Andorra- Soldeu

In the last week of January, myself and Lucas travelled to the very small country of Andorra which sits in the Pyrenees between France and Spain.

It is a country with only 85,000 people and generates income from tourism and from being a “tax haven”. While I know of it as a “tax haven” I’m not sure what that means. Petrol looks expensive to me and liquor does not seem particularly cheap, perhaps these are not the taxes which are being havened. We are not here to create tax savings, we are here for winter sports. I say winter sports as we had intended snow boarding. Lucas is snow boarding and I retired hurt on the first day and swapped my dangerous single plank of wood for skis.

Lucas looks cool with his board. Note that I briefly looked cool with my board before horrific personal injuries prevented me continuing.

Lucas looks cool with his board. Note that I briefly looked cool with my board before horrific personal injuries prevented me continuing.

After three days he is getting the hang of it.

After three days he is getting the hang of it.

Another action shot.

Another action shot.

Having skied in Saas Fee, Switzerland two weeks earlier this experience lends itself to comparison as follows:

Lift passes in Switzerland were about 40 percent higher in cost.

Ski rental in Switzerland was about twice the price of Andorra.

Coffee on the mountain is about 50 percent more expensive than in Andorra. I use coffee as a proxy for all food and beverage costs.

I must point out that the lifts and rental equipment and coffee are all of better quality in Saas Fee than in Soldeu.

Saas Fee is a very attractive village, Soldeu is a road with hotels and restaurants on each side. In Soldeu here is some evidence of charm in the use of local stone, but, overall, charm was more keenly rationed.

Soldeu. Not very large and it did snow a lot while we were there.

Soldeu. Not very large and it did snow a lot while we were there.

Soldeu. Another very similar shot of its Main Street when the snow has kept vehicle drivers indoors.

Soldeu. Another very similar shot of its Main Street when the snow has kept vehicle drivers indoors.

The skiing in Saas Fee and the skiing in Andorra were both excellent in terms of the volume of pistes for we of the status intermediate and beginner. I am unable to point at one being preferable to the other.

My non scientific assessment of visitors to Saas Fee is that they are (in order) British, German, Swiss. Applying the same non scientific observational skills, the visitors to Andorra are (in order) British, Russian, Spanish.

A greater proportion of skiers in Saas Fee wear helmets than in Andorra.

Both Andorra and Saas Fee had very attractive mountains. Rocky jagged things covered in white cold stuff.

Soldeu, Andorra on the most lovely of bright shiny days.

Soldeu, Andorra on the most lovely of bright shiny days.

Soldeu Andorra. From same spot different compass point.

Soldeu Andorra. From same spot different compass point.

Finally Andorra one last time. Further down the mountain and one idling snowboarder cameoed.

Finally Andorra one last time. Further down the mountain and one idling snowboarder cameoed, who is known to me.

There was a far higher density of people per hectare on Andorran snow than on Saas Fee snow. Consultation with my gut says that a factor of two was the density differential. Consultation with personal space requirements found the Andorran density quite acceptable. I did not feel over crowded on the Andorran slopes and queuing for lifts occurred at a very acceptable pace.

We enjoyed Soldeu and recommend that people come here to ski or board. I said exactly the same thing about Saas Fee when I wrote of that trip. I think the Saas Fee experience would be marketed as “premium” and the Soldeu experience as “value”. I do not describe Soldeu as a budget experience. There can be tacky connotations that attach to the word budget and the Soldeu I visited was free of tackiness.

Being a friend of Sandra meant that we were provided accomodation in Saas Fee for free. So, in fact, we enjoyed the champagne experience on a beer budget. I recommend that everyone gets a friend like Sandra.

Soldeu and Saas Fee, both fabulous. I leave potential consumers free to choose their preferred price point.

 

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Falklands/Malvinas- Argentina and Great Britain

I lived in England during the Falklands War. I recall the Argentinians starting it and the British finishing it. Before the events of 1982 I would have struggled to pinpoint the islands on a map. After the events of 1982 everyone who read the British press, while sat in a British home, knew where the Union flag was fluttering. It was, and still is, fluttering over British Territories in the Southern Oceans.

I left England in 1986 and went to live in Australia. The matter has not resurfaced for me since that date. In Argentina, the issue of sovereignty came up more than I had expected, my expectation being not at all. We saw many reminders:

Buenos Aires. This is in the entrance lobby of the Presidential palace.

Buenos Aires. This is in the entrance lobby of the Presidential palace.

