Had a slow day getting ourselves together to face a 24hr bus journey into the deep South-west of Bolivia - cowboy country so we’d heard! We packed up and first headed to the market to join the locals in their diabetes-inducing breakfast of a sweet hot corn drink called Api (made with a mix of white and purple corn), and doughnuts covered in sugar syrup. With a sugar hangover we stumbled back to pick up our bags and settled into a cafe near the bus stop to wait for our first bus which would take us to La Paz. We knew the journey would take 4 hrs, but we didn’t realise this would involve getting off the bus and getting onto a ferry to cross the lake, with the bus also on a seperate ferry (little more than a wooden raft with a put-put motor), bobbing along behind us! We caught our night bus from La Paz which we didn’t have high hopes for as it was a dubious bus brand, but were pleased to discover 180degrees seats! How will we ever cope with travelling cattle class on planes now we’ve sampled such luxury?!
After a semi decent nights sleep (as decent as possible on a night bus) we arrived at Villazon, which is right on the border of Argentina, a very dusty little town. We waited for a couple of hours for the last leg of our mammoth journey, a 2 hours minivan ride to Tupiza with a load of locals. We put our bags on top of the minivan, I then also helped the locals pack their belongings (mainly massive bags of sugar) onto the top of the bus.
After arriving to Tupiza we walked towards the train station and found a hostel which has a nice room and good wifi. Tupiza is a small desert town famous for Butch Casidy and the Sun Dance Kid, we had expected a lot of swing door salloon bars but no such luck. Not too much going on in the town. We headed to a tour operator to book our salt flats tour and then went to a local restaurant for some ‘Argentinian’ steak… which turned out to be thin meat, egg, rice and chips! We washed it down with a lovely bottle of Bolivian red wine and back to the hostel for an early night.
The first day we've had a lie in for a very long time. Travelling is tough. We got up around 10am and headed to the cashpoint to get money to pay the remaining bill of our trek. Whilst in the cashpoint a dog had decided to lie outside the cubicle, we left we stepped over and smiled at said dog, not knowing this simple action would end in a friendship that would last an astonishing 4 hours (we obviously haven't learned our lesson about making friends with dogs!).
We walked to the tour office to pay the remaining balance, followed by the dog who dutifully waited for us outside. We then began our trek to Cerro de la Cruz, a viewpoint to see all of Tupiza. A 5 minute walk got us over the railway tracks and river, still being followed by the dog who we named Billy (after Billy the kid), we were about to find out that we were certainly on the wrong side of the tracks….
With no signage to direct us we just headed for the huge rock with a cross on the top, this took us through what seemed like deserted dusty roads. However, the presence of Billy seemed to stir sleepy Perros! Every road we turned down more and more dogs appeared until we seemed to be passing through guard dog highway. At least 30 dogs came to see Billy and us, yapping, barking and growling, most appeared at street level with a few more on the roofs and even some noises were coming from behind padlocked gates! Although extremely intimidating, our experiences with dogs in South America have taught us that their bark is a warning for a bite that will never happen. The dogs were more interested in poor Billy who walked in my shadow as we passed through the middle of the dogpocalypse. One small yappy mut got too close to Billy who showed a turn of speed and agility in self defence which scared the little mut senseless, Billy swiftly rejoined us as we completed the gauntlett, that's my boy.
We finally found a path to start the ascent, a steep climb and some amazing views. Billy often leading the way. About a 30 minute steep climb ended at the summit. Amazing panoramic views of Tupiza. At this point it seemed Billy had either had enough or was scared of heights as he was looking for paths down and starting to cry, so after a 5 minute break we headed back down. As we neared the bottom Billy had gone ahead and found some shade to cool down, as we passed him it looked like he was staying put but then Jess 'back jarred and she stumbled to her knees, like a shot Billy was over to Jess checking she was OK! We took a different route back to the right side of the tracks, avoiding any more dog issues. When we were back in familiar territory Billy headed off for some shade, never to be seen again and we got a big glass of jelly!
After a little relax we headed for dinner for steak, wine and beer. Then an early night ready for our 4 day tour!