Volcanoes and Cactus-covered Coral Reefs (Uyuni, part 2)

June 15, 2010–Uyuni, Bolivia

Kaori and I woke up early in the morning, well before the sun came up.  We were afraid to miss the sunrise, which we knew would be spectacular after seeing the sunset the night before.  We weren’t prepared for the below zero temperatures, but we put on every available article of clothing and hoped for the best.

Our guide had told us the sun would be up at 7am, but we knew better.  We didn’t, however, know better enough, and we were standing on the salt flat in the pitch-black night at 5:30am, nearly an hour before the sun actually came up.  C-O-L-D.

As the sun reached over the mountains, rare, James flamingoes sprang to life and flew in a big circle around us before returning to their pools, as if on a morning jog to get the blood flowing after a long, cold night.

After returning to our lodge for a quick breakfast, we were off to climb Mt. Tunupa, or Pachamama (mother earth), as it is referred to by the local Aymara people who were so kind to us the night before.

Tunupa, in addition to flamingoes, is also home to mummies.

On our way up the volcano, loosely stacked rock walls defining land possessions stretch more than half way up the volcano.

The crater of Tunupa is beautifully colored.  Green, red, yellow, black…the colors change as the sun passes through the sky.

After wearing out our knees on the way down the mountain, we hoped back into our Landcruiser (for some reason, EVERY jeep on the flats is a Landcruiser) and headed to Isla Incawasi, an island covered in coral fossils (as it was submerged in the ocean before the Andes were formed) and cacti as old as nearly 1000 years.

In the picture below, you can see the bubble-like appearances of the coral fossils that cling to the rock of the island.  Here Kaori is trying a piece of the flat, to find, unexpectedly, that it is very, very salty.  Uyuni.  One of the best things we’ve experienced thus far.


Leave a comment

Filed under 2010.05.29 Bolivia

2,000,000,000 tons of fun (Uyuni, part 1)

June 14, 2010–Uyuni, Bolivia

The Uyuni salt flats are gigantic.  The largest in the world, in fact, at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi), it’s the largest salt flat in the world.  Not only is there a ton of salt–2,000,000,000 tons, actually–beneath the 15 meters of salt lie over 50% of the world’s lithium reserves.  The Bolivian government has been working on lithium extraction, opting to not let foreign ventures come in and take over.  Anyhow, the flats are a true marvel.  After the rainy season, the flat dry out, creating strange geometric shapes that stretch for miles and miles under the blue sky.

However, when rain comes after the flat has dried, the salt forms little lumps where the rain drops fell.  After a snow, the flats become perfectly, well, flat–a sight rarely observed in the dry desert winters of Uyuni.

We arrived at the base of Tunupa, a volcano embodying the goddess whose tears and breast milk mixed to make the salt flats, after several hours driving across the flats.  Your sense of distance is impaired by the hallucinogenic white plane, and it almost feels as if you’re driving on a treadmill as you continue towards a mountain that seems close, but are apparently getting no closer.  Flutes, drums and various alcoholic concoctions greeted us.  We happened to show up on the birthday of one of the town elders.  When we arrived at about 4pm, this elder was already inebriated.

After dancing for an hour at the base of the volcano, we headed up to another small village where another party was also taking place.  The simple music produced by an untuned drum and pan flutes kept us in stride for the whole half-hour walk.

We only saw one type of dancing, which continued to what was apparently the same song for half and hour at a time, only to restart after a short break.  reminiscent of a dosy-do type, arm-in-arm dance, it was easy to learn.  Which is good, as the older women didn’t ask if we could dance before they grabbed me with their strong hands and pulled me into the circle.  The dancing was perfect, warming you up just enough to feel comfortable in the cold of the Uyuni dusk, but not hot enough to break a sweat.  I imagine that this is no coincidence.

This old gentleman danced with this fine girl from our group for over an hour.  He did not limit himself to tradition, apparently preferring to be all over the map, with everything from tango-style dips to high-speed waltzes.  His confidence is embodied in his sunglasses, which he wore well after the sun had gone down.

Like small towns and villages all around the world, the future of this village is plagued with uncertainty as young adults leave for work in the nearby cities, often never to return.  Most of the young people we met here had come back for the occasion of this birthday party.  Empty houses and unworked fields dotted the landscape.

