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Mines, Salt Plains and Emotional Goodbyes to New Amigos


Well I left you last in Potosi and was about to go on a mine tour. Let me just say that it absolutely rocked. Raph told me not to tell anyone because he could get in trouble but we bought some dynamite, You can buy it at the miners market with no permit or anything. Anyway we all got on a bus and were driven to this place that looked more like a house where we ditched our clothes and put on miners clothes, pretty basic affair really, it consisted of tracksuit pants, a jacket and a helmet. Once we got to the mines we were given a battery and light that clipped into the helmet. The mine was nothing like I expected, I was thinking we would be walking through waist deep water and having to crawl in certain places but that was not the case. Armed with gumboots, we slogged through the entrance and with a group of 16 it was pretty busy and not so dark with so many lights. Anyway we stumbled into 2 miners about 20 minutes into the mine and gave them some soft drinks and they told us that they were preparing charges to be set off in 20 minutes. Time to move on our tour guide thought.

So onwards we travelled and found that the mine was virtually empty, thing is that with a public holiday coming up in 2 days, most of the miners had taken off for long weekends. LAZY...... Well then again maybe not. It gave us time and space to move around freely.

Anyway as we were walking back we hear BANG, BANG, BANG. 10 times all up, I was in hysterics because a few of the girls started freaking out but for some reason, I was loving it and having a ball. They were talking about cave in´s and I was wanting to explore more.

Anyway, all good things must come to an end so we exited the mine and moved on up the mountain, but, this is where the fun really began. Raph and the mine tour leader prepared the dynamite with some other stuff and with quick silver and a wick and then Mike the crazy brit decided he wanted to light it. Here we are (the rest of the group) about 40 metres away from them and im videoing it on my camera, and I see Mike light the wick and bolt. Anyway it took 35 seconds to go off and the wait was pretty intense because I was curious as to if this would just be like a penny bunger that we used to use as kids of if this would be a huge explosion. Anyway turns out, it would have been enough to blow a couple of cars up and I absolutely SHAT myself, I fell back and although I managed to capture the explosion, the camera flys upwards about half a second later.

After our little bit of fun we all went back to the hotel and then had showers and got ready for dinner. The group for once actually split up and had dinner in 2 different places, one group wanted to go to the same cafe we went to for lunch and the rest of us went to a nice place that did quite good steaks.

The next day we went to the mint and saw how they process all of the silver into coins. It was quite an interesting contrast to initially see the mine and then see what it produces.

At around lunch time we had to get on a bus for Uyuni which all up should be a 5 hours trip. Let me say that before this instance we had been fairly lucky and had a good run with Bolivian buses. Not to be the case this time however and about 5 minutes after we had taken off the driver decided to let on about 45 extra people and charge them an additional 4 bolivianos to stand up and crowd the isles. What made this trip even more difficult is that Potosi to Uyuni is only like 200 kms away but its all dirt and unmade road so to overload a bus was quite silly and irresponsible of the driver.

We did actually pass a checkpoint about 50 minutes into the trip and a policeman got on shouting in Spanish for everyone to get off. Raphael was furious with the bus driver because of the risk he put on us by overloading a bus and talked to the policeman but the people wouldnt move and there was no way that a single policeman was going to be able to remove 45 people so after a fine we were back on our way, still overloaded.

Our 5 hour bus trip turned into 6 and a half hours because of the weight so we arrived in Uyuni at about 7.30pm instead of at the scheduled 6pm. The motel was actually a bit of a dive but lucky for us they had a good restaurant run by New Zealanders that made the best pizza in South America, well so Raph said. Turns out he was right, for any of you that know Godfathers, this ran circles around it, I cant describe how nice this pizza was. It cost 55 bolivianos for a small which is actually quite expensive for bolivian food but well worth it because I was absolutely fanging for a decent pizza. Afterwards I was pretty much in heaven, I had had a bad trot with being sick and getting some pretty ordinary meals and within a day and a half, id had a toasted sandwich and pizza all of good quality.

We decided after dinner that we would play a game of poker. 10 boliviano buy in so pretty cheap really but after 3 hours this game looked like it was never going to end. It was 11.30pm and the owner told us we had to leave and go to our rooms, anyway we decided to hang around still playing out in the common room of where our rooms were and at 12 we had this old bloke come out and yell at us to keep the noise down. BAH, well we are not totally disrespectful so we kept playing but whispered instead of talking normally. Anyway this old guy was just one of those people that gets off on complaining about life so at 1am he walked out stared at us and went and put in a complaint. We knew what was coming so we quickly packed up the game and all moved into my room, Myself, Mikaela, Adrian, Mike and Craig who by this stage was smashed off a bottle of Black Jack whiskey.

