September 2011 - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sightseeing in Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni

6:52:00 PM
Last weekend me and Lotte went to the Salar de Uyuni, which is Bolivia's best know tourist destination and also the biggest salt flat in the world.
From La Paz we took the 21:00 night bus to Uyuni. It was not exactly cheap; we payed 230 Bol for one way, but it was the only alternative we had. The reason for that is that it was a tourist bus, the local busses costs between 80-155 Bol and they had already left the terminal at 19:00.
The good thing about the tourist bus though, is that you get some meals on the way; you both get dinner, breakfast and a bottle of water for later.
But if you want to take the night bus you should be aware that no matter which company you go with you'll have to prepare for bad roads! The first part of the way is quite alright, but for the last 4-or-so hours there was no pavement so it was extremely difficult to get any sleep at all.

The buss arrived in Uyuni a little later than sceduled, which normally is 7 am. But still, it was more then enough time to check out the place, and the first thing we did was to go looking for a travel agency who could take us on the trip to the Salar.
It is not hard to find a travel agency, because they'll be there waiting outside the bus in the morning and contact you on the street to try and sell you their tickets. The problem is that not all of them can be trusted, and you might end up in a rusty old car that should have been trashed a long time ago.
Therefor it might be a good idea to do a little bit of research before you go there, so at least you have some alternative companies to choose from, or just to know which ones you should avoid.
The train cemetery
In the end we ended up with a company that was called Andrea Tours, and we payed 450 Bol for a two-day trip.
So together with 4 other tourists from South-Korea, Germany and Spain and a local Bolivian guide we headed of towards the desert. The first stop we came to was the so-called train graveyard, where you can look at old steam locomotives, or if you prefer it you could always climb on them as well.. Anyway, it isn't really a pretty sight since the trains are covered in graffiti. Not that it would have been that much more fantastic if there weren't any graffiti, but still..

Me and Lotte climbed up one of the trains
After the short stop we finally were going to see the salt flat itself. And the view didn't disappoint, it is really beautiful with the landscape, the air is so fresh (especially when you are used to the smelly air in La Paz) and not to mention that it is really peaceful as well.
I have to say though, that I thought it would be more fantastic than it was. I mean, if it weren't for the salty taste it might as well have been snow. And we do have quite a lot of snow in Norway, my home country.. So actually, rather than Salar de Uyuni I would recommend a trip to Svalbard instead, if you can handle the cold.
Anyway, for some reason I just think that the salt flat looked more like a lake covered with ice. A couple of times I found myself thinking that "I hope the ice can hold this van" while we were driving through what looked like a winter landscape.
The landscape actually made me think that we were walking on ice - not salt..
A pile of salt
After some quick photos on the ice - I mean salt - we went to a tiny tourist where they were selling souvenirs - if you're looking for sweaters and accessories made from alpaca wool, items made of salt etc then you can find it here. And the stuff made of salt is really cheap, because there is so much raw material to take from.
Our next stop: a tourist market..!
On the market you can buy nice gifts made of salt, and they only cost around 10-15 Bol..!
Beside the market there is also a museum here, where you can take a look at some sculptures made of salt. It doesn't anything to go in and take a look, but they do have a souvenir shop there as well so it is possible to support the museum by buying something there instead.
There is also a tiny museum there, where they have some statues made of salt.
A salt llama, along with some items that are for sale
Lotte and a clock tower, also this one made of salt.
After the stop at the market it was time to travel further out into the desert. We stopped in a place in the middle of nowhere to have lunch and to take some more pictures. There was only one building here, and that was a hotel made of salt.
A salt hotel to the left.
Of course we had to take some silly pictures too :p
And make some salt-angles(..?)
After a while it was time for lunch, and it was llama-meat with quinua and vegetables. It was really good! Afterwards the guide told us that we were going to have a 30 minutes break before we continued the trip. We had kind of already taken the pictures we wanted, but decided to spend some minutes relaxing in the sun. The only thing was that the guide didn't return after 30 minutes, I guess we must have waited nearly an hour when he finally decided to show up again..
All the cars lined up. To the right there are some salt tables where we ate lunch.
After the guide finally had returned we continued our trip through the flats, and stopped at the island Incahuasi, which is more known under the name Isla del Pescado because it apparently is shaped like a fish. On this island you have the opportunity to pay 30 Bol to climb the island. The guide gave us an hour to check it out, but me and Lotte decided that we would rather go around it than climbing it.
Which actually turned out to be quite a good idea!
On our way around the island we did see a lot of huge cactuses, and not to  mention we also got to see a special type of rabbit which goes under the name viscacha.
A house and some cactuses at Incahuasi Island
Me and a pretty huge cactus we passed by
Strange formations in the salt
The others told us that the trip up to the island hadn't been all too impressive, so I'm quite glad that we decided to walk around it instead. It took us about 45-50 minutes, so the timing was perfect.!