Similarly this was in the back courtyard of the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires. Both of these looked to be of recent construction.

Similarly this was in the back courtyard of the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires. Both of these looked to be of recent construction.

Just around the corner from Casa Rosa on way to San Telmo in BA was a square dedicated to the heroes of the Malvinas.

Just around the corner from Casa Rosa on way to San Telmo in BA was a square dedicated to the heroes of the Malvinas.

There are squares and monuments built with this common theme as we journeyed south. There is a coin minted that circulates in Argentina with similar embossed sentiment. In 2009 (I think) Argentina altered its constitution to recognise its claims to the Islands.

If you fly into the southern most city of Ushuaia, which is closest to the Islands, you arrive at Malvinas airport. There are more monuments close to the docks that look to have been erected for the 30th anniversary, that is in 2012.

Ushusia monument.

Ushusia monument.

An etrenal flame, 30th anniversary and 649 names inscribed on the wall behind which I assume to be the Argentinians who dies in the conflict.

An eternal flame, 30th anniversary and 649 names inscribed on the wall behind which I assume to be the Argentinians who died in the conflict.

Entrance to the Docks at Ushuaia. Which I think alludes to some sanctions taken against ships from the Islands.

Entrance to the Docks at Ushuaia..

At the tourist information office at Ushuaia there is display stand along one wall filled with helpful brochures.

At the tourist information office at Ushuaia there is display stand along one wall filled with helpful brochures.

Inside the informative brochure.

Inside the informative brochure.

 

 

 

I read the brochure provided by the Tourist Information Office in Ushuaia. I also did some quick searches of the Internet.

The Argentinian claim to the Malvinas is very succinctly set out in their brochure:

1. The Islands are close to Argentina and a long way away from Great Britain.

2. The islands were occupied by Argentina until 1833 when Britain expelled the Argentine dwellers.

I did not find a similarly neat British brochure. I think the British rebuttals to 1 and 2 above, go like this:

1. Yes the Falklands are close to Argentina, that is a fact. But not one that is relevant. If it were relevant, the Faroe Islands would be British and the Channel Islands would be French. They are not.

2. The second claim causes a review of history that is less clear than suggested by the brochure taken from tourist information.

The British may say that they landed upon the islands a long time before Argentina, in fact, in 1690 when Captain John Strong landed and the name Falkland was applied. Falkland was the First Lord of the British Admiralty in 1690.

The period of occupation claimed by the Argentines is from around 1829 to 1833. The islands housed British settlements for a long time before 1829. Similarly, the islands housed French settlements for many years before 1829. I have read an article suggesting that Argentina asked British permission for their settlement of 1829 to 1833. I have read that in 1829 to 1833 Argentina was in a state of civil war and Buenos Aires did not control these lands to the south and they were not recognised as part of Argentina by……the British and many others who were living there. I have read that the Argentine “dwellers” were a penal colony who rebelled and killed five of the leaders of the community, thereby expressing anti Argentinian preferences. Some of what I have read may be incorrect. It does suggest that the history of ownership is quite complicated and a legitimate owner on the basis of “we were here first” is not clear.

It does not seem to be disputed that the British have settled the islands and that settlement has been uninterrupted from 1833 to today. The British settlement has been far larger in numbers and far longer in duration than that referred in the Argentine claim.

Chile’s position

As presented by a Chilean tour guide who was explaining Chile’s political history to her tour group. I was sat within earshot and this is what I heard…… Galtieri (who was the leader of Argentina at the time) was in trouble politically and economically and launched the war as a distraction. He lost, and this was terminal for his administration. She considered his loss delivered some good to Argentina as an elected government followed the military Junta of Galtieri.

Chile supported Britain during the Falklands war. They did this because Argentina has a very similar claim against Chile, concerning three small desolate islands in the South. The Chilean guide indicated the Argentine claims are designed to support a claim to Antarctic territories. Argentina had been threatening war against Chile in respect of its territorial ambitions, hence the Chilean support for Britain.

There are parts of the Antarctic that are today inscribed as “Argentinian” Antarctic on Argentinian maps. These same pieces of territory are described as “Chilean” Antarctic on Chilean maps.

The British claim.

1. I assume it to be the view of Britain that the people of the Falklands have the right to determine their own future. In support of this position, a referendum was held in the Falklands in 2013. Voter turnout was 91.94% and they voted for the Falkland Islands to remain an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. This vote was 99.8%, in favour, only three people voted against.

That is quite an extraordinarily turnout and an astonishingly consistent voting pattern seldom found in a democracy.

