12 October - 3 November 2001
It had been for quite a lot months, after having read some travelogues, I thought to make a trip to these zones of the South America, the photos and the descriptions of the andean plateau and particularly of the Salar de Uyuni, fascinated me; to September accomplice a good flight offer to Chile I succeeded in organizing the trip.
Arrived to Santiago airport and passed the custom I went to Lan Chile ticket-office to buy a ticket for the first available flight to Arica (extreme north of Chile) since I didn't want to make a 28 hours bus ride. Considering that I had only a little bit of time to sleep and that in the zone of the airport there are not lodgings, I reached the YHA hostel in the city center. Just few hour of sleep for then to return to the airport and to depart to Arica, according to my guide the flight is one of the most spectacular of South America but the sky under of me was covered and therefore I have not seen anything of detail. While I was reaching the pension in the center of Arica with a collective taxi (are very diffused in South America: you jump and once is full you go) I started to make for me an idea of the city that also after the visit has not made me a good impression. Considering that my idea was to depart as first as possible to Lauca park, is gone suffered to the search of a tour, after some walks to the agency during the whole day (there were problems to form the group), I succeeded to book a 2 days tour with 1 night to Putre.
The following day around 2 pm we departed, Louis (the guide-driver) and the other trip companions immediately seemed me very nice. Along the road to Putre we made quite a lot standstills, to admire the landscapes, to visit a pair of villages and to acclimatize to the altitude considering that we would have to sleep to 3500 mt. Fortunately the first night at high altitude has not given me problems (only a light headache), the mountain-sickness was one mine big worry before the departure, but fortunately also in the rest of the trip I had not big problems. Between the other things, Louis has made us try the leaves and the tea of coca that besides the "soothing" effects it seems helps against the mountain-sickness. After dinner we went out from the village to admire the milky way without the light pollution of the cities, we succeeded in also seeing the satellites in movement!!!
Awake in the early morning to reach the Lauca park to 4400 mt, between spectacular landscapes we met herds of llmas, vicuñas and guanacos and the nice vizcachas (chinchilla) further to all types of birds. Spectacular the sight of the lagoons and the lakes with the high volcanos (more than 6000 mt) reflecting in the waters. To the edges of the Chungará lake before the Bolivian border, I have greeted the companions and took the bus to La Paz where I arrived in the late afternoon; the bus enters in the city from the high zone and the view is spectacular with the houses abandoned to the feet of the triplex tops of the Illimani.
The morning after a breakfast to base of cappuccino (in that place they make it with coffee covered by whipped cream) and 1 slice of cake (good) I started the city-visit and its very characteristic markets, particularly I liked quite a lot the Mercado de Hechicería: the market of the wizards with the stands that exposed the strangest things. Even if the city is super chaotic the center can be viewed walking, but is a continuous going up and down, considering the 3500-4000 mt altitude, it's quite hard; the sidewalks are literally full of stands, the sellers dressed with the local colored dress sell everything, nice the stands that offered the service of writing documents with the typewriter . Between a visit and the other one I went to book the buses for the following destinations, Copacabana (lake Titikaka) and Sucre.
The morning welcomed me with a "beautiful" rain mixed with snow, fortunately the bus stopped really in front of the hotel; we crossed the city up to the outskirts crossing more and more poor zones and overcoming truck literally full of people; while we arrived in the proximities of the bus-station we passed in front of the Bolivian Naval academy building, considering that Bolivia doesn't have access to the sea, the thing has done me a little bit laugh (subsequently I have ascertained that the Marina Soldier Bolivian practices on the lake Titikaka). To arrive to Copacabana is necessary to cross by boat a little strait, while the passengers climb on boats the buses are ferried on barges from the reassuring very little aspect. For the afternoon I booked the excursion to the Isla de Sol, but I remained decidedly disappointed, in the middle of hordes of tourists I stopped on the island no more than 1 hour, not enough to visit it. For dinner I tried what probably is the dish that I liked more in Bolivia: the lake Titikaka's salmon-trout, really really excellent!!!
Then waited for me a long transfer, at first to La Paz and from there to Sucre; contrarily of the going where the sky was grey, the return
was with a beautiful sun that exalted the contrasts of color of the lake and the surrounding mountains; hardly entered to
La Paz the guide has made us go down along the autopista to admire the sunset on the city. In Bolivia (but well or badly in the whole South America) varied classes of bus exist, considering that I
had to travel the whole night I chose a bus-cama (where the seat becomes almost a bed) and I must say that
was better than I expected. All the Bolivians going up had heavy wool blankets that worried me a little
bit for the temperature in the night, really heating worked more or less and however the temperature was bearable.
Passed Oruro started the not-asphalted road, so I have spent the whole night
jumping between a hole and the other. Finally in the middle of the morning I arrived to Sucre, the administrative capital of Bolivia.
