RUTA DEL CHE

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Che Guevara came to Bolivia in the late 1960s to spread his brand of social revolution. He arrived in La Paz in disguise – all he needed to do was shed the beret and shave off his straggly beard and – hey presto – nobody recognised him. He headed for the foothills of the eastern Andes to stir his mischief…and come to a sticky end. So we went to investigate.

APRES LE SUCCES CUBAIN AUX COTES DES FRERES CASTRO, ERNESTO GUEVARA CONTINUE SA ROUTE ET SA MISSION,  ARRIVE EN BOLIVIE A LA FIN DES ANNEES 60 POUR CONVAINCRE LES PAYSANS DE SE SOULEVER CONTRE LE SYSTEME ET, CECI ETANT FAIT,  D’Y INSTALLER SON CAMP DE BASE POUR ETENDRE LA REVOLUTION AU PAYS VOISINS. IL VA ERRER DES MOIS DURANT AVEC UNE PETITE EQUIPE DE GUERILLEROS ENTRE SAMAIPATA ET LA HIGUERA…..NOUS PARTONS SUR SES TRACES.

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The route is a very twist-turny, up and down thing, and so it took some time. To do ninety kilometres required 3 hours. We crossed one other car. The scenery is great.

90 KMS, 3H DE ROUTE, CA MONTE, DESCEND ET TOURNE. PAYSAGES MAGNIFIQUES. NOUS TRAVERSONS LE RIO GRANDE. SI NOUS ETIONS EN ARGENTINE, IL Y AURAIT 100 BBQ SUR CHAQUE PLAGE ET 1000 PERSONNES DANS L’EAU POUR PECHER ET BATIFOLER.  MAIS ICI, PERSONNE, ET NOUS REGRETTONS DE NE PAS AVOIR ACCES AU FLEUVE.

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We followed the signs (there are not many of them) to Oro. Oro…umh, that must be some wealthy gold prospecting town, we’re thinking. Maybe we’ll hang out there a day or two. Sadly, as you can see from the photo below, Oro is passed it best.

LA CARTE NOUS INDIQUE QUE NOUS ALLONS PASSER PAR LE VILLAGE DE ORO.  NOUS ESPERONS TROUVER UNE MINE D’OR EN FONCTIONNEMENT ET DE LA  VISITER. ET BIEN, C’EST RATE…..

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When Che was captured by the Bolivian army he was brought to La Higuera, a remote village in the hills. He was locked in the schoolhouse whilst they decided what to do. Within twenty-four hours a radio message was received that somebody’s gun should accidently fire in the direction of Che – several times, just for good measure – and then they should mislay his corpse in a deep hole, which nobody should remember digging. It was typical CIA-inspired stuff. And then Che became even more famous and no amount of burying was going to hide his image.

CHE ET SES ACCOLYTES PASSENT DES MOIS CACHES DANS LES MONTAGNES, POURCHASSES PAR L’ARMEE BOLIVIENNE.  ILS NE PARVIENNENT PAS A FAIRE PASSER LEUR MESSAGE REVOLUTIONNAIRE EN BOLIVIE.  PIRE, SA TETE EST MISE A PRIX.  UN PAYSAN LES DENONCERA.  L’ARMEE LE TRAINE JUSQU’A LA PETITE ECOLE DE LA HIGUERA.  24 H PLUS TARD, L’ORDRE EST DONNE DE L’ABATTRE, LUI ET 3 DE SES COMPAGNONS, PUIS D’OUBLIER LA OU LES CORPS SONT ENTERRES.  LA RUMEUR DIT QUE L’ORDRE FUT DONNE PAR LA CIA……. IL FAUDRA ATTENDRE DES ANNEES LES CONFESSIONS ALCOOLISEES D’UN VIEUX SOLDAT POUR LOCALISER LES TOMBES , CE QUI A PERMIS D’EXHUMER SON CORPS ET DE L’ENTERRER A CUBA.   

