Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for February 04

Click here to read the latest newsThe diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.

Countries visited so far: UK Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovak Republic Hungary Romania Bulgaria Greece Egypt Tanzania Malawi Mozambique South Africa Swaziland South Africa (again) Argentina Bolivia Peru Ecuador Vietnam China Mongolia Russia England


4th February South Africa (again)
Cape Town
The Whitlocks at Cape of Good Hope - Click to enlargeWe travelled to cape Town, a journey of more than 1700km, by bus. This was the longest bus journey we had taken in one go so far, but it should have been a comfortable ride as we had booked our trip with Translux, a luxury coach service. Unfortunately the coach broke down and we waited for five hours at a roadside service area for a replacement, which was not nearly so luxurious. Another 24 hours later we arrived in Cape Town and went straight to the Translux office to complain. The results were excellent, as we managed to get a full refund! With the extra cash in our pockets we set out to explore Cape Town.

We spent about ten days in total in and around Cape Town. For the first few days we relaxed around the Lighthouse Farm Lodge, where we stayed. There was a kind of 'alternative lifestyle'thing going on there, with organic herbs and vegetables available from the garden. The children played with 4-year-old TK, a permanent resident there with his mum, Eleanor, the most chilled out and sociable black person we met in South Africa (I hope she won´t mind me saying). It was a nice easy-going place and we loved it.

In Cape Town we explored the town centre and the Waterfront, where there is a big and highly sophisticated shopping centre. We even went to the IMAX cinema there.

Then, for the five days leading up to our flight to Buenos Aires, we used the money we had saved in Africa to hire a car. It was a proper little holiday, and a good way to celebrate our half-way point, the Cape of Good Hope.

During those five days we explored the Cape Peninsula National Park, camping on the sand dunes at a place called Sweetwater, where I saw a seal cleaning itself on a rock on the beach when I woke up in the morning, swimming with the penguins at Boulders Beach and cooking over an open fire. Then we drove inland and up into the mountains of the Cape Winelands, through countless beautiful mountain passes to a small town called Montagu. There we camped again, this time at a 'guest farm'. It was hot and sunny, but with the freshness of mountain air, and a lovely pool. We were refreshed and revitalised when we returned to the Lighthouse Farm Lodge for our last night in Africa.



Early February South Africa (again)
Fynbos in the Cape Peninsula National Park
Fynbos in bloom - Click to enlargeBy Nick
While we had the use of our hire car in the Cape Town area we decided to visit the Cape Peninsula National Park, one of the world's conservation areas, which consisted of a great amount of amazing flora and fauna. My studies at college in the UK were mainly aimed at the management of our many natural habitats and so our visit was extremely interesting, especially to me! Together with our initial tour of the environmental center and our national park guide book, I discovered a whole new world of specialist flora indicative to the Cape Peninsula National Park, called Fynbos. There is a richness in plant life here I never knew could exist in one place. According to my book there are over 7 700 plant species found in Fynbos, which is a lot for such a small area. Of these roughly 70% are endemic to the area - that is, they are found nowhere else in the world. Many of these are threatened with extinction from things like flower picking by tourists, fire at the wrong season (Fire is a good thing at the right time as the plants (Protea family) use this method to disperse their seeds) and the spread of non native plants. The richness of the Fynbos is well established by its heaths or ericas, and the facts go on, there are over 600 different species of plant within the heaths.

So as we continued our walk amongst these wonderful plants the children enjoyed pointing out the different types as the hot sun shone down on us. As a family we talked about how it was important to recognize how amazing this place was and that we would never again get the chance to see this for real in our life times (well not mine anyway). They did humour me because they know what I’m like when it comes to wild and beautiful places. I continued on in my new floral world and the most striking features of the composition of fynbos were the presence of many eye-catching members of the 3 main types of plant; the Protea family, the Erica family, and the reed family. These fill the niche usually occupied by grasses, but the largest family in number of species is the daisy family, with just under 1000 species of which more than 600 are endemic. Furthermore, many species from the family Iridaceae have become household names and if you’re at all interested in plants for your conservatory you would have heard of popular species such as babiana, freesia, gladiolus, iris, moraea, sporaxis and watsonia.

