However we find ourselves stuck, for the sixth night, a couple of hours into Bolivia in a town called Tupiza. Stacey picked up a stomach infection just before we set off on a two-day tour of the salt flats and now, over a week later, she is still suffering pretty badly. After the bus journey from hell (which I'll go into later) a week or so ago, we want to make sure she is fighting fit before getting on another long-distance bus.
It's frustrating, as we only meant to spend a couple of nights here in Tupiza. But mercifully we have a really good, clean hostel here - something, we have learned, which is very hard to find in Bolivia.
Tupiza itself is a nice little place, set against a stunning backdrop of multicoloured canyons and pure blue skies – it's just frustrating we haven't been able to take advantage of it. It really is cowboy country here - in fact it was the scene of the final hours of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
One of the best things about being stuck in Tupiza is the fact that we have been able to enjoy two good cups of Yorkshire Tea each day. Stacey's folks brought us a big box of YT, which, we both agree, is surely the best hot drink on the planet. Other things which our folks brought us out were T-shirts and vest tops, underwear, beauty products, a Spanish grammar text book, replacement travel speakers, camera equipment and even a face mask each – and no, I didn't request the face mask, but it was nevertheless a fine novelty to have well-hydrated, smooth skin for a couple of days.
The salt flats, despite Stacey being under the weather, were out of this world. In fact, they sometimes felt and looked literally out of this world. I'm not sure either of us have ever seen anything quite as unusual. It being rainy season, the white salt was covered with a couple of inches of water, which turned into a mirror going off into the far distance, making the horizon virtually invisible. They say a picture paints a thousand words, so I'll just shut up and include a picture on the blog. Doesn't it look pretty?
Things got worse when we caught the bus to Tupiza. Supposedly a six-hour trip, it ended up taking 13 hours. The mountain road which the bus took was no more than a farm track. The first time we got stuck, the driver announced: “We need 10 men to help push the bus.”
The second time we got stuck, the call was: “We need 15 men to help push the bus.”
But when the bus skidded off the road and into a ditch at 4am in the morning, no number of men were going to free it with a simple heave-ho. In fact, we waited in the cold for an hour and three quarters while the bus tried to lurch out of the muddy ditch. Only then did the driver realise he had some wooden planks in one of the storage boxes and minutes after they were put into use the bus rolled out of the ditch. It was only as the sun came up that we realised how lucky we were the bus had skidded into the ditch – on the other side of the track was a 500m drop into the valley below. The journey would have been bad enough, but for the entire duration Stacey was feeling very unwell. To say we were glad to get to Tupiza is an understatement.
The second doctor, who also moonlights as tour guide (only in Bolivia) was on his holiday.
Thankfully, we were sharing the hostel with a very nice English couple. One half of the couple, Chloe, is also a journalist and worked for the Journal in Newcastle for years. As an aside, it turned out I did work experience with her about six years ago – what a small world we live in eh? However her partner, Ade, is a doctor and scribbled down some antibiotics which would tackle the bug. Useful folk to run into.
More out of hope than anything else, we showed the names of the antibiotics to a pharmacist in town and without a prescription or any questions asked, she handed over as many as we wanted. Not sure it would be that easy in other countries. Anyway, Stacey is now taking three of those a day, which will hopefully put her on the road to recovery, which will hopefully put us on the (Tarmac) road to Argentina.
Our plans will have to change a little now, because we have to get down to the south of Argentina and back up to Mendoza in a little over three weeks. Hopefully we'll still be able to see plenty of the countryside and spend not too long on 30-hour buses. I guess the most important things are that we both make sure we are fit and well and that we both make sure we drink lots of Yorkshire Tea.