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In the photo below Christine is standing before the old school house where Che was held and then shot. It is now a museum and shrine.

MAIS VOILA, UNE LEGENDE ETAIT NEE. JE ME TROUVE DEVANT L’ANCIENNE ECOLE OU CHE FUT RETENU PRISONNIER ET ASSASSINE, DEVENUE MUSEE ET LIEU DE PELERINAGE POUR SES FANS.  LA NOUVELLE ECOLE EST PLUS GRANDE ET DANS LA MEME RUE. ELLE SERT AUSSI DE CENTRE MEDICAL, LORSQU’IL Y A UN MEDECIN DANS LES PARAGES, ET D’HOTEL COMMUNAL.  IL N’Y AVAIT NI EQUIPE MEDICALE, NI CLIENTS MAIS DES COCHONS…..COMMUNAUX??

 

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A TRUE SOCIAL REVOLUTION: EVEN THE PIGS ARE ALLOWED AT THE ALOJAMIENTO COMUNAL. CHE WOULD BE PROUD!
A TRUE SOCIAL REVOLUTION: EVEN THE PIGS ARE ALLOWED AT THE COMMUNAL HOSTAL, CHE WOULD BE PROUD!

THE STREETS OF SUCRE (BOLIVIA)

CALLE JUNIN
CALLE JUNIN
VIEW OF SUCRE FROM RECOLETA
VIEW OF SUCRE FROM RECOLETA
CALLE ESTUDIANTE
CALLE ESTUDIANTE
SUCRE LOGIC: THE DENTIST BESIDE THE CHOCOLATE SHOP
SUCRE LOGIC: THE DENTIST BESIDE THE CHOCOLATE SHOP
A MAJOR SUCRE PASTIME: EATING ICE-LOLLIES
A MAJOR SUCRE PASTIME: EATING ICE-LOLLIES
PLAZA 25 DE MAYO
PLAZA 25 DE MAYO
THE CATHEDRAL - PLAZE 25 DE MAYO
THE CATHEDRAL – PLAZA 25 DE MAYO
CALLE ARENALES
CALLE ARENALES
FOUNDER OF THE TOWN, ANTONIO JOSE DE SUCRE
FOUNDER OF THE TOWN, ANTONIO JOSE DE SUCRE
PLAZA DE 25 MAYO
PLAZA DE 25 MAYO
HOSPITAL SANTA BARBARA
HOSPITAL SANTA BARBARA

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Uyuni to Sucre

After thawing out in Tonito’s Hotel, the following morning we head off to the car wash to blast off the salt picked up crossing the salar. After washing we dry the the car with a wash leather, though the back section, which is in the shade, is covered by a film of ice before we can get to it. Our water pipes have now been frozen for 48 hours. By eleven o’clock we’re on the road, the heater turned up to maximum.

Avant de quitter Uyuni, passage obligé par le lavage pour se débarrasser de la croûte de sel dessus, dessous. Une couche de glace se forme illico. Nous reprenons la route, tuyauterie toujours gelée, chauffage à fond et direction Potosi.

The Puacayo mine
The Pulacayo mine

The Pulacayo mine is a silver mine just to the east of Uyuni. It was started in the 17th century. In later times it was acquired by the Bolivian tin magnate, Simon Patino, who built a golf course here to appease his workers. His grandson, Jaime Ortiz-Patino, also had a fondness of golf courses. In the early 1980s he bought the Valderrama golf club in Sotogrande, southern Spain.

The road from Uyuni climbs slowly up to the mining city of Potosi, which at over 4000 metres claims to be higher than Llhasa in Tibet. Potosi is a hilly, claustrophobic town where the smell of exhaust sticks in your throat. There is a pretty plaza and some stunning colonial architecture. The city was founded in 1545 and at one time was the largest and wealthiest city in the Americas. The cause of this wealth was the ‘Cerro Rico’ (Rich Mountain) which, during the boom years seemed to contain inexhaustible supplies of silver. So many indigenous workers died in the Cerro Rico that the Spanish imported millions of African slaves. Today most of the mining operations on the Cerro Rico are in the hands of local cooperatives. The working conditions are shocking. Life expectancy for a miner working here is 45 years.