After Incahuasi we were supposed to travel to our hotel in the village close to the volcano Uturuncu, but for some reason the hotel was full, according to our guide, and we had to go to another hotel quite far from where we were supposed to be.
Inside our salt hotel room
Evening view from the salt hotel
Fair enough, at least this hotel also was made of salt.
But when it was time for dinner it turned out that our hosts at the hotel didn't have any food for us since we came on such a short notice. First we had to wait for two hours watching the other groups getting their delicious-looking food, and then when it finally was our turn to get food then all we got was a plate of spaghetti. I guess all of us went to bed a little bit hungry that evening.

The second day of our trip we had a quick breakfast, and then it was off again. But when we were about to leave the guide asked us if it was fine that we brought with us a girl that was going to town. We said that it was alright, of course, but then it turned out not only to be a lady, but also her 5-6 year old kid. Suddenly me and Lotte didn't have any space anymore; the lady wouldn't take the kid on her lap so the four of us sat quite squeezed together in the back seat.

The village by the foot of the volcano
We drove back passed the island we had visited the day before, and to the root of the volcano where there was a little village. Here we once again had to pay a small fee, this time to be able to visit the volcano. By the volcano there was also a cave where they had some old mummies, apparently they were supposed to be 500 years old or something but I'm not quite certain if that is true..

The entrance to the cave of the mummies
A couple of the mummies from the cave
After the short trip to the cave we had the opportunity to climb up to the volcano. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to go all the way to the top of the volcano though, but it was quite alright anyway.
View towards the volcano
On our way down we passed by a lot of llamas too.! They are so cute.. Haha..
A curious llama
Back down again we had our last lunch, and finally we got some good food unlike the dinner we had the day before.
Time for a group picture!
Before going back to Uyuni the last thing we got to see were some flamingos..!
We arrived in Uyuni at 4 o'clock, so we decided to buy some souvenirs and have dinner before our bus to La Paz was leaving. We soon discovered that the souvenirs in Uyuni actually are cheaper than in La Paz (or perhaps we just were lucky with the shops we visited), and the people working in the small shops we went to in the street next to the bus station were both polite and helpful so we did buy quite a lot of souvenirs here.

The bus back to La Paz left at 8 o'clock, and this time we went with a local company and the ticket only costed us 80 Bol each. The only problem was that the bus weren't direct, which nobody really told us.. The bus stopped in a small town a couple of hours from La Paz, and most of the bolivians left the bus. I was half asleep when the driver came to us and told us that "se ceda en dos horas". So we presumed that the bus was going to leave for La Paz in two hours, which it never did. The bus driver was just sleeping, and after the two hours had passed I waked him up and asked when he was going to take us to La Paz. But he said he wasn't going to La Paz after all.
In the end he followed us to the bus station and found us another bus for La Paz. He did pay our ticket, but it was still a bit annoying that nobody had bothered to tell us that the first bus weren't going to La Paz when it was clearly written La Paz on the bus and everything..
People in El Alto busy with their blockade
And our problems weren't over: When we arrived in El Alto around half past 7 in the morning there was another strike going on, and the roads were blocked. Typical Bolivia. The driver couldn't get any further, so we had to walk from the outskirts of El Alto to get to a place where it was possible to find some transport.
I don't think I'd ever knew that El Alto actually was this big if I hadn't tried to walk through it.. It took forever (and it didn't really help that we already were quite tired after an unpleasantly bumpy trip with the night bus)
We had walked for more than 2 hours when we passed the last part of the blockade and finally could find a bus to take us down to La Paz.

Though it would have been nicer if we had avoided all the trouble on the way I must say that all in all we did have a really great trip to Salar de Uyuni. It was a very special trip, which I'm pretty sure won't be forgotten anytime soon..

