Camelia's Email about Bolivia

Written in Prague shortly after returning home



Dear all,

As many of you have been asking how our trip to South America was, I here send you a detailed group email to enjoy. It's quite long, so make sure that you have time to read it.

I will begin with the pre-departure info. Michal and I booked some Valentine discount plane tickets to Buenos Aires and applied for all sorts of visas. The top destination on our list was Bolivia, but we also visited some places in Argentina and Chile. One week before departure Michal got horribly sick and there was a high risk that I would also catch that flue and just cancel the entire thing. However, we were lucky, he recovered just in time and we had 1 day to prepare our stuff. On Feb 25 we got on a plane to Milan, where we changed for the trans-atlantic plane to BA. When we got there is was very hot and figured out that our Lonely Planet guide is out of date. It has lots of old info...

Anyway, as we wanted to get as soon as possible to Bolivia, we got on the same day on a bus to Salta, north west Argentina. The trip took 24 hrs instead of 20 (the bus broke down, of course). Salta is a very nice colonial town, with old houses and plenty of churches. People there speak no English, are very friendly and have plenty of kids who roam around the streets until 11 pm and never seem to get tired or sleep. Next day, we moved up to the Bolivian border. now, this is a completely different country. First of all, people here are Amerindians and they don't resemble at all to Europeans. Most of them are short, wear traditional clothes, some funny hats on the top of the head and women always carry babies or other stuff in a pink cloth on their back and tied around the neck (I still wonder how come they don't suffocate). There are no paved roads in south Bolivia, so our 9 hrs trip to Potosi was quite exhausting. But we had the chance to see cactuses, lamas and even some wild deers.

Potosi was the first Bolivian town that we visited. It is the highest town in the world with more than 100 000 people (more than 4000 m altitude). It used to be the richest and biggest town in both Americas during colonial time due to its silver mining industry. The architecture is impressive, with an European look. Now the town is much poorer,as the mining industry is doing very bad. We visited a mine there and we were shocked by the primitive work conditions. It is sad that before 1980, when silver and tin were better priced, they had proper mining equipment, but now they work mainly manually. After visiting the mine, we came back to town and got in the middle of carnival. People threw water balloons and spray foam at each other, dance and had lots of fun. In Potosi we also had the opportunity to learn more how the locals use coca leaves in their everyday life. YES, coca leaves are still ana everyday thing in Bolivia. Coca has very positive effects, it has been used for 5000 years there, it increases the tolerance to work (for instance there are miners who work 24 hrs without sleep) and it is good for breathing at that high altitude. Too bad that whites invented cocaine and ruined the status of this plant...

From Potosi we then went to Oruro, where we saw the main parade of the Carnival, la Diablada. It was AMAZING! they had very colorful costumes, masks, dances. On the website Carnaval de Oruro you can see some pictures from older carnivals.

From Oruro we headed north to Lake Titicaca, on the border with Peru. There we visited the Sun Island,where the Sun was born according to Inca beliefs. The landscape is wonderful and it's the kind of place where nothing happens. it was so peaceful and quiet!

From Titicaca we went back to La Paz, the highest capital of the world. The town is situated in a deep valley and there are houses all over the hills around. There we visited the Witches market, which was spooky.. The Coca museum, where they had plenty of info about coca, its pros and cons (very educative it was). We also visited the Moon valley which was close to La Paz are really seemed to be out of this world.

From La Paz a painful and long bus trip followed all the way south to Uyuni. Here we got on a 3 day safari which actually became the highlight of the entire trip. In Uyuni, on the border with Chile, there is the biggest salt lake in the world, about 100 Km wide and 140 Km long. Thousands of years ago, there used to be a sea which no longer exists. However, there is a blanket of 5 m thick of pure and blinding white salt. It's really amazing! We even visited there a salt hotel. I mean it had salt bricks, salt beds, salt chairs... Also in the middle of this salt lake there was an Island, called Fisherman's island, with a forest of giant cactuses!!! The oldest one was 1200 years old and 12 m high..

From Salar de Uyuni we moved on to see flamingo birds and lamas at various lagunas, we saw from the distance an active volcano (there was smoke coming out of it) and mud geysers. At the end of this trip we also had the chance to bathe in some thermal springs, located in the middle of nowhere...

At the end of this amazing safari we reached Chile. Chile is the most advanced country in South America and I would rank it even a bit more developed than the Czech Republic. And as Bolivia is the black sheep neighbor, there are very tough checks on the Chilean border (they were looking for food and coca). They even had a dog sniff inside the bus...

Anyway, the first town we got to in Chile was San Pedro de Atacama, an oasis in the driest desert of the world, Atacama desert. As you can image, it was horribly hot there, so we immediately decided to go south and bought tickets to La Serena, on the Pacific coast.

In La Serena it was the end of the season, so not too much sun. But the highlight of our visit there was the astronomic observatory. We've been there for 3 hours and were impressed. We've learned about the biggest telescope in the world (situated in Atacama, but not open for tourists). It is so strong that you can see through it the American flag on the moon !!! We also learned how to recognize on the sky the difference between stars and planets. We've seem Jupiter and its 4 moons, Saturn with its ring, some nebula in Osiris constellation and of course, the southern cross and Magellan galaxy, which are visible only from the southern hemisphere...

From La Serena we went to Santiago de Chile - a highly developed city, with nice museums and expensive accommodation. Then, we took the bus to Argentina and arrived to Buenos Aires a day later. We visited the artists district, had the best lunch in the entire South America (steak, mashed potatoes and Argentinian wine), saw the balcony where Evita spoke to her nation. The highlight of our vist in BA was the tango show that we saw in the shopping mall. They had a band and a singer. When they started playing, all grannies and grandpas who were there shopping started dancing tango!!! they also had some professional dancers who performed as part of the show and were wonderful.. but for us it was really funny to see those old Argentinians how they enjoy life... One day later we got on the plane back to Prague ...

In a nutshell, i recommend to all of you to visit Bolivia (it's very cheap, there are great attractions there despite what the media says, we felt very safe). Nothing bad happened to us....

Well, those of you who made it to this line I hope will be satisfied with this email. But if you have any other questions, related to this trip, feel free to ask. And I look forward to getting your feedback.

Best wishes,
Camelia