The Argentine  counterclaim is that the Islanders do not qualify as a people who are able to exercise self determination. The British may claim they are a people, distinct from their geographic neighbours, in language, religion, history, democratic traditions, food, culture and possibly more.

In my most recent visits to England the Falklands was not high profile. I note that David Cameron met Barack Obama and the Falklands was pre-agreed as off the agenda. I found a British press article that suggested Argentina were trying to rent twelve long range bombers from Russia. The same article said a British gun boat had been sent to the Falklands for manoeuvres.

I read similar articles in Argentine press and British press concerning the search for oil by the British in this area. The article I read in the Argentine press suggested that many holes had been drilled, that no oil had been found, and that the companies involved had given up and gone home. The article I read in the Financial Times concerned a company called Premier Oil who were seeking $2 billion dollars to start a commercial project that would extract Falklands oil. The CEO was indicating in his press release that oil was commercial to extract at prices over USD 80 a barrel. Those are two articles at 180 degrees variant.

Overall, fewer reminders in Britain than I saw in Argentina.

Where to next?

The Argentine brochure states ” The 1982 conflict did not alter the nature of the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom…..”

That is true. The “conflict” referred was an Argentine military invasion. The dispute may not have altered as a consequence of the “conflict” but it appears, to me, that the probability of a speedy resolution (that Argentina may find satisfactory) has altered. As a consequence of the Argentine invasion it seems, to me, that any British Government that gave ground to Argentina would find itself unelectable. Politicians have a clear understanding of unelectable.

I therefore assume there is no British Governmental appetite, at this time, to negotiate any meaningful changes to the status quo. Which means that my lengthy explanation of claim and counter claim earlier in this blog, doesn’t really matter.

My view is that two more British generations will need to be born and grow old and absorb a different reflection of Argentinian claims before those claims could be considered/discussed. That’s sixty more years for Argentina to sit still and reflect that a military invasion may have been a poor quality decision with decades of reverberations.

Would Argentina Invade again ?

I cannot claim any insight. There is more chest beating and flag flying from the Argentine government than I had expected to see and I assume that has popular appeal with the domestic audience. “We’ll be back” is inscribed large and in rock on one of the monuments I saw in Ushuaia. Whether this is a precursor to further action or a substitute for further action, I have no idea. When I was in Brazil a Brazilian described how he and his countrymen perceived Argentinians. He described Argentinians as consistently long on talk and short on delivery. Maybe there is an element of this in what we saw in  this context.

The price of the 1982 war was high for Agentina, in lives lost and money spent. For the Argentine Government of the time, the outcome was terminal. Conversely, for Margaret Thatcher it secured her next term in government when that was looking otherwise unlikely.

The 1982 military invasion occurred at a time of economic difficulties for Argentina with a dictatorship that was unpopular. Currently, Argentina has inflation of 43% per annum, dwindling foreign reserves and currency controls that have created a thriving black (blue) market for hard currencies. The countries current leader, Cristina Kirchner, seems to have a scandal at her door. A public prosecutor was shot dead hours before he was due to present testimony against her involvement in the cover up of a bombing that killed many.

Nationalism is the last refuge of the scoundrel (Dr Johnson; who never resided in the  Falklands). A leader who is in economic and political difficulty may see an invasion as a last desperate roll of the dice.

Argentina is currently a “democracy”, I use the rabbit ears because things seem to happen in Argentina that would not be expected in democracies, no rabbits ears. A “democracy” may be a more effective construct to prevent a repetition of military aggression than a dictatorship. But Argentina has a history of being both.

I felt reasonably optimistic that the tourist information office in Ushuaia shares brochures in moderate language explaining its case. I felt reasonably positive that no one raised the matter with me while I was there. I imagine this could change quite quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Switzerland- Saas Fee

We were very fortunate to be invited by Sandra to stay in a ski apartment. It is her parents apartment in Saas Fee.

Our home for a week.

Our home for a week.

Us and Sandra and Sandra's best boy Patric.

Us and Sandra and Sandra’s best boy Patric.

I had previously not heard of Saas Fee, but I had heard of Zermatt which is 19 k’s away and I had heard of Italy which is closer than that. The Alps here are large Alps which hold glaciers and because of the highness of their height they host a long ski season. We were here for the skiing, and to reflect on all matters Swiss.

I thought this was quirky and Unswiss but welcoming.

I thought this was quirky and Unswiss but welcoming.

