Run the equator: 9 hours for 200km!

Friday, July 27, 2007

9 hours for 200km!

Hills around Tupiza
Click on pic to see slideshow
or here to access the set
Posting this from Salta, Argentina. We made it!

Trying to get out of Uyuni was as plagued by uncertainty as our trying to get there. Rumors of miners blocking the rail tracks and all the access roads into Tupiza kept flying around in town. You would get different flavors of rumors depending on whom you would ask; by now we didn't believe anything anybody said, after being lied to too many times: about hotels having hot water, about bus rides only taking three hours, about tours leaving exactly at 10AM...

The best solution was to take the Sunday morning bus to Tupiza, rather than wait for the train that was leaving Uyuni on Monday at 2:30AM. Better by day than by night, knowing the temperature extremes we could expect... The bus was supposed to take 7 hours and, of course, it didn't have a bathroom, but the driver assured me he will stop every now and then. The problem was, there was nowhere to stop - the bus goes for hours through the desert and there's not even a tree in sight. The only real bathroom is in Atocha, 4 hours away from Uyuni.

Amazing carvings

There is no paved highway in the southern Bolivian Altiplano, and the stretch from Uyuni to Tupiza is no exception. At first the road is a pair of barely-visible tracks in the barren, sandy plain south of Uyuni; later it turns into a dusty ribbon carved in the steep sides of hills and canyons. At times, you find yourself praying for good brakes and for the driver's ability to take a dangerous turn. It took almost nine hours to get to Tupiza, but the drive ended without incident. Occasionally, the driver stopped to pick up or drop off people in the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed to me: no houses, no animals, no water. What were they doing there? I asked myself what would happen if a car breaks down on this road. There weren't many vehicles crossing in the other direction, and cell phones certainly didn't work. You would have to wait and have many blankets, in case you had to spend the night...

Tupiza is a small town in the southern Altiplano, and at 2900 meters altitude it's the smallest elevation we've been at in Bolivia. The area around it looks more like Arizona than the typical Altiplano landscape, and it's no wonder that Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid chose it for their last evil deeds: it must have reminded them of home...

For us, it was just another stop on the way to Argentina and a place to relax, do some horseback riding and eat a lot of pizza - since there's not much else in the way of food here. Connections in Internet cafes were very slow - there's only one provider in town, everybody shared the same line, and people loved to video-chat; even writing email was an agonizing challenge. We stayed at a decent hotel - the "Mitru", took a nice horseback tour with "Tupiza tours" and moved on. Bye-bye Bolivia!

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