they were no longer showing HP7 in English and I nearly cried. I tried in Sucre also when we were studying there but they didn’t have it in English either. I guess it’s one of those things that just isn’t meant to be and I will just have to keep my eyes on the pirated dvd stands.

Anyway we ended up seeing a movie called The Tourist with J.Depp and A.Jolie because it was in English. I climbed over 2 people to get to the seats I wanted and turned around to see Biddy trip over a man and poor half the contents of her box of popcorn into this man’s lap! Bahahahaha! I’m still laughing. Then on the way out Biddy noticed a toy shop with heaps of board games and mentioned they might have Monopoly cards. Kylie, Linds, Chris, you know what we’re talking about and Biddy and I have been keeping an eye out for this game since we’re been here. I was already on the upward escalator and had to race back down like a retard and we ran in and saw monopoly cards and squealed and jumped up and down. We didn’t have enough cash to buy it so we got a taxi to the hostel. We made the taxi wait while I ran in and got my card and then we got the taxi to drive as back. He was quite confused...BUT we bought it! We then spent the next 2.5 hours walking around La Paz trying to find a bar where we could sit down with a drink and play. Very slow walking because Biddy is still quite sick and any physical exertion sends her into a coughing fit. Eventually having walked around most of the city we gave up and came home to drink a bottle of wine that we had in our room.

Monday was another odd day and the taxis were charging us double. We were very confused but very quickly found out from a cafe owner who spoke English that the very corrupt Bolivian President yesterday had increased petrol prices by over 100% and the Bolivian people had gone from paying about 50cents for petrol to over a dollar, overnight!! The people here are poor enough as it is and they just can’t afford it so the buses were all striking and La Paz came to a standstill. Anyone in Bolivia hoping to travel by bus that day was screwed. It was okay for us as we plan on staying here until just after NYE.

Also we had to go to Immigration because we forgot that we had only asked for 30 days on our Visa. Biddy was in a bit of a panic and was yelling “we’re gonna get deported, I don’t wanna leave yet!!” and I thought they would slap us with a fine but it was all very easy and we just had to supply the man at the office with some photo copies of our documents and got another 30days stamped in our passports.

After new years we hope to do a pampas tour for a few days in Rurrunabeque, Northern Bolivia. Pampas is on a boat. But we want to book it asap because as you would realise the rise in the price of petrol is causing a rise in the price of everything. Some as much as double!!!
After that we will head north to Copacabana and Lake Titicaca and cross through into Peru. At least that’s the plan but as you can see the plan always changes. I will keep you posted though as always!

Ciao for now Señors and Señoras!!

Posted by katieOZ 13:11 Archived in Bolivia

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KT and BD - the adventure continues! Amazing photos and great commentary - considering how long it takes you to upload the photos with the dodgy internet access. Love reading the blog - keep up the good work (and play) XOX

by YakettyYak

Are those animals guanacos or vicuñas? Haha - hope you can remember! XOX

by YakettyYak

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