Let’s start off with saying that I wish I had more time in Bolivia! This country surprised me so much and I would definitely come back one day to explore more of this amazing country.
Just 300 km after we cross the border from Argentina into Bolivia we reach the city Uyuni. Uyuni is mostly famous for one thing; the salt flats. We have a one day tour planned on the salt flats but I would recommend the 3-day tours in the area because those tours give you more time to explore the area and you’ll visit the desert and see flamingos.
At 10am we get picked up by two jeeps to go on a salt flat safari. Our Bolivian guide, René, speaks very good English. Our first stop is the train cemetery. We take some cool shots on the old and rusty trains and René tells something about the history of the cemetery.
Uyuni was once an important transportation hub in South America and connected several major cities. In the early 19th century, big plans were made to build an even bigger network of trains out of Uyuni, but the project was abandoned because of a combination of technical difficulties and tension with neighboring countries. The trains and other equipment were left to rust.
A quick handstand before we drive to the salt factory.
After the cemetery we drive to a salt factory. It’s a very small one but René explains what they do there. I also visit the small salt museum where they have sculptures made from salt on display. After these visits we head back to the Jeeps and make our way on to the Salt.
Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, located in Bolivia.
Salar de Uyuni is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt of which less than 25,000 tons is extracted annually. In some places the salt is piled up for transport to the factory.
The salt really sticks to the tires of the Jeeps.
Our next stop is a small island filled with cacti. We have lunch there and the group goes for a walk on the island but me and two others stay on the salt to start with the (oh so famous) perspective photos. You can’t visit the salt flats without taking a couple of these perspective photos. We take a few creative ones and when the rest of our group returns from the cacti island we head back to the jeeps to continue our way on the salt.
Check out the video to see us driving the 4x4 Jeeps over the Salt Flats.
The salt flats have an elevation of 3,656 meters above sea level.
When there is nothing but salt around us we stop and take more perspective photos with the entire group. We took some props with us like a pan, a wine bottle and an empty pringles can. It’s a lot of fun coming up with funny ideas together and taking the perspective photos. Some are really hard to take because the angles have to be perfect for the photo to come out the way we want them to.
These perspective photos are not made with photoshop. You have to get the angle of the camera, the people and the props exactly right to make it work and look good.
Salar de Uyuni spreads over 10,582 square kilometers (4,085 square miles), which is roughly 100 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States.
The geological history of the Salar is associated with a sequential transformation between several vast lakes. Some 30,000 to 42,000 years ago, the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, Lake Minchin. When the lake dried up, it left a couple of seasonal puddles and several salt pans, including Salar de Uyuni.
The rainfall is also low at 1 to 3 mm (0.04 to 0.12 in) per month between April and November, but it may increase up to 80 mm (3.15 in) in January.
The area has a relatively stable average temperature with a peak at 21 °C in November to January and a low of 13 °C in June.
The last perspective photo!
A little perspective video.
Our last stop today is the salt hotel. This hotel is built out of salt blocks and the floor is covered with salt. After taking a look inside the salt hotel we head to a water puddle in the salt where we take reflection pictures and watch the sunset. Good day!
While the sun sets we play around with the reflections. Salar De Uyuni, turns into a mirror during the rainy season.
Our next stop in Bolivia is Potosi. This city is famous for it’s silver mine. I have some doubts about visiting the mine because I’m light claustrophobic and I don’t know what the conditions inside the mine are like. I talk to friends back home who went in the mine a couple months ago and they convince me to go because it’s a very special and unique experience.
Potosi used to be a very rich city because of all the silver that came out of the mine but these days it’s a very poor city because there is no more pure silver left in the mine.
We get picked up from our hotel by our guide and drive to the first stop; the miners market to buy gifts for the miners. We buy coca leaves, soda, 96% alcohol and cigarettes. I also buy a little bag of coca leaves for myself to try what it’s like and to prevent altitude sickness.
Everyone that visits the mine buys gifts for the miners at the miners market.
The altitude of the entrance of the mine is 4303m above sea level. This is really high and I have had light altitude sickness for a while now in the form of daily headaches so I bought some coca leafs to chew on.
When we all have our bags filled with the gifts for the miners we visit a small house to change into our mining clothes: a waterproof jacket and pants, gumboots and a helmet with a headtorch. My headtorch isn’t really working but I can use the flash of my cellphone.
All dressed up and ready to enter the mine.
I'm ready to help the miners in the mine.
All the equipment is old, dirty and rusty.
We follow the miners and our guide into the mine.
