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What to Pack for your Salt Flats Tour

It's the first week of June in Bolivia, which means it's wintertime and it's cold (-12*C). We weren't prepared at all, in terms of knowledge or equipment. When we got to Tupiza we had to buy quite a few things. The tour company gives you a list, but I don't think they stress the importance of warm. However, they say that usually people come prepared. Good for them. I hope with the list I've provided you'll get the idea, in case you thought maybe salt "deserts" were warm. Haha. Keep in mind we're coming from The City of Eternal Spring in Mexico and you might not get as cold as easily as we do.

Sleeping bags for below freezing temperatures
Bottles of water, especially for the first day
Altitude sickness medication
Gloves, hats, scarves
Fleece or cuddly warm pajama pants
Hiking boots
Coca leaves and catalyst
Extra warm blankets (most places provide you with at least 2)
Sunscreen
Sunglasses
Hand sanitizer and soap for when you have bathroom access
Music (mp3 or whatever- keeps you sane)
Extra cash
Toilet paper (at least 2 rolls, you might get a runny nose)
Any meds you need- aspirin, drammomine, cold meds, Pepto Bismal, etc.
IDs and passport
Really warm clothes- for us that meant at least 3 or 4 long-sleeve layers (at a time) and 2 winter coat
Flashlight
Camera

We did our shopping at the local market (we each bought a winter coat for 100-180 bolivianos, 15-30 USD) and then we went to the second-hand American clothing store that is a few shops before the market. You'll notice it right away because it'll probably be packed with women sifting through the piles. We each got a second winter coat for 40 bolivianos, (5-6 USD). That gives you an idea of how cold we get.

It's too cold to wash anything, so make sure you bring enough changes of socks, etc. This is the only moment during the trip that I wish I had one nice really warm North Face jacket so I didn't look like I'd gained 20 pounds in all my pictures. The best way to pack for this trip is to pretend that it's the coldest you've ever been in your life. Like I said at the beginning, it was -12*C at night and in the morning. I'm so going to th Caribbean for my next vacation.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:50 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Day 2 on the Salt Flat Tour, Tupiza-Uyuni

-12 °C

OK we're not cut out for this. Last night Carlos had a panic attack about not being able to breath and neither of us could sleep. The cold was bearable, but everyone had stomach problems and kept waking up all night. At breakfast we are all pretty miserable, and we took forever to eat (bread with jelly and butter, tea and coffee). Oh and I got a bloody nose, from the cold or altitude who knows. José wasn't super pleased that we got a late start, but at least he taught us how to use coca leaves.

Our first stop was a mossy creek that llamas visit as a watering hole. Some of the creek is still frozen, and the variety of temperatures on this tour just astounds me. Today was flamingo and lake day. We stopped to see the birds at a lake that produces an ingredient for shampoo. All of the flamingos looked frozen, as were we. All of the lakes are at the base of volcanoes, but they all have different properties. One lake had lots of sulphur, another borax. Around 11 we arrived at one of my favorite places so far, the hot springs. Unfortunately (for the boys) none of the Israeli girls there stripped (apparently they have a reputation). The temperature was at least 30* Celsius, and it felt sooo good to get in after being chilled to the bone for the past 24 hours. The water is very clear- definitely amplified my leg hair.

We stayed in the water too long, although I could have stayed in all day. Carlos freaked out again because José said he might get sick from the change in temperature. Before lunch we went to The Laguna Verde, the Green Lake, which is supposedly toxic and changes color according to the sunlight or if the wind stirs up the minerals in it. The color was stunning. Lunch was amazing- Augustina made milanesa, breaded steak, and for me she made breaded eggplant. I picked the vegetarian menu because you know how picky and squeamish I can be with meat. So far, so good.

From lunch we went to the geysers, which is my new favorite site on the trip. It was seriously like being in the movie Land Before Time or Jurassic Park. Sulphur spewed from gaping holes in the ground, and grey liquid boiled. Rotten egg infused our clothes. The sign said "stop, don't enter," but we wandered around the smoking holes and poked our cameras into the cracks. Awesome!!

Our last stop for the day was the Laguna Roja, José's favorite stop on the tour. The red color of the lake comes from algae or seaweed. Thousands of flamingos flock there each year to feed. However, there were at least a dozen dead flamingos and their body parts around the shoreline. Weird. I enjoyed being able to walk around and enjoy the breathtaking landscape.

