Continuing north up the valley from Tilcara, I took a bus to the Bolivian border. I had thought to either take the overnight bus from there to my next world heritage site, the city of Potosi, or perhaps break the long bus journey with an overnight stop in the town of Tupiza, in ‘Butch & Sundance’ country. On the bus were some other travellers I’d met a few days earlier and from them I found that there was an appealing side journey I could take from Tupiza, so I decided to change my plans and take a few days detour round the mountainous and mostly empty south-west corner of Bolivia.
Tupiza was heaving with other travellers about to embark or returning from one of these jeep tours, which could be booked through a bewildering number of agencies. I decided to go with the agency based in my popular hotel but had to wait a day for a space, so spent that time going on a horse riding trip into the local canyons.
The trip was four days and three nights and our group comprised two Toyota Landcruisers, eight travellers, two drivers and a cook. We’d been advised to bring snacks, but we were fed often and abundantly and, to my surprise, with a decent amount of fresh fruit and veg. The toilet paper we’d also been told to bring was, however, vital.
We spent the whole journey above 4000m and at times were in snow. The accommodation was basic (no showers!) and despite the four or so blankets we got on our beds, I was keeping warm at night by wearing my thermals, socks, nightshirt, fleece jumper, hat and gloves whilst adding my silk sleeping bag liner to the bed. I started getting severe altitude headaches which I staved off by chewing coca leaves that my Argentinian companions kindly shared with me until I was able to buy my own supply.
Our jeep managed to get a flat on the first morning and get stuck in a snowy bog on the second but we still covered well over 1000km and saw coloured lagoons, flamingos, gravel deserts, wind-sculpted rocks, boiling mud and a train cemetery over the first three days. Lunch stops were in a variety of attractive places with adorable llamas to stalk while we waited for the food to be cooked.
The last day was a predawn start to visit the salt flats of Uyuni: a vast expanse of white with a shallow layer of water over much of it. Once we’d watched sunrise and had breakfast in a building made of salt blocks, we spent a few hours taking trick perspective and reflective photographs before stopping on the way back at the obligatory ‘artisan’ market where the boys in the jeep bought silly knitted hats.