Back to School- Sucre, Bolivia (part 2)

Back to school for the second time to try and brush up on some Spanish! Hanging round with our English speaking friends has made us very lazy and we still have 3 months in Spanish speaking countries to get by in! So I´m taking over from Chris to tell you about the rest of our stay in the White city of Scure.

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We made the descision to go with the Bolivian Spanish school opposite the Simon Bolivar park which features a tiny Effiel tower. Omar Chavez the face of the school won us over with his charm and winning smile and of course the reputation of the school as we´d had a recommendation from a couple of girls we´d met in Chile who were studying there.

SCHOOL IS COOL!

SCHOOL IS COOL!

Bolivia is a great place to study Spanish, firstly it´s super cheap, we were getting one on one lessons for 6 hours a day for half the price that we were getting 4 hours of group lessons in Buenos Aires. Sucre is a pretty and small enough town to walk to school, we were staying next door to our school for 35Bolivianos a night which worked out to a bout 3.50GBP a night. The park opposite was great to relax in at lunch or break times and far enough away from the main square to avoid getting asked if you wanted your shoes shined 10 times in 5 minutes (even if you were wearing flip flops!)

Sucre, known as the white city.

Sucre, known as the white city.

Two full weeks of Monday-Friday weeks with 6 hours of 1 on 1 lessons every day was going to be a shock to the system. It started out well. Our teachers Mirian, Jorge and  Edwin were great teachers and taught us what we wanted. The excitement wore off as we got into the routine of school- break- school- lunch- homework- dinner-bed. Any time that we tried to squeeze in anything additional meant that we were brain dead the next day. However Skyfall was worth it!

The excitement was all too much

The excitement was all too much

Halloween also fell on a school night. By this time we´d made friends in our hostel with some more fun people including the master of haircuts-Gary- who was funding his travels through hair cuts including mine and chris´ (everyday there was someone having their hair cut in the courtyard of the hostel- news travels fast in school!) The school put on a little party as an excuse to try some traditional (so spicy we had to order pizza) foods, dress up and make new friends which we all did!

Happy haircut gang on Halloween!

Happy haircut gang on Halloween!

Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to our hostel friends (Sanne, Jhan, Gill) as they moved on, again we were faced with saying farewell to great people not knowing if we´d see them again. It´s the saddest thing about travelling, but is made up for by the fun times had together!

30! ahhhh!

30! ahhhh!

Another event that made school a little bit harder in the morning was my 30th Birthday!!!! Chris and the school organised a cake in the morning break on the Friday before my birthday (on Sunday), which was delicious, and then we celebrated on Sunday with an activity packed day. First was quad biking in the Cordillera- stunning scenery, sore legs (after chris told me to grip with the thighs so I could loosen up my hand grip to allow me to go faster) and slightly muddy trousers (not as muddy as Chris´!)

Chris tearing it up on my birthday!

Chris tearing it up on my birthday!

As the sun was still shining after the quads and lunch at the infamous gringo hangout-Joy ride Cafe- we taxied over (with the taxi driver´s kid in the passenger seat) to Villa Norita- the out of town “water park”- it has some flumes at least. We were very much the only tourists there and Chris by far the whitest of everyone. He caused quite a stir in his white rash vest too! I don´t think anyone had ever seen one before. The day wasn´t over after that though, failing to find a bus or cab we got a free ride with the employees from the park back to Sucre along with an old traditional Bolivian lady who was stuffed in the boot- but seemed happy enough! The cherry on top of my birthday was an amazing meal at La Taverna- a French restaurant in town with amazing steaks in beautiful sauces for 6GBP- Bolivia is heaven!

From a high point of birthday celebrations Chris also suffered a low point- getting sick. We think this was from some Leon Merengue pie at lunch (although we did both have the same) which meant that Chris had to miss 2 hours of Spanish school, but on the up side we did discover that Coca tea is very good at clearing out the system.DSCF1326

Our last night in Sucre was different as all the museums in town were open all night long as part of the cultural festival going on. The school organised a group to go out to several of the sites, we visited the Casa de la Libertad, The textile museum, Recoleta view point over the city and the group carried on to the cemetery catacombs by which point we´d had our fill and headed back to crash out.