At home in the British Isles there are 1500 plant species in 310,000 square kilometers, but the Cape Peninsula National Park contains approximately 1200 species of plant on 78 square kilometres, Remarkable isn’t it?

Another remarkable feature of fynbos is the number of species found within small areas. It was such a splendid sight during our visit and I couldn’t resist putting in the statistics so as I never forget just how remarkable this little piece of the globe is and I hope remains, for generations to come.



6th February Argentina
Buenos Aires
Our flight to Buenos Aires was smooth and comfortable. The Boeing 747 had excellent entertainments including (to Tom´s delight) an interactive games system built into every seat!

We took a taxi to the centre of the city and stayed at BA Stop, a relaxed and friendly place where the staff were welcoming and very helpful. When we arrived we booked the taxi to take us back to the airport some 36 hours later, for our onward flight to Santiago, but by the morning we had had a change of heart! Several paople had told us that Argentina is just as beautiful and better value than Chile, and everyone we met in Buenos Aires was so friendly and helpful, and seemed so offended that we were leaving so soon, that we decided to stay! We telephoned to cancel the cab, and it was weird to think of the plane flying off to Chile with four empty seats! Well, plans are for changing, aren´t they?



10th February Argentina
Buenos Aires
San Telmo, the birthplace of tango - Click to enlargeWe stayed for one week in Buenos Aires. the city rates highly among the most interesting and welcoming we have visited so far. We had a great time!

On Friday 6th Feb, after we had decided to stay in the city rather than move on to Chile, we took a guided tour of Buenos Aires by coach. This gave us a glimpse of many areas of the city, from La Boca, one of the oldest and most famous districts, with its brightly coloured houses and lively streets, to the new and fashionable parts of town.

Now better informed about the best areas of the city to visit, we set off the following evening for San Telmo, the oldest part of Buenos Aires and the birthplace of tango. We hoped to catch some live music and dancing, as well as to eat and soak up the atmosphere. We wandered for a while in the old colonial streets, and then we struck gold! Upstairs in a little restaurant on the central square a couple were dancing the tango in a small space amongst the tables. the menu was comparatively expensive, but we decided to treat ourselves. We ate a lovely meal accompanied by a bottle of wine, and when the dancers had finished they were replaced by accordeon music and singing. It all felt very exclusive, and the bill came to the equivalent of about ten pounds!

The following day we returned to San Telmo to visit the flea market. The atmosphere was fantastic there, and we easily passed the whole day wandering around the thousands of stalls selling fascinating antiques, and watching the street entertainers. Nick was intrigued by the old coffee machines, cameras and, of course, musical instruments. There were old trinkets and jewelery, and we were treated -and also, at times, subjected- to performances by mime artists, puppet shows, musicians and even an orchestra consisting of strings and accordeons. There was tango dancing in the streets and Indian looking people playing pan pipes. It was all so colourful! As always in Argentina, the food was incredible too. So many little restaurants, cafeterías and bars, all cooking vast amounts of meat! We ate lunch at one of these: ravioli for the kids, a huge chunk of beef for Nick and gorgeous tender lamb for me. Wonderful!

On our last day in buenos aires, Cony, who ran the hostel, BA Stop, offered to look after the children for us while we went shopping. We were amazed. in six months of travelling we have almost never been anywhere without them! It was great. We bought the things we needed, and then went for a cup of tea and a toasted sandwich in peace and quiet!

That evening we, kids included, went to Buenos Aires´famous Colón theatre, where we sat in the gallery and watched and listened to Beethoven´s spring symphony on piano and violin. although the children fidgeted a bit and we were sitting a long way from the stage, the music was exquisite, and it was a lovely evening.

I would recommend a visit to Buenos Aires to anyone who has the chance. It must be one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world.