A shower and then in the streets to give a glance to the buildings in colonial style
and to the colored covered market that it was really in front of my pension, nice the women
preparing to hand the whipped cream and those that prepared fruit-shakes, besides absolutely excellent. In early afternoon, I departed for the excursion to the Fancesa,
a cement cave 5 Km out the city where tracks of dinosaurs were discovered, the tour lasts 1
hour and it is quite interesting.
Sucre has struck me for 2 things, the great number of young people (it is an university city) and the mild climate, I spent 1 day in shorts and t-shirt thing that I would never be expected at 3000 mt. To Sucre I had the bad news that Uyuni (the principal destination of my trip) was blocked by a strike and the tourists had been hostages of the strikers for some day; I could not believe, the visit to the mythical Salar de Uyuni was falling through!!!
Sunday is the day of the famous Tarambuco market, we reached the village in a few more than 1 hour of bus. In a pair of hours I have made a turn for the whole market, even if there are lot of tourists, excellent acquisitions of local hands-crafts can be done, very characteristic the locals that wore particular headgears. Returned to Sucre, I systematized my backpack and went to the buses terminal to reach Potosì. I didn't understand why the driver insisted for loading my backpack on the roof of the bus, considering that there were not more than 10 passengers, just a pair of stops and I understood why, the bus filled for at least the double of its capacity, included women with newborns in shoulder systematized in the corridor. On the bus I met 2 Swiss sisters that had lodged in my same pension to Sucre and so also to Potosì we have chosen the same lodging.
In the pension I met 2 Italian girls just arrived from the "jail" of Uyuni that told me what had happened them, they remained for 4 days stopped in the village and at the end they have succeeded in escaping in the night with other tourists with 3 hours of walk in the desert with the backpacks in shoulder and finding a passage on a truck, fortunately the tourists have not been treated badly by the rebels however the situation remained adverse, besides the tourists continued to arrive to Uyuni considering that there was no information. So with some desperation we decided to move to Tupiza and from there to decide what to do. After having booked the bus for the following day I spent the whole day under the covers considering that had come me a high fever!!! Fortunately the following morning I felt a little bit better and so I succeeded in departing not before returning to the pension because I had forgotten in the room the keys of the backpacks. In 7 hours we reached Tupiza along a bad unpaved road, in remuneration we saw a beautiful landscape disseminated of cactus and small canyons.
Tupiza is found in one of the most beautiful zones of Bolivia, there Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kind has realized theirs last actions. Different tours are organized, some of which cross by horses the places of the last runs of the 2 bandits; I choose the 1 day jeep tour of the outskirts of the village, we admired really beautiful landscapes with rocks of all the forms and colors, the surroundings remembers me a little bit the ones of the Arizona, the guide was very nice, he also made me try the emotion of driving along the Bolivian roads . To the return from the tour fortunately arrived the news that to Uyuni the situation had returned calm; now we had to organize the tour across the Salar, the lagoons and San Pedro de Atacama. I would liked to depart from Tupiza and arrive to the Salar for then to go to San Pedro, to see zones that had said me to be very beautiful, but considering that this tour was too expensive for the other companions of trip, we decided to catch the train to Uyuni and to depart from there for the tour. We decided immediately to book the tour and the lodging to Uyuni after 2 hours of weary negotiations (considering that we would have arrived in the middle of the night) in way to avoid losses of time; the evening concluded with a beautiful dinner together with the Swiss friends watered by Argentinian wine. In sight of the tour to the Salar I spent the last day to Tupiza in total relax walking for the village followed from a sleep in the afternoon.
At 7 pm all people ready to catch the train, the coach were better than I expected, comfortable armchairs, music and a Eddie Murphy movie of that in the Spanish translation loses the classical laughter typical of the Italian voice. The trip through canyon and far-west landscapes under a starry sky has gone well up to around 3/4 of the run, unexpectedly however the convoy stopped and a little afterwards the locomotive disconnected and gone away!!! A little bit for tiredness a little bit for the desperation I was convincing me that the destiny didn't want really that I visited Uyuni, to a certain moment I have almost thought that the strike started again and we were taken as hostages!!! Fortunately the locomotive returned afterwards more than 3 hours and so we have succeeded in arriving to Uyuni around 5 am. Just a pair of hours of sleep and we met again around 8 am to program the tour; varied operators proposed to convenient prices but at the end we have chosen the Colque Tour, considered from the guides one of the best and more reliable agencies. I have to say that the representative of the agency did not like me, as whoever knows that so much graces to the judgments of the guides receives great part of the tourists and therefore doesn't make anything to have a good service; at the end we accepted, more than other to avoid other losses of time. The group of 13 persons divided on 2 jeeps (at least our was new and in good conditions), I traveled with the 4 Swiss friends and 1 French, therefore 5 French-speaking against 1 Italian (that doesn't speak French!!!) .