I missed sunset, rather I was enjoying as I went round and round the dance circle.  The deep violet shadows of the surrounding mountains stretched farther and farther along the white salt flats, glowing orange in the setting sun.  The mountains were alive with new colors–pink, orange, violet–as the sun started its descent.  I managed to take this picture during the break.  You can see the salt flats glowing bright orange far off in the distance.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2010.05.29 Bolivia

The Pampas, continued


We woke up on our second day to the sound of howler monkies, reminding us of our stay in Tikal.  It really is an amazing sound.


Every tour group has basically the same schedule.  On the second day, you see the sun rise and then you go look for anacondas.  You look for anacondas, apparently, in knee-deep water that smells of sewage because it’s stagnant.  At first you try to stay clean, but once you give that up things are MUCH better.  Your socks will always be one shade more brown than they were before, but brown really is a nice color.


Mike, who happened to be on the bus with us from La Paz and then in the same tour group as us, is pictured here with an anaconda.  He has trouble with the ladies, so he makes do with reptiles.  I was going to hold it, but then I was afraid.


Next on the list is fishing for pirahnas.  Using pieces of steak, we both managed to catch one, but weren’t allowed to eat them.   You’re not supposed to eat them so as to protect the environment, but our guide reminded us that “if you don’t tell anyone, it’s alright.”  True enough.


Next on our action-packed second day is swimming with Amazon dolphins.  The females are a wonderful pink color and the males are a gray color with pink undertones.  There were only a few of us dumb enough to get into the water where we had just fished for pirahnas and where there were several alligators in close range.  I trusted my guide.  After all, “If you don’t tell anyone, it’s alright.”  I could see the dolphins surfacing all around me, interested by the sounds I made.  Quite an experience.


Like that, three days had passed.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2010.05.29 Bolivia

Rurrenabaque–the pampas


Despite leaving La Paz 5 hours late, we arrived only 2 hours late in Rurrenabaque (I think that should frighten me), leaving us with enough time to connect with a tour leaving the same day.  So after 15 hours on a bus, we will spend another 4 in a jeep.  Yes.


Cowboys with a cheek full of coca leaves and a street full of cows.


After arriving at the park, we hopped into a motor boat to take us an hour into the jungle.


My hat.  Sure to be the highlight of the trip.


The amount of wildlife just there, out in the open, was truly surprising.  More visible than any other animal, alligators seemed to appear every five meters, or so.  I began to wonder if they were actually live animals, or just animatronic, placed there to fool unwitting tourists.  Big ones were around 6 meters long.  Big.


Mommy and her babies.  Not a good time to swim.


A black eagle.


As we watched the sun set, our first day came to an end.

Leave a comment

Filed under 2010.05.29 Bolivia

Lapaz – Rurrenabaque

南米旅行のハイライトであるアマゾン川ツアー(2泊3日)に参加するため首都ラパスからバスで20時間かけてルレナバケまで移動。出発の前日にはバスチケットも購入し準備バッチリで当日バスターミナルへ向かい出発時間の11時になったー!!っと言ってもこの国は1度も時間通りに物事が運んだ試しがありません。。。12時、13時が過ぎ気付けば14時半を回ってました。何で遅れるかって? 荷物をバスに詰めてるんです。野菜とか生活用品とかを。早めに詰めれば良いと思うけど、その詰める物が出発時間ギリギリ若しくは出発時間に遅れて持ってくるもんだからこういう事になるんです。なので待ち時間の間可愛い女の子と遊んだりして時間潰してました。

Kaori and I had been looking forward to our trip to the Amazon regions for quite some time.  Stories heard along the way only made the wait unbearable.  So when we showed up at the bus stop on time at 11AM, we were disappointed to hear at 11:30, that the bus would be late (obvious enough, no?).  We the clock struck 12PM, then 1PM and people were still loading anything from potatoes to wheelbarrows, there was nothing to do but laugh.  We finally left at 2:30PM, a delay that leaves one wondering why they even have a schedule.  But there were meat filled pastries (salteñas) to eat and cute little girls to play with, so we didn’t have too much to complain about.

15時前には何とか出発できたんですが、5分後故障。。。マジで?!  おいおい大丈夫ですかい?! 今から20時間もたないでしょ、絶対また壊れるって。”別のバス用意してよ!”って言っても”1時間内には直るから”って。

Then.  Not 5 minutes into the trip the transmission goes out.  Of course, instead of calling another bus, they insist on trying to “fix” it by banging on it with wrenches for an hour, or so.

fixing a bus


THEN, after all the banging and clanking is done, they will call a new bus.  There is an order to things here, you know.  So the new bus gets here and again, the bus must be loaded.  It’s time for more salteñas.

changing buses


So, when the 11 o’clock bus finally hits the road, it’s already working on 6PM.  So much for arriving at 7AM just in time to look for a decent tour company to takes us into the pampas that day…


But the bus was moving, and the landscape was changing…


And then the bus stops.  This time to change the tires.  Why?