Saas Fee is a very lovely town or village. Its not very big but it is distinctive. Internal combustion engines have to be left at a large circular multi storey car park on the edge of town that looks completely out of place compared to the wooden quaintness of the town itself. Instead of cars people use their legs and there are odd small electric vehicles that silently stalk you as you wander the street.

Small silent angular cars that will one day feature in a lego horror movie.

Small silent angular cars that will one day feature in a lego horror movie.

They are small and angular and I was sure that they were constructed from lego. Their smallness relative to the person driving and their squareness reminded me of Postman Pat, without his black and white cat…..early in the morning as the day is dawning…..etc. I understand why Pat was such a happy chap in such a vehicle.

The town is in Switzerland. It could have been Austria or Germany listening to the guttural language and looking at the preponderance of wood for construction. It is Switzerland and accordingly is chocolate box attractive.

Little wooden houses.

Little wooden houses.

Chocolate box attractive.

Chocolate box attractive.

Is there anything else that made it Switzerland and distinctively so? To answer that question we should first visit the supermarket.

In Saas Fee there are three that I saw, one called Pam, one called Coop and one called Migros (prices a little cheaper but no alcohol sold here).

There are two things on the Swiss supermarket shelves that I have not seen anywhere else.

Where else could you buy Rosti?

Where else could you buy Rosti?

Not sure I wish to buy fondu in a bag or in anything. Here it was in the chiller.

Not sure I wish to buy fondu in a bag or in anything. Here it was in the chiller.

Ready to heat, then eat, Fondue and ready to heat, then eat, Rosti. The supermarkets displayed the Swiss contribution to the table. We ate both in restaurants. I liked the Rosti, potato fried in saturated animal fats and garnished with tomatoes and ham (in the example I ate) . It was very good.

The fondue was a cultural step too far. Myself, Alex and Lucas ordered fondue in a restaurant specialising in fondues with around twenty different fondues available. A pan was set atop a flame on the table and inside was the hot melted cheese. The pan was divided into three parts by a specifically constructed metal thirder of casserole pans. Each of the three sections contained a different fondue, we ordered onion, mushroom and bacon. A basket was sat next to the warming pot and this was full of cubed bread that seemed sturdy in the way day old bread is sturdy. It was very good fondue. As a meal it lacked a bit of balance as it was bread and cheese. As a main meal it filled the stomach with carbohydrates and animal fats in the manner of a cruel diabetes experiment, reserved for laboratory rats. As a traditional dish at a fine restaurant it seemed only correct that this slice of Switzerland should be priced at AUD120 for the three of us. We were very pleased we tried the dish. Shall we be visiting the Swiss club on Flinders Lane to reproduce the experience? Probably not, actually definitely not. I did find it difficult to overcome my preconception that fondue was briefly popular at the time man was taking his first steps upon the moon. Not popular since that particular day and on that day I recall saying “No thanks”

Did the Swiss live up to six other preconceptions?

1. Being as timely as could be for a Nation that is home to chronology. It was very noticeable that when we went into coffee shops our order arrived before we had provided it to the waitress. I learnt that all Swiss cafes have installed Dr Who type funnels close to the entrance that trap your thoughts. This provides prompter service than has previously ever been possible.

2. Having towns that are chocolate box lovely. Tick from what we witnessed in Saas Fee.

Lovely

Lovely

3.  Valuing a sense of order and cleanliness and neatness that others may find unnatural. Yes it is tempting to walk into shops and move displayed goods a few centimetres to inject anxiety to the shelving. I did not do this. All was calm. For every place, there was a thing for that place. Except. Except while I was here the conservative and reliable Swiss financial system was shocked to its core. The Swiss franc was revalued upwards by 30 percent against the Euro in a day. That was more than unusual. And very unswiss. Global currency markets were briefly in chaos and people said unkind things about the Swiss Central Bank and the individuals who work there.

4. Polyglots. I usually think of Dutch people as being accomplished with languages. Similarly Scandinavians. I now think that the Swiss beat them them both. I stopped asking people if they spoke english, because they did. They all did and very well and with accents that many times were english regional…….They also usually spoke German, French, Italian also. Having spent many months in South America I tried to throw in Spanish to confuse the implacable Swiss and remind them that four languages is laural resting.

5. Mountain goats. I think of the Swiss and I think of mountains and the Swiss doing projects in the mountains. At Saas Fee there is a fenicular railway that has been bored through the mountain, that is, inside the mountain. It  transports skiers to the highest slopes at the very top of the mountain. For good luck, at the very top, they constructed a revolving restaurant with magnificent (360 degree) views of the mountains. I thought this was an incredible engineering feat and an incredible idea to build such things. I could not imagine it was economically sensible.

