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Leaving Bolivia

Bloged in The gap 2010 by gu-ru on 02:42 AM

Dear friends and family at home,
Time is passing by quite fast. As most of you already know, our time in South America is coming to an end. Bolivia was that special treat, experiencing the southamerican vibe before returning to civilized Chile.
From Samaipata we travelled a wonderfully scenic route to Sucre. Going to the movies to see Iron Man 3 in Spanish just a few days after it came out in the US theaters, eating local dishes in the Mercado central, meeting fellow travelers and enjoying the nice environment of tourist restaurants as Sucre is probably THE tourist city in Bolivia. Sucre was also the place where we were stuck for over a week while the nationwide demonstrations where going on.


Asking Bolivians what the strike was all about, we received almost as many answers as we asked different people: 1. Taxes: The Government wants us to pay taxes on everything we sell, that means we have to write a factura (receipt) for every little thing. We don’t want that. 2. Teachers’ pension: According to teachers they earned so little that they fought for 100% pension of their working income. In the local papers we read numbers that can’t be right … It would be as if we were going to demonstrate for pension of 15 000 US$/month or so. 3. Miners’ rights: Having seen a mine and its working class we do understand 100% that they fight for better working conditions, better wages, etc.


Even though it seems that Bolivians quite enjoy demonstrating in the streets (we got the feeling it is also a very social event), people warned us not to try to travel during that time. Looking back it would probably have been safe to travel on our route, but hearing about bridges exploding and accidentally killed people, strikers throwing stones at vehicles, tourists being stuck in the middle of nowhere for days due to roads being blocked by stones and dirt piles, dynamite exploding in the streets to get people’s attention and last but not least the fact that no gasoline was available due to the road blocks didn’t sound very tempting to leave our little safe haven in Sucre, a tiny camp ground close to the city center.
We used the time to get the car fixed which turned out to be not even enough time for that. As we met Martin, a fellow swiss guy, again in Sucre who wanted to travel the same route to Chile we decided to travel together in a convoy. As neither him nor us had 4wheel drive we figured it could be an advantage to have a second car for worst case scenarios.


In Potosí we visited one of the 38 mines that are supposed to be all connected internally. We won’t go into all the details here but let me tell you this: it’s a harsh life and ya’ll can be happy not having to work in one. Yesterday we visited another mine (extracting copper) here in the north of Chile: Don’t know if it is true: minimum wage in the mine is around 1500US$ whereas in Bolivia I doubt they earn 200$ a month.
Travelling from Potosí onward to Uyuni we were lucky to find the road unblocked during the night so we could drive there. Whereas we argued about gasoline prices in Sucre, in Uyuni we didn’t get any gasoline. I suspect the line of cars in front of the gas station somewhere close to a kilometer. We were more than lucky to be treated specially as tourists. That being said I also have to mention that foreigners in Bolivia pay 3 times the local price for gasoline (which still isn’t that much after all).


In Uyuni we also met Adrian & Jana, another swiss couple, travelling in their Mitsubishi camper van together with an adopted street dog from Brazil. I should probably say thanx to them standing in that gasoline line for 3 days we only had to wait a day to fill up on gas and leave that dusty city again.


One of the top experiences of our over 2 year travel down here in south America was driving into the Salar de Uyuni with Don Rayo (our own car) and waking up in the morning in the middle of nowhere, opening the sliding door and not seeing anything but blue sky and the white salt flat. Amazing… We stayed two nights and had a fun time together with Martin and two (you won’t believe it) Germans from Mo’s hometown with their dog. Seeing their German car at the end of the world was quite strange. We had a fun time together and met on and on again during the following week.


From there on we travelled to the “Laguna Colorada” up at 4200m, which is very famous for its color. The icy wind let us appreciate the inside of our rolling houses. Three types of flamingos and many other birdlike creatures call that place their home. Usually there is a circuit that you can follow to see all those natural wonders in the far southwest corner of Bolivia. But due to the arriving winter we just made it as far as “Sol de Mañana” where snow had covered the path on 4900m. I don’t think our car will ever make it as high up with the surrounding temperature being way below zero.


Up there it’s a good thing to have two cars: Don Rayo didn’t want to start after a two hour brake and Martins “Florina” got stuck crossing one of the snow fields on the way. But the otherworldly geyser with all its bubbling sulfur mud was worth all the troubles. One meter below the surface it’s between 70 to 86°C hot. For that reason you have to watch your step: any soft earth patch may result in serious burns.
Originally we wanted to leave Bolivia via Hito de Cajones into San Pedro de Atacama. According to information of the migration office in Uyuni, it was supposed to be open until Thursday when another cold period with lots of snow was expected. Before arriving to the national park border, though, a car stopped us and the guy warned us not to leave on that specific border. He claimed to be the border patrol and on his way home. There wasn’t any way to leave legally from that border and the streets where so terrible and very dangerous. Tino insured a million times that we wouldn’t leave from that border but he just continued talking. A day later we met a tour guide that said it will be open again. And another day later, almost on 5000m altitude, we saw a bunch of trucks crossing over the pass to Chile behind a snow clearing machine. That’s South America for you … happy planning.


In the end we decided for the Ollague pass. A very nice route which we haven’t seen for the last time. The border patrols which are known to be very strict turned out to be very nice. Pimienta conquered people’s hearts and we didn’t have any problems taking her across the border. BUT … Don Rayo wasn’t quite that lucky. He wasn’t home for curfew … half a year late they said. In the end we paid 10% of a huge fine and got off with it. Now we are in Calama trying to make him pass the exhaust fume regulations with the rest of our bad Bolivian gasoline in his belly.
Soon you’ll hear how that went … ;o)


  1. Photos sind prima!

    Trackback by Nicolai Michel Friday June 7th, 2013 09:04 AM

  2. Hey, wirklich coole Bilder … aber schon lange kein update mehr ..

    Trackback by Märcu Tuesday April 4th, 2017 07:32 AM

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