Unfortunately, again, we over-exerted ourselves and Carlos felt super sick when we got back to the hostel site. The second night is supposed to be the coldest night. Carlos didn't join us for dinner. We had soup and a mix of boiled eggs and hotdogs and onions. You also get to have tea and coffee with cookies and crackers as a snack before dinner. The second evening most of the groups sleep in the same place. Matthew and I chatted a lot about Spanish and traveling. There seem to be a ton of Europeans; Matthew is the second American I've met in the past month. We had 4 hours of electricity to charge batteries. No hot showers the first two nights, and the water's so cold you really don't even want to wash your hands. Carlos has decided he has stomach problems and slight altitude sickness. Whoopie. José and Matthew both gave him pills. Carlos is sure he's going to die in Bolivia...Haha.

Early start tomorrow- José wants us ready and in the truck at 7:30.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:24 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Day 1 on the Salt Flat Tour, Tupiza-Uyuni

Day One is a slow day, especially if you've been in a similar region. For us it was still really cool, because llamas and snow capped mountains are still a novelty for us. We left around 8:15 this morning. There's just 3 people in our group, because the other girl didn't show up. But we've got a fun guy from California with us, Matthew, who is right now having an animated conversation about cameras with Carlos. So it worked out. I can write without having to pretend to participate.

Our first stop was at the Sillar, or Saddle rock formation. As we climbed up the hill my heart jumped into my throat about 80 times. The driver, José, is very careful and has been driving slowly, but it still doesn't prevent me from imagining a rocky rolling death, splattering at the bottom of the valley. Like I mentioned, this is a very dangerous tour. Although we'd only been told about one major accident, Matthew told us about another one on the salt flats that had all of us alert and following the road for quite awhile. I know I won't hesitate to tell the driver to slow down if he's going too fast.

We stopped to see llamas and take a piss. I'm learning to use the "natural" bathrooms provided by nature. It isn't fun and I keep peeing on my shoes. The cook, a woman named Augustina, just lifts up her skirt I guess. The guys just seem to be peeing everywhere. Llamas in "the wild" don't stand still to let you pet them, so it was fun to watch Carlos chase them to get a good picture. José explained that the colorful hot pink yarn in the llamas' ears is from a festival to celebrate the llama.

After the llamas we went to a ghost town, an abandoned pueblito that was a mining area in the 16th and 17th centuries. San Antonio de Lipez. The Spanish were in charge, mining silver and using Bolivians as slaves to work. José told us that the Spanish "trapped" the Devil on top of the mountain by the mine and made deals with him. According to the legend, there's a table made completely of silver where people made these deals. The mine only operated for 200 years, and then people lived there until the 1920's, when Bolivia gained it's independence. The deal with the Devil was that as long as there were people there, everything would work smoothly. But if there weren't people, things would go bad. So when Bolivia gained its independence, the Spanish left and the remaining Bolivians started to get sick- altitude sickness and stomach problems. Apparently the Devil wasn't happy, so the townspeople relocated a few kilometers down the road about 25 years ago. It was crazy to come around the hill and see this town full of tumbling rocks. The only inhabitants now are cuddly rabbit-squirrels.

The rest of the trip was full of melting ice river crossings, snow capped mountains and llamas running around. We also saw ostriches and vicuñas, which are like llamas but with finer, shorter hair. Lunch was tasty and filling (rice, lentils and veggies), and Augustina made sure we had snack- a lollipop and chocolate wafers, along the way. As we got into the Reserve I started to get a headache, because we're now at 4,800 meters, which is more than 15,000 feet. We got coffee and cookies when we pulled into the sleeping site, and now it's time for dinner. Sleeping quarters aren't half as bad as what I was expecting, and I don't think we'll freeze to death. Tonight José's gonna teach us how to do coca- the coca leaves, of course.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:06 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Salta- La Linda

A nice break from the big city

Our bus got into Salta around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, a few hours later than we were supposed to. Almost 22. The bus seat was imprinted on my rear and my teeth had fuzzy jackets on them. Sexy. Salta welcomes the backpacker population with open arms, literally. When we got off the bus a guy came up to us to tell us about a hostel. It made us a bit nervous so we thanked him and tried to wander away to get our bearings. When I came out of the (clean, yay!) bathroom, there was a gaggle of people with binders waiting to give us flyers for their hostel. Now I understand. So if you go to Salta, don't worry, they're not trying to scam you. We got about 6 or 7 flyers, everywhere with the same shpeal: breakfast, wi-fi, free taxi ride to the hostel. Everywhere is about 40-50 pesos. We chose Sol Huasi, which I'll write about later, because it's in the guide as a good place with a traveler vibe. Carlos wishes we had chosen some place called Backpackers because it had nicer computers on their flyers. Whatever. (Everyoje we talked to later said Sol Huasi was better). We paid 100 pesos for our own room.