This is a mountain. From the top of the mountain you get even better views than this one.

This is a mountain. From the top of the mountain you get even better views than this one.

6. The Swiss are unfriendly. I never thought they were. This was the preconception of Sandra the friendly Swiss person who arranged for us to stay at her parents chalet. She asked me to make mental notes on Swiss friendliness and report back at the conclusion of the week. For her kindness I shall describe this request as a Swiss desire for feedback…..which is an element of a positive and never ending quest for improvement. Paranoia? Insecurity? How could I have thought such thoughts? I found the Swiss very friendly, and very helpful. Actually, I find the people of most countries are so. I felt the Swiss to be more honest than people of other countries. The country feels like the safest of places. I never felt anyone would steal from me or would try to extract more money from me than was advertised (even if those prices could be described as high and in uncharitable terms). I think this reflects positively upon Swiss people’s values but also the Swiss nations wealth and the distribution of that wealth…….I never saw a person who looked in need (outside my immediate family).

 

 

 

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Bolivia- La Paz, Copacabana/Isla del Sol

Nuestra Senora de La Paz is the commercial and administrative centre of Bolivia but not its capital, which is Sucre. There are around 1 million people here so it is not so large. Its upstart sibling is El Alto. A city that is situated at the top of the valley, cram packed with people who cannot afford to live in the valley. El Alto is now larger than La Paz, but only just.

La Paz sits at 3600 metres which is quite high. It is built in a valley and every destination requires a walk up steep hills (and then back down again). So you walk slowly and pant a lot.

La Paz city started in the valley and has crawled up the steep valley sides.

La Paz city started in the valley and has crawled up the steep valley sides.

The modern red brick hides the few old stone colonial buildings.

La Paz from the lookout point.The modern red brick hides the few old stone colonial buildings.

I rather liked the place although it was a little sad. We did the double decker bus tour of the city. The headphones told us of Bolivia’s history. Bolivia fought three wars against their neighbours and were consistently losers. This cost them Bolivian acreage and that acreage is the acreage full of minerals. Bolivia has also finished up land locked and continues to press claims for land that would provide it a coastal port. The country does hold 40% of the worlds lithium sat under the salt flats and confusingly they seem to be doing little to exploit this asset.

La Paz has a fabulous football stadium and in 1994 qualified for the World Cup in the USA. Their first game was against Germany. After that the commentary on the headphones moved on. I did look up the score, Bolivia did lose, although only by one goal, with a man sent off. The other great achievement of the Bolivian football team was to beat Brazil in the lead up to one of the World Cups. As a consequence FIFA then banned lead up games from being played above x metres, which meant La Paz would never see a repeat of that triumph.

La Paz is generally quite poor, with glitzy individual exceptions to that comment. The city has few historical buildings and many that remain have had modern monstrosities built within millimetres that obscure them. Consistent with generally poor, there are quite a volume of beggars and taxi rides were costing us less than flag fall on a Melbourne Silver Top taxi.

The anticlockwise clock.

The anticlockwise  anti capitalist clock in the plaza mayor La Paz.

The Bolivian Government is anti capitalist and as visible confirmation the clock in the main square runs anti clockwise. The narrative that accompanies, is that this is a demonstrable illustration that they will not slavishly follow Western conventions. I quite liked it, but thought it was a bit silly. Tell me at what time this photo was taken……answer below.

In Central and South America there are only two countries that do not host McDonalds. One is Cuba and the other is Bolivia. The reason is not a governmental decree, just that Bolivians would not eat there. For fourteen years McDonalds persisted and made losses. After 14 years 60% of Bolivians had not set foot in a McDonalds outlet, McDonalds packed up and went home.

The first supermarket we went into in Bolivia was in Uyuni. It was called Exito. Now Exito is a large successful chain that we first came across in Colombia. While the font for the sign was the same I suspect that Exito knew nothing of this shop in Uyuni and if they had known of it, they would not be pleased. The supermarket was located up two flights of narrow stairs, which was an impractical location. It was small and had two check out tills. One had its conveyor belt converted to temporary office space while an earnest young lady arranged piles of paper and wrote. The other had a girl sat watching a TV she had positioned in front of her. The store was noisy as there was a sound system pumping out local hits at a volume that would have prevented the girl at the check out desk from hearing the TV.

