And so we have finally departed Argentina for the last time. We have been in and out of the country so often during this trip, it still feels like we might be coming back. But the time has come to say goodbye.
No more helado, no more football and no more youths buzzing about on mopeds or motorbikes. Choripans are a distant memory, Quilmes beer has been drunk for the final time and who knows when we’ll have a glass of Malbec again. Adios la Presidenta. Adios dolar blue. Adios Argentina!
Special mention at the small Bolivian border town of Villazon has to go to the bus station, which had this sign out the front asking the people to keep the town tidy. Who knew Banksy had made it to Bolivia!
As soon as we crossed the border into Bolivia, things were immediately different from Argentina – it was so colourful. Especially in the dress of the traditional Bolivian women, in their colourful velvet, silk or taffeta ruffled skirts, complimented by the bright petticoats underneath. All were wearing bowler hats, from which dropped long, jet-black hair in plaits, tied together at the bottom with a ribbon. We thought the women in traditional dress would be a rare sight but we were surprised by how common it was.
I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the traditional look we’ve described above, but we don’t have any photos to share with you. The traditional people are not shy, but believe that when someone takes their picture, they also take away part of their soul. And so as much as I wanted to take a sneaky picture of these beautiful women, I respected their beliefs and so made sure not to include them in any pictures.
Welcome to Tupiza – and it’s dizzying heights
Our first stop in Bolivia was 3000m above sea level and the first place we’d experience altitude. Turns out that while I have sea legs, I wasn’t so good with altitude. John on the other hand wasn’t affected. For the first few hours I felt fine, just a little lightheaded and breathless, but after the walk into town for dinner my head started pounding like no headache I’d ever experienced before. It was like having a migraine, being extremely thirsty and not being able to breath all at the same time. I went to bed early hoping I’d feel better the next day.
The next morning I woke up feeling light-headed and strange, but thankfully the headache was gone, and so we decided to take a short walk to one of the miradors outside of town. We never did find the mirador but did a great walk along the train tracks outside of town for a good couple of hours or more.
We passed old rusted-out cars and buses, which had become part of the landscape.
We saw lots of animals along on the roadside and in the fields – horses, cows, donkeys, sheep and of course the stray dogs, ever present in South America.
Walking along the tracks, there was a lot of quoting and acting out moments from Stand By Me – a movie we both love. When we reached a narrow train tunnel, we felt the tracks like they do in the movie and determined it was safe to walk through the tunnel (don’t worry Mum, there is only 2 trains a week on the line, so we knew we’d be fine). On the other side of the tunnel, there wasn’t much to look at and so we started the long walk back into town.
The cutest thing we saw all morning was a local shepherd herding his sheep, with his dogs helping to round them up. When I say dogs, I mean his dog and a baby lamb that followed the dog and boy wherever they went, including when they were trying to round up the other sheep. It was really funny to watch.
When we got back into town, we walked up a small lookout with the requisite Mary statue to see the views over Tupiza. Saying we walked is being generous, that should be we struggled up to the lookout. The walk is only 5 minutes uphill, but it felt like climbing Everest. We had to stop a couple of times on the way up and were panting and completely out of breath when we reached the top. Tupiza isn’t the highest town we’ll be visiting (that honour goes to Potosi at over 4000m), but I never really appreciated how much altitude can impact you. Thankfully once we reached the top we could catch our breath and enjoy the views back across the town surrounded by the beautiful red mountains.
There isn’t much to say about Tupiza town itself. It’s fairly small and dusty, but we felt like it gave us a good introduction to Bolivia. And we had a nice time wandering around taking it all in, enjoying the change in culture after so long in Argentina and Chile.
There is really only one reason travellers come to Tupiza – it’s known as the best place to start the Uyuni Salt Flat tours from. Long story short, we ended up being booked on tour with a different company than we had wanted to go with, but we decided to just go with it, as its always a gamble when booking tours anyway.
Next stop, 4 days and 3 nights on the Salt Flats!
When we visited Tupiza: 3 nights end May 2014.
How we got to Tupiza: We took the bus from Salta to Tupiza. Which actually meant taking an 8 hour bus from Salta to La Quiaca (an Argentine border town). At La Quiaca we crossed the border into the Bolivian border town of Villazon, where we jumped on a 3 hour bus to Tupiza.
Food & Drink recommendations for Tupiza: I’m afraid not. We ate at the token pizza places around town and tried a few of the local places but none to recommend…
Where to stay in Tupiza: We stayed in Hostal Las Salares. This hostel was OK. Clean and a 10 minute walk to town. No heating though and it got cold at night. But we were given lots of blankets t and no heating is fairly standard for Bolivia..