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Another Planet

Chile to Bolivia

-17 °C

If you ever want to feel like your on a different planet but want to avoid the overheads of space travel and the side effects of drugs then get yourself down to the Bolivian desert. It really is another world.

It´s a tough journey though, definitely not for the faint hearted. There were 9 of us in a 4x4 designed for 7. The driver, his wife who did the cooking, their 2 year old daughter Karen and 6 of us gringos ready for action.

We started with a tour at the lunar vally on the border of Bolivia and Chile...

I went Sandboarding and actually pulled it off (unlike my snowboarding)



The lunar valley itself is incredible....


From there we started the overland 3 day journey. You realise how remote this ìs going to be when you hit Bolivian Immigration (this is it.. no sh*t!)


From there there´s a lot of driving... and its all rough terrain... so its not good for your buttocks. The altitude is also a killer... the first night was spent in a remote hostel (if you can call it that... more like a shed) with no heating or electricity... and its at 4200m so its freezing at night! and everyone gets altitude sickness of some form... not nice but they load you up with coca tea to try and combat it.

However, despite the pain, the views are worth it....




Its impossible to put across the feeling you have when you realise how remote you actually are. At some points you can stop and hear pure silence (except for the faint ringing from too many years of listening to dance music). Theres nothing for miles, no sounds, no lights, very few animals and only a few people heading around in 4x4s. It´s a strange thing when your used to big cities.

After another painful night in an equally remote place made of pure salt, we hit the Bolivian salt flats. A 4.30 am start saw us get there for sunrise. For as far as the eye can see in every direction its just pure flat white plains...


The best was yet to come... just when you thought you´d seen it all... cactus island rocks up. As a cactus fan this was awesome. Some of the cactii here are over 1200 years old and theres literally 1000s of them, in the middle of this salt desert. I´d love to know how they got there but our guide didn´t speak English so his translation was totally lost on me!


Next on the list was a visit to Potosi, a mining city in Southern Bolivia which also happens to be the highest city in the world (luckily I was used to the altitude by then). The city revolves around the "Rich Mountain" which used to be full of Silver... until the Spanish mined it all. Now it´s rich with minerals and the town has 20,000 miners who work there. They start young... 15 years old and their life expectancy is just 45 due to all the gases they breath. They also work for commission on what they find... they get no salary so its a tough life and thy work hard. Theres 100km of tunnels and loads of accidents as safety is not something anyone cares about.

We did a visit to the mines which started with a visit to the miners market. There we bought presents to give to the miners. There are 3 gifts they want... coca leaves (they chew big clumps of them in their mouth to stop hunger and make them feel stronger while in the mines), hardcore cigarettes that look like joints and a spirit with is 96%.. yes 96% pure alcohol! Don´t think that helps the life expectancy much to be honest.

Safety here is such a non issue that they sell Dynamite at the market too. For 10 Bolivianos (66p) I bought a stick of dynamite, a pack of ammonium nitrate, a fuse and a detonator! Being a terrorist here is cheap!

Dynamite and Ammonium Nitrate...

Down the mines...

After blowing up a bit of the mountain we went down the mines. It was pretty claustophobic and we were dressed in miners gear with hats and lamps. You could hear the rumble of dynamite being down up around the place, very freaky. One tour group told us they were walking down a tunnel when a miner came running towards them shouting "Run" (in Spanish). 10 seconds later a big explosion happened right there... he´d just litthe dynamite. Safety? The place was a total mish mash of tunnels with big holes up to 200m deep all over the place with no barriers. Safety? The conditions these guys work in is terrible.... but its the only option they have.

Next its off to La Paz, the Capital. Then heading West into Peru.

More photos can be seen here....



Posted by luke_l 06:15 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking

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Hi Luke,

Great reading! Makes me wish I was there all over again :) Bolivia is unequalled.

Enjoy the rest of SA ;)


by samsara_

congrats on getting featured! Great read. Bolivia is a candidate for "the list".

Safe Travels

by Huw

great photos-even though reality is 100 times better :)

by ralu

Luke - Impressive reading through all this. Its looks fantastic. Good on yer sir !

by JRichmond

Wow thats so awesome /(^-^)/
I have only been to a desert type place in Australia.


Hi! I'm heading to Bolivia in the fall and stumbled on your blog. It's awesome! Any tips for future travelers? Itinerary do's and dont's would be much appreciated. Thanks!

by LeiCran

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