07.03.2012 - 07.06.2012 70 °F
Ururo – Quime July 3 – 6
We arrived at the Uyuni train station at about 12:30 am and proceeded to wait. In classic Bolivian fashion, there were no signs or other indication of which train to board so we generally followed the herd, found our seats and got settled a few minutes before the train rolled out of the station and then sat idle for another half hour or so. There was no heat on the train, so we pulled out sleeping bags and settled in for the 7 hour ride to Ururo. Anne and the kids were quick to crash while I sat awake watching the ice form on the inside of the windows. Sometime in the wee hours, I managed to fall into a troubled sleep. At one point, I was certain that the train must have left the tracks and set off cross country if only for the lurching back and forth that made it difficult to believe we were actually riding on rails at all. It will be awhile before the bullet train gets to Bolivia.
We pulled into Ururo just about right on time, grabbed our bags and made our way to the taxi stand. Our taxi driver assured us that he knew just where our hotel, San Felipe Real, was located and proceeded to take us on a tour of the city. Fortunately, the price is always set at the outset and after about the third circle it was clear that he had no idea where he was going. He assured us that the hotel we were seeking didn’t exist and took us, barely, to another place. We unloaded at the Residencial Boston, an uninviting old colonial building filled with dingy rooms and no windows. We decided to ditch that and our next cab driver knew where our other hotel was located. It was a lovely old colonial hotel but at $100 a night too rich for our blood. Our third choice was located down near the bus station that was a crazy scene of people, buses, and vendors all milling about in a crush of humanity that reminded me of Manila in the late 80’s. The next hotel was full, so we proceeded on foot to find a place to stay. We finally found a perfectly acceptable hotel with hot showers and clean beds. The only shortcoming was the location on the main square outside the bus station with a constant cacophony of the barkers chanting agua, agua, agua and lapa, lapa, LaPaz. By the time we were settled it was close to noon , and considering the all night train ride, no breakfast, and the impromptu tour of Ururo the kids were on the edge but holding up surprisingly well.
Ururo is on old mining city generally neglected by the guide books but for the fact that it is party central in Bolivia during Carnival. I suspect there are many worthwhile attractions but we were really just looking to get some laundry done prior to our trip to Quime a small town in the mountains. Turns out that laundry service in Bolivia is really only for gringos, and after several hours of searching never did manage to find anyone willing to take on a week’s worth of desert clothes. So the next morning we packed up dirty clothes all and caught a bus to the small town of Konani on the main highway between Ururo and La Paz.
Until just a year or so ago, the ride from Konani to Quime was a 12 hour drive up over a 5,000 meter pass on semi-improved dirt road. With the new paved road, it was only a 2 hour drive up over the mountains and down into Quime, a town of about 2,000 perched at the head of a river valley at 13,000 feet. We stayed at the only real hostal in town, Hostal Cobiri or the Hummingbird Ranch operated by Don Marko Louis an ex-patriot botanist from the U.S. that has been living in Quime for the last 35 years after leaving Minnesota with a PhD and way too many student loans. Quime is a genuine Bolivian mountain town, that despite a spectacular setting lacks even the most basic tourist services. Hostal Cobiri sits on the hillside high above town and is really more like a homestay than a hostal. Marko opened his lovely home to guests mostly to provide some company and a little income. I’ve never met a more reluctant hostaleer. But he made his kitchen available, a huge bonus since there isn’t a restaurant in Quime that won’t make you sick.
Marko was delighted to have us, and the first night there he made great pumpkin muffins to satisfy Bridget’s craving for something that reminded her of home. We spent 3 nights at Hostal Cobiri highlighted by 2 days of spectacular hiking where we had the good fortune of spotting 3 Andean Condors. I also saw a Giant Hummingbird which is a hummingbird the size of two small sparrows and another blackish blue one with a typical hummingbird body and a long tail that was easily 5 or 6 inches long and appeared something between miraculous and other-worldly in flight.
Marko was a wonderful host and despite smoking way too much in close quarters we got along famously which had as much to do with his personality and political views best described as a cross between Edward Abbey and Hugo Chavez.