Even though staying so long in Chile wasn’t originally on the cards, I was so glad I got to see some of this amazing country. That’s one of the best things about travelling; your plans can change in an instant! I made it to Santiago Airport after a disaster of a morning when nothing went my way. It was funny because as I sat in the airport complaining to my Mum over Whatsapp about my crazy morning where the taxi was an hour late and my bag broke, I just had to laugh because I once I gave myself a reality check and realized I’d been travelling South America for three months I had no need to complain about such petty issues.
The flight to Lima was quick and before I knew it I was back in familiar territory. I was heading back to Dragonfly Hostel where I had volunteered two months early and the sense of home that I felt as the taxi sped past the pebbled beaches made me forgot all about my horror of a morning. Arriving back to Dragonfly I was welcomed not only by my friends but a banner with my face on it advertising the hostel! It was hilarious! I caught up with my friends and filled them in on my travels over a couple of beers before conking out for the night.
In all honesty, the next few days were laidback and relaxed. As I had done a lot of sightseeing in Lima the last time I was here, I had no reason to rush around playing tourist. I met new friends, ate some of the best ceviche, went to some cool nightclubs and generally just had a fantastic time. We went into central Lima and I actually played tour guide, it was crazy to think I knew my way well enough around this massive city! We also went to a festival one night, which had some of Peru’s best music and got sunburnt by the harsh sun at the beach.
Coming back to Lima was just what I needed after leaving my previous group of friends. I had no time to be sad because I left one travel family and stepped right back into another. It made me realize that my previous fear of solo travel was unnecessary and that you will never be alone for long. I wasted a lot of time waiting for friends back to decide to travel with me because I was too scared to travel by myself, when really new friends were just waiting to be made. I was also a little proud of myself, for not listening to those back home that said that travelling alone through South America was dangerous and stupid. I hadn’t felt in danger once during my travels (minus the time I was 1 kilometre deep in a silver mine – but that was self inflicted!) and wanted to show everyone back home how easy it is to travel solo. It may have only been three months since I left Australian soil but I feel like I have learnt and grown up so much. Travelling alone (and with friends for that matter) teaches you things that no school or university can. While I’m not out there doing my Masters or making millions, I’m learning important life lessons that you can only get from travel… Plus it’s way more fun! I know I’m not quite setting up my life like my friends are but I wouldn’t change the experiences I’ve had for a second – no job or house deposit can replace what I’ve done! It might be the extra strong coffee I had this morning talking, but I can happily say that the path that I’ve chosen to take in my early 20’s might not be the conventional way, but it’s the way made for me. But that’s enough cheesiness for now…
After several fun-filled days I sadly had to leave Lima and continue my travels, however I wasn’t alone. My next plan was to do some hiking in the mountains of Huaraz and had made friends with a French girl who wanted to do the same so we caught the night bus to Huaraz ready to shock our bodies by heading back into the high altitude and cold weather.
Stay tuned to see how we went after five days hiking!
The bus ride from Valparaiso to Santiago was short and sweet and we caught up on the z’s we had missed out on the night before. Our hostel, Casa Rojo was a quick Metro ride away and by early afternoon we were settled in and wanting food. We had chosen Casa Rojo because it had a pool, however there was a slight chill to the air so we opted against a swim and went in search of a supermarket instead.
Santiago is probably the most modern city I’d been in since being in South America. It had a strong European feel and the clean streets were a stark contrast from other parts of the country. We stocked up on food and cheap Chilean wine at a nearby supermarket before creating a feast in the hostel kitchen. By feast I mean ramen noodles with frozen veggies because Chile is expensive and Jess is poor! We drank our wine and chatted with some other travellers by the poolside bar before heading into downtown Santiago to check out the nightlife.
