Into the desert of Bolivia....
Mallku Villamar Travel Blog› entry 8 of 25 › view all entries
At 09:00 we checked out of Hotel Don Tomás and were transferred to the Bolivian boarder Hito Cajon for our 3 Day Overland Jeep trek to the Uyuni Salt Flat. Before starting on our trip we had to fill out some forms and have our Passports stamped. 3 Jeeps were waiting to pick us up for our 3 day tour to Uyuni, through the most spectacular scenery we had ever seen in our lives.
The Republic of Bolivia named after Simón Bolívar, is a landlocked country in central South America. It is bordered by Brazil on the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina on the south, and Chile and Peru on the west.
The territory now known as Bolivia was called "Upper Peru" and was under the authority of the Viceroy of Lima. Local government came from the Audiencia de Charcas located in Chuquisaca. By the late 16th century Bolivian silver was an important source of revenue for the Spanish empire. A steady stream of natives served as labor force (the Spanish employed the pre-Columbian draft system called the mita). As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic wars, sentiment against colonial rule grew.
The struggle for independence started in 1809, and after 16 years of war the republic was proclaimed on August 6, 1825, named for Simón Bolívar (see Bolivian War of Independence). In 1836, Bolivia, under the rule of Marshal Andres de Santa Cruz, invaded Peru to reinstall the deposed president, General Luis Orbegoso.
On the same field the Paucarpata Treaty was signed with the unconditional surrender of the Chilean and Peruvian rebel army. The treaty stipulated that Chile withdraw from Peru-Bolivia, return captured Confederate ships, economic relations would be normalized, and the Confederation would pay Peruvian debt to Chile. Public outrage over the treaty forced the government to reject it. Chile organized a second attack on the Confederation, and defeated it on the fields of Yungay using the same arms and equipment Santa Cruz had allowed them to retain. After this defeat, Santa Cruz fled to Ecuador, and the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation was dissolved.
Following the independence of Peru, General Gamarra, the Peruvian president, invaded Bolivia, under the Peruvian flag.
A period of political and economic instability in the early to mid-19 century weakened Bolivia. Then in the War of the Pacific against Chile, it lost its access to the sea, and the adjoining rich nitrate fields, together with the port of Antofagasta. Since independence, Bolivia has lost over half of its territory to neighboring countries because of wars. It also lost the state of Acre (known for its production of rubber) when Brazil persuaded the state of Acre to secede from Bolivia in 1903.
In the late 1800s, an increase in the world price of silver brought Bolivia relative prosperity and political stability. During the early 20th century, tin replaced silver as the country's most important source of wealth. A succession of governments controlled by the economic and social elite followed laissez-faire capitalist policies through the first thirty years of the 20th century.
Living conditions of the native people, who constituted most of the population, remained deplorable. Forced to work under primitive conditions in the mines and in nearly feudal status on large estates, they were denied access to education, economic opportunity, and political participation. Bolivia's defeat by Paraguay in the Chaco War marked a turning-point.
The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) emerged as a broadly based party. Denied its victory in the 1951 presidential elections, the MNR led the successful 1952 revolution. Under President Víctor Paz Estenssoro, the MNR , having strong popular pressure, introduced universal suffrage into his political platform, and carried out a sweeping land-reform promoting rural education and nationalization of the country's largest tin-mines.
Twelve years of tumultuous rule left the MNR divided.
Elections in 1979 and 1981 were inconclusive and marked by fraud. There were coups d'état, counter-coups, and caretaker governments. In 1980, General Luis García Meza Tejada carried out a ruthless and violent coup d'état that did not have popular support. He pacified the people by promising to remain in power only for one year. (At the end of the year, he staged a televised rally to claim popular support and announced, "Bueno, me quedo," or, "All right; I'll stay.” He was deposed shortly thereafter.) His government was notorious for human-rights-abuses, narcotics-trafficking, and economic mismanagement; during his presidency, the inflation that later crippled the Bolivian economy could already be felt.
After a military rebellion forced out García Meza in 1981, three other military governments in 14 months struggled with Bolivia's growing problems. Unrest forced the military to convoke the Congress elected in 1980 and allow it to choose a new chief executive. In October 1982, Hernán Siles Zuazo again became President, 22 years after the end of his first term of office (1956-60).
Sánchez de Lozada pursued an aggressive economic and social reform agenda. The most dramatic reform was the "capitalization" program, under which investors, typically foreign, acquired 50% ownership and management control of public enterprises, such as the state oil corporation, telecommunications system, airlines, railroads, and electric utilities, in return for agreed upon capital investments. The reforms and economic restructuring were strongly opposed by certain segments of society, which instigated frequent and sometimes violent protests, particularly in La Paz and the Chapare coca-growing region, from 1994 through 1996.
During this time, the umbrella labor-organization of Bolivia, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), became increasingly unable to effectively challenge government policy. A teachers' strike in 1995 was defeated because the COB could not marshal the support of many of its members, including construction- and factory-workers. The state also used selective martial law to keep the disruptions caused by the teachers to a minimum. The teachers were led by Trotskyites, and were considered to be the most militant union in the COB. Their downfall was a major blow to the COB, which also became mired in internal corruption and infighting in 1996.
In the 1997 elections, General Hugo Banzer, leader of the Nationalist Democratic Action party (ADN) and former dictator (1971-1978), won 22% of the vote, while the MNR candidate won 18%.