En chemin, nous traversons le village minier de Pulacayo.  Une coopérative minière est toujours en activité mais l’extraction de l’argent date du 17e S. Elle fut achetée par un certain Simon Patino qui construisit un terrain de golf pour ses ingénieurs! Il n’y en a plus de trace  et on se demande où il a bien pû le mettre. Ce ne sont que des collines désertiques. Bizaremment James a rencontré un descendant en Andalousie, Jaime Ortiz Patino, propriétaire du terrain de golf La Valderrama à Sotogrande.

La route récemment bitumée-au joie- est magnifique et monte jusqu’aux 4000m de Potosi, soit disant plus haute que Llhasa au Tibet…? Son Cerro Rico, La Montagne Riche, ainsi nommée par les conquistadors a enrichie l’Espagne et a  causé la  mort d’un million d’indiens. A court de main d’œuvre, les espagnols ont importé quantité d’esclaves africains. La mine fonctionne toujours, c’est un monstre qui se visite mais nous n’avons pas le cœur au voyeurisme. Les conditions de travail sont épouvantables, l´espérance  de vie d’un mineur est de 45 ans.

La ville s’étale sur de hautes collines et, comme à La Paz, on suffoque dans les ruelles trop étroites. Il y a une quantité impressionnante de bâtiments coloniaux magnifiques, protégés par le sceau de l’Unesco. c’est trop haut, c’est trop froid, nous partons pour Sucre.

Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), Potosi
Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain), Potosi
Potosi cake stall
Potosi cake stall

From Potosi we now descend (thankfully) towards Sucre and the Amazon basin.

On vous rapporte une part de gâteau? choisissez votre couleur.

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'Larry' the llama
‘Larry’ the llama

Sucre sits at 2700 metres. It is warm. I can wear a T-shirt in the evening. In the centre of Sucre we park in the garden of Don Alberto and Dona Felicidad. Don Alberto is a professor of mechanics (retired). His hobby is rewinding electrical motors. In his ‘potting shed’ at the bottom of the garden he teaches students from the local university. Next week he is on a lecture circuit of Bolivia.

Having reached warmer temps our pipes have finally defrosted. The only problem remaining is the calc the ice has dislodged, and is now blocking the non-potable water tap. Using a combination of juju and improbable practices we managed to clear it. Here’s how it was done:

Stage 1: Flick the tap on and off until becoming increasingly annoyed with the lack of water flow, at the same time mentally constructing a poisonous letter to the manufacturer about how useless their taps are. Wait sixty seconds.

Stage 2: Fitter number 1 (Christine) removes the spout and pokes a kebab skewer as far as it will go and waggles it about. Wait thirty seconds.

Stage 3: Fitter number 2 (James) puts his lips round the spout, forming a perfect seal and then blows until red dots swim in front of his eyes and his ears pop. Wait thirty seconds (holding on to the basin to steady yourself).

Stage 4: switch on tap and watch the renewed flow of water, at the same time enjoying the sound of the pump singing like a canary.

SUCRE – LA VILLE BLANCHE

Nous campons dans le jardin de Don Alberto et Doña Felicidad. Un havre de paix en plein centre ville. À 2700 mètres d’altitude, ici le ciel est bleu toute l’année. Nous ressortons les tongs, -et la serviette bleue!- paradis trouvé, et nous nous posons une semaine…….

Don Alberto's garden, Sucre
Don Alberto’s Garden, Sucre

SALAR DE UYUNI

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At 12,106 sq km the Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. It is now a centre of salt extraction and processing. The salar also contains 50% of the world’s reserves of lithium, so we’ve come here to see what all that salt and lithium looks like.

