Tupiza (30 April 2012)

Once we had our passports stamped, we walked through Villazon in search of a bus to Tupiza – the first place we would stay in Bolivia. We found a very cheap local bus leaving at 2 pm Bolivian time (3 pm Argentinian time). It was clear from the beginning that travlling by bus in Bolivia would be a veeeerry different experience compared to travelling by bus in Argentina. The semi-cama busses in Bolivia were similar to the very economical busses in Argentina. Also, you were lucky if your seat was not broken, or if some local didn’t almost sit on your lap (Cobus had the involuntary privilege of providing a older lady a “lap” seat for a while as she allowed other passengers to pass ;-)). The drive to Tupiza was over within an hour and a half, so the uncomfortable bus was bearable.

The lady who ended up sitting on Cobus’ lap

First on our list in Tupiza was to find the tourist information office where someone could direct us to our hostal and provide us with a map. Our hostel, Hostal Los Solares, wasn’t too far from the bus station on the other side of the river, so it was possible to walk with our luggage. Hostal Los Solares may look somewhat rundown from the outside, but once you’re inside, the place is sooooo nice. The hostel is run by a local family, and it was one of the best places we’ve stayed in so far for the cheapest price so far. We paid the same price for a clean and comfortable private double ensuite (with very hot water) than for the dorm room in the shocking Hostal Humahuaca. Santos and his wife are excellent hosts, and gives the hostel a homely atmosphere.

Hostel Los Salares

Santos advised us to go to the Alamo restaurant, which is also one of the eateries rcommended in the Lonely Planet guide book. On our way to Alamo, we saw another strike (I think in almost every country so far we’ve seen at least two or three). Alamo is a good midway restaurant (between touristy and local) and a place to taste Bolivian cuisine. We paid 70 bolivianos for the experience, which included two main meals, drinks and a tip. Coming from Brazil and Argentina, we were so surprised at how cheap it was. Later on we even found cheaper local restaurants, and also realised that the more touristy ones are more expensive, as usual. The restaurant is decorated in green with photos of Hollywood stars on the walls. We enjoyed the music videos which included music from the 60’s through to the 90’s! Some of the music videos we haven’t even seen before.

The Alamo restaurant

Back at the hostel we met Tara and Alfred from Bristol, UK. They have been touring around the world for about 8 months, with one more month to go. It’s interesting how many travellers you meet in South America that are travelling for more than 6 months.

Tara and Alfred were one of the nicest couples we’ve met so far, and we were disappointed that we could not spend more time with them – they were leaving the following day. Also in our hostel was 3 travellers from Germany who have been doing volunteer work in Buenos Aires for a year. Two of them worked in an orphanage and the other one were aiding handicapped people in their daily tasks. There are a lot of travellers in South America, particularly from Europe, who do volunteer work at some point or another, and it is amazing (and heartwarming) to hear what some of these people do.

Cobus, Linke, Tara and Alfred

Cobus, Linke, Tara and Alfred

Tupiza is surrounded by dramatic red escarpments which jut ruggedly skyward from the coarse, gray terrain. Legend has it that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ended their notorious string of bank robbery raids near Tupiza, where they were caught by the Bolivian army. A horse trip seemed appropriate in this cowboy country and we booked a 5 hour horse trip for the morning of the second day. Our guide was a 16 year old boy named Luis. He couldn’t speak any English, and we only a little Spanish, so we didn’t have a lot to say to each other. The landscape is a beautiful extension of the landscape seen in Northwest Argentina. The horse ride was great, but we quickly had to accept the fact that we were not leading those Bolivian horses, they led themselves. The horses know the road so well, they just do what they want to and for 5 hours I was not in control at all. The horses either walk very slow or run very fast; you just have to go with the flow. I got a bit worried two thirds into the journey when my horse broke away from the other two and kept on running. After that, I asked the guide to take the reigns of my horse for the last part of the journey as my legs were getting tired from clutching to the saddle (obviously a 5 hour horse ride for an unfit person was a bit enthusiastic). Cobus’ horse was a mare and a bit more laid back, so he was disappointed he didn’t get to ride my horse. He later on switched horses with the guide, and almost fell off the horse, hehe.