12th February Argentina
Puerto Iguazú
Tom and Ester at the Iguazú Falls - Click to enlargeWe took an extremely comfortabe overnight bus to Puerto Iguazú, to visit some of the world´s most spectacular waterfalls. We spent two days visiting the Iguazú National Park.

The Garganta del Diablo, or Devil´s Throat, is the biggest of the falls, and was one of the most spectacular sights any of us had ever seen. 1700 cubic metres of water cascades over the brim of the gigantic U-shaped ravine every second! It was breathtaking to see. The river above the falls is about a mile wide and, to look at it drifting gently along, you would never think it was about to cascade hundreds of feet to thunder into a steaming pit below. I imagined an image of the sea falling off the edges of a flat Earth. I couldn´t see how there could possibly be enough water at the top to provide this immense, continuous supply. And it was beautiful! Looking down into the waterfall, you couldn´t see the bottom because of the amount of spray which rose from the bubbling cauldron below, throwing beautiful rainbows into the air. The sight was incredible.

Beyond the Devil´s Throat, there are still more waterfalls, going on and on along a curving ridge (which makes it even more like the edge of the Earth!) We took a walk which allowed us to see these from above. it was amazingly beautiful.

The park itself is also really lovely. Much of it is tropical forest and there are many lizards, snakes and monkeys there. we saw a coati, which is a furry animal about the size of a smallish dog. On our second day in the park we walked the Macuco Trail, a 6km nature trail in the jungle. It was not a hard walk and there was a waterfall with a pool where you could swim. On the way we spotted a few of the 500 or so species of butterflies that inhabit the park. Huge and dazzling they flitted by, some shimmering blue, some crinkled like a doily with yellow and black marbling, or black with scarlet ribbons. Also, we saw some magnificent lizards; iguanas about a foot long, one of which lumbered along the path in front of us, occasionally glancing at us over its shoulder, its tongue flecking out, before deciding to take itself out of our way and sliding off the path into the undergrowth.

The waterfall pool was nice, and the cool water welcome and refreshing, but it was not as beautiful as some of the pools we found in Africa. we enjoyed the swim though, after our walk, and Tom and I climbed together behind the waterfall and out the other side, while the water pelted painfully down upon our backs.



14th February Argentina
San Ignacio Miní
The impressive site of 17th century Jesuit ruins - Click to enlargeFrom Iguazú we took a bus to san Ignacio Miní, to see an impressive site of 17th century Jesuit ruins. The ruins were good to explore. Built of red sandstone they must have been pretty impressive in their day. The huge ornate pillars which once supported the church doors are still standing today, as are the walls of many of the buildings. The Jesuits, we learned, were a group of missionaries who arrived at the beginning of the 17th century from Italy, to convert the indigenous population here to catholicism. They worked with, rather than against, the people and created semi-autonomous communities within the Spanish colonial empire. They were eventually expelled by the Spanish, who were uncomfortable about the influence of the Jesuits over the people they wanted to rule with absolute power.



18th February Argentina
Posadas - Las Termas de Rio Hondo
The bathing pools beside our great apartment - Click to enlargeFrom San Ignacio we took a bus to Posadas, the provincial capital of the Misiones region. It was actually a pretty sleepy town, but we found an OK hotel, and left the following afternoon to travel overnight to Santiago del Estero.

We liked Santiago del Estero a lot. It is the oldest city in Argentina and did not feel at all touristy. Everyone looked surprised when we told them we were English (they tend to expect us to be American, but here, they always ask!) Our hotel in Santiago was lovely, and we ate excellently. Just around the corner from our hotel was a restaurant where the food had a really gourmet feel about it. We had a fantastic meal; medallion of tenderloin, cooked to perfection and pork ribs with a sweetcorn sauce for the kids, and a really imaginative salad. We washed it all down with a bottle of good wine, and the bill was well within the capacity of our budget!

