Weekend Digest: Bolivia and our second visit to San Carlos de Bariloche
Bolivia has been a destination that I’ve wanted to visit for a while, especially the famed Uyuni Salt Flats. It just looks like it was straight out of another planet. When Nick and I realized it was a possibility to visit while we were in Chile, I was so pumped. After some research, we found that there were round-trip tours from San Pedro de Atacama (in Chile), which made a long weekend visit feasible.
Since we don’t have family here to celebrate Easter with, we thought visiting Bolivia and taking advantage of having Good Friday off was the best option for us. I found a tour that had some good reviews, so we made our way up to San Pedro to begin the tour.
We tried to do the tour on the cheap, since anytime you cross country borders (especially via air travel), it can get expensive. We opted against paying for an English guide, so we saved a bit there. It turned out to be a little tricker than we thought to understand some specific science/geography things, but overall, we were able to understand the bulk of it.
Something that we didn’t really anticipate until we officially booked the tour was a visa. US citizens required a visa, a cool $160 per person. And not only that, but they had to be new, crisp, unwrinkled American cash (which we didn’t bring enough US dollars with us). We even had the owner of the tourist agency come with us to the exchange kiosk to “approve” what would be accepted at the border. In the end, $40 of Nick’s visa fee was rejected, and he ended up having to pay in Chilean pesos.
What also made this tour cheap was staying in hostels. I never backpacked through a different country in my 20s and did the hostel life, so this was a new experience for me. At first, I was excited, but by last day when I pulled back my sheets to reveal a bug in linens that I was pretty sure weren’t clean, I was ready to stay in our bed in Temuco, haha.
You start in San Pedro with a shuttle (which was about 20 people). Once you pass the Chilean border, you make your way to the Bolivian border, where there are tons of 4×4 vehicles waiting. Basically, everyone gets divided into groups of 6, and pile in the cars with all your items on top. Then you depart for the first destination!
One thing that was slightly annoying in our case (that we wouldn’t recommend to others) is that we had to return to San Pedro de Atacama, where most moved on to La Paz or Peru after the tour. A good majority of our last day, after waking up around 3:30 in the morning, was spent getting to the border and waiting. But luckily, we had some podcasts loaded and were able to pass the time.
Overall, I was pretty pleased with the tour. Everything we saw was like a painting! Here are some of the amazing places we were able to visit:
The Lagoons: Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde, Laguna Colorada, + Laguna Negra
Throughout this whole weekend, I just found the ecosystem of the desert so interesting. How do plants and animals survive here? And how are there bodies of water in the middle of the desert? The world is a crazy, beautiful place.
The first lagoon we visited was Laguna Blanca, which was white because of all the minerals that are in the waters. We were right on the shoulder season of fall and winter, so it was beginning to freeze, which is another crazy thing about the desert.
After that, we headed to Laguna Verde. It’s called Laguna Verde because when the wind blows, the minerals in the water mix together and it becomes a bright green color. It was pretty still that day, so we didn’t witness it ourselves. There’s also arsenic present in the lagoon, so there is no wildlife around it.
The next mineral-rich lagoon, Laguna Colorada, is also called the Red Lagoon. It gets its colors from algae in the water and thousands of flamingos flock to it, which makes it a pretty incredible pink-toned sight. We walked around there a bit, but not too long, because the altitude is no joke!
Laguna Negra was situated among some interesting rock formations. It also gets its color from the dark sediment below it. We were surprised, as we rounded the bend, to find some llama grazing! We attempted to take some photos, but they were a little skittish.
After we returned from Laguna Negra, we ate lunch at a cute little place that also had a pen full of llamas. They were adorable! Each owner puts specific string ties or pom poms on their ears to know which llamas are theirs as they wander and graze.
After we had lunch, we drove a bit longer then took a break at this bar in the middle of the desert. It was pretty cool! They were playing some jams and I enjoyed a coca beer while everyone stretched out their legs.
The altitude really affected us the first day, especially Nick. It felt like what I would imagine a migraine would feel like (though I’ve never experienced one). Coca leaves are supposed to help with becoming acclimated. So, I figured a coca beer would help, right? 🙂
Rock Valleys, Geysers, and Hot Springs — Oh My!