Barrio Bellavista was the place to be when the sun goes down in Santiago. The streets of this funky neighbourhood are lined with bars, restaurants and clubs. It had that same bohemian vibe that Valparaiso possessed and it was difficult to choose where to go for a drink. We met with the Austrian twins and ordered a couple of jugs of Santiago’s famous drink, the terremoto. This potent cocktail made of pipeño (a sweet fermented – and strong – wine) and pineapple ice-cream truly lives up to its name. The English translation of terremoto is earthquake and it apt because after a couple of glasses of this strong beverage, the ground gets a whole lot hard to walk straight on! While the drink wasn’t the most delicious thing I’ve tasted, it certainly did its job! Feeling good, we found a nightclub and danced the night away until the effects of the strong terremoto wore off.
The following day was grey and overcast so we had a lazy start before heading into the city to check it out. We caught the Metro into the main part of the city and walked straight into a cool looking market. Wandering through we perused the markets before ending up unintentionally back in Bellavista. It was still as funky as the night before, with amazing street art filling the walls and leafy trees creating much needed shade. We wandered up to the base of Cerro San Cristobel to suss out how much it would cost to catch the funicular to the top. Unfortunately the state of our heads and the busy crowds turned us away from making it to the top but we vowed to come back tomorrow, which we hoped being a Monday wouldn’t be so busy.
Hunger started to kick in so we found a little café by the street in Bellavista and ordered some pizzas, which were some of the best I’ve had here! So good! After lunch we caught the Metro further into the city, to the more built up area to check out Constanera Centre, where the tallest building in South America is located. Of course, going to the top of the tower was extremely pricey so we settled for wandering through the five-storey shopping mall gushing over all the westernised shops and the huge food court. Ah the perils of the poor traveller!
We headed back to the hostel late in the afternoon because sadly we were losing one of our little group members. Alex was heading south to Patagonia before going back to Quebec and after several weeks of travelling together it was sad to see her go. After she left we stayed in for the night, still tired from the night before.
The next day Tommy and I caught the Metro into town to go on the Tours for Tips walking tour. Our guide took us all around Santiago to four of Santiago’s most famous open air markets and the General Cemetery, which was more like a housing complex for the dead. The one thing that South Americans do that I find a little strange is how they house those who have passed in apartment style buildings with several levels, instead of burying them in the ground. Some of the tombs at the cemetery were very grand and expensive and most of which housed the past Chilean presidents.
After the walking tour we met up with our friend Matt and had lunch at the popular seafood restaurant Tío Willy. I ordered salmon and the boys ordered the signature dish, which was a soup of mixed seafood. It looked heavenly with Parmesan cheese and garlic but the heavy sauce was too much. My grilled salmon was absolutely delicious and I couldn’t help but gloat to the boys that I picked better.
After lunch we headed to the Plaza de Armas for a look around and to have a squiz through the thrift shops that made up a couple of the streets. The boys were chasing winter jackets as they were both heading further south and I just wanted to do some shopping! Afterwards we headed back to the hostel because the boys were catching a bus to Pucon and leaving me on my lonesome! Around 8pm we said our goodbyes and I was sad to see them go! Our little travel group had been split up and we were on to new adventures. I gave them one last hug and waved them off before heading to bed to be up bright and early to catch my flight to Lima!
Three days into staying at San Pedro de Atacama and it was clear we weren’t going to find the motivation to play tourist here. I don’t know whether it was the hot sun or the overpriced shops, but our motivation had gone AWOL and we needed to move on. Our group of six were going separate ways, with two heading to Santiago and one to the north of Chile – that left T, A and I to slowly make our way to Valparaiso. Catching a night bus to La Serena, we arrived at this seaside town in the early hours of the morning and found a hostel with room for the three of us.
The Hostel Cosmo Elqui was one of those groovy, graffiti filled places that just made you want to stay there forever. Of course, we were too early to check in so we stored our big bags and headed down to the main part of town in search of breakfast. Coming across a massive supermarket the combination of hunger and tiredness turned the three of us into delirious messes. Stoked to be in the first proper supermarket since La Paz, we raced around admiring all the food and buying way too much stuff. They even had Bega cheese, which is made in Australia – I was in heaven! After an hour and a half of perusing the aisles (I know, I know) we paid for our mountain of food and headed back to the hostel to take over the kitchen. It’s funny how the simplest things in life, such as buying groceries can make you feel normal again.