Our supermarket experience at La Paz was altogether more conventional. A big store looking similar to those in many other countries except that the beer section was tiny. There is much underemployment in La Paz and we enjoyed many individuals keen to assist us both in the aisles and packing our goods as we left. It was a lovely experience that indicated to us that labour is of low cost. We have become accustomed to tipping the people who pack our purchases.

Good natured assistance in the La Paz supermarket

Good natured assistance in the La Paz supermarket

Lustrabotas…..Shoe shine boys are prevalent and wear ski masks. Lonely Planet suggests this is to disguise themselves as it is a shameful occupation. Not sure how this works when shame did not apply to the many clear faced beggars upon the streets. For 40 cents one acquires a very clean pair of heels….. another relatively high tip needed to cover an embarrassingly small cost.

Answer to telling the time question: ten to ten is the time on the  anticlockwise clock in plaza mayor La Paz.

For two days we visited Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We also visited the birthplace of the Incas, Isla del Sol, a mere 60 minutes ina  private launch from Copacabana………..slightly longer on the public ferry…..not that we experienced the public ferry, why would we?

The very unusual thing we witnessed was the blessing of the motor vehicles. Over the New Year people drive to Copacabana and the church of the virgin in order that the priest (priests as there are five of them) can bless their cars for the next twelve months. For 20 Bolivianos the priest will bless the engine compartment, the tyres,  around the vehicle and the drivers seat. I think the idea is that it supplements a fully comprehensive insurance scheme rather than replaces one.

In Copacabana people drive to have their cars blessed by the priest at the cost of Bolivianos 20 each. Much decorated before the blessing.

People drive long distances, from all around the country, to Copacabana to have their cars blessed. Much decorated for the blessing.

If you cannot bring your car. You can get a similar toy blessed in its stead. Or your house or your ambitions to become pregnant.  All at 20 Bolivianos a pop.

If you cannot bring your car. You can get a similar toy blessed in its stead. Or your house, or your ambitions to become pregnant.

Many people queue awaiting a blessing. Many people sell flowers and decorative elements to make the blessing more of an occasion.

Many people queue awaiting a blessing. Many people sell flowers and decorative elements for the blessing including bags of rice,sugar and cinnamon that are thrown over the car.

Isla del Sol has a number of early Inca ruins. They were quite ruined and poorly constructed compared to my memory of the more fabulous Peruvain based Inca sites.

Inca ruins on Isla del Sol.

Inca ruins on Isla del Sol on lake Titicaca.

Trapeziodal doorways and little else of interest.

Trapeziodal doorways and little else of interest.

Copacabana hosts Bolivians on holiday. There is a chapel to The Virgin and many pilgrims walk here from La Paz. We caught the bus and found this to be much more convenient. The pilgrims walk up Calgary on their knees. Calgary being a big hill in Copacabana. We used our feet to walk up and can attest that at 3800 metres plus it was a very tiring, very panting experience.

Copacabana from the breathy heights of Calgary Hill.

Copacabana and Lake Titicaca from the breathy heights of Calgary Hill.

And one more time from Calgary Hill.

And one more time from Calgary Hill.

People on the altiplano build houses. Their sense of colour is distinct and not to universal taste.

Aqua mirrored exterior glass is popular.

Aqua mirrored exterior glass is popular.

So too pink.

So too pink.

 

 

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Bolivia- San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, Postscript

I name this a postscript because we didn’t do the tour from SPdeA  to Uyuni to be in Uyuni.

We didn’t like Uyuni. We were not able to leave Uyuni as quickly as we would have liked and we had a number of non pleasing experiences in Uyuni.

The first impression of the town after leaving the salt flats is negative. The town is surrounded by a large rubbish dump. Plastic bags and household waste are all over the terrain. The town itself is also a creation in ugliness. Dry, grey, dusty and bleak.

Uyuni streetscape

Uyuni streetscape

There was little else to enjoy. We found that both our credit card providers blocked transactions from Amaszonia airlines. We had not been able to book our exit flight out of Uyuni on the internet and arriving at Uyuni this problem followed us. We needed to pay in cash. We found three ATMs in Uyuni. Only one of those ATM’s accepted our cards and on our second day, it had run out of cash. We wished we had brought more Chilean Pesos or US dollars as back up.

Many people seem to come here to see the Salar (salt flats) which they do on various day trips. They do not then continue with the additional two days to the lakes and mountains and desert. I think those that make that selection have missed the best part of south west Bolivia.

