Our Bolivia Adventure: Exploring the Altiplano
Guest Blog by Lili Mahlab
It was tough getting up at 3:00, but we managed to get ready, pack a few last items, and meet everyone in the lobby by 3:45. By 4:00, we headed to the airport to catch our flight on Amazonas airlines.
If you fly on Amazonas, BE SURE to bring the SAME credit card you used to pay for the tickets. Otherwise, they will make you pay for a whole new ticket. It makes absolutely no sense why they would do that when you clearly have identification. Check in was fairly easy, albeit there weren’t too many people checking in at that hour.
The flight took barely an hour for us to arrive in Uyuni, some 12,000 feet above sea level. Uyuni is essentially a trading post established in the late 1800’s. Water is scarce. And what little water there is, has a pretty high saline content rendering the land inhospitable to agriculture. Today, Uyuni is really just a jumping point to the Salt Flats and the highlands. There are an incredible number of young people, mostly backpackers, who head to Uyuni for fun and adventure.
At 7:00, we had a great breakfast and then went on our way to the Bolivian highlands – the “altiplano.”
Our first stop was the Train Cemetery located just a couple of miles outside of Uyuni. As the story goes, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid met their fatal ending while attempting one more heist in Bolivia. While these British built rail lines are no longer in use and are nothing more than a decaying, rusted hulk, they once carried minerals from the Andes Mountains to ports on the Pacific Ocean until the mining industry collapsed in the mid 40’s partly due to mineral depletion.
Our next stop was San Cristobal, a relatively new town that is perhaps no more than 10 years old, built primarily to house the mining families of today.
After a quick pit stop and a tour of the relatively small market, we continued on to the Canyon de la Cascada. These windswept canyons are quite beautiful with the stone delicately etched by the wind and rain. A river flows at the bottom on the canyons. As you walk along the ridge, some of the rock almost seems carved to resemble Indigenous faces of Inca and pre-Inca periods.
Our original plan was to have lunch at the top of the canyon. However, given that the winds were pretty gusty, we drove to the town of Alote just a short distance away and had our picnic lunch in an enclosed area. I was struck by the number of people, many women in particular, who just seem to hang around and sit on stoops in front of doorways or even in the streets. They seemed to just sit there for hours and hours in the bright sunshine without moving.
Following lunch, we went on our way to explore the Valley of the Rocks, an amazing area with giant boulders that have been shaped by the elements forming unique shapes often resembling birds and animals. This was one of the most interesting areas in the altiplano.
By the late afternoon, we stopped at two lagoons, Laguna Chulluncani and Laguna Cachi, before arriving at our Hotel, Ojo de Perdiz
This hotel from the Takya chain is the best place you can stay at in the altiplano. But, if you go there, don’t expect any sort of luxury. The rooms only have heat and electricity from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM, although just electricity is available from 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM. Since this place is literally off the electrical grid, they use a combination of generators and solar power. Hot water is predominantly solar generated and is only available from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM.
While this is little more than an upscale hostel, there are no choices other than a true hostel (much more basic than even this hotel) or camping. And, with the hostels, you cannot make reservations. Rooms are on a first come, first serve basis. I also wouldn’t advise camping because it gets REALLY cold at night once the sun goes down.
Michael and I had a three person room albeit we had it to ourselves. It had two double beds and one twin bed. The mattresses were placed upon salt slabs so if you like a hard surface for sleeping, you’re in luck!
The restaurant had a wood burning stove. So, at 6:00 PM following our showers, we parked ourselves right in front of it just to stay warm. Dinner was at 7:30.
The one good thing about this hotel is that the food was actually quite good. There were fresh homemade soups and pretty decent entrees (beef one night and chicken the other). They also made their own bread.
By 9:30, we were all ensconced in our beds literally under six blankets!