We enjoyed our home cooked breakfast on the rooftop terrace of the hostel and made plans for the next part of the trip. We’d stopped at La Serena because of it’s beaches however the weather was grey and dreary so my hopes of laying out on a sunny beach were slowly fading. Deciding to catch the night bus the following night to Valparaiso, we went and booked our bus tickets and explored the little city of La Serena. It was a pretty little town with a very European influence. We wandered through street markets and found Lider, the Latin America version of Walmart where yet again we went crazy and bought too much food.
The following night we caught the bus to Valparaiso and arrived into this port city at the early hours of the morning. We had decided against booking a hostel beforehand because it had been so easy to just book once you arrive, however the sun didn’t seem to rise until late in Chile and nobody likes waking early so we were stranded on the street until one hostel opened their doors to us. The PataPata Hostel was a whimsical looking hostel that had a strong bohemian vibe; I instantly loved it. Luckily there was room available for us so we crashed out for the next couple of hours, tired from the bumpy night bus.
Later that morning we went out in search of breakfast and already I could tell that I would love this city. The streets were filled with amazing graffiti and cute little cafes and there was a vibe to the area that was welcoming and cool. We wandered up and down the steep streets and admired the place. It reminded me a little of Melbourne with the rich cultural feeling and the never-stopping trams. We headed back to the hostel for a while before meeting up with the walking tour that afternoon.
Tour 4 Tips is a company focused on giving travellers the best insight to a city for cheap. It is solely tip-based so you just pay as much as you like. A lot of walking tours run under the same concept and really are the best way to be introduced to city. We were taken all around the city of Valpo – which I learnt was a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and told all about the history of this famous port city. My favourtie part was the end of the tour when we were taken to Delicias Express, a hole in the wall bakery that sold over 80 different types of empanadas! I was in heaven! After much deliberation, I chose my empanada and waited for it to be freshly cooked. At 1,700 Chilean pesos it was a little more expensive than the regular street kind, but the warm, cheesy pastry was definitely worth it. This place was going to become a regular hotspot while we were in Valpo, I could tell.
After the walking tour we went to the supermarket and bought some wine and cheese and headed to another hostel to watch the sunset with some people from the walking tour. We had wanted to move to this hostel but it was booked out so pretending we were just looking at the rooftop, we settled in and drank to the beautiful sunset before sneaking out once it was dark.
The following day we wandered around the city, just enjoying being in this cool place. It had this laid-back, funky vibe about it that was addictive, I felt about 10 times cooler just because I was here. Again we weren’t doing a whole lot of touristy things, but it was nice to just be in the city hanging out. That night we went to a rooftop bar where I ran into my Danish friend I met in Lima and we all danced and drank the night away.
The following morning we had one final empanada and caught the bus to Santiago. This is my final stop in Chile before I head back to Peru and go north to the sunshine!
It was another early start for us and after breakfast on the salty tables and chairs, we threw our bags in the car and squashed ourselves in for more driving. The landscape had changed dramatically since the white and blue views of the salt flats from yesterday, though it was equally as beautiful. Similar to what you would see in a western movie, with huge rocks sprouting from the dirt ground and tumbleweeds floating past. Several volcanoes sat in the background and our driver said we were super close to the border of Chile – exciting!
Our first stop was a spot in the desert where we warmed up in the morning sun and looked out at the giant volcano of Ollague that surrounded us. It looked like we were back on the worn out tourist trail again, as there were other cars pulling up all the time. Jumping back in the car, we raced off to our next stop in hopes of beating the other cars.
We reached Laguna Cañapa and were instantly in awe of the beautiful sight. The reflection! The flamingos! The mountains! I’d expected to be a little disappointed because the photos I’d seen on the Internet looked so saturated and fake but the colours in the water were on point and just as pretty in real life. I was super excited to see flamingos as I’d never seen them before and they didn’t disappoint, there were hundreds!
