Bolivian Salt Flats (Colchani)
1200 square kilometres in size. A blanco sheet that went on forever is what we got to explore over a full day in the eye squinting lands where sunglasses are a must. As a group we learnt how the local town processes the salt for commercial use as everything is hand processed. We also took many photos in funky and funny possitions as a must-do activity. We were lucky enough that we could actually drive in 4x4s across the flats to a cactus island as a lot of the time the flats are under water. Here we could see a 360 degree view of the surroundings from the top as everyone struggled to catch their breath. Blue Skies and sunshine made sure the sunscreen was lathered on as we then travelled to a salt hotel completely made of salt except the roof. Chairs, tables, walls, beds and sculptures amongst many other things was an interesting site to see. This is where we all witnessed one of the breathtaking sunsets i have ever seen. Salt flats, water pools, salt trucks and mountains in the distance as well as weirdly shaped clouds with colours changing every second was amazing as we all were blown away at what we were seeing.
Potosi the town itself is quite big where 15,000 - 20,000 miners go to work everyday of the year. Silver, tin and many other minerals is what´s up for grabs in many of the hundreds of mines in the area. The sad thing is over 8 million people have died mining these mines due to no controls over health and safety and where a miner can dig. Everyone is in competition with each other to find what they have come to look for and accidents happen often as well as the mountains gradually falling due to the rat warren tunnels that arnt planned beforehand. If a miner doesnt find anything, he gets no money where an average days work (if you are succesful) gets you around $10 a day (a minor also has to purchase his own dynomite and all materials.) Children as young as 12 work in these mines and the average life expectancy is 45. Cancer from the smells and dust or getting crushed are the main causes of death. Learning about what these Bolivians have to go through to make such a small amount of cash was a sad day but very informative. Towards the end of our tour after working and crawling our way through the rock we got to fill a pumpkin with dynomite and watched it get blown to smitherines as the BOOM rocked the valley as the orange mist was swept away by the wind. A statue of the devil (pic) is inside the mine and the miners give alcohol and coca leaves so that the devil is happy (and drunk) and will give them good luck and safety within the mine. Throughout this tour, many donations were given to the minors including coca leaves, dynomite and food.
Welcome to the jungle
A tiny plane landing on a grass runway, muddy, bumpy and rocky roads getting bogged and an open boat ride 3 hours in the pouring rain is what it took to get to our cabin dormatory accomodation in a jungle wetland that leads to the Amazon river. It was a horrible start as we stumbled in at night soaking wet with no hot showers and no-where for anything to dry. The toilets are disgusting and i didnt shower for the 2 days we were here as it would have been cleaner not to. Mosquitoes, bats, frogs, monkeys and weird South American bugs were kept out by our Mosquitoe net beds which was an unexpected comfort as i slept pretty soundly as it had been a 12 hour day travelling from La Paz to Rurrenabaque to the Pampas. The weather the next morning was overcast with glimpses of sun evey now and again, so after a great breakfast we went of ANACONDA HUNTING! Through the boggy wetlands we went, fighting our way through the knee high mud marshes looking for anything resembling a snake, however it was not to be. Walking for 2 hours we didnt get to see one, but was a different experience trekking the wetlands nearly developing trench foot. That afternoon we went off in the open boats again to go SWIMMING with the PINK DOLPHINS! This was amazing as one swam under me in the Piranha infested waters as well as a few metres away where they keep bobbing up for air. These dolphins i would have to say are the ugliest dolphins i have ever seen, the adults are light pink in colour with really long snouts and the babies are more pinky grey. Still i had a great time and worked out i need to get fit as tredding water for about half an hour tired me out. That night we went out in the boats with spotlight torches and tried to spot Aligatiors and other animals as their red eyes lit up when the light flashed over them in the bushes on the side of the river. It was a jammed packed day and that didnt stop as the next morning i went PIRANHA FISHING where i finally caught 3!!! The teeth on these things are so sharp and they could easily take off your skin. We threw all the ones we caught back into the river, as they are what the dolphins eat. Just like arriving, it was a long journey back to La Paz, but a very worthwhile trip.