A cowgirl and cowboy from South Africa 🙂

The scenery around Tupiza

After the horse riding, we met up with a cool couple from Ireland, Donal and Jemma, and two guys from England, Damian and Alex. All of them were on an extended travel trip through South America. We went to Alamos again as we all enjoyed the food there. We had a very nice evening full of laughing and chanting along with the music videos from the 80’s and 90’s.

Alex, Cobus, Linke, Donal, Jemma and Damian in the Alamo

The next day we were so stiff from the horse riding! I struggled to walk around like a normal human being, so we walked veeerrryyy slowly through the town and the markets. In contrast to Argentina, Bolivia operated more similar to South Africa in terms of the working day. There was no siesta time as in Argentina, but rather a normal 8 – 5 pm day. I was caught by surprise in the market realising that some of the more traditional local people didn’t want business from tourists. They made it no secret that they prefer the traditional life style, without any tourists. At first the unfriendliness really upset me, but later on I realised that I actually prefer the honesty above people putting up a friendly face in order to get more business! We bought some supplies for the Salar de Uyuni trip, which included a pair of sun glasses, beanies and a pair of gloves. Afterwards we decided to try out one of the MANY Italian restaurants in Tupiza (believe me, there is a whole street dedicated to Italian restaurants). We were disappointed with the food and the prices were much higher than the other local restaurants.

We booked a 4 day trip across the South West of Bolivia to Salar de Uyuni through Hostal Los Salares, who organise their own tours. The trip would start very early the next morning, so we decided not to stay up too late. Unfortunately, reorganising and packing for the trip took longer than we expected, so the early night did not happen.

Tupiza was such a nice town to start travelling through Bolivia. We definitely recommend staying in this town for at least a day or two. Bolivia seemed to hold some great adventures for us and we were very excited about the next 3 weeks! Although I was somewhat upset about the unfriendliness of some of the locals, Santos and his wife showed me the opposite, by being very hospitable people. Bolivians seemed to be more genuine in their approach. Also, there were no expectation with Bolivians to receive a tip for every simple little thing they do, like we found in Argentina. We tried to tip the guy who loaded our luggage in the bus, but he didn’t want to take any money. In Argentina some of the guys didn’t want to give our baggage claim tickets to us if we didn’t tip them.

The experience of “honest unfriendlyness” was a reminder to me to be genuine at heart, genuine in my approach to people. It reminded me also as a christian, to be genuine in my christianity – no fake morality; no fake religiousness; no fake conversations with God, but rather open and honest, even if it means exposing my worst feelings before Him in prayer.

Psalm 51:6

6 Maar U verwag opregtheid diep in ‘n mens se hart: laat ek dan diep in my binneste weet hoe U wil dat ek moet lewe.

Matthew 23:27-28

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

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Humahuaca (27 April 2012)

Our bus ride from Salta to Humahuaca did not go as smoothly as we expected. We did not realise that Salta is 1200 m above sea level, while Humahuaca is 2900 m above sea level. Everything went smoothly until we got to about 2400 m, where Cobus started experiencing sinus pains (he has not fully recovered from his flu in Buenos Aires). The last 45 min (and 500 m climb) of the journey was extremely intense as the sinus pressure increased and was joined by a headache and dizziness (to the point where we were even thinking of turning back). We arrived in Humahuaca at around 3 pm and started towards the tourist information situated below the bell tower in the main square (of course ;-)). Unfortunately it was closed, so I left Cobus with all the baggage on a bench next to the square in order to search for a place to stay. I was rather worried about him and the altitude was also starting to have its effect on me, so I just quickly checked a few nearby hostels. I decided on a local place (that did not really cater for backpackers) which seemed clean and comfortable, and had its own restaurant. Cobus went straight to bed dosed with sinus pills and diamox. I explored the town a little bit more, and bought some water and coca leaves. When I got back, Cobus got his mouth stuffed with coca leaves. The leaves are very bitter, it’s almost like putting raw spinach leaves into your mouth. After a few hours of sleep, Cobus felt a little bit better, and hungry, so we stumbled into the small restaurant area across from our room. We had costeleta (beef ribs) and humitas (again; it was nicer than the one in Salta, but the one in Cafayate remains unbeaten).

