‘A’ is for Altitude, ‘B’ is for Bolivia

Altitude sickness is like a hangover, without the fun first!

So with less oxygen, it’s headache, nausea, insomnia and fatigue.

I left Santiago at sea level, and flew north to Calama, Chile at 2260 metres.

The next morning was a bus to Uyuni, Bolivia at 3350 m.

Then a bus to Potosi, Bolivia at 4090 m.

It’s the highest elevation I’ll be. For comparison, the highest town in Canada is Banff at 1383 m. Mount Everest is 8849 m.

Calama was a gritty industrial mining town in the Atacama Desert, but necessary for a night.

I escaped the heat and dust by wandering around a huge Walmart-like store next door to my hotel.

And stocked up with food and water for my eight-hour bus ride to Uyuni. It said it was going to be ten hours but I think we cleared the border quite quickly.

It was hours of desert on a dirt road. At times the air in the bus was thick with dust. When I rinsed out my clothes the water was very brown!

Sometimes it looked like water but was just salt deposits.

Uyuni (pronounced U-knee) is another dusty desert town but is a key departure site for tours to the Salar de Uyuni, the huge salt flats.

The fatigue feels I’m walking underwater, but that’s clearly not real.

They haven’t had rain since about April 1.

The rainy season was supposed to start November 1 but it’s now three weeks late.

The rainy period lasts for about 5 months, from November 1 to April 1, with about 1/2 inch per month. January gets the most – about 2 inches. Then nothing for 7 months.

My throat, eyes, nose are all dry.

Parade of school children to celebrate their last of classes before summer break.

Who would guessed the best pizza I’ve had would be in Uyuni! My hotel and restaurant was owned by an American/Bolivian couple.

I just did a ‘One Day’ tour though the common choice is ‘Three Day’. I may have missed some lagoons and geysers but didn’t freeze to death! It gets down to freezing overnight and accommodations are very basic. More money can improve the situation but I wasn’t keen about that much group travel.

For the three day trip, all luggage gets stored on top of the jeep.

First stop was the Cementerio de Trens, or Train Cemetery.

It was a collection of historic steam locomotives and rail cars that were made here in the 19th century.

But there is a national history connected to trains. Chile took coast access and metal rich areas around Calama during the War of the Pacific (1879-1884).

This left them landlocked.

Chile offered to build a railway and allow port privileges in Antofagasta.

One of the modern trains passing by the Chile-Bolivia border while we were clearing immigration.

Then it was on to a village of buildings made from blocks of salt.

The salt is very high in bacteria so needed to be treated with iodine to make it safe to eat.

Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat in the world, at 10,000 sq km (3,900 sq mi).

The island of Isla Incahuasi rises up in the centre of the salt flats.

You can see the Andes in the distance.

Then of course the classic big/little photos!

Under the salt crust is brine that is very high in lithium which is being looked for mining.

These weak spots are going to spread during the wet season. Soon they will not be able to drive on the flats and will be limited to the edges.

Sunset and wine hour.

Then off on another bus to Potosi, Bolivia.

No bus station but at least they parked around the same intersection. Just had to walk around and find a bus headed in the right direction!

Cerro Rico (Rich Hill) is the identity of Potosi.

It was rich in silver and sacred to the local people but the Spanish were keen to exploit it.

La Catedral

Casa Nacional de la Moneda “The Mint” takes up a whole block.

It was first built on this site in 1572 and is an amazing museum.

It includes an art gallery, and my favourite painting combined an image of Cerro Rico with the Catholic faith forced upon them.

Displays of all the coins and medallions produced here from the local silver.

Melting the silver to create ingots.

Pressing the ingots into sheets. There were four huge presses powered by mules in the level below.

Pressing the coins. If you look close you can see a third man’s hands putting the blank into place.

The Spanish tried using African slaves for the work but they did not adjust for the altitude so forced locals to work these dangerous jobs.

Work was eventually mechanized.

Display of items made from silver.

Not originally a church but used to preserve items from the many country churches that are closed.

Not so ancient mummies.

A restored locomotive from Uyuni.

The original silver mined was almost 100% pure. When it declined, this site was used to crush the rock and use mercury to extract the silver.

Now it is a site to produce silver jewelry and teach the skills.

Salteñas are a type of baked empanada with a sweet, slightly spicy sauce with meat or chicken with olives, raisins and potatoes. They are a breakfast or morning snack.

These were baked in a wood oven in a shop that is only open from 10:00-12:00 or until they run out.

Spice vendor at the Mercado Central.


The purplish things are chuño, freeze-dried potatoes. They were originally made by the Aztecs as a means of preservation using the cold nights and hot days.

Chairo Potosino (vegetable soup) with chuño. Not much flavour on its own but texture was good.

Potatoes still reign!

Papas de relleno was a crispy crust of mashed potato with a meat and vegetable filling.

Museo y Convento de Santa Teresa (1685)

Power lines everywhere! And a crew working at the end of the block.

My hotel was in an old colonial building, with two courtyards between me and street noise.

After my three days in Potosi the headache is gone but I’m still winded easily.

Now it’s on to Sucre and then La Paz. Both sound like amazing places with many photos so I’ll post now!

7 thoughts on “‘A’ is for Altitude, ‘B’ is for Bolivia

  1. Maybe I could move my Asia trips to South America.🤔
    It looks so interesting. You find good destinations,places to visit.. I learned a lot again.
    And your photos tells their own stories.
    Just Great!

    Liked by 1 person

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