There were some pretty neat volcanic rock formations in the desert. We saw the Dali Desert, named after its similarity to the vast landscapes that he paints. We also visited the World Cup (which is a rock formation shaped like, you guessed it, the World Cup), Lost Italy Valley (which an Italian was lost in for two days, hence the name), and the Camel. We also were able to visit a huge canyon called Anaconda, because of the way the river travels throughout the base of it.
A surprise on the tour was a visit to the Geysers of the Morning Sun. These were a surreal, wavy landscape of acid pools and geysers in the middle of nowhere. We were warned not to step too close, as two people fell in this year and died immediately. Yikes.
We were also able to enjoy a dip in a natural hot spring at the Polques Hot Spring! We were advised to only stay in for about 15 minutes because of all the sulfur in the water. We very much enjoyed the panorama behind us.
The Big Show: Salar de Uyuni
A big debacle that many people have is when to visit the Uyuni Salt Flats. In the rainy season (December–March), the waters cover the salt flats and turn the ground into a giant mirror. Starting in April, they dry up and you get vast views of all white salt flats. And later in the winter, the winds pick up and bring soil over the flats, making them more of a brown color.
We really wanted to visit while the ground was a giant mirror, but the waters also prevent you from being able to visit the Salt Hotel Museum and the island in the center of the flats. But, the timing of the rainy season changes from year-to-year, so anytime you go, it’s a gamble that you get what you wanted to see.
We were lucky enough to see both landscapes, which is pretty rare! We got the whole shebang! We were able to watch sunset where there was still water (near the entrance) and that was pretty incredible. The water was pretty chilly and the salt beneath with pretty rough on the feet, but the pictures were worth it.
The next morning, we woke up early and drove to Incahuil Island, which is covered with cacti that are thousands of years old and provides a 360-degree view of the flats. Our tour was the only group up there for a while, so we were able to take in the sunrise.
After, we had breakfast by the car and ventured into the flats. It was astonishing how vast it is – we drove for 40 minutes in a straight line and were still surrounded by salt. We had some fun with perspective photos.
All-in-all, it was an amazing, visual overload, bucket-list weekend (for me, at least). There are some unreal places on this earth!
San Carlos de Bariloche (Second Time!)
This past weekend, Sarah and I did the unexpected and actually returned to a place we’ve already been! We went back to San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina because we really enjoyed it the last time. That and it has some good golf courses that I told Sarah I needed to visit :). Given that Bariloche is a bit of a hike to get to, we opted to take a bus this time, so that I wouldn’t have to drive. Also, this would allow us to work on the bus both to and from – and since the bus had power outlets, it was a win for the laptop usage. Additionally, we opted to stay outside of the downtown area to see a little different area. We found a nice little hotel/cottage that really got us in the “Fall” mood.
The first full day that we were in Bariloche, we knocked out all of the things we wanted to do that we missed the first time around. The weather was a perfect Fall day and we had a tee time scheduled for noon at the Llao Llao golf course, which I was very excited about. It was a bit of an adventure to get to Llao Llao because we didn’t have Lemmy this time around. We had a limited amount of Argentinean pesos on hand and we were trying to resist pulling out more cash from an ATM because it’s a rip off (for example, the max you can pull is about $50 USD worth and it costs about $20 in service fees to get that amount, not great). We were told to purchase a card for the local bus system and where to purchase those cards. We walked there from our lodge and the place ended up not selling them. Welp, we were a little pressed for time, and couldn’t find a taxi (which would have taken a lot of our cash), so we ended up just hopping on the bus and hoping for the best.
We got onto the bus and tried to play dumb saying we didn’t know we needed a card but we had cash. Long story short, some other passengers swiped their cards for us and paid the fair and then we gave them cash. Perfecto! We ended up doing this a couple times because we never really found out where to get the card, and we didn’t know how much those cards would even cost to begin with. Many of the locals were more than happy to swipe their cards, primarily because we rounded up and gave them more cash than the ticket cost (for reference, hopping on the bus was about $1USD per person, so we’re discussing small amounts here).