After a fast visit to the trains cemetery in the middle of the desert we reached the mythical Salar de Uyuni!!! we entered from Colchani, principal point of extraction of salt, from there we reached the Isla de los Pescadores crossing a surreal dazzling landscape. After a pair of hours by jeep in the blinding light presented to the horizon the Isla de los Pescadores that seemed to float in the sky; while the driver prepared the lunch I made a walk along the path up to the top of the island disseminated of cactus, from the top the sight lost in the immensity of the Salar. In the afternoon we crossed the footstep to San Juan village (for the nighttime standstill) stopping us in some zones of the Salar submerged partially by water creating games of light that have earth seemed all one with the sky. Even if in the San Juan village don't live more than hundreds persons we succeeded in losing us along its streets, in fact the friends traveled on the other jeep had found a "pub" and we were granted for meeting us there after dinner. After having turned and turned along the sandy roads enlightened only by the full moon, we found the pub closed and so we went to the "disco", the problem has been to return to the pension considering that with the dark the roads seemed all equal; fortunately we met the driver and he explained us how to return to the pension. The second day has been devoted to the crossing of desert zones and lagoons with arrival to the Laguna Colorada; probably this has been the most fatiguing part of the whole trip, to 4300 mt the walk to the edges of the lagoon with the icy wind that blew has been quite binding; the contrast of colors between the blue sky and the red of the lagoon (caused from waterweeds) it is indeed spectacular. The menu of the evening foresaw spaghetti with fresh tomatoes sauce and I must say that I would never be waited to eat good in such a lost place. Wake up at 4,30 o'clock to arrive in the zone of the geysers in time for sun-rising, breakfast to the edges of a lagoon where there are termal pool but for the external temperature I preferred to not make the bath. Last stop of the tour the wonderful Laguna Verde to the feet of the 5960 mt of the volcano Licancábur; to reach San Pedro de Atacama in Chile we are due to transfer on a mini-bus dividing us in 2 groups, considering that the representative of the Colque said us that they were the only agency that guaranteed the directed transport the thing made me very angry.
Passed the border we returned to civilization, after days and days of dusty roads we entered on a asphalted road direct to San Pedro; before entering in the village however we had to pass the accurate controls of the Chilean police officers that checked all the backpacks. Even if San Pedro is very tourist has a beautiful atmosphere with so many interesting places, shops and characteristic restaurants; besides it seems that has the highest concentration of travel agencies in the world to relationship to the inhabitants and the dimension of the village. Between the varied tours I have chosen that to the Valley of the Moon, we departed in the late afternoon and visited zones with unusual rocky formations, for the sunset we climbed in top to a high dune and from there we admired the rocks red changing color to the sunset with the moon and the volcanos on the background. I spent the last day in San Pedro in company of the Swiss friends walking through the village and with a beautiful dinner in the evening. Just few hours of sleep, in fact departure at 4 o'clock for the El Tatio geyser, in a pair of hours we reached 4300 mt; the expanse of geyser is more impressing than that sees in Bolivia, with a temperature of -6° C we attended sunrising. In the rest of the day we drove toward Calama crossing landscapes more or less already seen and visiting a pair of villages of the zone, nothing special rather for the end of the afternoon accomplice a little bit of tiredness I was a little bit also stewed. Very nice in the village of Chiu Chiu the fact that exists only 1 telephone and therefore when the inhabitants receive a call they are announced by a loudspeaker.
Arrived to Calama I went immediately to the bus station to book the passage to Santiago finding the last available seat. The following morning I went to Chuquicamata to visit the biggest copper mine to open sky of the world (that alone it produces almost half the whole gross inside product of Chile), I had to wait more than 1 hour the opening of the office and then others 3 hours for the beginning of the tour considering that the precedence has been given to a big group of Germans. After a video that showed the activities of the mine we jumped on the bus that has brought us at first to the edges of the great cave: long 4 kms, wide 3 kms and deep 800 mt where they extracts the material that with enormous trucks (they have wheels tall up to 3 mt) is brought to the factory for the first process. Subsequently after having worn the gas-mask, shoes, hat and protective glasses we have been brought in the foundry where they produce the copper plates that after varied process arrive to a purity of 99,99%. The tour has been really interesting but considering that ended very late I had to make a run return to Calama to systematize the baggage and to take the bus; seen the 22 hours of trip I have chosen a salon cama bus with comfortable armchairs like business class. I passed last 2 days to Santiago visiting the city before taking back the airplane to return to my hemisphere.
Copyright © 2001 Giuseppe Ruperto. All rights reserved.