In Salta I was in a rush to get out and do something. I'd been on a bus for a day and felt like I had wasted too much time in Buenos Aires. Since we got in late we only had a few hours of daylight left. We went to the teleférico, or ski-lift, which is actually right by the bus station. 15 Argentine pesos, 3 USD. We didn't want to waste time walking. It took us to the top of a giant hill that had some great views of the city and surrounding area. It was cloudy, but they say you can see the volcano in Chile from up there. The top of the hill has been landscaped with waterfalls that cascade over half of the garden area. The other half holds a cafe and gift shop, as well as, randomly, a gym. About 7-8 women were doing a cycling class punching their fists to Shakira and David Guetta. The men were pumping iron and watching the women. We got some great pictures of the views (of the mountains, not the ripped men) and made our way down on foot. There are stairs that take about 30 minutes to go down, although your legs might be shaking a bit.

There were plenty of foreigners and Argentine tourists even though it's off-season. There's not that much else to do in Salta- a museum or two and the church. You can go horseback riding and there's tons of tours (which I'll write about later). The parks are nice to walk around in. We bought fresh fruit, veggies and cheese at the market and pasta at the grocery store. There don't seem to be any little stores that sell basic food needs. Prices have come down since Buenos Aires, but we're still ready to get to Bolivia.

Our last night we went to a family pizza place, El Colonial, about 5 blocks from our hostel on the same street. The place was packed and we had to wait forever. They sell it to you by the slice, 4-6 pesos (1 dollar) depending what you put on it. I got eggplant, which I've become obsessed with, on mine. We also got one with fig and bacon, which was an awesome combination but a bit too salty. It was better than having pasta again.

We stayed for 3 days, too long, but I got a cold on the busride there so we stayed one day to hang out and recoup. Even though there's not a ton to do there's a great vibe in town and it's so much more laid back than Buenos Aires. It's similar in size to Cuernavaca, and if it hadn't been so cold we woulda loved it. It's the perfect base for any tours you might want to do in the region.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 13:58 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Hostel Sol Huasi, Salta, Argentina

I trust the Lonely Planet guide, even though the one for South America is about 2 years outdated. So even though we got offered about 7 other flyers for places, I still like to go by the book. Sol Huasi has a great traveler vibe, although it looks a bit run down. The hostel's in a cool old house with hardwood floors and high ceilings, with a clean kitchen and comfortable hang-out areas.

We got a room to ourselves for 100 Argentine pesos a night. Breakfast included, but I'm getting tired of the cold bread and coffee that all the hostels seem to be serving. I need at least 2 cups of coffee to stay warm and awake in this weather. Rooms are simple, and we had to ask for blankets the second night to stay warm. Normally we share a single bed, but since I'm all boogery and coughing I'm giving Carlos his space. What with the wooden floors you can hear every footstep creaking around, which can be annoying if you're a light sleeper. There's 2 public bathrooms with hot water. You don't flush the tp. 2 PCs are available for use, and there's wi-fi. The staff was very helpful, and gave us lots of great tips on where to eat, what to see and where to travel next. They also helped us organize our tour to Cafayate.

Apparently at the time of the Lonely Planet writing the hostel was in its prime, and has since then gone downhill. Now there's more competition and it's lost its party hostel reputation. Now the staff is working hard to get more backpackers through the doors. I guess every owner has an idea of the reputation they want, and every backpacker is looking for a certain style. I prefer a place that is laid-back and lets you sleep. If people wanna organize to go out, that's fine. But I'm glad Sol Huasi was more like being at my house than at Carlos's party-crazy cousin's place. As long as it's clean and the staff is friendly then it's a great place for me. Hopefully Sol Huasi will be able to get the numbers and golden reputation it once had. 

Ohhh and PS, we've met several more people on our trip that stayed at the Backpackers World hostel and said that they still prefer Sol Huasi- good vibes, great staff and overall a better place.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 13:49 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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