We got to the golf course and got set up with rental clubs and push carts. It was an 18-hole course in which the original 9 was built in the 1940’s and then the second 9 was built about 20 years ago. Sarah was only playing 9 holes while I played all 18. We ended up playing the holes in a weird order so that Sarah could experience the traditional 9 holes, and then there was a slow group I got stuck behind on the back, so went around them. The order we played the holes were 1-2, 12-18, 3-4, 8-9, 5-7, 10-11 – fun stuff. The course was great, the views were fantastic, and Sarah played really well. She almost made a par on her final hole, which left her wanting more golf – so I’m excited that she wants to play some more courses with me while we’re down here. We finished the round and went into the clubhouse and another golfer asked if I enjoyed the round, etc. He then informed me that he was in charge of the local golf tournament that was taking place the next two days and invited me to play. Of course, I was pumped, scared to look at Sarah’s face to see if she’d let me play or not haha. Long story short, it didn’t end up working out – primarily because they needed cash (as I mentioned before, we were low on that) and the weather for the next day was supposed to be gross; so it was less appealing. Sarah was supportive of me playing, but it just didn’t work out. Oh well.
After the round, we walked from the golf course to Bellvue, which was a tea house that we missed out on the previous trip. This was a place that Sarah really wanted to visit. It was tucked away off the main road. It opened at 4 p.m. and we got there a couple minutes before 4, which I’m glad we did as there were about 8 people waiting for the place to open. Once it opened, we took a perfect seat outside that gave us a tremendous view of the trees, mountains, and lake in the distance. Again, it was a beautiful fall day. After walking 18 holes it was great to get off our feet and just relax and enjoy the scenery.
We left the tea house and got on the bus again and walked back to our lodge prior to changing and heading back out to dinner. There was a restaurant we really wanted to go to the last time, but it was closed for holiday, but we were able to snag reservations this time around. We decided to talk there because it didn’t seem “that far”, but that was a mistake as it took us about an hour to walk to, but we still got there on time. One thing we’ve really liked is that there are lots of restaurants in South America that do tasting menus, but at a fraction of the cost in the US or Chicago. This restaurant (called Butterfly Patagonia) was no different. It was funny because when we arrived we were the only people there. In fact, we were the only people dining at the 7:45 p.m. time (they have two shifts – 7:45 and 9:30 pm), so we had the whole restaurant to ourselves! Funny enough, they mentioned that a couple cancelled their 9:30 pm reservation, and therefore I think we were the only people to eat at the restaurant that night.
The next day, I was a little sad to not be golfing in the local event, but that quickly changed when the weather turned pretty sour. As we’ve mentioned, the seasons are quickly shifting and we’re now in the Fall / rainy season. The last time we visited, we took a ski lift up to Cerro Campanario for some views, well our lodge was close to Cerro Otto, which was a different hill in Bariloche that had a 360 degree rotating café / restaurant at the top. We decided to take the lift up to that and just hang out there most of the late morning and afternoon playing cards.
For those keeping track at home, our 180 Days of Rummy match is as follows: 8 Rounds Played (56 Hands Total), Nick = 4490, Sarah = 4090.
The weather kept changing – at times when we were at the restaurant, we couldn’t see out the windows, and then at other times it was clear with rainbows and sweeping views of Bariloche. We were ready to head down, but were told that the lifts weren’t operating due to the wind. We ended up having to wait about 45 minutes until they took us partially down a funicular and then via a bus down to the bottom of the lift. We actually just stayed on the bus until it took us downtown since we wanted to walk around there, so in the long run – it worked out nicely. We explored downtown again, which we did the last time, but we had plenty of time to kill since we didn’t have reservations anywhere. The downtown area is packed with chocolate shops, so it was just fun walking into them and feasting on free samples and looking around. The town is just honestly so fun to walk around and people watch. We won’t be in South America by the time it hits winter, but I feel like Bariloche would be the perfect town for a winter getaway.
Once we finished downtown, we started to see if we could find a place for dinner. It was around 6 p.m. and we realized that nothing was going to be open until 8 p.m., so we decided to walk the 4 miles back towards where our lodge was and find food around there. We actually spent a ton of time walking this weekend because we were being cheap, avoiding taxes, and honestly, didn’t have a ton planned so it was just nice to exercise.
About half-way into our walk back, we were walking up a steep hill in a residential area of town, and we encountered a nice little pup just laying in the middle of the street. We see so many dogs every day, we assumed this dog would be no different.
We were wrong.