Five minutes into the game and there is a knock on my door, Craig who is the closest gets up, turns the light off and in his drunken state decided to pretend he was asleep and say Yeah whats wrong, the guy says Habla usted Espanol, Craig says nah mate I dont speak Spanish so then the guy goes on a tangent for like 2 minutes with Craig saying Si, Si, Comprendo, Si, Hasta Luego and then shutting the door. Mike who speaks fluesnt Spanish asked Craig then if he knew what he just agreed to and Craig said, wouldnt have a bludy clue mate and Mike replies, you just agreed to pay an extra nights rent because that old guy is refusing to pay now due to all the noise. Im thinking to myself, Great we are in my room, ahh well, ill sort it out in the morning. So we continued to play until 2.30 in the morning.

The next day we were up at 8am, got a sleep in for once !!!!! but I was tired from the night before and then I ran into Raph so told him about the incident the night before. Lucky for us Raph got us out of forking out more money, dont know how, the guy pulls off miracles.

At 9am 3 four wheel drives pull up and we set off for the Salt plains after a quick stop at the market to buy some water and snacks. After about 45 minutes of driving we arrive at this island in the middle of the salt plains and it was an amazing site. He is all this white salt as far as the eye can see, and let me tell you, you can see a long way on the salt plains, all the way to the mountain range bordering with Chile. This island was where we were to have lunch and we had an hour to explore around it. Up we hiked to the highest peak and got some really great shots of the salt plains from up high and also of the island itself which was covered in stone and cactus's that are like 4 times as big as a human body, hence hundreds of years old.

After lunch we got back into the four wheel drives and kept driving out for about half an hour. It was here we got out and did our silly photos. You know the ones, where one person stands 20 metres down and looks like they are 15 times smaller than the person near the camera. I got a couple of good shots, one of me standing on a wine bottle doing the crane from Karate Kid and another of me riding this toy llama. That one turned at really good and I kind of look like one of those soldiers in The Empire Strikes back riding those woolly mammoths at Hoth. Some of you may know what im going on about there.

After out photo session we drove back and visited a hotel made completely out of salt, it was very interesting but by this time most of us needed the toilet and the cheeky hotel owner thought it would be a good idea to charge us each 4 bolivianos for the toilets use. Bugger that, we just holded and headed back to the hotel.

Once we got back from our day on the salt plains we all headed to a pub where we had a few drinks, I had 2 local beers and they went down fantastic because I had not had a drink since La Paz, very good of me I thought. Just as we wear about to go for dinner Jaz and Will a couple from Sydney decided to try this shot called a llama sperm so I thought what the heck, ill try it too, whats gross about this is when it came out it looked like it had sperm in it, turns out it was cream but it looked kind of um how do I say this, politically incorrect. After downing the drinks we all went for dinner.

As dinner took like an hour and a half to eat, we all had to quickly go back to the motel and get our bags and then walk to the train station for our over night train which was due to leave at 9.45pm. After boarding I decided to have 2 sleeping tablets that Suzanne kindly gave me, they were herbal but did the job and I got a decent nights sleep. We woke around 6.30am and at 7am was in Villazon which is on the Bolivian side of the border so after saying good by to Raph we were introduced to our new tour guide who is to take us through Argentina. It was a pretty emotional time because we had all gotten on so well with Raph. I especially got chummy with him and will always be in debtted to him for his hospitality while in Bolivia and for also helping me go to a doc and get myself better from my infection.

We were actually talking the night before and he told me on the quite that Geckos had offered him the job of Manager for Geckos Bolivia, I told him he should look at taking it because he is away so much and is due to get married next September. I hope he takes my advise because he would be the right man for the job. Anyway, we swapped emails and I promised to send him my web page once I have this diary up with all the photos.

Anyway here I am now in a town called Tilcara with wind burn and wind rash, dirty and tired so I am going to end this here and go have a shower, change my clothes and have a nap ON A REAL BED. After a 10 hour train trip and a 6 hour bus ride, im pretty tired.

Till next time guys.


Posted by gasheppard 11:59 Archived in Bolivia

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