Then we stop to put gas in the bus.  You might be prone to thinking that because the bus was called as a backup, they didn’t have time to fuel the bus before departure, but no.  This is how every bus works.  First you load the passengers, then you load random things on top, then you load the fuel.

4度目の正直ってことで、”今度こそ”は無事に出発しました!! 写真は偶然通り掛かったお葬式の様子。

As the saying goes, the fourth time’s a charm.  And we are off again…with this fabulous painting entertaining the drivers behind us.


The bus was scheduled to pass along the road that goes through Coroico and then on to Rurrenabaque, travelling along a section of road known as “Death Road”–not a nice name.  The road sees more than 200 deaths per year, as cars careen off the cliffs that line this narrow road, only really wide enough for one car.  The view is incredible, but each curve has our hearts in our throats.


The crosses lining the road don’t make things any less intense…


Leave a comment

Filed under 2010.05.29 Bolivia

El Alto

May 30, 2010–El Alto (La Paz), Bolivia /2010年5月30日 エル・アルト、ラパス

Malt and egg white, anyone?  It tastes better than it sounds.  And if it made a sound it would be fizzy like it feels on your tongue.  Today we decided to visit the Sunday market in El Alto, a suburb of La Paz that spills over the top of the valley walls into the high plateau surrounding the city.  The market is absolutely HUGE.  With everything from used car parts to fresh honey spread over a couple square miles, you may not find what you’re looking for…but it’s here.


We dived into the piles of clothes “fresh” from the States, looking for something to keep the bitter cold of the La Paz nights at bay.  And you’ve gotta grab it before the person next to you sees it.  On your toes!


A ferris wheel over looking the beautiful, snow-covered mountains of Bolivia.  And a cool Ford van.


Fresh as it gets.  Coconut juice.


Amidst the market stands a church steeple.


These tapestries are a must for the Indigena women.  They carry everything from their kids to gas burners with them.  And they are beautiful.  We had to get one for ourselves, too!


In addition to the market, you also have “professional” wrestling every Sunday–Lucha Libre.  You’ve got wrestling by the same name in Mexico, but here local ladies in formal dress take on crazy wrestling guys.  EXCELLENT combination.  Above you have young guys building the ring, even though the show is “about to start.”


This heroine enters dancing to traditional Bolivian music.


Here we have a lovely young lady being choked on the ropes (que booing).  People throw serious amounts of food/food waste into the ring when the bad guy starts attacking the woman, but the woman always wins in the end, though.  So don’t worry.  The ring is made of wooden planks with a carpet covering, and every time someone gets thrown down it makes a terrible sound.  From the looks on their faces, I’m guessing that it really hurts, as well.


This is a bad guy.  You can tell this by his bad taste in costumes.


This a sweaty, tired villan.  Not to tired for his fans though.  We shared a lot of sweat.


Ninja Turtles!


A crazy lady attacks the hero, literally throwing her into the fence and pulling her hair.  That had to hurt, after all, she’s the former Champion.


The view of La Paz from El Alto is the end to the perfect night!  If you come to El Alto don’t miss it!


1 Comment

Filed under 2010.05.29 Bolivia

Gran Poder Festival, La Paz

May 29, 2010–La Paz, Bolivia /2010年5月29日 ラ・パス,ボリビア

We arrived in La Paz early on a Saturday.  Taxi drivers informed us they couldn’t take us into town because of a festival.  So we started walking.


Little did we know we had happened upon the biggest festival of the year: Gran Poder.  A raucous Carnaval-esque festival for Saint Gran Poder, who would probably cringe if he were here to see it.


There are several standard costumes that are represented in each districts’ parade.  One of these represents the Africans that were apparently brought to Bolivia as slaves of the Spaniards for the purpose of ruling the native population in a strange duplism of slavery.


There are over 60 “Brotherhoods” that participate in the parade, each having several hundred people.  Another themed dance that each brotherhood represents is the Indigena “twirl”…


Each brotherhood hires at least two bands to play for their different dances.


The parades move though the town from early morning until midnight…


Stalls selling food and beer line miles and miles of streets filled with party-goers.


It was rough after a long, cold, sleepless night on the night bus from Cuzco, but hey, it’s Gran Poder and with people dressed like this, there’ll be no napping.


Leave a comment

Filed under 2010.05.29 Bolivia