The people in Santiago del Estero were some of the friendliest yet, although Argentina is full of friendly people. It was sometimes difficult to get anywhere, as people would just stop us in the street to ask where we were from and chat to us about the town, the region, the weather or, of course, their sister who went to London once! One man even pulled out photos to show us, and all were completely unperturbed when their stream of fast and often unfamiliar Spanish was met by blank looks from all of us. They just kept trying, and I was usually able to keep up with at least part of the conversation convincingly enough!

We spent two days in Santiago and, apart from spending a couple of hours in the interesting ´Museo de Ciencias Naturales y Antropológias´, didn´t do an awful lot!

We took a bus to Las Termas de Rio Hondo, where I had read we would find thermal pools. We were not disappointed. Termas is a small town with a developed tourist industry, catering mainly for Argentinian tourists as well as North Americans in the winter months (May-August). There was a large campsite that also offered apartments for hire, which cost less than camping does in Europe. We took an apartment! It was really nice with a family bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and dining room. It was also quite peaceful and we could easily have stayed there a week. Right next to the apartment were the swimming/bathing pools. We had read that the temperatures from the springs fluctuate between 30-85 degrees C, and the pools were certainly between these two figures. The largest of the three pools was not hot, but like a big paddling pool. The smallest was a very pleasant 30-35ish and the middle one must have been at about 70 degrees and was too hot to get into.

After a soak in the warm pool we set off for a walk into town. At the other end of town we found the free public bathing pools, called "La Olla". That was great! A big, greenish pond, smelling faintly of minerals and sulphur, it was hotter than the pool we had been in at the campsite - we reckoned between 35 and 40 degrees. Esther, Tom and I went in for a soak, and edged ourselves into the steaming water the way you do in a hot bath. It was lovely! It was a hot, sunny afternoon and we sat, in the shade of some trees, up to our necks in warm, mineral-rich water. We came away feeling clean and thoroughly refreshed. After a spot of window shopping, and some actual shopping, we obtained our nightly meat fix at a nice little restaurant, and then took a taxi home.



21st - 24th February Argentina
Salta
Spanish style in Salta - Click to enlargeOn the bus from Tucumán (near Termas) to Salta we found ourselves, for the first time since arriving in Argentina, climbing into the mountains. Our journey through the Andes was beginning. The scenery was beautiful, but as we climbed the weather changed. We arrived in Salta in pouring rain.

We spent a relatively long time finding accommodation. We had decided to look for an apartment or somewhere with a kitchen where we could cook for ourselves and, as we had decided to stay there for four days, one of which would be my birthday, we wanted as nice a room as possible. After visiting many places, taking two taxis to avoid rain showers, and getting our feet wet in the rivers that ran down every street, we found Residencial Elena. It was a lovely old house with high ceilings, huge old wooden doors and a sort of central courtyard full of plants. We liked it immediately. Our room had five beds and was pretty basic, but big and comfortable and close to the city centre, with restaurants and cafes all around.

On our first full day there we took a cable car to the summit of Cerro San Bernardo to look at the view of the city. That was fun for all of us, and a good way to pass a couple of hours. Later we took a walking tour of the city centre with a guide. We visited the central plaza and the cathedral there, the government offices, the cultural centre and a big covered market, when the rain arrived, with annoying predictability, in the late afternoon. We braved the rain to visit the Franciscan church before finishing.

My birthday, the 23rd, was a lovely day. Everyone was very excited about giving me me presents and cards in the morning when we woke up. I had to open Esther´s present first to prevent her from exploding! It was a necklace and earrings which she had chosen for me. Then I opened Nick´s present; a dress which we chose together at Termas. it is lovely! Tom had been very clever and bought me something without anyone knowing; a ring made of some kind of reeds woven together. I had a shower and got dressed and felt very special!

We had pastries for breakfast, got some clothes washed at a launderette, and spent a lot of the day wandering around town in the sunshine, taking in the peaceful and friendly atmosphere and chatting to local people. We had lunch in a cafe and then went back to the hotel where I had a siesta to prepare for an evening of eating! When I woke up I went to pick up my email; ecards and birthday greetings from all the family. Then Nick went to pick up the laundry, I got dressed up in all my new things, and we went out for dinner. We went to a restaurant which had been recommended by the guide who led the walking tour, and it was lovely, and a bit more upmarket than our usual style. We were even given a glass of pink champagne before our meal. We ate steak done exquisitely in fantastic sauces, and there wasn´t a chip in sight! We drank a gorgeous bottle of red wine. Fantastic!



