Posted by: robinson2000 | June 5, 2011

Back to La Paz

28/5 – After a few fond farewells at Heathrow’s sparkling new Terminal 5, I boarded a BA flight for my 5th crossing of the pond since August. I was hoping to pick up where I left off in La Paz and head south to the Chilean border to finish off the South American adventure. The 9 hour flight to Miami was lovely. I had a window seat, a spare seat next to me to stretch out on, and a bunch of good films to watch. The flight passed quickly and before I knew it we were cruising down the east coast of Florida and enjoying the spectacular views of Miami’s waterfront. After the usual ring-roll of US immigration, (no for 100th time, I’m not a terrorist!) I was granted entry and spent the next 4 hours killing time in one of MIA’s many terminals. The flight down to La Paz kicked off at 10.30pm, by which time I was tired so I spent the duration of the flight nodding off and chuckling to the Ricky Gervais Show that I had downloaded to my MP3 player. Upon nearing La Paz we were informed over the speaker system that there was a maintenance issue and had to be diverted to Santa Cruz to get it checked out. After disembarking from the plane and collecting my passports stamps from immigration, I spent the next 4 hours queuing in various lines trying to find out what was going on. In true Bolivian fashion the airport was manic with people pushing and shoving to get into lines, chaos theory in action. At one point an AA representative stood up on the counter and started shouting the names of passengers who could board the next flight to La Paz. The poor soul spoke so fast that you could barely catch any of the names and he had to shout at the top of his voice over the airports speaker system, which was constantly making announcements. It turned out that a handful of us would have to wait another 6 hours to get a plane to La Paz. To make up for the shoddy service we were given breakfast vouchers worth a whole $5 so I went and sat with a few guys who lived only a couple of miles from my hometown of Sevenoaks.

Finally after much bored waiting and leeching off the airports Wi-Fi we were back in the air for a short 45 minute hop to La Paz. Now I’ve flown in and out of La Paz on a couple of occasions this year but they were either at night or in the mist. This time the sky was clear blue and the sight was breath taking as we flew low between the snow-capped peaks and circled the bowl shaped crater that La Paz is situated in. I jumped into a cab at the airport and headed downtown to a guesthouse that I had stayed in a number of times. I was recognised instantly by the owner and given a warm welcome and a much needed bed. After 36 travelling hours I was back in La Paz and bloody exhausted. I dropped my bag in the room, bought a bus ticket for the following day to Uyuni, and treated myself to a steak meal. It was great to be back in La Paz, a wonderful city with the traffic controllers dressed as zebra’s and menacing masked shoe shiners. 

I woke the following morning after some much needed beauty sleep but still felt pretty groggy from being awake nearly 48 hours the previous day. I had booked a bus ticket to Uyuni for 7pm that evening so I spent my time browsing the market stalls, taking a walk around San Francisco church and watching the world go by in a couple of cafes. Due to La Paz’s altitude I couldn’t do much walking anyway as I felt that I had the lung capacity of an asthmatic ant. The night bus to Uyuni was reasonably pleasant and passed pretty quickly but the temperatures plummeted during the night, causing sheets of ice to form over the windows. I had buried myself beneath 2 blankets for most of the journey and was pretty reluctant to leave the bus when we arrived at 5.30am.

Uyuni doesn’t have much going for it. Its slap bang in the middle of nowhere and serves as a jumping-off point for trips into the salt flats, volcanoes and lakes of southwest Bolivia. It used to be a commercial and communication centre back in the 20th century and was an important railway junction at one time. Now most of the town is geared up for visiting tourists and the great trains that’s used to rumble through are rustling hulks on the outskirts of town.

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