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Tupiza, Bolivia

We left Salta at midnight to catch the bus to La Quiaca, the border city to Bolivia. ¬†Arriving at 7 am (meaning 6 am Bolivia time), we still had to cross the border on foot. ¬†Wowwwww inefficient – at least we crossed in 2 hours. ¬†Going the other way, the line looked at least 5 hours long! ¬†The customs agent would stamp a few people through, disappear for maybe half an hour, then come back and do that all over again…

Bolivia feels different. ¬†It’s more…Asia-like in some ways. ¬†A few more stray dogs on the street, a bit more chaos, less developed, and everything is cheap. ¬†Our two hour bus ride from Villaz√≥n (just across La Quiaca) to Tupiza cost only $2.

Now that bus ride was strange. ¬†First off, we were walking toward the terminal, when the bus – already running – approached us, and some guy leaning out the door was yelling “Tupiza, Tupiza!” at us. ¬†If you’re carrying backpacks and in Villaz√≥n, where else do you go? ¬†We hopped in.

The scenery is gorgeous, and a bit of a continuation of the Quebrada de Humahuaca stuff – I’m especially enamoured by the almost purple coloured hills. ¬†We passed by many villages of just mud houses.

Around an hour into the ride, I was awoken by…marketing. ¬†I don’t know whether this guy was on the bus in an arrangement with the bus company, or whether he just hopped on, but a Bolivian guy with a strange face tattoo of a person and dressed up in formal clothes stood up and started trying to sell us some ointment. ¬†He went on and on and on (in Spanish, but far slower than Chile or Argentina – I’m stoked that I can understand a lot more) about arthritis and aches and headaches…and his solution? ¬†What else from Bolivia – an ointment primarily made of coca.

He handed a packet to everyone on the bus, then dabbed a bit of ointment on each person’s hand – I complied, despite being a bit reluctant. ¬†Rubbing it on my skin only made it feel numb. ¬†After his long schpiel, he added – 12 bolivianos ($1.75) per packet, but a special discount meaning it was only 10…and if you buy two, you get one free! ¬†All that talking for half an hour just to sell things worth a dollar!

THEN just when I thought he was done, he started talking about digestion problems, constipation, toxins, muscular whatever, blah blah blah… And then he pulls out this flat-shaped nut or seed thing. ¬†Turns out it’s a natural laxative. ¬†Take it and you’ll feel your stomach rumbling in five minutes; you’ll run to the washroom in 15. ¬†Only 7 bolivianos ($1)!

Ehhh…no. ¬†Well, plenty of locals bought into both.

I followed Tess and Matt to a hotel they researched – same price as Argentina, around $14…but I get a single room with two twin beds, my own washroom, and my own TV! ¬†The hotel even has a pool (which I decided not to use)! ¬†Bolivia is cheaaaaap…but this is a splurge. ¬†Just this once. ūüėČ

With my shortened timeline, I went off to research tours, and found a horseback riding tour for the afternoon, and a 4 day salt flats tour for the next day. ¬†I was a bit hesitant to take the salt flats tour so soon, since I went this far to get to Tupiza, but this tour was looking for a single person to fill up the truck, and I’m running behind anyway. ¬†Besides, the only thing to do in Tupiza really is to check out the surroundings by horseback, and by doing this on the day I get here, I can leave anytime. ¬†(I just hope I don’t come down with altitude sickness, having not acclimatized much – but just in case, I went to a pharmacy and bought some pills. ¬†All in Spanish, yay!) ¬†For both of these tours, I found three people whom I had seen around but not met at my last hostel in Salta – Shasha (NZ), Jessica (Australia), and Sam (England).

But first, lunch – and Tupiza really seems like Asia in this regard. ¬†Everything around seems to be backpacker food. ¬†Homemade pizzas and pasta, shakshuka for the Israelis, banana pancakes for breakfast, and cheap cheap cheap fresh squeezed juice… As inauthentic as it is, I’m happy! ¬†Also, English TV and 90s music/one hit wonders playing in restaurants.

tupiza

After lunch – horseback riding. ¬†Provided with cowboy hats and leather chaps, it certainly made the wild west feel even more wild. ¬†This area is known for being where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their demise over 100 years ago. ¬†Riding among multicolour cliff formations (Ca√Īon del Inca, Puerte del Diablo) and canyons with impossible shapes, funky cacti, and the heat – felt like a movie, and it made the big detour to Tupiza worth it. ¬†Only a little more painful when the horses (all obedient, including my horse, Chepeto) started trotting!

We had a thunderstorm just after heading back. ¬†Hopefully the weather will clear up soon – I’m heading on the tour to Uyuni tomorrow, and that’s the centerpiece of my South American trip!

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