Night of the museums in Sucre

Night of the museums in Sucre

After over 2 weeks in Scure we were ready to move on, although the people we´d met in Sucre did make it harder, we were looking for the bright lights and bustle of the big city of La Paz. Now were were  armed to the teeth with 6 new tenses, and magazines of verbs and vocab to help us on our way!

Pre-thunderstorm clouds as the sun goes down on our last day in sucre.

Pre-thunderstorm clouds as the sun goes down on our last day in sucre.

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I’m officially bored of flamingos!-Uyuni salt flat trip, Bolivia

So what do you get when you mix up 6 Brits abroad, 5 dancing Brazilians, 4 gazillion flamingoes, 3 days in a jeep, 2 cold nights, a crazy Canadian, a forgetful Norweigan and one shower?- an EPIC salt flat tour in Bolivia!

Chris is now 30, not long til my 30th, but before that we signed up to a 3 day jeep tour of the south west of Bolivia, from Chile to see the largest salt flat in the world near the city of Uyuni. There are heaps of tour operators running these tours, so there was a lot of talk about which operators had the most sober drivers and the lowest accident rates- we went with Cordillera- no accidents in 13 years, so it seemed like a good choice!

We would be trapped in a jeep with our group for 3 days so we were happy to find some great people also on the tour, a mix of Brits: Becca, James, Dan & Jess, Tasha from Canada and Robert the sailor from Norway! In our jeep Becca, James, Chris and I were joined by the fantastically happy and bubbly Pia and Janet (Pia´s Mum) from Chile. We got to practise our Spanish with Pia, Janet and our super fab Bolivian guide and driver Johnny (Johnny-five), who was pretty chatty considering we´d been told that Bolivians are very shy.

Our first stop was a quick trip to the Chilean-Bolivian border which consisted of a hut, where all paved roads ended and the need for a jeep was obvious. We were told “there are no bathrooms, but in Bolivia everywhere is your bathroom.” Joy.

Then we were off towards the specatular Blanca and Verde Lakes. The white lake´s colour comes form borax and the green from algae stirred up by the wind. Small towers of rocks surrounded the lakes, one of which Chris kicked over before being told off by Janet who explained that they were offerings to the powers that be to make dreams come true! Oops!

Play time next as we got our bathers on for a dip in the hot pool at over 4500m above sea level, with flamingos in the background. It got even more surreal when the jeep of Brazilians got us to join in a dance routine to one of my favourite Zumba tunes! (hard work with very little oxygen).

We were shown our refuge for that night before being taken to another phenominal coloured lake populated with flamingos. The red lake was more orange, but straight out of the pages of the National Geographic magazine. The refuge on the otherhand, was not. No showers or heating, concrete bed bases, but flushing toilets at least.

Headaches started to occur due to the altitude, but probably also the cold. When we woke up I saw Chris hugging his legs, head on knees, almost rocking for comfort. There was ice on the inside of the windows and Pia was being nursed by her mum- I think we all wanted our mums that morning after little sleep, headaches, altitude sickness, cold and hunger. At breakfast it seemed the pill poppers (Acetazolamide) were happy as larry, and coca tea just wasn´t enough for anyone.

The second day featured more lakes, but also some rock formations that had been eroded by the wind for millions of years. At each stop we´d meet up with the other jeep and a couple of times, we had to help out Dan, Jess, Robert & Tasha´s jeep due to mechanical difficulties- it was nothing Johnny-five couldn´t handle, and meant we had time for rock jenga, bowls and time to build a dry stone wall toilet! Second half of the day was spent at more stunning lakes with flamingos, but by this time I´d been desensitised to the beauty of it all and wanted to see some salt flat!


Our digs on the second night were plush in comparison to the first night, we had one shower in the hotel, which would spit out hot water intermitently. The hot water was turned off before everyone got showers, but Tasha soon sorted out that situation! The hotel was made of salt bricks, with salt on the floor, which did not lend itself to dancing as we discovered after dinner when we tried to show off our skills to the Brazilians and ended up causing everyone to choke on salt dust.

The third and final day was the highlight of the trip, and the lowest altitude, so we were all happy bunnies with no headaches. We were just sleepy as we were up at 4am to see the sunrise over the salt flat.