Related blogposts

Bolivia Death Road!
Sightseeing in Bolivia: Cycling The Death Road
The Choro Trek
The Choro Trek 1: La Cumbre to Sandillani
la paz
Bolivia's National Day and Sightseeing in La Paz

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Introduction Week at Casa Allianza: Trip to Sorata

5:02:00 AM
This week we are having an introduction week here at Casa Allianca, and on Thursday we went to a little village in Sorata to look at Misjonsalliansens projects here.
Sorata is both the name of a small city, and also a municipality, which is situated west of the lake Titicaka.
We stopped to eat lunch on our way to Sorata, and to take a look at the view.
In Sorata there are a lot of small villages, and the one we went to is on the left in this picture.
Here Misjonsalliansen have been helping to build the infrastructure in the community; they have helped building a school, a basketball court, a health centre ++.

Arriving in Sorata after a nearly 4 hours drive from La Paz
The Missionary Allianze has been an active part in building the infrastructure in this village, such as for instance the health centre.
The road, with the local school to the right
We went to look at their different projects in the village, and the first thing we got to see was a group of ladies taking a course in sewing, where they learned to make their own skirts. They had been practicing for almost a year, and had advanced from tiny children-skirts to bigger skirts for cholita-ladies.
The leader of the course demonstrating the first skirts the ladies at the course learn to make. They were working on this particlar model a year ago.
One of the ladies working. And you can see the curious children in the background; eager to take a look at the strange foreigners I guess.. :p
One of the boys helping his mum with the sewing.
The teacher assisting one of the ladies at the course.
The centre of the village, where the locals are relaxing
A little girl we went by
Walking through the narrow streets of the village.
When Misjonsalliansen first came to this village they helped building some greenhouses so the local ladies could cultivate different kinds of vegetables, and also flowers. During the recent years the locals have copied the building technic, and now nearly every family in the village have their own greenhouse.
We went to look at one of the greenhouses which was buildt by Misjonsalliansen
Some bulbs that are going to be planted soon. And wait a sec.. 50 dollars?! Something for pachamama perhaps..?
The ladies working in the greenhouse
At the end of the day the locals had a short presentation of their dances, and some of them also played instruments.
The locals dancing and playing instruments
This was the last day of the introduction week, and it was a privilegde to get the chance to travel around and look at the work the Mission Allianze has done. We were supposed to hear about and see other projects on Friday as well, but due to a blockade in the hole city we had to cancel it, unfortunately..

Me in front of Illampu
On our way back we had lunch/dinner near the mountain Illampu, which is the forth biggest mountain in Bolivia.

All blogposts from Bolivia

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Introduction Week at Casa Alianza: Diaconía FRIF, Football Crossing Borders++

12:46:00 AM
Misjonsalliansens office in El Alto
This week we are having an introduction week here at Casa Alianza, which means that we also have been traveling around the city of El Alto and Sorata to look at some of Misjonsalliansens (The Norwegian Mission Alliance) projects in Bolivia.
El Alto; the poorest city in Bolivia
Misjonsalliansen is an Norwegian organization with a christian founding, but despite the name it is not about missionaring. Misjonsalliansen is an organization based on christian values and principles, such as solidarity, love, justice and honesty. For the people working in this organization this is widely though of as a reason for the success they have in their many projects. Because, as their motto says; "Det handler ikke om veldedighet, men om rettferdighet". This can be translated to "It's not about charity, it is about justice".
In Misjonsalliansen they go by the principle that everybody is worth the same, and that they are simply helping the people to help themselves. Cooperation with the locals is an important part of the work Misjonsalliansen does in Bolivia and 9 other countries including countries like Brazil, Ecuador, Cambodia and Liberia .

As a result of their work to include the locals, Misjonsalliansen have over 80 employees at their offices in Bolivia, but only 6 of these are Norwegian. In that way the Misjonsalliansen can participate in developing the infrastructure of the country through educating people, so that they can take responsibility of the developement themselves. An example of this is the previous director Rolando Villena, who now works as "Defensor del Pueblo"; which is the highest position when it comes to human rights in Bolivia.
Misjonsalliansens projects include the building of schools and educating teachers, developing health stations for the locals, contributing to the battle against HIV, and to get water to small communities among others.
Misjonsalliansen has been working in Bolivia for 32 years, and they have achieved a lot during these years. Here is a short presentation of some of their projects:

 Diaconía FRIF
Diaconía FRIF is a microcredit company that started out as a project in the Misjonsalliansen, but that eventually developed into an independed non-governmental organization. In the beginning Diaconia FRIF mainly gave loans to the poor people living in El Alto. The first year there were more or less 20 people who wanted to borrow money from Diaconía FRIF, but it has expanded a lot, and today Diaconia FRIF has over 50 000 customers a year along with 30 offices spread throughout the country in both urbane areas and also in villages.
El Alto was for a long period the fastest growing city in South America, and this resulted in a city almost drowned in poverty where there was few possibilities for the people to change their future for the better. But there are changes going on in this city, and it is evident that the work Misjonsalliansen has been doing here is a part of that development among other through their subsidiary company Diaconía FRIF.
Through Diaconía FRIF poor people get the chance to take up loan for their projects, whether it is to build a house, expand a business etc.
The entrance to Diaconía FRIF's office
People gathered outside the office
The rents are high; 24% for new customers and a bit lower for those who has been using Diaconía FRIF over a longer period of time. But the reason for this is that it costs as much to give small loans as it costs to give big loans; the money only goes to covering their expances. Besides, giving out money to people living in such poverty involve a lot of risks, and so they have to keep the rents high to ensure that they are actually able to give loans as well. Even though one can well say that the rents are high the success with mickrocredit here in Bolivia has made it possible to gradually lower the interest rates, which can be as high as 60% in some of the other South-American countries.
Another thing that separates Diaconía FRIF from other microcredit companies, is that along with the loan you get educated in how to run and develope your business, and a personal advertiser that follows their projects to mentally support them on the way.
What is a client? Ethical guidelines from Diaconía FRIF's office
Visiting the rooms where the customers gets loans and advices
We visited Diaconía FRIF's office in El Alto, where we got to see how they work, and also some of their customers. The first customers we got to meet, was a group of 30 (!) people, who had gotten together to pay their loan. They were cooperating in a group even though their projects varied a lot; there were people who needed money to knit, to build houses, repair computers, selling makeup, or just to expand their small shops. And only 3 of the 30 loantakers were men. Because Diaconía FRIF wants to empower women in the society they have an upper limit regarding how many men there can be in a group. This can also help to increase the participating womens self-esteem, and give them the chance to contribute more to their families.
The loan group counted 30 members, and all the leaders were women.
More or less the second half of the loan group, + volunteers and representatives from the Mission Alliance.
Outside Diaconía FRIF´s offices, where a group of customers were working on their knitting projects.
Secondly we visited a loantaker who had been a customer in Diaconía FRIF almost since the start of the organization, and the loan had enabled her to expand both her house and her family company.
The lady that were using her loan at Diaconía FRIF to expand her business, and Linda who works for the Alliance.
One of the girls who were working part-time in the company
Here they were making letter wallets, belts ++
One of their sewing-machines
Taking a look at the wallets they have been making
Leather wallets
We got the opportunity to support her business by buying some of  their products.
Football Crossing Borders
We also went to look at Misjonsalliansens project Fotball krysser grenser (Football ((Soccer)) Crossing Borders).
Through this project Misjonsalliansen has been cooperating with the government by building football fields and educating coaches so that the children have an alternative activity for the afternoons or mornings depending on when they go to school.
Boys carrying the goals
The coach having a small pep-talk
Ready - go!
It is free for the children to participate, and so it helps poor children getting the chance to participate in activities outside of school as well. But this is not only about playing around either; during every practice the children gets divided into small groups, and all of the groups have to participate in a lecture where the children learn about things like respect, rights, helping others etc. It is also normal that the children gets homework here.
The lady teaching the kids about values
..and correcting their homework.
When we came to visit the group that were having a lecture about values the coach introduced us and said: "These are the Norwegians from the Mission Alliance, it is thanks to these people that you can play football here".. It was a bit strange to hear this, cause it is far from reality that I've contributed much so far to the work of the organization. On the other hand it shows the importance of the work that Misjonsalliansen are doing here in Bolivia, and it does make me proud that I have the opportunity to work with them here.

Here are some more photos from the introduction week:

A school supported by the Mission Alliance
Their principal also came to say hi to us while we were visiting the school.
The kids were really happy to get some strange, foreign visitors
The courtyard and one of the school building, partly financed by Misjonsalliansen
In the breaks the kids use the opportunity to buy sweets in the kiosk.  Apparently the school had decided that the kiosk shouldn't sell sweets, but the parents complained about it.. No wonder why the Bolivians have such bad teaths x/
We also visited a health station, where the locals get the chance to  get some basic healthcare. 
One of the rooms in the health station
All blogposts from Bolivia

About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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