22nd February Argentina
Las Quebradas de las Conchas
Rock strata at Quebradas de las Conchas - Click to enlargeWe took a day trip to Cafayate to see the Quebradas de las Conchas, a series of deep river gorges with striking rock formations and fantastically coloured rock strata. All the scenery was breathtaking. On the way we stopped first at "La Garganta del Diablo" (yes, another Devil´s throat!) It was incredible how deeply the water has gouged through the rock. Standing in the bottom of the now dry ravine we were awestruck by its sheer size. We also stopped in various places to take pictures of the incredible colours in the rock strata. When the land was covered by the sea, millions of years ago, somehow layer upon layer of different minerals were deposited here. Then water, wind and earthquake activity eroded and pushed the masses of rock and clay soil to reveal the incredibly coloured oxides left to view. Iron oxide makes rust-red, copper makes green, mica makes glistening turquoise and sulphur makes yellow. It was really incredible.

We arrived at Cafayate at 12ish, and were taken to visit a winery. The area around Cafayate is a wine producing area, famed for its white wine, Torrontés. A guide from the winery showed us around and explained how the wine is made. Then we were treated to a tasting. What fun!

There was a great atmosphere in Cafayate, as the Carnaval was going on and thousands of festival-goers were gathered in the plaza and the markets. We had lunch in a restaurant and then hired a trike for Esther and a bike for Thomas for half an hour from a hire shop doing a roaring trade! We left for our return journey back to Salta at 3pm.

On the way back we stopped at the "Amfiteatro", an immense natural ´amphitheatre´ gouged into the mountainside long ago by water erosion. Again it was impressive, and a small group of musicians were playing pipe and guitar music there, which allowed us to appreciate the acoustics of the place. Also we stopped at "Castillos" where the rocks look like gigantic sandcastles carved into the cliff face.

There was a cafe which kept goats, as well as making fantastic cakes, on the way back to Salta, which was an interesting place to stop for a tea break. Then we dozed, and Esther played with the other children on the tour, until we drove back into Salta at 7.30pm.



24th February Bolivia
Journey to Bolivia
Crossing the border between Argentina and Bolivia - Click to enlargeWe travelled to Bolivia by bus and on foot. The bus for La Quiaca, on the Argentinian side of the border, left Salta at 5.30am, so we all slept for the first part of the journey. The sun comes up properly between 7 and 8am, and then we woke up to look at the spectacular scenery that lies in the north of Argentina. We passed incredible rock formations, like enormous scallop shells leaning against the sides of mountains, striped in curves like greenish rainbows. We passed mountains that were coloured red and gold in stripes, some more colourful even than those we saw on the way to Cafayate. It was amazing to see. The landscape is barren and dry there, so nothing much grows or settles there, and there is no soil, so the rocks with all their colourful mineral deposits are laid bare for all to see.

At La Quiaca we felt the effects of altitude for the first time. We got off the bus feeling a but giddy and slightly drunk, not having realised that we would be at about 3000m of altitude at the border. We set off on foot for the border post with Tom not feeling well at all. He grew more and more pale and eventually had to throw up by the side of the road. We went very slowly through the Argentinian border post, me carrying Tom´s rucksack as well as mine and feeling lightheaded and breathless, and Nick groaning and complaining of a headache. Then we walked across the bridge to Bolivia, Tom looking like a ghost.

Villazón, on the Bolivian side, was in full carnaval. In the immigration office there was a pile of stones covered with streamers and confetti in the middle of the floor, and everyone had confetti plastered in their hair. It was quite bizarre as they went about the official business of stamping our passports. As we walked through the streets to the bus terminal we dodged water bombs and brightly coloured things which were being thrown in all directions. Unfortunately, we weren´t really in the mood!