We continued onto our next Laguna, the Laguna Hedionda, which wasn’t as pretty but had way, way more flamingos. Here we had lunch and laughed at the signs advertising Wi-Fi for 10 Bolivianos. It seemed so pointless to have Internet this deep into the desert but I guess some people really have to check their Facebook. After lunch we headed to the next stop, Laguna Chiakorta and while it was absolutely gorgeous, my tummy was starting to disagree with me. Unsure why I was starting to feel bad, I ignored it and trying to enjoy the stunning drive to our next stop – the Arbol de Piedra. This famous rock formation is known as the ‘Stone Tree’ and sat at around 7 metres high. It’s shaped from the strong winds carrying sand and eroding the soft sandstone structure. Just another funky bit of nature in Bolivia, this country was full of it! We climbed up a giant rock and looked out at the view. By this time I really was feeling awful and just wanted to crawl into a ball but I didn’t want to let it get me down.
We drove onto our accommodation for the night at Laguna Colorado, which was the windiest place on the planet! We had the option to walk out to the lookout of the Laguna, but all I wanted to do was sleep. Forcing myself out the door with the others, we walked the half an hour to the lookout where I took photos and tried not to get blown away. I don’t know what brought on the wind, but it was intense! After getting back to the hostel, I hid in bed and prayed for the pain in stomach to disappear. I hadn’t been this sick since Christmas in Vietnam two year prior and I’d forgotten how much it sucked. My night was just as bad and I skipped dinner and spent quite some time wrapped around the toilet bowl. Not exactly how I planned my last night on the trip! Luckily a couple of girls from the trip had some pills to knock the sickness out of me, hopefully!
The next morning I woke up feeling better but not 100%. We had woken up at the ridiculous hour of 5am to reach the geysers and hot springs by sunrise. The geysers were pretty spectacular in the early morning light – the smell however wasn’t. It was absolutely freezing so I spent most of the time watching the geysers from the warmth of the car. Team GoPro was definitely losing its enthusiasm; four days of desert living had worn us out! We drove onto the hot springs and quickly changed into our swimmers. As hard as it was to strip down, once we were in the hot springs I felt instantly better. Definitely worth getting naked for! We got to stay in the hot springs for about half an hour before having to haul ourselves out and back into the car. Time was against us a little as we had to catch a bus from the border at 9:30am. A quick stop at Laguna Verde, which was the most hyped up Laguna but definitely the least impressive and we were back in the car for the final time.
Racing to the border we got our passports stamped and were loaded into the bus to San Pedro de Atacama. There was only the four of us from the trip heading to Chile, the rest of the group were heading back to La Paz so we said our goodbyes and headed for Atacama. On our bus we met up with our friends from Copacabana and made plans to stay together in Atacama.
The bus ride took about half an hour to reach the town of San Pedro de Atacama, where we were officially stamped into Chile – I had now ticked off 29 countries! Woohoo! We found a hostel just outside of the main part of town where we were the only guests and promptly took over the entire place. The view from the hostel was awesome and looked out at the mountains in the desert. We wandered through the town of Atacama and bought supplies for dinner. It was a very touristy town and way, way more expensive than Bolivia, which was a shock to our wallets! We spent the rest of the washing clothes, catching up on the real world and relaxing. After four solid days of touristing, it was time to chill out – I could already see that we wouldn’t be doing too much in this place!
One of the main reasons we booked the four-day tour through the salt flats was because we wanted to spend a night on the salt flats. The usual three-day tour whizzes you through flats and you don’t get to enjoy the unusual landscape at the different times of the day. It took a lot of effort to rise from our cosy beds, in our four-bed room that we were squashed into, but the enticement of a beautiful sunrise was too much to resist.