UYUNI, le plus grand lac de sel du monde. Je lui décèle également la palme du lac le plus froid du monde. Il recèlerait également 50% des réserves mondiales de lithium. Toutes ces nouvelles voitures électriques vont en avoir besoin. Alors nous sommes bien aise de le visiter avant la destruction massive à venir. L’usine est commandée..

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When you drive your car onto the salar there is an alarming tendency for the car to shrink. As you can see from the photograph, our three tonne truck now comfortably sits in the palm of Christine’s hand.

Bizarrement, les objets ont tendance à rétrécir sur le lac. Trop forte, je peux tenir les 3 tonnes de roulotte dans ma main!

Tunupa volcano
Tunupa volcano

We enter the salar from the north, beneath Tunupa volcano and punch in the coordinates on the GPS to get us where we want to be. From here it is a 40 kilometre drive to one of the larger of the islands, Pescado Island. At this time of the year the surface of the salar is solid, though it is important to watch for soft spots where the car could sink into the mud beneath the crust. To get help will undoubtedly result in a long walk. Driving on all these reserves of salt and lithium is just like travelling over a layer of solid snow. The air is alpine fresh. There is total silence. When you get out of the car you expect your feet to slip away from you, so it’s most disconcerting.

Nous entrons sur le salar par le nord, au pied du volcan Tunupa. Le lac est entouré de montagnes et quelques îles sont dispersées dessus.  Nous nous dirigeons vers l’île de los pescadores juste parce que les tour operators n’y vont pas. nous y passons 24 heures tous seuls mais il fait -2 dans la chambre au réveil. Avec ce froid , ce silence total et le sel qui craque sous les pieds, nous avons l’impression d’être “à la neige”. On s’attend à faire des glissades.  Et puis on espère pouvoir démarrer le matin, aller chercher de l’aide impliquerait une très longue marche.

Pescado Island
Pescado Island

Pescado Island is deserted and here we camp for the night, roughly in the centre of the salar. Before sunset I go for a wander to some caves (partly to keep warm also). There are a number of caves here, though it was clear the tomb raiders had been here a long time before me. In Bolivia a cave is always assumed to be a tomb and so is subject to a lot of digging. To the west of the salar much of the evidence of an old and sophisticated civilisation have been pillaged by the tomb raiders. Apparently gold figurines have been the favourite hoard. The following morning a good layer of frost and ice coats the inside of the car and it takes most of the morning to defrost.

James décide d’aller explorer les cavernes de l’île, mais il n’est pas le premier à partir à la chasse  au trésor. Toutes les cavernes ont été creusées. L’ouest du salar présente des vestiges de civilisations très anciennes mais les pilleurs ont tout emporté.

Nous passons la matinée à attendre que la couche de glace à l’intérieur veuille bien fondre.

Sunset across the salar
Sunset across the salar

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After we thawed out we headed east 20 k’s to Cactus island, which is a popular destination for tour groups.

Une fois décongelés, nous mettons le cap sur l’île des cactus, une vingtaine de 4×4 apparaissent à l’heure du déjeuner. Pendant que la foule est occupée à manger, nous nous promenons sur le sentier aménagé avec pour seule compagnie 2 alpagas et un chien.

Residents of Cactus Island
Residents of Cactus Island

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Christine kisses our model car in the hope it will blossom into a real one again, so that we might continue on our way.

From cactus Island we were supposed to head east to Colchani, 60 km’s away and the centre of the salar’s salt production. However we were given some bum coordinates and ended the day in a different place than we intended, which turned out to be a crumbling adobe village on the railway line from Uyuni to Ollargue. Here we took the full brunt of the icy wind blowing off the snowy peaks and it was damn cold. In the morning, after the sun had been up for an hour it was still –4 c inside the car. Goodness knows what it had dropped to in the night. We packed up pretty quick and continued on the most smashed up road we’ve seen for some time. When we finally made Uyuni we couldn’t stand another night in the car and went straight to Tonito’s Hotel, which had no heating (nowhere ever does here) so we kept our hats and coats on. But they do make a very good pizza. After ten days at between 3000 and 4000 metres we are dreaming of the Amazon basin, a little warmth and the possibility to breathe a little better.

la voiture a de nouveau rétréci.  il suffit de l’embrasser pour qu’elle retrouve sa taille normale.

