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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BOLIVIAN BLOCKADES, DYNAMITE & MUD

We left Puno in Peru and headed to Bolivia via the supposedly “dangerous” crossing at Desaguadero, which in reality was pretty easy. Our first visit was to yet another ancient site “Tiahuanaco”. We got there too late in the day, so we camped in the carpark and visited in the morning. Actually it was better than anticipated with some reconstruction work making it easier to visualize buildings. We left on the back road, which proved to be a mistake, as we got stuck in mud and had to find a truck to pull us out. GR2 doesn’t like sticky red mud that turns her wheels to slicks.

So staying on tarseal we continue to La Paz (overnighting again at the airport) and continue on to Oruro. Preparations for Carnaval are under way, but we are over a week too early and it isn’t exactly the sort of place to kick your heels, so we continue our drive. As we near Lago Poopo we pull up abruptly because of a huge traffic jam. John goes to investigate – it is a blockade. The miners have covered the road with a huge dirt barricade, and trucks & buses are piling up. The bus passengers can walk a few kms to get on a bus at the other end, but the trucks are stuck. All detour routes are blocked as well. so we pull off to camp overnight. During the night cars have been sneaking through a back route, so very early the next morning we decide to try following the cars, only to get to a pile up of cars stuck in mud and a very small, flimsy wooden bridge. We do our good deed of the day and tow out the stuck cars, but we cannot cross the bridge. Who will tow us out if we end up in the river! So we backtrack and end up right in the centre of the blockade at the mining town of Poopo. We drive right up to the blockage, only to be confronted by 300-400 strikers brandishing stones. We make a hasty retreat & park. John spends the next few hours “working” the crowd. He chews coco leaves with them, drinks firewater with them, chats with them, grovels to the boss, and is told to play the game ( a sort of 2 up). In the process he discovers that the mine is owned by the Japanese and the miners naturally want more money. There is no police/army presence here trying to sort out the situation. Looks like a stalemate. Just to keep us on our toes they throw sticks of dynamite at random intervals in equally random directions.

Eventually they relent and let us through. Not onto the main road as there is another blockage there, but through the village and onto goat tracks. When we finally get back onto the main road we can see the tail end of the queue – it stretches 25km in both directions!

We are glad to be past the blockade, and head on to Potosi. Needless to say there is very little traffic. Sadly our Bolivian GPS maps are pretty useless, and there are very few road signs, especially in the cities, so we are back to paper maps. Always very interesting! But we do find a secure carpark in Potosi, recommended by a fellow traveler. From here it is easy to explore town, go on a mine tour and visit the mint. The mine tour was very sobering. There are 16,000 miners still digging out the rock and pulling and pushing the carts out, each 1500kg. Back to the dark ages! The granite hill is pockmarked with tunnels. All rather small. We had to bend down or crawl through the tunnels. I was mighty relieved to get out. Oh I forgot to mention – on the way to the mine we stopped to buy gifts for the miners. You know the usual cigarettes, coco leaves or dynamite. John bought gifts, but dynamite as well – this he kept for himself. I wonder when he will set this off!!!!

We continued to Sucre hoping to see churches & the textile museum, but it was the weekend and they were all closed. So a short visit sufficed and we moved on to the small town of Tarabuco to catch the Sunday markets. It was a very local affair with plenty of country folk visiting in their traditional dress.

Then we backtracked to Potosi and camped at a gorgeous hot crater lake called Ojo del Inca. What a magic spot for a good long soak. If it hadn’t been raining the next morning we would have been tempted to stay longer, but the sticky, muddy track beckoned.

We were now headed for Uyuni. We had to tackle the streets of Potosi again (no signs) to find the road. To our surprise it was a lovely sealed road, practically brand new. Sadly the road wasn’t finished. There were sections still being worked on, and in the rain they had turned to slush. At one spot a bus was stuck, and at another spot we had to pull over. The truck driver told us he had been waiting there 3 days for a truck to be pulled out of the mud. Fortunately our wait wasn’t very long, and we got through in a long trail of trucks.

Finally we reached Uyuni – an amazing dump of a town filled with mud & puddles of astronomical proportions. There has been much more rain here than normal and because of lightening the town has no power. We only stayed long enough to “do” a trip on the Salar. We make very bad tourists because we got very frustrated with stopping at markets and waiting for the others on our trip to take 1,000s of photos. The Salar was covered with water giving wonderful reflections, but not the blinding white salt we had been hoping for.

Anyway we were glad to leave town – we had been told the route we had planned was too wet and slushy, and the river crossing was too deep. So we changed our route to the main road to Tupiza, but remember there are no signs and our GPS is not a lot of help. Somehow we ended up on our original route on the slushy/muddy/slippery road!! John thinks I did it on purpose, but I really am not that good at map reading.

Until next time, Adios Amigos





 
 









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