Bolivia: Tarija and Atocha (17th to 18th December ) – by Joern

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Tarija

Leaving Villamontes meant two things. Our first meeting with Bolivian dirt roads and the beginning of the climb from the tropical lowlands to the more temperate altiplana. A climb of more than 3000m. Dirt roads are also less travelled roads which meant the scenery got even better and you just feel closer to nature. Also even more butterflies and other animals. At one point a large lizard crossed the road.

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Given the small 1500cc engine in the Suzuki progress was slow but steady and the scenery spectacular (again). Not that we mind. Gave us time to really see the variety of the landscape and the slow change from green vegetation to the brown colours of the highlands. We even managed to spot patches of purple soil. No idea what causes that, but just goes to show the incredible variety in this country.

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Halfway there we hit the paved road again and could relax a bit before finding our hotel and spend the night in quite uninteresting Tarija.

Atocha

We set off early in order to reach Uyuni while there was still daylight, but due to the road being the worst condition so far we made less progress than expected.

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P1010990 Some hectic dirt roads with scary drop offs.

P1010965 Guess who was driving, no wonder we didn’t make it to Uyuni as planned.

At around 1830 we arrived in the small mining village of Atosha located very isolated at around 3500m altitude halfway between Tupiza and Uyuni. With only one hour of proper daylight left and still 100km to go on a quite demanding road we decided enough was enough. To add to that there was a badly marked detour in effect as the road was being upgraded to pavement all the way meaning lots of sections were simply blocked by heavy machinery. We found a hostel or more precise “the” hostel. There was another, but it had been closed down and now just looked like something out of a scary movie.

P1020053 Rather different bus stop, but nice.

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P1020028 Our hostal

P1020035 The train station which looked rather abandoned.

I would estimate the population to about 500 people. Most of them probably born there and will die there too. Talking about which, typical for Bolivia the graveyard was an almost upbeat and colourful place. Lots of colours and displays with objects relevant to the deceased. I like that a lot better than the gloomy and depressing European ones. I ended up actually enjoying this unplanned stopover, as it gave me a glimpse into a world so different from mine it is hard to imagine. People gave us the odd look, but nothing scary or intimidating. Most likely just surprise at these strange looking foreigners who seemingly of their own free will spent the night there. Contrary to popular belief the Bolivian people are very nice and friendly just reserved or shy. Every person you greet will greet you back with a nice warm Buenos Diaz and a smile. The women generally first avert their eyes smile shyly but always greet you back. We found one open restaurant with a very basic menu. Not surprisingly chicken. Places like this are predominantly self-sufficient and chickens are cheap and easy to keep.

Road to Uyuni

The next morning we found the correct detour along the riverbed by asking a local 4×4 going the other way. As soon as they realized we were foreigners they started guessing where from. Germany being the number one guess, so obviously we are not the first foreigners visiting after all.

Upon learning we were a Dane and a saffa one of passengers promptly got out and came over with a big smile and greeted us. Lorraine got cheek kisses and I got a gangsta style handshake as he wished us safe travels. How friendly was that. As usual the warnings we had received that Bolivians are not very open and always want something turned out to be complete bullshit.

P1020072  Another rather colourful Bolivian cemetery.

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P1020083 Our little Suzuki driving down the river bed out of AtoshaP1020101 We saw these sulphur patches in the river bed outside Atosha and were not sure if they were natural or waste products of mining being washed into the river.

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P1020016 More stunning scenery

I am glad we did this section of road in the daylight as it was very scenic and also turned into quite the safari. We spotted lots of Vicunas, wild donkeys, a curious owl and a whole family of rheas a big emu-like bird that we had never seen before.

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One of many Rheas we saw on the road this one had a lot of little chicks

P1020123 The curious little owl.

At around 1400 we arrived in Uyuni and settled into the hostel.

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