As we got closer to the dog, I whistled at it to get its attention. Note – I do this to just about every dog I encounter in South America – they are all very chill and I just like to give them the attention that they deserve. The dog got up and walked towards Sarah and me and was sniffing around. We noticed he had a collar on, so he was someone’s pup (or at least had been someone’s pup in the past). Well, funny enough, he ran and picked up a stick and started running around. Sarah loved it as it seemed he wanted to play fetch with us. Sarah tried to grab on the stick but he refused a couple times. At that point, we had had our fun with him, and started to go along our merry way. Well, he ended up following us for a bit – not unusual after showing some sort of engagement with a pup down here. We do this in Temuco all the time when we are on walks or runs, as the dog follows us for a little bit, we get to pretend like we have a dog but then they end up leaving. All good.
Well, this pup decided to follow us a bit longer than normal. Again, we hadn’t fed him, we didn’t have any food on us, and we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary than we have with any other dogs in the area. We realize that he’s walked with us for about a mile, sticking with us as we pass several other dogs. He engages with them, they maybe bark a few words, but then he catches back up to us and just proceeds to act like we’re his pup parents now. Prior to going to dinner, we wanted to stop at the grocery store to get some food for the long bus ride home. So we get to the entrance of the grocery store and this pup is still following us. We “tell” (let’s be real, this dog speaks Spanish) him to stay and so we go into the grocery store. Welp, it’s about 1 minute later and he finds us in the store. Clearly someone opened the door to enter and he just busted in. We walk him back out and then proceed to “lose him” in the aisles of the store. No luck. He comes back into the store and just follows us along. Sarah ends up leaving the store (the dog follows) and I proceed to finish shopping. I exit the store, and Sarah just looks as me. I look down, and there he is, waiting for me to get out of the store alongside Sarah.
At this point, we’re trying to find a place for dinner. The pup is still right next to us through all of our walking. We refuse to yell at it, or hit it, or scare it because that’s not a good thing to do, and we like dogs. Well, we try to lose him by ducking into some shops and hiding behind items; however, the dog just patiently waits outside the store for us, or if someone else opens the door, he runs in the store to follow us. Bottom line, this dog feels that we are his owners now. We finally duck into a wine store and talk with the owner a bit, telling him we’re hiding out here and hope that the dog finds his way somewhere else. At this point though, the dog has been whining outside and actually getting on his hind legs and scratching at the glass windows to get our attention. The owner of the wine store goes outside and tries to scare the dog away (it’s better if he does that vs. us, right?). Well, it works. We are able to leave the wine store, don’t see the dog, walk down a block to have dinner at a pizza place. Whew.
Welp. We were wrong again.
As we left the pizza place, and were walking to the ice cream place next door – here comes the pup running to us (now with another dog). Our dog is filthy – clearly had been rolling around in muddy puddles and now we’re a bit frustrated. We dash into the ice cream shop to split a 1/4 kilo, and the dog is just staring at us through the window. The other people in the ice cream shop are wondering why this dog is so passionate about coming inside – and we just ignore him. The dog eventually gets inside as someone enters or exits and is just sitting next to us. People think he’s our dog at this point again.
We finally leave the ice cream shop, after having a less than enjoyable experience because we know the dog is just watching us, and we walk back to the lodge about half a mile. The dog follows us all the way to the front door and it’s at this point we apologize to the dog and tell him we have to go inside and that he should head back home. We go to sleep.
The next morning, we’re down at breakfast, we look outside the window, and the pup is there next to two other lodge guests as they are getting into their car. Yes, he still is following us. At this point, I’m not even mad, I’m just impressed (but also super sad that we can’t just keep him forever). I look at Sarah and tell her I’m taking some food from breakfast for him because he’s follows us now for over 12 hours and we haven’t fed him anything – I just feel bad. Well, we go to our room, and start to get ready for the day. It is pretty hot in the room from the incoming sunshine and the steam from the shower, and so we open the window. A couple minutes later, Sarah starts to laugh as she looks out the window and sees this:
Yes, he apparently heard our voices, went around back and is now sitting outside our window. He isn’t barking or making a big scene, but he just found his new temporary owners. I’m laughing (but crying on the inside). I throw the bread that I took from breakfast out the window so he can also have some food. We end up checking out of the room and just hanging in the lobby until we need to get a taxi to the bus station. As we leave the lodge, we’re waiting outside, but never see him. We like to think that he found some new people to follow along on his adventure. We were just thankful that he wasn’t there as we got into a cab and then started chasing us. That would have been a total heartbreaker.
Anyways, that’s the summary of our second trip to Bariloche.