We bundled up in layers of clothes and took blankets out to the flats where the silencing was deafening. It was truly wonderful to be the only ones out here, yesterdays tourist trail was long behind us now. The horizon was just starting to lighten up as we set up a line of GoPro’s to capture the sunrise on time lapse and then settled into the salty ground wrapped in blankets, waiting for the bright sun to emerge. As the sky started to lighten and the different colours started to peek past the line of the horizon into the sky, we were too busy being awestruck by the incredible view to take photos.
As the sun rose, so did the temperature and suddenly all the layers weren’t so necessary. We ran around like idiots in the new days light and did a couple of impromptu dance videos before heading back to the hostel for breakfast. Filling up on bread and jam and coffee, we chucked on our hiking boots and set off to hike up the volcanic mountain before our car arrived to pick us up.
Tunupa Volcano is the remainder of the geological activity that created the Andes Mountains many millions years ago. It’s layered look was reminiscent of Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, but I have to admit, wasn’t quite as spectacular! Nonetheless, it was still a remarkable piece of landscape and I was eager to hike closer to it. It took us about three hours and after a couple of detours, we reached a spot with the best view of the volcano. We climbed to almost 4,600m above sea level, which is no mean feat for a morning’s effort! Feeling the effect of the high altitude, I sat down and looked out at the volcano trying to catch my breath. I’d been at high altitude for a couple of weeks now, but it didn’t mean I was well adjusted. Having spent the last twenty-three years just 500m sea level, it still was a shock to the old body being up this high!
Time was against us unfortunately, so we took one last look at Tunupa volcano and headed back down to pack up and be ready for our car. The hike down was much quicker but tough on the knees. I swear sometimes I’d rather continue on uphill than going downhill, it hurts way less! We reached the hostel in record time and packed up our bags ready for a noon departure. Of course, Bolivians run on a time similar to Peruvians and it was close to an hour before our car actually arrived. By then we were starving and practically leapt on the driver once he parked and set up our lunch. Breakfast had seemed so long ago!
We met the new members of our group and exchanged the usual traveller stories as we hooked into pasta, chicken and salad. A French-Canadian girl, a man from Mexico and another man from Hong Kong made up the rest of our newly formed group and we piled into the new Land Drover, ready to bond over 80’s disco music. We sped back across the salt flats for an hour or so until we reached Isla Incahuasi, otherwise known as Cactus Island.
It was easy to see why it was called Cactus Island, I’d never seen so many cacti in my life! It cost 30 Bolivianos to go onto the island but being the cheapskates that we were (we prefer the term economical!) we decided to walk around the island instead. This ended up being a fantastic idea as the other side of the island was completely free of people, making us feel like yet again we were the only ones on the salt flats. Of course, the solidarity brought out the silly side in us and before you know it Team GoPro was in action again. We ran around taking videos and getting severely sunburnt and also running into two friends of ours from La Paz! Small world on these salt flats! Making plans to meet up again, we continued around the island until we reached the start. This was the place for the infamous perspective photos that Uyuni was so famous for but after some failed attempts from yours truly, I chose to just watch others look ridiculous as they posed in weird positions.
We jumped back in the Drover for the two hour drive to the salt hostel. To break up the drive, we stopped somewhere along the salt flats for some final pictures and videos. Once again, the unusual landscape got the better of us and we ran around on the flats like losers for the final time. It had been a fantastic two days, in this place I’d been wanting to see for the longest time. I still couldn’t comprehend that I was actually here – it felt like a dream! But the salt on my hiking boots and the sunburn on my shoulders definitely confirmed my attendance on the flats. It really was a dream come true.
After the final photo shoot, we piled back into the Land Drover (still unnamed!) and drove off the salt flats and into the desert, where we reached our place for the night – the infamous salt hostels. Now I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but after staying in a cave hotel in Cappadocia, I had kind of thought it would be somewhat similar. However the very normal looking little cabin wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It didn’t look very salty and unusual, it looked like every other house I’d seen recently, just lighter in colour. Though on closer inspection, I realised than the entire interior was indeed made of salt. The tables, beds, walls and chairs were all salty – and yeah I licked it just to test! Dinner was served on the salty tables and we sat on the salty chairs. Of course, many salty jokes were shared over dinner and the novelty didn’t wear off even at breakfast the next day.