26th February Bolivia
Tupiza
Horseriding at Tupiza - Click to enlargeThe bus ride to Tupiza was an experience in itself. 95% of Bolivia´s roads are unsurfaced, and this was no exception. After the comfort of Argentinian buses this one, one of the roughest we´ve travelled on yet, was a very uncomfortable ride. The track wound along valleys, across river beds, and balanced precariously on the sides of mountains. We were driving into the desert, and the red colour of the soil and rocks was striking, while in the valleys people lived and cultivated patches of land. At one point we rattled through a series of tunnels carved into the rock, which looked bright orange in the setting sun. It was funny to see how precisely they had been carved for the rough dirt track to pass through.

Tupiza seemed very remote when we arrived there, but Hotel Mitru was very civilised. We walked there with Lotte, a 20yr old Danish woman we met at the border, travelling alone. We took two rooms between the five of us, and Lotte shared with Esther.

Tupiza is surrounded by mountains. At the end of every street there appears to be one, and they are all different colours. The one we could see from the hotel was bright red in the morning, deep marroon in the afternoon and rust-coloured in the evening, at sunset. On the full day we spent there we went horseriding (Lotte´s suggestion). It was fantastic! We took four horses and a guide, and Esther rode with me. The ride lasted three hours and took us to the "Inca Canyon", where the Incas alledgedly brough gold downstream from the mountains. Esther and I shared a wonderful horse called Tobacco, Nick had a big strong horse which had a fair amount of energy, and Tom had a good, placid pony. The scenery was spectacular, the sun was strong and the guide was friendly. Tom did fantastically well for his first proper horse ride and Esther loved it. We all trotted a bit and Esther and I even managed a canter!



27th-30th February Bolivia
El Salar de Uyuni
On El Salar de Uyuni - Click to enlargeWe took a spectacular bus journey to Uyuni,which wound up and up into the mountains. The landscape gradually became more and more arid and the rocky desert landscape was populated mainly by cactuses. The road was unsealed and the journey very dusty and bumpy. At one point we drove for miles along a dry river bed to a small town which must be completely cut off at times,following heavy rains. The altitude at Uyuni is 3600m and we all felt some of the effects of this as we climbed.

The reason tourists go to Uyuni is to visit the nearby ´salar`,the largest salt field in the world. We booked our 4-day tour on the evening we arrived, and left Uyuni at about 10.30 the following morning. Our tour group included Lotte and two men, Claus from Austria and Fabian from Germany.

As we drove towards the salt lake we could see it shimmering on the horizon. The sight was amazing. El salar de Uyuni is a vast expanse of pure whiteness stretching further than the eye could see. The heat haze rising from the surface creates a mirage of water in the distance, and the mountains and ´islands`in the distance appear to be floating just above the surface. First we stopped at a small village at the edge of the salar, where salt is gathered from the lake,dried and milled for sale. An incredibly simple process! Then we drove onto the salar itself. We got out of the vehicle to stand on the dazzling surface. It looked like ice,and the children tried to build salt snowmen, but we were standing in hot sunshine! Our driver told us that there is about 8-10cm of salt, under which there is water.

We drove for one and a half hours across the salt to Isla Pescado, so called because in the heat haze it looks like a gigantic fish floating above the surface of a shimmering white sea, as you approach from a distance. The island was populated by enormous cactuses, the largest of which is 12m tall and estimated to be over 1000 years old. We did a short circular walk to the top of the rocky island. It was hard work with the altitude making us short of breath,but the panoramic view was outstanding. It felt incredibly peaceful.

While we were walking our cook, Florencia, prepared lunch. We ate at salt picnic table looking out over the salar,along with all the other jeep tours there that day!

That evening we stayed at a hotel made of (you guessed it) salt! The building was quite beautiful,and rather surreal looking, built of blocks of salt cut from the surface of the salar. The tables, chairs and even beds were also made of salt, and there was a fine gravelof salt on the floor. Esther thought it was a proper princess castle!

