4/20/10: Southwest Circuit, Bolivia
We arrived in Tupiza yesterday with one goal: to book a tour to the salt flats. To you this may seem a simple enough task, but I assure you that it wasn’t. The altitude (2,950 meters above sea level) left me wheezing and gasping for air after the tiniest bit of exertion, so it was necessary for us to stop and let me catch my breath every 10 steps we walked or so. During these stops, Kevin stood next to me, kindly offering his moral support by making fun of me. “We’re not even that high! You can’t be feeling the altitude!” He’s a great guy, that Kevin Curry.
The other, and perhaps more problematic, problem was that we had done a ton of research before heading to Tupiza and still hadn’t decided on an agency to go through to book our tour. With all the horror stories we’d read online about drunk drivers and pushy guides, we were definitely unsure about what to do. It just seemed like no matter what we’d have a crap shoot as to whether we’d end up with a good guide and driver. But we had at least narrowed it down to two companies: Tupiza Tours and La Torre Tours, and we decided we would just visit both offices and then make a decision.
As we walked from the bus station to look for a place to stay (I know, we didn’t book ahead! We’re spur-of-the-moment! We’re living on the edge!), we saw a sign for four day tours in front of a place called Valle Hermoso. We stopped in and got a brochure and chatted with the very nice receptionist. Then we headed off to Tupiza Tours to take a look at their brochure. The conversation went something like this:
Z: Hello, we’re interested in a four-day tour leaving tomorrow.
TT: (unsmiling) Yes, we have.
Z: How much is it?
TT: (grunting, still unsmiling) 1200 Bolivianos each for four people, 1000 for six people.
Z: Ok, thanks.
TT: But we don’t like you. Go away!
Ok, that last sentence I made up, but really, they may just as well have said that to us. So we hurried out the door and talked with Matt and Sam, a couple we had met on the bus who we planned on doing the tour with and decided to book through Valle Hermoso and hope for the best. (By the way, when was the last time a group of four people named Matt, Sam, Kevin and Zhou was composed of two girls and two guys? Awesome, isn’t it?)
So this morning the four of us met in front of Valle Hermoso to meet our guide and driver for the trip.
Or I guess more accurately, Jesus’ shadow.
Even though they couldn’t speak English, Maxima and Jesus both tried to explain things to as much as possible. Between the four of us and our packet of information (in English), we think we were able to figure out pretty much what they were talking about. Most of the time. First impression? Maxima is a great guide and amazing cook, and Jesus is a careful and awesome driver. We got really lucky with them. Oh, and the landscape wasn’t too bad either.
Picture of the Day: Little cactus fruits.