Tired and hot from the sun and salt, I caved and paid 10 Bolivianos for the best shower I’d had in days. Actually the only shower I’d had in days! Clean and ready for bed, we shared a couple more salty jokes before retiring for the night. Tomorrow we change up the landscape and head for the desert – excited!
With Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain and La Paz crossed off the official bucket list, I was ready to tick another big item off my agenda. The Uyuni Salt Flats was one of those places I’ve dreamed of being at for a long time and finally my time had come! With my travel buddies Alex, Tommy and Sean, I caught the bus from Potosi to Uyuni.
The bus ride in itself was gorgeous, huge valleys and massive mountains surrounded the road and as we got closer to Uyuni the landscape changed dramatically to desert and the excitement started to build up inside of me. We arrived into Uyuni right before sunset and were ambushed by people selling salt flat tours. One lady sold us with her offer of free accommodation for tonight so we followed her into her office and bargained for the best price. Deciding to do a four-day tour we whittled her down to 900 Bolivianos, which covered everything – that’s about $165 for four days, not too shabby!
We were led to the hostel, which ended up being the same hostel we intended on staying at anyway and dropped our gear off to go find dinner. Tired from the bus ride we opted for the easy option and found a restaurant and ordered some (expensive) burgers. As the tour didn’t leave until 11am the next morning, we decided to just head back to the hostel to chill and organise everything in the morning.
The following morning we packed up, grabbed breakfast and supplies for the trip (cookies and chocolate!) and met our tour guide and car. We had scored and gotten a Lexus four-wheel drive however were told we would only have her for the day because we were joining another group tomorrow. Naming her Sexy Lexie we chucked our bags on the roof, hooked up the speaker and began our journey! The first stop was the train cemetery, which seemed to be the first stop for every trip as there were about forty other cars there! The four of us had nicknamed ourselves Team GoPro because we were all proud owners of GoPro’s and selfie sticks so as soon as we got out of the car, Team GoPro was rearing to go!
If you could imagine four adults running around like dickheads with cameras attached to a stick than you’ll get an idea of how we looked. Not ones to be ashamed we climbed all over the decrepit trains and took more selfies than Kim Kardashian. It was a little hard to capture the train cemetery without a bunch of tourists milling around but we tried our hardest. Afterwards we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove onto the next stop.
This next stop was a repeat of the train cemetery as we parked up next to another row of four-wheel drives. My dreams of a desolate salt flat were slowly fading as I walked through about six peoples photos. This stop was a quickie, just to look at the salt mounds. Luckily our car was a little slower than other groups so after we waited 10 minutes of so we only had to share the place with a few other people. Despite the hordes of tourists, it was magical being on the salt flats. This weird and wonderful landscape blew my mind and burnt my retinas – going without sunglasses is a big rookie error!
Jumping back in the car, we drove for another 15 minutes or so until we reached our destination for lunch. Another place overrun by tourists, we managed to park out the back and enjoy our lunch looking out at a quiet salt flats. After lunch Team GoPro assembled and proceeded to take about another thousand photos and videos. The excitement of finally being at the salt flats was too much for the four of us and we couldn’t contain ourselves. However I think after a day or two of this intense GoPro-ing we won’t be so enthusiastic.
