Uyuni & Tupiza – Isolated towns in South West Bolivia

Our stop in Uyuni was brief as we have become increasingly aware of time and so we spent half a day exploring the town, the markets, sussing out how to head south (yes south) and generally meeting the real life of Bolivia.

IMG_1351We love Bolivia, the people are friendly and smiling and with un poco Spanish we are welcomed and accommodated for. Emma´s really glad she did that intro course and is learning a new word or two each day.

Uyuni is truly an isolated desert town, apparently its supposed to be really cold but its nothing like what we experienced out in the wilderness to get here. We had a look at the few sights and thAfter our half day sight seeing we bought a ticket for Tupiza in the South West corner of Bolivia. It’s a 4WD for 2 ½ hours then a short stop in Altocha, a small mining community before joining the chaos of bus travel to Tupiza.

The 4WD left promptly at 6am and we spent the first hour and a half absolutely freezing as the family of six on the backseat of the Landcruiser slept, buried under blankets galore and the other three locals joining me, Marie and Ben were rugged up in blankets whilst us three sat in full thermal, woollen thick clothes desperately praying to the sun god to hurry up and let the sun rise.

IMG_1348The stop in Altocha was as expected an hour or so long and one of those wait and see situations where the driver disappeared with our tickets for ages as we sat wondering what was going to happen next, but in the end we caught the bus no problem. The road was more of a 4WD track than the previous 2 1/2 hour stint – down a river bed, across a river (shallow), up and down hills, along steep mountainsides where the road had suffered washouts making it just about single track, gravel, up and down, bumpy, gravel, corrugated… you get our drift.

In fairness the journey was what we had expected although a bit longer and the weather en route much warmer than we have been used to. We were lucky that we didn’t sit near the person that puked and we could take photos by opening the window.

The scenery on the way and here on the outskirts of Tupiza is once again mind-blowing. Deep red canyons, steep hillsides, more different rock formations in one journey than you can imagine, so many colours and shapes and so different from the last few days. We are really glad we made the trip, particularly as most travellers heading on a north bound route through South America don’t seem to go this way (South) once they hit Uyuni. There are still a good few gringos here but for us we are keen to get out of the town and see this incredible landscape, on horseback…

IMG_1383We booked a 3 hour horse riding trek as we knew our bums could cope with that after the San Pedro horse trek and Emma has a bad cold. Once we were saddled up and familiar with what were two massive white horses we soon left the town behind and were surrounded by rust coloured canyons. The rock here is made up of lots of stones cemented into this deep red coloured mud which has become rock and they have created deep narrow canyons one of which we visited is called the Canyon del Inca and a valley with strange phallic rock formations funnily enough called the Valley of the Penises. Hopefully the photos show some scale, as close up the canyons are huge.

Tupiza is a a really relaxed place, it feels safe and a lot calmer than we expect other Bolivian towns to be. There are a couple of markets that we have explored and a main plaza which is really nice to sit in with a backdrop of a church and various amenities like a couple of internet cafes.

So today is Saturday and we had planned to leave Tupiza yesterday morning for Potosi (as a stepping stone to get to Sucre) but protest road blocks have been in place there for the last 12 days and so our bus couldn’t go (they’ll still sell you the ticket knowing full well it probably won’t go). Stupidly we agreed to transfer our tickets to the night bus for Potosi, but then we hit the internet cafe and did some research on what’s happening there. Turns out that the blockades have only been lifted briefly 4 times in the last 12 days and that there are loads of people stuck there and now they have fresh food shortages. We don’t want to risk  being stuck there even if we could get there so we decided, nah we’re not going. Checked back into the hotel and came up with a plan B – to catch one of the few trains in South America and head instead to Oruro.

IMG_1406Later having lunch we saw the news and the first 10 mins was about Potosi and tensions rising and a bit of rioting and a few fires. Good decision not to go we think.

Getting the train wasn’t all smooth either, the cheapest 2 classes were already full (by lunchtime the day before its due to go!), although school holidays have just started here. So had to pay more than we wanted for Executive (1st) class. It better be good! Emma still has a bad cold anyway and isn’t really well enough for a long cold bumpy bus.

Today the people at our hotel organised a picnic out in the country as a few of us have been stuck in Tupiza a bit longer than we wanted and the town itself isn’t very big or overly exciting. They took us to a beautiful spot by a river surrounded by (more) red canyons and the ride there in the back of a 4×4 pickup truck was great fun. Great food and great company too, helped pass our actual last day here really well.

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