The local hostel we stayed in. Right – Cobus feeling a lot better at the sight of meat.

The next morning Cobus felt a lot better, but still not 100%. We decided to stay another two nights in Humahuaca to acclimatise, making sure that the next increase in altitude would be less painful. We found a cheap hostel near the main square where the rooms looked clean. Again we were lucky to have the dorm room to ourselves. Unfortunately, we didn’t really check the beds or the kitchen or the warm water, so were surprised by the condition of the place. The beds had really uncomfortable mattresses, the kitchen facilities were scandalous and the not even luke warm water (24 hours hot water is advertised), even though it was freezing outside, ensured that you are colder after a shower than before. Hostel Humahuaca is really not a good option to stay in – it seems like the owners do not really care about the place or anyone who stays there. Honestly, I think the only good thing about the hostel is the dog Canella! But, we were not up for moving to a third place in three days, so we bit the bullet ;-).

Hostel Humahuaca and the lovely kitchen facilities. What you see in the pictures, was literally all there was, together with loads of dust. Bottom right – Canella, the super cute dog.

Humahuaca is a small town with cobble stone roads and a beautiful surrounding. The town may seem a bit touristy as there are plenty of hostels and on a Sunday scores of tourists arrive by bus to visit the weekly markets. Apart from the markets and the surroundings, the only real attraction in town is the massive Monumento a los Héroes de la Indepenciathat towers above the main square (their independence seem to be celebrated everywhere). Other famous towns that we passed on our way to Humauca include Tilcara and Purmamarca, also known for their beautiful coloured earth. A less touristy option further Northeast on the road to the Bolivian border would be the the town called Iruya, where homestays are offered for a more cultural experience.

Humahuaca

We decided to book the Hornocal trip for the afternoon, which is a trip to a beautiful sight high up in the mountains at around 4300m above sea level. Just before the trip we gave the kitchen at Hostel Humahuaca a go, and managed to cook some carbonara in the very cold room with almost zero facilities – we were a bit proud of ourselves ;-). The trip up to the Hornocal was bumpy and dusty and we had to stop a couple of times for the vehicle’s engine to cool down. Once at the top, the views were stunning as the sun illuminated the bright coloured ridges of the Hornocal. We only managed to stay a little while due to a blazing wind, but it was worth the trip.

Hornocal. I couldn’t stand the cold for too long, and forgot my beanie at the hostel, so Cobus was kind enough to lend me his jersey to wrap around my head 🙂

Back at the hostel we had leftover carbonara for dinner, while chatting to 2 german girls studying Latin American studies in the nearby city of Tucuman. We found the conversation to be a bit lobsided – one would expect someone studying sociology and history would have some very strong opinions, but they did not really have a lot to say about anything. We later concluded that maybe it was due to the big difference in age, hehe ;-).

Our last day in Humahuaca was spent sleeping till 11 am, enjoying a decent, self-made breakfast (egg mayo sandwiches, cereal and cappuccino) and walking about the small town. Believe me, if you had dry toast and coffee every morning for a couple of weeks, an egg mayo sandwich tastes like heaven. We decided to buy a typical maté cup from Argentina (before we went over the border) and a tarca flute (typical instrument in northwest Argentina and in Bolivia). Our dinner consisted of pasta again (anything else was impossible to make in the kitchen) with a tomato based sauce and olives.

The big monument at night

The next day we got onto the 10h10 bus to the border town of La Quiaca. Obviously the bus was half an hour late: South America time seems to be similar to Africa time…

Top – having some fun in town. Bottom – the very rapid bus service; waiting for our bus; Cobus having to use some South African remedy to help cure his dry skin

The bus journey to La Quiaca took more or less 2 hours with some pretty scenery along the way. Luckily Cobus didn’t experience any sinus pain at the increased altitude, yeah! From the bus station in La Quiaca we walked the 2 km to the Bolivian border town called Villazon. The border crossing went smoothly – it only took us a little more than an hour from the bus station to getting our passports stamped.

Approaching the Bolivian border 🙂

Our stay in Humahuaca were supposed to be only one night, but the extra two nights made it possible for Cobus to recover. He gained a special insight into the following Psalm (especially verse 1 ;-)) :

Psalm 121

I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? 2 My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. 8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.

