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Cam & Suz’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 12 Jul 2005

Location: Bolivia

MapAs nice a place as Cuzco is we were keen to move on after our 4th visit, but unfortunately Bolivia and Southern Peru were having one hell of a road block. Rather than wait we decided to take the long way around (via Chile) and we mean long! 48 hours later we finally arrived in La Paz, the world's highest capital city.
Bolivia really is a crazy country. Everybody seems to be on the street selling something. Picture a massive home depot or Mitre 10 store on every street but not in a store... on the sidewalk. Anyway, it's great fun wandering around and being part of it.
After a few days in La Paz we caught a dump truck with about 50 locals up into the Andes (absolutely freezing) and hiked for a few days along an old Inca trail that finished in tropical jungle. A great hike and probably our last for a while.
Making our way south we visited Potosi and the infamous mines. Men and boys (and 1 woman) work in these mines that wouldn't be one meter in height (over a km underground). Each miner keeps his own effort. Never have we seen more atrocious working conditions in our lives. Boys usually start in the mines at age 12-14 years. Miners have an average life expectancy of 35 years, with their last 5 years being extremely ill. The toxins and the heat (sometimes over 40 degrees) are unbelievable. Boys earn about $9 per day if they are lucky and after many years can work up to about $20 per day working 7 days a week and 14 hours a day. They all chew coca leaves as it allows them to work without breaks or food. Why the Bolivian Government allows these working conditions to continue is a disgrace. The tour really did have a lasting effect on all travellers.
We continued south and made our way to the largest salt flats in the world. Our first day went without hiccup. Although it was deathly cold (over -10 at night), we were ok with 9 in the Toyota Landcruiser. Our driver, come guide, come mechanic(???) got us up very early on the 2nd morning as we had a long days driving. But not 5 minutes into the journey he took a "short cut" and got us bogged. When asked why he hadn't engaged the 4wd he told us it was broken, then he started to bang on the winch with a hammer... again he said it was broken! Absolutely freezing, we carried rocks from afar to wedge under the wheels.... and 2 hours later with the help of some other travellers we were on our way.
The salt flats are an amazing, blindingly white with colours on the surrounding peaks very beautiful. Not a trip for princesses though... very basic accomodation and very cold.
Finally we made it to Chile with mixed feelings, sad that we have left the real chaos of the less developed, poorer northern countries of South America but its nice to now be in countries where the buses are clean and leave on time, hostels are real hostels and things are a little bit more organised. No more dinners for $1USD (unfortunately) but at least we now know what we are eating. We are in Santiago now waiting for our Brazilian visas before heading to Argentina for an extravagent week of skiing... and big juicy steaks!