After lunch we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove for an hour and a half across the salt flats to our hostel for the night. It was a crazy feeling speeding across the flats, with only one another car passing us in the that time. This was starting to feel more like an adventure, not like being herded around like sheep. We arrived at the hostel are the place was desolate. The small village was squashed between the salt flats and the large volcano that sat behind it. We waited in the hot sun until the owners of the hostel came to greet us. I have to say; Bolivians aren’t the most welcoming of people. I guess they aren’t as used to tourism as the other countries are. After experiencing the warmth and friendliness of the Peruvians, it was hard to adjust to the somewhat frosty reception we had been receiving from the Bolivians. Nonetheless, the hostel owners took us in, showed us our rooms and left us to it. We had all afternoon to ourselves, with the only thing on the agenda being to see the sunset. With all this free time and space we did what any self-respecting tourist would do – run around like losers on the empty salt flats. We took our GoPro’s and music speaker out to the desolate flats and danced and ran around like small children. We were the only four people on this part of the salt flat and the unusual landscape brought out a wacky side in all of us. As silly as we must have looked to the locals, it was one of the most fun afternoons I’ve had.
We headed back inside for tea and bikkies and to layer up for the upcoming sunset. While it was scorching hot during the day, the chilly weather comes to play at night. We rugged up and got the camera ready for an epic sunset. Racing out just as the sun dropped, we watched as the sky turned into a kaleidoscope of colours. The blues, the pinks, and the purples – it was gorgeous! The salt flats glowed under the last embers of the sun and it truly was one of the most surreal sunsets I’ve seen. We headed back in for dinner once it got dark and then headed back out later that night to witness the unreal sky, full of so many stars that even Coldplay would be impressed. It was funny to hear the others gush over the star-filled sky, as it was a rare occurrence for them to see some many because they are from the city. I forget how lucky I am having grown up in the country where a starry sky is the norm. Not saying I wasn’t impressed though, the clear sky had brought on a seriously cool lightshow. We headed back inside frozen from the chilly air and headed to bed. Tomorrow we were planning to hike up the volcanic mountain and see some more of the salt flats, so we needed some serious shut-eye!
After a hectic four days of partying and tourist-ing in La Paz it was time to escape and give the liver some time to recover. Five of us caught the night bus to Sucre, which is Bolivia’s second largest city but much more quieter than the country’s capital. The night bus was uneventful but long. I had the joy of sitting next to the toilet for 12 hours, which was a delight on the nose!
Reaching Sucre at around 10am, we stumbled out of the bus tired and starving. With no idea where to go for a hostel we were approached by a guy offering an apartment for 45 Bolivianos each a night (about $8AUD) Bargain! We snatched up his offer and caught a taxi into the city centre where the hostel was. The apartment was perfect for the five of us; we had a kitchen, two bathrooms and our own little balcony. It was going to be tough to go outside! However we were ravenous so we dumped our bags and heading into the main plaza in search of breakfast. Taking the easy option we went to a café and ordered a massive breakfast to celebrate our good luck with finding the apartment.
I’m not going to lie here, after breakfast we promptly headed back to the apartment and did nothing for the rest of the day. All of us were exhausted from the crazy time in La Paz and the grey, dreary day in Sucre wasn’t motivating us to go and play tourist. We only ventured out to the supermarket to cook up a feast for dinner that night and proceeded to buy the entire shop!
The following day was pretty much the same as the day before. It was Easter Sunday but it sure didn’t feel like it. I had managed to find some Easter eggs in the supermarket so continued my tradition of chocolate for breakfast! We lazed about for the morning before taking a little stroll through the city. It was a gorgeous little city, very European and clean. Much less hectic than La Paz but the overcast weather made it feel kind of depressing. While it was nice to just hang out in our apartment, Tommy, Alex and I were getting itchy feet again and decided to catch the bus to Potosi the next day, planning to meet the Austrian sisters in Uyuni.
The bus ride to Potosi was about four and a half hours through beautiful scenery and windy roads. We made friends with some Israelis on the bus and ended up booking the same hostel as them. Potosi is one of the highest cities in the world (4090m above sea level) and is famous for its silver mine, Cerro Rico. The main reason for travellers to come to Potosi is to go into this infamous mine which is exactly what we planned to do the following morning. I met up with Sean, my friend from Cusco and the four of us had pizza for dinner and planned our next few day’s activities.