At the outset of his government, President Banzer launched a policy of using special police-units to physically eradicate the illegal coca of the Chapare region. The policy produced a sudden and dramatic four-year decline in Bolivia's illegal coca-crop, to the point that Bolivia became a relatively small supplier of coca for cocaine.
On August 6, 2001, Banzer resigned from office after being diagnosed with cancer. He died less than a year later. Banzer's Vice President, Jorge Fernando Quiroga Ramírez, completed the final year of his term. Quiroga was constitutionally prohibited from running for national office in 2002.
In the June 2002 national elections, former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (MNR) placed first with 29.5% of the vote, followed by coca-advocate and native peasant-leader Evo Morales (Movement Toward Socialism, MAS) with 20.9%. Morales edged out populist candidate Manfred Reyes Villa of the New Republican Force (NFR) by just 700 votes nationwide, earning a spot in the congressional run-off against Sánchez de Lozada on August 4, 2002.
A July agreement between the MNR and the fourth-place MIR, which had again been led in the election by former president Jaime Paz Zamora, virtually ensured the election of Sánchez de Lozada in the congressional run-off, and on August 6 he was sworn in for the second time.
The 2005 Bolivian presidential election was held on December 18, 2005. The two main candidates were Juan Evo Morales Ayma of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) Party, and Jorge Quiroga, leader of the Democratic and Social Power (PODEMOS) Party and former head of the Acción Democrática Nacionalista (ADN) Party.
Morales won the election with 53.740% of the votes, an absolute majority unusual in Bolivian elections. He was sworn in on January 22, 2006 for a five-year term. Prior to his official inauguration in La Paz, he was inaugurated in an Aymara ritual at the archeological site of Tiwanaku before a crowd of thousands of Aymara people and representatives of leftist movements from across Latin America. Though highly symbolic, this ritual was not historically based and primarily represented native Aymaras" not the main Quechua-speaking population.
His recent presidential election victory has also brought new attention to the US drug-war in South America and its heavy emphasis on coca-crop-eradication. The US-supported "Plan Dignidad" (dignity-plan), which seeks to reduce cocaine-production to zero, is seen by many Bolivians as an attack on their livelihoods and way of life. Morales, a leader among coca-growers, has said his government will try to interdict drugs, but he wants to preserve the legal market for coca-leaves and promote export of legal coca-products.
On May 1, 2006, Morales announced his intent to re-nationalize Bolivian hydrocarbon assets. While stating that the initiative would not be an expropriation, Morales sent Bolivian troops to occupy 56 gas-installations simultaneously.
Fulfilling a campaign promise, Morales opened on August 6, 2006 the Bolivian Constituent Assembly to begin writing a new constitution aimed at giving more power to the indigenous majority. Problems immediately arose when, unable to garner the two-thirds votes needed to include controversial provisions in the constitutional draft, Morales' party announced that only a simple majority (50%+) would be needed to draft individual articles while two-thirds needed to pass the document in full.
In January 2007, a clash between middle class city dwellers and poorer rural campesinos killed 2 people and injured over 130 in the central city of Cochabamba. The campesinos had paralyzed the city by blockading the highways, bridges, and main roads, and days earlier had set fire to the departmental seat of government. The fire aimed to force the resignation of the elected Prefect of Cochabamba, Manfred Reyes Villa after he demanded a re-vote on departmental autonomy having been previously defeated by popular vote.
We left Chile and entered Bolivia, skirting Licancabur Volcano (5916m) and visiting the breathtaking sceneries of Laguna Verde as well as Laguna Blanca. Licancabur is a highly symmetrical stratovolcano on the southernmost part of the border between Chile and Bolivia. It is located just southwest of Laguna Verde in Bolivia and northwest of Juriques volcano. The volcano dominates the landscape of the Salar de Atacama area. The summit crater is about 400 m wide and contains a 70 by 90 m crater lake which is ice-covered most of the year. This is one of the highest lakes in the world, and despite air temperatures which can drop to -30 °C, it contains planktonic fauna. Licancabur's most recent volcanic activity produced extensive lava flows which extend 6 km down the northwest and southwest flanks, with older lava flows reaching 15 km and pyroclastic flow deposits as far as 12 km from the peak. Extensive Inca ruins are located at the summit, providing proof of pre-Columbian ascents as well as evidence for a lack of major eruptions over the past 500 to 1,000 years.
After some photos we continued on our trip through surreal landscapes, seeing occasional Vicunas and Alpacas.
Clearly, he took away much that inspired him; a quick tour through some of Dali’s more notable works reveals an array of eerily similar desert landscapes.
After 15 minutes here we headed for Sol de Manana Geysers, an immense field of steam and bubbling mud located some 5000m above sea level. This was the highest location we would be during our trip. If we survived here we would survive a climb up Mount Everest!!!
We continued on to Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon) which is a shallow salt lake in the southwest of the altiplano of Bolivia, within Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve and close to the border with Chile.
Our next stop was the “luxurious” Hostel Mallku in Villamar (1.5 hrs from Laguna Colorada). It was a very rudimentary little house, owned by the local doctor. I wouldn’t even really call it a Hostel. Our tour guides prepared dinner and after that we sat around the fireplace drinking coca tea. Daniel and I went outside to take some photos of the beautiful night sky, but it was so cold that we had to return. We later went to bed, but it was very difficult to sleep because of the altitude.