We follow our guide into the mine and most of the time I have to walk bent over to not hit my head. The mine is very dark and narrow and they didn’t dig out the tunnel much more than what’s needed to fit the mine carts through. Every few minutes our guide shouts “get off the track!!” and we find any small spot to stand to get out of the way for the miners who come running in and out the mine, pushing the empty or very heavy mine carts.
Breathing in the mine is quite hard. Either you breath in the dust, or get very warm with the mask.
In some parts we could stand up straight, but in most parts of the mine I had bend down to avoid hitting my head.
It’s very interesting to see what happens when the miners meet each other with carts on the track, both going a different direction. They pull the empty cart of the track to allow the heavier cart to pass through. We even witness intersections where 3 or 4 carts meet each other and have to cross. At some point me and some others help the miners push the carts to get through the intersections and the rough parts of the track, it’s really hard work.
Nearly 10 procent of Potosi's 120.000 inhabitants work in the mining industry.
The conditions in the mine are bad. The air is dusty, there is no light, the floor is wet and slippery, the tracks are bad and the miners have very long working days. Despite these bad conditions the miners we meet along the way are very friendly and extremely thankful when we hand them the gifts we bought earlier. Two of the miners even offer to share a drink when I hand them one of the bottles with 96% alcohol.
The narrowness of the mine and the dust in the air in the mine made me feel pretty uncomfortable so when the guide tells us it’s time to make our way back the same way we came in I’m quite happy.
Although I felt pretty uncomfortable in the mine I think it’s a place worth visiting. The silver mine is very important to the people in Potosi and being able to experience the conditions in the mine, treat the miners with some coca leaves and drinks and even helping them out by pushing the carts make me understand what they are going through every day.
At 3600 meters above sea level lays the impressive capital of Bolivia; La Paz. We enter the city via the main highway and we stop at a viewpoint to get the perfect overview of this impressive city.
The view from the viewpoint is really impressive.
The cable car in La Paz is the longest in the world.
One of the reasons we visit La Paz is the Death Road downhill mountain bike experience. A big part of our group decides to go with the tour company “Gravity” but me and 3 others decide to go with a much cheaper company “Adrenaline”.
Early in the morning we get picked up by the Adrenaline crew to go to Death Road. We have a driver and 2 guides. We drive to the top of the mountain where the Death Road experience normally starts but when we get to the top everything is covered in snow. Adrenaline has a small house at the top where we have some coffee and change into our mountain bike clothing (knee and arm pads, gloves, pants, jacket and a helmet) and drive back the way we came from until we are on the part of the road without any snow. We find a spot on the side of the road and we stop and get on our bikes.
The first part is downhill on the same road as where the cars drive; a 2 lane asphalt road. After a while we take a turn and leave the asphalt road behind and enter the narrow gravel road. This is obviously the start of Death Road: the road is narrow, has a lot of holes and bumps and some nasty curves with a big drop or cliff along the side
The road gets its name Death Road as around 200 to 300 people used to die every year on the road.
I keep up with our guide “Frank the Tank” and we go very fast downhill. We stop at some good photo points and Frank and the other guys take good care of us. The driver follows us with the van the entire way down with some spare bikes and bike parts. One of the other cyclists got a flat tyre twice so good thing the van was always close to help us get back on our bikes asap.
On July 24, 1983 around 100 people in a bus were killed on the North Yungas Road. The bus fell in the canyon. It has been Bolivia’s worst road accident.
Halfway the road we stop for a snack, drinks and some ziplining before we get back on our bikes to continue down Death Road. At the bottom we celebrate “surviving Death Road” with some nice cold local beers. We all get a death road survivor t-shirt and head to a hotel for a swim, a shower and a nice buffet lunch. Such an awesome experience.
Back in La Paz we go to a Cholitas Wrestling match and we meet former inmate crazy Dave to hear the stories of the infamous inner city San Pedro prison. We definitely know now why he’s called crazy Dave.
You don’t have to be into wrestling to enjoy a good round of Cholitas Wrestling in La Paz.
Former inmate "Crazy Dave" shares his stories with a lot of passion with anyone who wants to listen to them.
San Pedro Prison is home to cocaine labs that produce some of the finest gear in the country. Inside, children live with their families, leaving only to go to school in the mornings. Tourists used to be able to visit on guided tours and party the night away in jail. This might be the only jail with a line outside with people who want to get inside the prison.
Unfortunately our visit to Bolivia was too short but we’re still excited because next up is Peru!!