After being trapped in Potosi for 4 days due to mining strikes we were more than ready for a change of scene. We got that and a whole lot more when we arrived in Tupiza – literally the wild west of Bolivia.
We took an overnight bus from Potosi to get there, arriving at the highly convenient hour of 3:30am. After a rushed exit from the bus, we walked out onto the quiet streets of town and found ourselves a taxi to try and get to our hostel. We’d met up with Mark and Alice a couple (Brit and Aus) who were heading in the same direction as us. The driver said he knew where our hostel was and took off, 2 mins later arriving at somewhere that was definitely not our hostel. We repeated the name and it turns out he didn’t know where it was. The old trick of getting the tourists in the car to secure the fare, then working out where they wanted to go was operating in full force. We had forgotten to write down the address, but I vaguely remembered where it was in town. There I was at 3:45am in the middle of a tiny town resting on the bonnet of a taxi drawing a picture of where the hostel was so the taxi driver could get us there. It involved the words “Ciudad” and “Rio” and “Punte” i.e. here is the city, there is a river nearby and we have to go over the bridge to get to the hostel. Eventually we made it, the taxi driver was happy and we couldn’t really complain with his wife and small child in the front seat next to him. Mr Santos at Hostel Solares welcomed us, showed us to a room and we headed off for the second part of our sleep!
Tupiza is a small town in the south of Bolivia, on the way to the border town of Villazon (1hr and $25 BOV in a collectivo taxi). Only 22,000 Bolivians call Tupiza home. The town is pretty small, you can walk around the centre in about 15 minutes taking in the town plaza, restaurants (many of them pizza), central Mercado and helladeria’s (ice-cream shops). Like much of Bolivia, the place dies around lunchtime when only the restaurants are open, the locals head for a sleep and the streets are deserted.
We were staying on ‘the other side’ of the river, just a ten minute walk across the bridge sitting under the big red hill. The landscape around Tupiza is mainly made up of giant red cliffs and rocks. It feels like you’re smack bang in the middle of the wild west. The ground is dry and there’s plenty of sand to go around. Allegedly Tupiza was where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed – can’t validate it for you though.We spent our first day recovering from the early morning, checking out town and soaking up the hot temps and rays of sun.
Wandering the Wild West
Tupiza offers up plenty of opportunities to hit the hills and see what exists in the arid desert surroundings. We got together with Mark and Alice and got ourselves dropped out in the middle of nowhere. With no map and a general direction given, we started to wander into the back of beyond. First up was the Devils Gate, two huge slabs of red rock split down the centre. We took a couple of photo’s then passed through the ominous gate on our way to find the El Canon del Duende. It was a pretty surreal experience, walking through cactus ridden lands as rock protruded at all angles from the ground below us. Eagles circled in the air and thorny bushes sliced away at our ankles.
After what would normally be an easy hours walking, apart from the heat, we arrived at the walls of the canyon. The packed lunch came out and we talked about the home comforts we were hanging out for when we got home (Mark and Alice were soon to return home too). After kicking ourselves back into the real world of red rocks and cactus, we made our way deeper into the canyon. Lifting ourselves over huge boulders, we were starting to think that the canyon didn’t really want us in there. Unlike the gigantic Colca Canyon, this one was a lot slimmer, at points I was able to stretch out my arms and touch both sides. I pushed on a little further than the other guys after scaling a small waterfall and quickly realised that the canyon was only going to get tighter and tighter and it wasn’t going to be ending in a hurry! We hung about in the canyon walls for a while relaxing and soaking up the sun.
On our way out we decided to take a “short-cut” this gem of an idea saw us hurl up a shingle hill, sliding down as we headed up and trying our best not to end up in a cactus. There was some indecision about which way to get down the other side of the hill, with sheer drops, cactus and thorny bushes in most directions. I took off sideways to check out one exit while the other went another way. Turns out there way was superior to mine. I ended up sliding half-way down a hill in a semi-controlled fashion before being confronted by a wall of thorns. No chance to go back up the hill so it was time to contort my body in ways it shouldn’t be. Applying my best Asian Squat techniques and waddling low to the ground like a penguin I navigated under some prime spiking arsenal. It’s fair to say that the bushes got a few good hits in and my hands are still wearing a couple of the scars from the ordeal. In all my best efforts to avoid cactus pants, the thorny bushes just couldn’t be avoided! The others thought it was quite funny and asked why I hadn’t followed them? No answer given.
We made our way back out and took the path for home. There was no pick up on the return journey but we were only a few km from town so life wasn’t too tough. After the days ordeal there wasn’t too much left to do other than take in the last of the days light on the hills behind the hostel with a beer in hand. We’d wanted to stay in Tupiza a few days longer but our planning session told us that we were not going to make it through Argentina if we did! I was hell bent on getting to Iguazu Falls so the next morning we set off, All Blacks jersey on, targeting an arrival in Salta, Argentina that would see us watch the game in enemy territory!