There is one quirky redeeming feature of Uyuni. The town is a rubbish dump for old trains, known as the train cemetery. Each train is over 115 years old, from the age of steam and very thick metal plating and enormous rivets. I did enjoy that visit.

A swing welded to an old engine.

A swing welded to an old engine.

We were not able to fly out of Uyuni the day after we arrived and so were condemned to contemplating its ugliness for 24 hours more than we had expected. We could have taken the 11 hour bus ride to La Paz, but we went with the flight next day option to see if we could find beauty among the garbage. In case you are reading on for the results…….we only found garbage amongst the garbage.

We had booked a hotel for our only night. We arrived and it had no electricity, so we were obliged to look for something else. We found something else and agreed a price. At check out the price we thought we had agreed, had doubled. Apparently we had agreed a price per room, not a price for two rooms (according to one version of the discussion). There followed a vexed exchange of views and we met in the financial middle. After that we had enormous sulks from the hotel staff and a very small boy who I assumed was related to them. Get over it guys, your hotel was half empty and our revenue is all contribution to your fixed cost base.

The internet in Uyuni is very poor quality and allows you plenty of time to reflect on life. We reflected that we did not feel Uyuni had much to offer or us, or anyone. Except for fine pizzas, exceedingly fine pizzas. Good to end on a positive.

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Bolivia- San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, Part 3

The night of day 2 was spent spitting distance from the village of San Juan just outside the salt flats. We stayed in a hostal made from salt blocks rather than cement blocks.

Day 3 was on the salt flats and this was the easiest day for altitude sickness because it was at the lowest heights of the three days. Although 3800 metres is still quite high.

Day 3 Salar de Uyuni.

Day 3 Salar de Uyuni.

Most people did suffer from the altitude to some extent, headaches were most common. Some suffered more than others. Youth generally seemed to create protection. But there were a number of exceptions to this comment. We drank copiously water. I felt very nauseous from the afternoon on day 1 to before breakfast day 2. Then I got better and better. I did wish I had been better acclimatised.

Day 3. Incahuasi Island which is where the cactii grow, but only at the rate of 1 centimetre a year.

Day 3. Incahuasi Island which is where the cactii grow, but only at the rate of 1 centimetre a year.

In Chile it is illegal to cut the cactii down and use their wood. In Bolivia they seemed to chop away.

In Chile it is illegal to cut the cactii down and use their wood. In Bolivia they seemed to chop away.

Day 3. Even the rubbish bins had been made of cactus wood.

Day 3. Even the rubbish bins had been made of cactus wood.

Day 3. Not all the cactus are happy about being exploited for their wood. Particularly after they have been around for 500 years.

Day 3. Not all the cactus are happy about being exploited for their wood. Particularly after they have been around for 500 years.

Day 3. Cactus and salt flats do make for a good comparison shot.

Day 3. Cactus and salt flats do make for a good comparison shot.

Day 3. Salar Uyuni. In total 12,500 km squared of slat flats formed from a lake that evaporated and was 35,000 square kilometres.

Day 3. Salar Uyuni. In total 12,500 km squared of slat flats formed from a lake that evaporated and was 35,000 square kilometres.

The salt is 120 metres thick and moist. It has to be moist or the wind would take it away.In the wet season December to March it all floods and the salt flats become a great big mirror. The rains were late this year.

The salt is 120 metres thick and moist. It has to be moist or the wind would take it away.In the wet season December to March it all floods and the salt flats become a great big mirror. The rains were late this year.

I wished I had done our time in La Paz first and been sick there for a day, rather than on this tour. Instead we visited La Paz and Titicaca afterwards. The one thing I would have done differently was this. I think I would have done the tour the other way around that is from Uyuni to SPdeA. Visiting La Paz and Lake Titicaca first would have given my body more time to acclimatise at heights that are more similar. I would then have been in better physical condition to enjoy the tour. It would also have meant finishing the tour at San Pedro de Atacama which has much to recommend it, rather than finishing at Uyuni which has little to recommend it.

The perspectives photos are an essential step in any tourists itinerary to the salt flats.

The perspectives photos are an essential step in any tourists itinerary to the salt flats.

Lucas whispering in his mothers ear.

Lucas whispering in his mothers ear.

 

Value for Money?
The colours and the vistas are hard to describe and essential to experience. I suspect they are unique in the World and it is something everyone simply must do. It cost the four of us, all together, everything included, about 1300 Aussie Dollars. I consider it great value for money.

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At the end of our trip I had some spare time in Uyuni and wrote a lengthy review for Trip Advisor. I have chopped that review around for the blog here and this is where Trip Advisor type content emerges…..supplemented with pictures that I think are quite pretty.