The following two days were spent driving long, dusty distances through desert. It became apparent on the first day that our jeep was not in the best of condition, and had to be push-started every time we stopped for any reason,or stalled when going uphill! This was tiring and annoying for most of us, and almost unbearable for Nick, who developed serious symptoms of altutude sickness once again as soon as we passed above 4000m above sea level.(We had not researched the trip fully enough to realise that we would climb to around 5000m!)

On the second day of the tour we stopped at several small lakes, some of which are home to flamingoes, and at a view point where we could see a live volcano smoking away in the distance. The scenery was striking but the track bumpy and dusty, and by the time, in the evening, we had to push the vehicle three times to get it started, we had all had enough. Thet night was spent in a very basic and remote hostel at nearly 5000m of altitude. It was extremely cold and Nick was not well at all. Throughout the night, it seemed, there were men under our vehicle, trying to fix the problem. When, in the morning, our driver came at 5.00 to tell us that they could not start it and we would have to wait for another jeep to be sent from Uyuni (two days away), we were not impressed! We were disappointed at missing the rest of the tour (which included a visit to some geysers and some hot springs), and dreading staying another day and night there. However, one hour later, by some miracle,they had started the thing, and we left to do the third day with reassurances that we would not be stranded in the desert!

We set off at about 6.30 and drove for 45 minutes to the geysers. They were really impressive and we were glad to be there - well,all except Nick, as, at 5000m above sea level, he was barely capable of moving, let alone enjoying the wonderful power of the Earth). Tom, Esther and I wandered between huge steaming pits of bubbling grey mud and powerful jets of steam. It was like looking at the surface of another planet. Amazing to think that, in such a high place, the immense power of Mother Earth was just beneath our feet. At times it was exciting, even slightly scary, to stand so near. And the air, away from the steam, was so cold. The contrast was incredible and exhilerating.

The same could be said of the hot springs, which we reached an hour later. It was a bizarre sight. At the edge of a smallish lake, half covered with a layer of salt, was a spring from which billowed clouds of steam. A stream brought the hot water into a small shallow pool,where three or four people sat, up to their necks in hot water. Although the sun was now up, the air was still very chilly. Lotte and I and the children eased ourselves in. It was gorgeous! The water was hot and, by contrast with the air, felt hotter. Once in, you could just drift away, breathing steam - a welcome change from the dry, cold air. Lovely!

We had breakfast and then bump-started the jeep (which,for all the work done on it overnight was much the same, except that now the electric windows didn`t work!) to go on to the Laguna Verde. This lake, as its name suggests, is green. Some green algae, adapted to live in the harsh high altitude climate, lives in the lake and turns the water into a deep emerald green. Surrounded by brilliant white salt and backed by mountains strikingly coloured by minerals in the rock, it´s a beautiful sight.

After that we had a long drive to our final night´s accommodation. For the whole afternoon we were followed by another jeep, so that there was someone to rescue us when we stalled on a hill and needed a push start. It took ages to get to the hostel, but by the time we arrived Nick was feeling better, as we had finally dropped below the 4000m mark.

On the final morning it was apparent that the vehicle, once again, would not start. There was some talk of phoning the agency to get them to send another, but nothing came of this, so, with a team effort, we got the vehicle going, and jumped in. Stops on the last day included some tiny villages full of curious children, and the ´Train Cemetary`, a surreal place where dozens of old, rusty and decaying steam engines stood end to end, strangely majestic against the background of desert and distant mountains. We all enjoyed climbing on them!

Back in Uyuni we complained about the jeep. The manager had a very ´don´t care` kind of attitude, but didn´t like us hanging around his office putting off other customers, so he eventually acknowledged our complaint and paid for our night`s accommodation in our hostel. It was not much. One night at Hostal Avenida cost about four pounds for all of us, but at least it was recognition.

Despite the problems, the salt lake tour was a great experience and we saw some excellent scenery. Nick´s reaction to altitude seems fairly rare. We have not met anyone else who has suffered so severely, but it was sad for him not to be able to enjoy the trip.



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