En fin d’après midi, nous partons sur la “capitale” du salar, Uyuni. Douche chaude, bière fraîche et pizza au menu….nous nous en rejouissons d’avance. Sauf que nous faisons l’erreur de dépendre de notre gps au lieu d’utiliser notre jugeote, que les coordonnées que l’on nous a donné ne sont pas les bonnes et nous partons dans la mauvaise direction. plein sud. Bueno, ce n’est pas grave. Nous trouvons quelques personnes, on  nous indique une piste qui contourne le lac. On ne nous dit pas que c’est 200kms de tôle ondulée. Nous devons donc passer une 3ieme nuit glaciale au beau milieu d’un village, en plein vent. -4 au réveil et la tuyauterie de dégèle plus. Nous arriverons finalement à la ville, direction l’hôtel, celui qui a la fameuse pizzeria. Les pizzas sont excellentes mais l’hôtel n’est pas chauffé! Et puis finalement, nous pensons aux pauvres habitants de ce village glacé, dans leurs minuscules maisons de terre, au sol en terre, sans chauffage et qui ne peuvent pas s’enfuir vers un meilleur climat comme nous le faisons.

La Paz, Bolivia

Plaza Murillo
Plaza Murillo

La Cuidad de Nuestra Senora de la Paz (the city of our lady of peace), to give La Paz its full name, has a long history of violence, despite its name. An abnormally high mortality rate has traditionally accompanied high office: the job of president came with a short life expectancy. The presidential palace is known as the Palacio Quemado (Burned Palace) for the number of times it has been damaged by fire. As recently as 1946 then-president Gualberto Villarroel was publicly hanged in Plaza Murillo. Thankfully the gallows have since been removed from the plaza and the principal activity these days is feeding the pigeons.

Of La Paz the 16th century Spanish historian Cieza de Leon remarked – “This is a good place to pass one’s life. Here the climate is mild and the view of the mountains inspires one to think of God.” Wonderful stuff. But when Leon came out with this I’m quite sure he’d either consumed a whole coca bush, or was in an altogether different place. Walking the city is a breathtaking experience merely for the fact that at its highest point you are at an altitude of 4000 metres. La Paz has some great colonial architecture that, by and large, has been left to decay and then been overshadowed by some splendidly ugly buildings. When the Spaniards first came here, in their quest to uncover El Dorado, they immediately seized all the gold mines from the indigenous Aymara. For 100 years Spain grew fabulously wealthy plundering South Americas precious metals, and has been broke ever since.

(French Version)

"Dodge" - the local transport
“Dodge” – the local transport

We travelled into the city on a “Dodge” bus, which are about as environmentally friendly as one of the local volcanoes.

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Swiss coffee house
Swiss coffee house

The Swiss are extremely useful throughout South America. They provide good bread and cheese, reliable mechanics, rosti, hotels and all sorts of sausages. In a continent of so-so quality the Swiss flag is a sign of value.  In the above photo I’m just about to dart into the Illampu coffee house for an extremely reliable lunch.

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Bolivian wiring
Bolivian wiring
Street art
Street art
Christine puffing in the thin air
Christine puffing in the thin air
Calle Jaen
Calle Jaen

P1050195This vehicle just goes to show you do not need an all-singing-all-dancing 4×4 to traverse even the roughest and highest tracks in South America. In a Suzuki van this young French couple and their dog have been everywhere you might consider it not prudent to go in a Suzuki van. Incredible!

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