A Travellerspoint blog

dead trains, salt plains, cactus and caves

salar de Uyuni DAY 1 (en franglais)

When we left you last we were about to embark on a 3 day jeep journey through the Salar de Uyuni, THE WORLD'S LARGEST SALT FLAT at 3653 m above sea level and 12000 sq km. We're back with some pretty wild photos...


First stop- CEMENTERIO DE TRENES, the graveyard of rusting LOCOmotives...


And COLCHANI where we stopped to see how the salt is processed. So much work (they must go get it, dry it, grind it, pack it...) and finally a bag of 1kg sells for 50 centavos bolivianos (6 canadian cents!!!) or 50 kg for 8 bolivianos ($1 canadian).

Check out these bricks made of SALT (oui, du sel!). sel_briques.jpg

They make constructions out of salt. Not sure if it's just for the tourists though because their houses were not made out of salt. What happens if it rains on salt?

And quick...I ran to the BAÑO (toilet). Check it out (self explanatory)-

Brel riding a llama made of salt-

And we tried to have a discussion with this real llama but he was not very cooperative-

SuperBrel balancing over a litle salt mountain-

Et notre groupe. Nous etions 6 en plus du chauffeur- 1 francaise, 1 francais, 1 belge, Brel et moi (on ne sait toujours pas ce qu'on est) et 1 british qui n'a pas pete 1 mot en 3 jours-

Vive le Salar! A maze of tracks crisscrossing this white land...

Que dire... absolument magnifique!!!

Le petit point noir au fond est un cycliste. ON en a croise plusieurs...il faut etre fou quand meme! Hein Sebastien?

Honeycombs shapes everywhere and blinding whiteness.
And for those of us who love incredible sky, it's paradise here. It is as if everything was removed and only the sky was left. It feels so big, so present, it glows...

Brel dit qu'il est encore trop petit pour boire du whisky-

Oups j'ai melange anglais et francais. Sorry!!!

Et puis en route jusqu'a ISLA DE LOS PESCADORES ou CACTUS ISLAND...tellement il y en a et ils mesurent jusqu'a 12 m de haut




Il y en a des poilus-

Some really prickly-

And they even flower-


Au menu, picnic et cool photo session. Comme il n'y a pas de perspective, pas d'horizon, les photos peuvent etre tres chouette...

It looks like I'm climbing up this very big apple (no photoshop here I swear!!!)-

And Brel is so happy to hold his mom in the palm of his hand and blow her away-

Et puis on a tous fini par sauter au dessus de notre boite de pringles-

Et les cheveux de Brel qui ne cessent de pousser. Il a desesperement besoin d'un petit coup de peigne.

And we visited this incredible cave. After a 2 year drout and thus no more quinoa, the people here started searching for momies in caves (so that they could earn some money by showing these to tourists) but instead they found this gem-
It looks like lace but it's petrified seaweed. It looks fragile and thin like eggshell. (The entire salar used to be a lake by the way).

Close by, we also visited a PRE-INCA CEMETERY (in a cave)-

et on s'est retrouve nez a nez avec des milliers de CACTUS PETRIFIES-
They look like big ginger root!

On a termine la soiree en musique avec tous les enfants des alentours-
Ouch, our ears!!!!

Et puis ils sont presque tombes dans les pommes quand Brel a sorti son charango... Il a pourtant attendu qu'ils partent mais ils sont revenus en courant et l'ont ecoute de l'autre cote de la fenetre...

Posted by patsybrel 12:19 Comments (6)

La Paz pot pouri

And just so that nobody goes to bed sad thinking of horrible mine scenes AND because we finally found a computer that WORKS and allows us to upload pics at a reasonable rate, here are some viewpoints of La Paz ... a crazy place that grows on you (from a few weeks ago).

1 hour after we arrived here, I (who had gone on a food hunt for an exhaudted Brel and I) was stuck in one of the biggest hail storms I have ever seen. It only lasted half an hour but boy did it cover the streets quickly. And since the streets are all steep slopes... the city was immediately transformed into a river. A guy in front of the pizza joint... with a snowball... in case you don't believe me-

The view from our hotel-

Crazy coloured houses-

And some more... with the mountains...

Some dried llama fetuses from the FAMOUS WHITCHES MARKET-


And those braids I am addicted to-

The general cemetery during TODOS SANTOS- Day of the dead (November 1)



More braids (sorry- I've told you before it's an ADDICTION. Just can't get enough!)

This crazy drummer in front of the cemetery-

A magical place called VALLE DE LA LUNA close to the city-

And Patsy with sunhat at Valle de la luna-

And Brel way up there! We were so exhausted that day we could hardly walk (fighting with altitude sickness- exhaustion!!!)

Brel waiting for his CHARANGO teacher in front of the Museum of instruments. One of the prettiest streets in La Paz (colonial).

And again with his friend who he would not go anywhere without... started playing everywhere all the time. He took classes 2 hours a day for 6 days and really advanced quickly. His teacher was sooo impressed. Must find a CHARANGO teacher in Monteal!

Mt Illamani (6402m)-

And again-

Brel on a sunday in the park, down the crazy slide ...