The end of Day 1 is spent at a hostal, its  quite a basic hostal. Here is a good place to discuss temperatures and in particular, the cold.

This is the desert and the altitude of this tour varies between 3800 and 4890 metres. So it can be cold, particularly at night. And particularly on day 1 when the entire day is spent above 4,400 metres.

From time to time it was cold….but not for long. Most of the time it was hot. My body felt the temperature was peaking at 23 degrees and it was uncomfortably hot in direct sun. Jeans and T shirt were the fashion selected by most people. We all had with us jumpers/windstoppers and jackets. We wore the jackets only twice for 30 minutes or so. Once at the Bolivian border which is high and exposed to winds. Once at the coloured lake when the sun disappeared and the wind came up.
A lot of time we were sheltered in the vehicle. The night time cold was an unwelcome visitor to the Day 1 hostal as that hostal has no heating. There I wore thermals and a hat in bed. I also hired a sleeping bag to add to the blankets they provided. The sleeping bag was 20 Bolivianos well spent.

Day 2 started where Day 1 ended with another trip to a different spot on the coloured lake.

Day 2 started where Day 1 ended with another trip to a different spot on the coloured lake.

Day 2

Day 2

 

The Itinerary:
Both days have many more stops and less driving than I had expected. We stopped to look at lakes, or mountains, or steam holes, or for lunch, or to look at flamingos, or vicuna, or have a swim in the thermal pool. Day 2 is more driving. But again only maybe three stretches of an hour and again there are many great stops on the way. Day 3 is about seven hours duration and again many stops. This is the day spent mostly on the salt flats.
The time in the vehicle was really enjoyable because of the amazing scenery through the window.

Day 2. Three Lagunas in a row. Honda, Hionda and Canopa. I have no idea which photo is which. Theya re all very lovely.

Day 2. Three Lagunas in a row. Honda, Hedionda and Canapa. I have no idea which photo is which. They are all very lovely.

Day 2 Lagunas

Day 2 Lagunas

Day 2 Lagunas

Day 2 Lagunas

Day 2 Lagunas

Day 2 Lagunas

The Food:
I was surprised and delighted to start the tour by being given breakfast at the Bolivian border in a little shelter/house there. The food on the tour is all very acceptable. We appeared to be provided food for six (which was good and as we had paid) and we ate everything. We enjoyed the vast majority of what we were provided.

What to Bring:
Everyone brought a 6 litre water container and a day container. We had space in our car for water bottles but the big ones may be packed on the roof and not accessible until days end. So the day container needs to be a little larger than usual ie 1.5 litre rather than 600mil. Both hostals also gave as much tea as desired on arrival and with breakfast. So 6 litres per person was ample.
Sun tan lotion/hat….the sun is vicious at this altitude. Toilet paper, towel, soap. Snacks. Torch for night one.
Sufficient bolivianos for park entrance and cactus island entrance.
Perhaps cards or hand held entertainment to absorb some of the hostal hours.
Ensure all batteries and spares are charged sufficiently for the entire trip.
I did have scarf and gloves and more layers. But jeans, T shirt and zip fronted wind stopper were what I wore. Of course, the weather may be much crueler at other times of the year and is unpredictable. So you do need to bring the layers and hope not to have to wear them.

Accomodation:
The Hostal on Day 1 is a Cordillera Hostal and is basic, very basic. No shower. Two toilets for 15 visitors and one immediately blocked meaning one toilet for fifteen. No electricity sockets in rooms.
The Hostal day 2 is the salt hotel and is much better. Still fairly basic, but warm, with hot water in the showers. Comfy beds. No electricity sockets in rooms.

Day 2. Seven colours mountain.

Day 2. Seven colours mountain.

Day 2. Seven colours mountain.

Day 2. Seven colours mountain.

Day 2 vicunas

Day 2 vicunas

Day 2 vicunas. What are you looking at ?

Day 2 vicunas. What are you looking at ?

Day 2 lunch at laguna Canapa was a most delightful tuna salad.

Day 2 lunch at laguna Canapa was a most delightful tuna salad.

Flamingoes on Canapa laguna

Flamingo on Canapa laguna

Day 2 last stop before the salt hotel is the volcano. Not much of a volcano. But in a lovely location.

Day 2 last stop before the salt hotel is the volcano. Not much of a volcano. But in a lovely location.

 

 

Bolivia- San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni, Part 2

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