 

Salta (25 April 2012)

We arrived in Salta around 3pm (a 4 hour bus journey from Cafayate), passing through the Quebrada de las Conchas again on the way. We were greeted by some eager hostel promoters, trying to convince us that their hostel was THE ONE. Since we didn’t get the chance to book a hostel in advance, we were rather thankful for their initiative. We chose to stay at the Hostelling International Backpacker Suites, which turned out to be a rather good choice. Salta is a popular destination in high season, but during the late autumn and winter months, the hostels in Salta compete for the fewer travellers passing through threre. Hence we managed to book an ensuite double room, including dinner and breakfast, for half the usual price (and even cheaper than some of the dorm rooms in high season) – the price even included a free taxi ride to the hostel.

After seeing our nice room (in comparison with the cheap price we were paying), we decided to postpone our bus tickets to Humahuaca to the next day. Luckily we found an office of the bus company in the main square and didn’t have to go all the way back to the bus station again. We had lunch at a local restaurant near the main square, and ordered humitas together with the menu del dia (a 3 course meal at a very reasonable price of 20 pesos). Unfortunately the humitas was not as tasty as those in Cafayate, but it was still good. We had flan with dulce de leche for dessert – yummee. On our way back we were introduced to the Bolivian folklore dance called the Cueca, which is being described by some as a seduction game between a man and a woman who dance while agitating a white handkerchief in their right hand, hehe. Some variations exist, according to region: Cueca chapaca (Tarija), Cueca paceña (La Paz), Cueca chuquisaqueña (Sucre), Cueca cochabambina (Cochabamba). Obviously the dance has also become popular in the northwest regions of Argentina that borders Bolivia.

The Cueca

We returned to the hostel to relax a bit before heading off to the place where we got our free dinner (it was about 14 blocks away from where we stayed). The free dinner was onion cake – not my idea of a nice meal, and my stomach is not very fond of onions as well. At least Cobus enjoyed the free meal, with the added bonus of the virtue “gasvryheid”.

The onion cake

The next day we reserved for searching for the Cafayate Alfajores brand, and just spending some time walking through the city near the main square. Most tourists use Salta as a base to explore the surrounding areas (for example Cafayate, Cachi, and the Jujuy region), and the city is perfect for daytrips to these areas.

Some of the buildings around the main square. Obviously the Coca Cola company is also present. Further away from the main square the buildings is not as nice.

Unfortunately we couln’t find any good quality Alfajores 😦  We had lunch at the Guemes house – tallarines and ravioles with very chewy meat for 27 pesos pp. Our dessert was ensalada de frutas, which turned out to be a slice of weird tasting cheese with (also a  weird tasting) fruit jam and nuts on top – not necessarily the fruit salad we had in mind…

The “Ensalada de frutas” at Guemes house

The Guemes house is a museum in tribute to Martín Miguel de Güemes (8 February 1785 – 17 June 1821). Güemes was a military leader who defended northwestern Argentina from the Spanish during the Argentine War of Independence. The museum is situated in the house where he used to live in Salta. After lunch we did some shopping and were able to buy ourselves a nice Tango cd. In the supermarket we were surprised to find almost anything for sale, even car tyres ??

Tyres for sale in a supermarket…hmm…not a common sight in South Africa

We also visited the local market. We decided not to try the complementary dinner again, instead making ourselves some nice fresh fruit salad (the kind of fruit salad we are accustomed to) and yoghurt.

Locals selling their products near the market. There is a definite increase in poverty in the Northwestern region of Argentina compared to the rest of the country.

We didn’t spend so much time in Salta to really appreciate the city, but we have seen Cafayate and were on our way to Humahuaca. Honestly we didn’t think Salta was such a beautiful city, but we think tourists rave more about the city due to the opportunities of day trips from Salta. The alternative option of San Salvador Jujuy is apparently not so nice. Our bus left Salta at around 10 am.

Cobus haven’t completely recovered from the flu yet, so we were thankful for the two more quiet days in a nice and clean hostel. Travelling is hard work 😉 and to give yourself a day off seems to be more important than we originally thought.

Mark 6:31

31 And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.