And the old lady with the tiniest rasta cast spotted on our bus out of La Paz-

Hope you're all well!!! Off to cross the biggest salt desert in the world, the SALAR DE UYUNI for the next 3 days and then it's our entry into CHILE!!!

See you all in Chile!
Patsyta and Brelou preparing our final Bolivian adventure

Posted by patsybrel 10:06 Archived in Bolivia Comments (3)

Potosi shocks!!!

A visit inside the mines ...

sunny 25 °C

According to my Lonely Planet, POTOSI SHOCKS!
It is the world's highest city (4060m)- Yes, we keep on going higher and higher! and is set against the backdrop of a rainbow coloured mountain, the CERRO RICO.

"The city was founded in 1545 following the discovery of ore deposits in the mountain, and Potosi veins proved the world's most lucrative. By the end of the 18th centruy the streets were "paved" with silver (not true anymore!), it grew into the LARGEST AND WEALTHIEST CITY IN LATIN AMERICA" (looks really poor these days!!!)...

"Millions of indigenous people and imported African slaves were conscripted to work in the mines in appalling conditions, and millions of deaths occurred. TODAY THOUSANDS CONTINUE TO WORK IN THE MINES (under the same medieval appalling conditions!!!) EVEN THOUGH THE SILVER HAS BEEN DEPLETED" (to extract minerals- zinc, lead, tin...)!!!

While in Sucre, Brel and I had the chance to watch a fabulous (and heart wrenching) multi award-wining documentary, THE DEVIL'S MINERS (2005), which follows a 14 year old miner in the mines of Potosi. Hard to believe first of all, that there are kids working in that "hell". There are actually over 800 of them and the conditions are absolutely horrible. This boy started working in the mine when he was 10 because his father died and he needed to earn some money, somehow, to help his mother. He eventually brings his 12 year old brother in with him to help...

Some things we learned from the documentary-
-The Cerro Rico is also known as THE MOUNTAIN WHO EATS MEN ALIVE because sooo many men and children have died in the mines (and are still dying in the mines)
- Miners, exposed to so many notious chemicals, often die of silicosis pneumonia within 10 years of entering the mines (so do the maths, if a boy enters at age 10...). They know they are sacrificing their life for this...and for what?...just enough for bread and potatoes!!!
- They only get paid IF and when they find good minerals
- They can work 12-18 hours at the time in there!!!
- If a miner dies, his eldest son takes over ...
- All the work is still done manually (just like in colonial times!!!). They can rent an electric drill for $10 (for 2 hours) but it is impossible for them to pay this amount!!!
- The miner must buy his own equipment but nothing is compulsory so if he is poor (and they all are here!!!) he goes in with no equipment and no protection...
- Most of the minerals found in Potosi are sold to Chile (for peanuts) and Chile exports it all over the world for A LOT MORE $... no wonder Bolivia is the poorest country in South America!!!

Anyways, Brel and I decided to do the MINE TOUR to see for ourselves. And just like I had read, the tour was demanding, shocking and unforgettable!!! We had to crawl through narrow tunnels full of dust, weird smells and huge cables and climb down a rickety ladder... (Unlike the miners we all had masks, helmets, water proof pants, jackets and boots, head lights and gloves...)

We started at the Miner's market where we were told to buy gifts for the miners that we would meet along the way- coca leaves (the most essential part of their diet. Chewing this all day long gives them strength, aleviates their hunger...), cigarettes (which they give as offering to their "god" down there), drinks and explosives. Yes, Brel was determined to see an explosion so he bought dynamite!!! (Apparently the only place you can by it legally!!!)


We also bought masks for us (we did not see one single miner down there wearing a mask and not one single tourist not wearing one!!!) and gloves for Brel (which he was to donate during the tour).

Driving to the mine ...


REAL miners along the way (so many young ones!!!)


Then we drove to their church on top of CERRO RICO

in front of which we saw a demonstration blast (not my cup of tea... Brel was all ready to film it but flinched at the blast and just got the smoke on film ...)

Our group, the FAKE miners-

Mother and son all set-

Brel is psyched and all set in his special outfit (He is so lucky to do this NOT FOR REAL!!!- he knows!!! He cried so much during and after the documentary). The hole you see is our entrance!!!

Finally we crawled in (for more than 3 km) and watched miners in action in intercommunicated mines (we descended 7 levels from 20 to 30 m until we reached the heart of the mountain).

This is what a VEIN looks like-

Brel found some Zinc-

And then their GOD-Devil, THE "TIO" who the Spanish initially invented to scare them and get them to work harder but who they now strongly believe in as their protector and provider of good quality minerals. Every friday they sit with him and offer coca leaves and cigarettes... There is one in every single mine!!! They strongly believe that HE holds their future in the mine in his hands... They even make llama offerings to him, splash the llama blood all over the entrance of the mine and then paint their faces with the remaining blood... OFFERINGS AND RITUAL ARE ALWAYS PRESENT HERE!!!