I was a little hesitant about the mine tour, I hadn’t even heard of Potosi before meeting my friends and was only going there because I couldn’t say no to a weird experience like this! The following morning we met with our tour group and got kitted up into safety gear and driven to the miners market. The first part of the tour is to buy the miners some gifts. There are several different things you can buy such as beer, coca leaves or soft drink, but there are also some other things you can buy – such as dynamite and hard liquor! Stocking up on gift – yes we got dynamite; we were loaded back into the van and taken up to the entrance of the mine.
There are about 10,000 people that work in the mine and most of them will work there for their entire life. It’s common for miners to spend up to six to eight hours inside the mine, often smoking and drinking whilst working. Entering the mine was a little scary as you step into the damp, dark tunnel and am only relying on your head torch to guide you.
Our first stop was at ‘El Tio’, the statue that the miners make offerings to. It’s common practice to pour beer or alcohol firstly on ‘El Tio’ and then on the ground before taking a drink. This is to give thanks to the God’s and is an important ritual for the spiritual Bolivians. We gave our thanks and continued on the tour. Walking through the dark tunnel, feet sloshing in the mud was depressing, yet eye opening. I couldn’t believe that the miners could spend such long hours deep in the mine; I’d barely been in for 20 minutes and was ready to get out.
We continued on, crawling through narrow parts and climbing down precariously hung ladders. At one point I was terrified because we has to shimmy through a small hole and climb down a rickety ladder next to huge, dark holes. I hadn’t given a thought about safety regulations for the mine – I’d just assumed it would be safe-ish because it’s a tourist attraction. However I swiftly reminded myself that I was in Bolivia and there is no such thing as safety regulations and no efforts made in keeping the tourists alive.
This was definitely made apparent when we stopped and our guide asked if anyone bought dynamite. Tommy said that he had and our guide asked if we wanted a demonstration on how it worked. While I wasn’t particularly fond of being close to an explosion, I didn’t want to miss out on this chance. The others in the group were in the same boat and we agreed meekly to watch the dynamite explode. Our guide set up the dynamite and lit the fuse, he said there was about 3-4 minutes before it would go off and handed it around to us for a ‘photo opportunity’. Starting to panic slightly I wanted him to throw this thing far, far away. After we had passed it around he made us wait while we went deeper into the mine to stash the dynamite somewhere. He returned and told us to wait patiently for the bang. I was super nervous by this point and cowered behind Tommy and Sean with my fingers in my ears. We waited and waited and part of me hoped that he’d just diffused it and tricked us but as soon as I removed my fingers from my ears there was a massive BANG! And the walls around us shook. Pretty sure I squealed like a girl as my life flashed before my eyes, but we were safe. I was shaking like anything as we laughed, it had scared the crap out of all of us but it was funny that in a way we had dodged potential death.
The group was quick to move from this spot and we continued on the tour through the narrow tunnels. We met some of the miners along the way and exchanged the gifts we had bought. They were sad looking men of all ages, aged by the years of working underground. It was hard to comprehend that they spent most of their lives in this deep, dark mine – definitely not my idea of a good job. However they are paid well and some have no choice but to work here so they can support their family.
After about three hours of climbing through the mine I was ready to leave, I don’t usually get claustrophobic but after the scariness of the blowing up the dynamite and negotiating the tricky ladders and wooden bridges, I had enough. We watched the miners fill a cart with rocks and then we were led to the exit. Let me tell you, I have never been more excited to see the sun! Jumping for joy (literally!) we celebrated survived the man-eating mine of Cerro Rico. It had been an interesting experience and I wasn’t sure I liked it, but I was glad I had witnessed it.
After the mines we had to rush back to the hostel and get changed out of our dirty mining clothes and head to the bus station. We had a 2pm bus to Uyuni and it was nearly 1:30pm. Starving, we picked up some stale empanadas and chocolate from a shop across from the bus station and jumped on board. We were bound for Uyuni and the salt flats, something I was so excited for – this is why I wanted to go to Bolivia in the first place!