The salt flat seemed infinite and other-worldly. Breakfast was served at the Isla de los pescados which despite the name was not populated by fish, but cacti. After which the day turned into a photoshoot on the salt flats with various props- of course all our best ideas came after we´d left the flats.

 

We wound things up by going to the train graveyard outside of Uyuni town and then saying adios to Pia and Janet at the Cordillera office. As luck would have it the rest of our group was all staying in the same hostel as this was the only hostel on Hostelbookers.com or hotelworld.com to have a rating over 30%.

Uyuni was teeny in comparison to where we´d been in Chile and Argentina and the reality that we were not in Kansas anymore was hitting home. The only internet we could find was a throw back to the 90´s and when we tried to book a bus out of town we were told there were strikes so we´d have to stay 2 nights before escaping!

Crammed into the internet cafe!

With a day and a half before our chariot of unknown standard would be taking us to Sucre we made the most of our time in Uyuni and explored the local eateries which consisted of the lonely planet top choice pizza place where Robert discovered he´d been given Russian looking money instead of Bolivianos, followed by the Extreme Fun Pub the next day, which did live up to its name, and finally lunch at a mexican restaurant where the chef was called back onto the premisis to cook for us and the owner would pop out to buy ingredients or drinks when we ordered anything.

So we´d made it into Bolivia unscathed, made some great friends and were looking forward to moving on to somewhere else!

Sun, sea, sand, stars and PISCO!- La Serena, Chile

We’re still blogging on about Chile! Just one more after this then it’s Bolivia Baby!

Sarah here again for a quick summary of La Serena. It was a stop off on the way north from Santiago and Valparaiso to the Atacama Dessert.

The first thing that made me smile was the sunshine! At last a whisper of the heat that we thought we were coming to when we planned this whole trip- I could finally wear a dress!

La Serena is a lovely little seaside city with about 210k inhabitants.

We turned up at the bus station in the evening and after a wrong turn and a correcting turn found the hostel.  Finding somewhere to eat when it’s dark, you’ve just got off a 7 hour bus journey into a city you have no clue about and you’re tired and hungry is a test of a relationship when you have no emergency food stash. After an unnecessary tour of the town we settled on a menu we could understand on a chalkboard outside the “restaurant”. The first problem we encountered with this place was that they only had 2 options left on the menu- 1/2 fried chicken or sandwiches. At least they had Enchanted playing on a big TV screen in Spanish, which all of the dirty and tired looking clientele (not just us!) was watching. The food filled us up and tasted good, until we saw a cockroach scuttled under the table! Things began to make more sense as we inspected the other patrons and the unusual bull costume in the corner. The group next to us was a group of street buskers who entertain the traffic at the red lights. Ah well, we didn’t get sick!

La Serena was a pretty place to hang out during the day, there were artisan stalls in the town square, pretty old buildings, a nice big avenue leading to the beach with Grecian statues and sunshine!

In the evening we joined a tour of an observatory. About an hour away, the Elqui Valley has amazingly clear nights and suffers very little light pollution.  The nearby town of Vicuna even has special street lights to minimize light pollution. The sky was stunning and the milky was was clear with the naked eye. Unfortunately Chris and I couldn’t identify any constellations as most of the northern hemisphere ones cannot be seen from here. We used the 40cm diameter telescope to view some nebula, which i found a bit underwhelming, but really enjoyed the stargazing outside of the dome, following the laser pen in the sky to see galaxies and constellations we’ve never seen before from north of the equator such as the Southern Cross and Scorpio. The EELT (European Extra Large Telescope) is being built in the north of Chile and will have ~40 metre diameter mirror!

The next day we explored the Elqui Valley in the superb heat! Highlights were the Papaya groves, going to a restaurant that cooks the food using solar power, seeing a great big dam and of course tasting (although it was rank) the Pisco. It was interesting to see how the grapevines for the production of Pisco is different to that of grapes for wine.

FYI-Wine grapes are in rows and receive more sunlight, and pisco grapes grow as they hang under a canopy of vines meaning the grapes are sweeter…..

I said this would be short and sweet so I’ll sign off now, but it shouldn’t be long until our next update as we try to catch up to Bolivia!

One last thing though- I bought a replacement camera (as well as a few other bits!) from Falabella (see Chiloe post for camera breakage)- happy days!

happy shoppers!

Hasta pronto chicos!

Sarah

xx

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