Here's the TIO-

and closer so that you can see him smoking (as you can see smoking is a sacred act here (remember the ñatitas?)-

Brel inside the mine-

The real ones at work... no masks, no gloves...just a cheek full of coca leaves. And you should have seen how black our masks were after a 2 hour visit in there...

The town of Potosi from the CERRO RICO

Posted by patsybrel 08:46 Archived in Bolivia Comments (3)

Des dinosaures en Bolivie !!!

Il y a 68 millions d'annees ...

sunny 30 °C

Nous avons visite le PARQUE CRETACICO, tout pres de Sucre, ou nous nous sommes retrouves nez a nez avec des repliques-maquettes (grandeur nature mesdames et messieurs) de ces TERRIBLES LEZARDS (DINO= terrible, SAURES=lezards) qui se promenaient ici il y a de cela tres tres longtemps. Et puis on a meme vu leurs traces (qui apparement sont les plus importantes au monde !?!!!!!) et qui ELLES, NE SONT PAS DES "COPIES", mais les vraies de vraies ...

















Et Brel qui se retrouve nez a nez avec ce dinosaure... Pensez-vous qu'il a peur? Et vous, auriez-vous une peur de loup?

Et le TITANOSAURE qui est tellement grand, que je n'ai meme pas pu le prendre en photo au complet... meme de loin! Il est herbivore et fait 36 metres de long!


Et le mur ou on retrouve les fameuses traces... Dans le temps des dinosaures, ce "mur" etait a plat (car la terre bouge n'est ce pas!) et amenait les dinosaures vers un lac et c'est pour cela qu'il y a toutes sortes de traces...

Quelques traces ...

Voici une reproduction du mur en question. Vous pouvez voir les dinosaures qui descendent vers le lac ...

Et le paysage assez impressionant merci qu'on retrouve dans le coin ...

Quand meme extraordinaire de se retrouver parmi ces creatures grandeur nature ...

Posted by patsybrel 16:50 Archived in Bolivia Comments (3)


La fete des morts... elegance et cranes

sunny 28 °C

Il y a quelques jours (le 8 novembre exactement), j'ai eu la chance d'assister a qqchose d'incroyable au cimetiere generale de La Paz. La messe pour ÑATITAS et le defile de ces memes ÑATITAS!!!

Je dois vous mettre dans le contexte d'abord-

La fete de Todos los Santos (la fete des morts) se celebre en Bolivie le premier et 2 novembre. La majorite de la population prepare la visite des ames des defunts. C'est une fete qui se deroule entre voisins et en famille.

Le premier novembre ca se passe plutot a l'interieur. C'est la journee de l' "altar" et des offrandes; jus, fruits, sucreries, biscuits, guirlandes de fleurs, biere, feuilles de "coca"... Les familles dressent la table avec les plats preferes du defunt et l'ame est invite a table et se regale de tous ses mets favoris.
La bouffe et la boisson sont importants pour celebrer et rasasier l'ame du defunt (qui continue d'exister bien evidemment dans un autre monde).

Le 2 novembre, ils lui disent aurevoir encore une fois et c'est la fete. Ils vont au cimetiere avec bouffe, fleurs et musique et c'est qq chose!!! On a passe le dimanche au cimetiere, Brel et moi, et c'etait plein a craquer!!! (photos un de ces 4).

Pour la communaute indigene, la coexistence entre la vie et la mort est sacree et tres differente de la conception que nous avons, en occident, de ces 2 choses, tres separees l'une de l'autre quand meme. La vie et la mort, le corps et l'ame, le ciel et l'enfer, la sante et la maladie, sont vus tres differement ici.

Ils ont plein de rituels pour organiser ce monde magique, un monde ou il existe differents niveaux de representations ... tres riche en symbolisme, couleurs, traditions, coutumes....

Les Ñatitas rentrent dans ce contexte de croyance avec la devotion aux restes humains du defunt, le "culte du crane". Ils attribuent aux cranes des pouvoir surnaturels. Il est garde dans un endroit special de la maison (parfois il a meme une chambre a lui tout seul) et on lui offre cigarettes et feuilles de coca en offrande. En echange il protege la famille, la maison et aide a realiser leur reves....

Et puis pendant cette messe tres speciale du 8 novembre, les gens trimbalent leur crane a l'eglise (a voir absolument!!!) pour qu'il puisse etre benit par le pretre catholique (et j'imagine qu'il est ainsi "recharger" et a nouveau rempli de "pouvoirs").

Un rituel qui demontre un vrai melange culturel entre traditions andine et catholique.

Des photos pour vous mettre dans cette ambiance tellement weird et magique...

Pendant la messe avec toutes les ñatitas au centre, pretes a recevoir la benediction du pretre-




A l'exterieur... des musiciens en train de jouer pour quelques ames de passage-

Une famille en pleine celebration entoure sa ñatita...

Bougies au rendez-vous-

Et la seule et unique fois que j'ai vu des femmes indigenes fumer. Elles fumaient toutes ce jours-la!!! (les cranes aussi d'ailleurs!!!).

Pour le reste, je pense qu'une photo vaut 1000 mots ...




















Posted by patsybrel 11:28 Archived in Bolivia Comments (4)

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