Escape From Rurrenebaque

We both awoke bright and early today feeling refreshed.  It seems that weeks of backpacker living had worn us down and a night in a nice, clean hotel had done us some good.  We lay in bed for a little while just enjoying the cleanliness and the A/C before getting up and heading downstairs to a breakfast that was surprisingly more than just toasted hamburger bun halves and coffee, which is what almost everyone else means when they say “free breakfast.”

After eating our fill of eggs, croissants, and some very horrible dry donut things we grabbed our luggage and headed to the airport via an Amaszonas shuttle from downtown.  On our walk to the shuttle Lynn got one last tour of the town she has grown to hate so much with its muddy roads, half completed buildings, swarms of mosquitos and hot, muggy air.

Back at the old farmhouse that doubles as the airport, we checked in with a woman who, despite having my passport in hand, was quite certain I was Michael Alexander and kept asking me if that was my name.  She eventually figured out that it wasn’t and issued us our boarding passes. We then we had to pay two separate airport taxes (national and municipal) at two different desks in cash, getting a sticker on our boarding pass in return for each.

Our plane ticket with stickers proving we have paid all of the various airport taxes.
Our plane ticket with stickers proving we have paid all of the various airport taxes.

After another 30 minutes and a crewman chasing a pig off the runway, our tiny plane showed up and we once again climbed aboard to finally leave Lynn’s least favorite place in the world.  The plane ride this time was a lot less fear inducing and only included a few rollercoaster up and down towards the end as we came into La Paz, a far cry from the falling out of the sky feeling we had felt on our way out.

Safely on solid ground we both breathed a sigh of relief, and headed over to the Amaszonas counter to see if we could get on an earlier flight to Uyuni.  We had originally given ourselves a six hour buffer, not wanting to trust the airlines, but surprisingly everything had run smoothly and we were trying to avoid spending the next six hours in the La Paz airport, which, while better than Santiago’s, was still not very entertaining.

In our broken Spanish we managed to converse enough with the check in lady to learn that all the other flights today were full and we would need to wait four hours to check in for our own flight.  A little discouraged, we walked over to a hamburguesas restaurant that had escaped our notice last time we were here and sat down to a surprisingly pleasant lunch.  We found the restaurant had free wi-fi and spent most of the afternoon updating blogs, checking email, and doing some travely errands.

Lunch. Possibly one of the better meals we have had in south america, as sad as that is.
Lunch. Possibly one of the better meals we have had in south america, as sad as that is.
And at the world's highest hamburger restaurant, an added bonus!
And at the world’s highest hamburger restaurant, an added bonus!
We were very amused by this sign near the escalator.  Despite initially thinking it was crazy that people wouldn't know how to escalator we saw one woman completely fall over and another psych herself up for about two minutes to try before deciding it was too much and heading for the stairs.
We were very amused by this sign near the escalator. Despite initially thinking it was crazy that people wouldn’t know how to escalator we saw one woman completely fall over and another psych herself up for about two minutes to try before deciding it was too much and heading for the stairs.

By 4.00 we were able to check in and killed a little more time before going through the minimal security to our gate.  It had been changed at the last minute just as we went through and so we were the first to arrive at our new gate, only 5 minutes before boarding time.  We were surprised to find we were the only ones there.  Slowly a few others trickled in and we had a brief but pleasant conversation with a couple from Beijing who had been told that the flight was near full.  We looked around the gate and became once again concerned for the size of our plane.  There were only 7 people hanging around waiting to board this “full” flight.

As we made our way, once again unescorted, across the tarmac we were relieved to see a legitimate jet plane and climbed aboard, eager to end our Bolivian plane saga.  This plane did indeed fill in, mostly with Chinese tourists and we had an uneventful flight to Uyuni.

Safely on the ground, we were hanging around waiting for our bags when the Chinese couple from earlier became very inquisitive about our salt flats tour, and then insistent that they come along.  Lynn and I were a little weirded out and luckily were able to deflect by recommending they just go to the company as we already had something booked.  They didn’t seem to really understand in their broken English and pushed the subject for about five minutes before our bags were ready and we had a reason to wander away.  We quickly grabbed a taxi into town to escape anymore solicitations for sharing our tour.

The main road in Uyuni seems to be recovering from a festival of some kind.  We would later realize that is indeed carnival and we are idiots for not realizing what was going on.
The main road in Uyuni seems to be recovering from a festival of some kind. We would later realize that is indeed carnival and we are idiots for not realizing what was going on.

We made our to our hostel and learned we had only seven minutes to drop our clothes off at the laundromat before it closed for the day.  Almost everything we owned was still soaked and getting increasingly smelly from the rain forest and we were really hoping to not have to venture out for another three day tour without having done some laundry.

Luckily, we made it just in time and the laundry recommended by our hostel was also conveniently next door to our tour company for tomorrow so we were able to check in as well.  Pleased with having accomplished our two errands for the evening so quickly, we briefly headed back to the hostel before striking out to find dinner.

Lynn enjoying a nice hostel room.  Take a lesson Rurrenebaque.
Lynn enjoying a nice hostel room. Take a lesson Rurrenebaque.
Doug got some new gloves and hat after hearing from many different sources about how cold it could get in the salt flats.
Doug got some new gloves and hat after hearing from many different sources about how cold it could get in the salt flats.

As a tour book we read had put it, all of the Bolivian tourist towns cater their food to tourists who they think eat nothing but mediocre pizza.  Our experience in Rurrenebaque definitely backed that up and Wikitravel confirmed that it was also true for Uyuni.  There was one interesting looking entry though, Minuteman Pizza, run by a former Bostonian who has relocated for some reason to this tiny Bolivian desert town.

We decided that the Boston connection was as good a reason as any to choose one of the hundreds of pizza places in town and we headed over.  Once inside we were overwhelmed with the number of Western backpackers inside.  We quickly learned there was a group of twenty or so college age kids that had all come just before us and made the place artificially busy.  We filed into line and eventually ordered our pizzas and a salad.  A little while later it came while I wouldn’t say it was anything to write home about (ironic because that’s exactly what I’m doing) it was decent.

After dinner we headed back home and read a bit more before falling asleep.

Daily Walking Milage : 5 miles

Fun Facts:

  • Uyuni and the Bolivian salt flats were one of the stops of the Dakar Rally 2016, which is a rally raid race that was formerly held from Paris to Dakar, Senegal but was moved to South America in 2009 due to security concerns in Mauritania.  The race was held in early January and everywhere you look in Uyuni there are remnants of the race.
  • Salt flats are formed when a river, rather than emptying to the ocean, drains into a low lying land area, depositing all of the minerals it collected along the way.  The largest salt flat in the world is the Salar de Uyuni here in Bolivia, where we will be spending the next three days.
  • Salar de Uyuni contains between 50 and 70 percent of the world”s lithium reserves

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