The bus lurched right and my two litre bottle of rum came flying out of the overhead storage and cracked an old Australian man on the head. There was blood everywhere but thankfully the bottle was undamaged. The Australian guy didn’t seem to mind but the driver was furious and came running over, shouting at me furiously in Spanish. I explained that it wasn’t my fault and that if his company had invested in some proper latches it wouldn’t have happened. He didn’t seem to understand.
“He’s throwing you guys off at the next town.” One of the passengers said to us.
“It doesn’t matter,” I hollered back, “we were getting off there anyway.”
Tupiza was one of the last stops for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and lies at the foot of the Bolivian Altiplano. It’s like an old Hollywood set of a western frontier town. Short little pueblos painted in faded bright reds, blues and yellows line the dusty streets, and high red ragged cliffs encircle the town. The bus station was packed with short, stumpy Bolivian women carrying large sacks and small babies, which were tucked into multi-coloured blankets fastened around their backs. They wore large layered skirts, thick woolen cardigans and black bowler hats. Wild dogs tore around the place and the gravelly floor was laden with puddles that were frozen in the cold Altiplano air.
The streets of Tupiza were narrow and largely deserted, but there were faint signs of life as little shops opened their steel shutters. They were nothing more than tiny rooms, packed with shelves full of everything you could possibly imagine. Biscuits, sweets, crisps, Quilmes beer at five bolivianos a litre, gallons of cheap rum, and sacks filled with the infamous coca leaf.
We wandered around the town and managed to get a nice set of rooms at ‘Residence My House’ for £3.50 a night each. There were two comfy, heavily blanketed beds to a room, a shared bathroom and no hot water. The family that ran the place were extremely friendly and welcoming. We spent the afternoon kicking a rugby ball around in the spacious courtyard with the owner’s children.
There are no cash machines to be found so it was good fortune that I’d managed to stock up on cash in the last town. The main purpose of coming to Tupiza was to do the Salar Uyuni tour. The gringo trail is abound with horror stories of drunken guides and people having to sleep in the jeep over night in sub-zero temperatures so we decided to go with one of the reputable firms, Tupiza Tours. $100 per person got five of us in one jeep, four in another, a driver, a cook, and all accommodation and meals for three nights.
I headed out to the market that had opened up along one of the main streets. The place was packed. People were selling everything you could possibly imagine. There were tables full of sweets, blankets, coats, skirts, cheap knock off DVDs, music, TVs, typewriter parts and god knows what else. I picked up a blanket for when the temperature dropped again, stocked up on rum and headed back to the hotel.
It was an early start the next day for our tour, but we were in no mood for an early night. We stayed up drinking in the courtyard with a group of girls we’d met earlier at lunch who were doing the tour with us. I was huddled under my new blanket, trying desperately to keep warm, but the cold got too much and we finally had to take refuge in the mountain of blankets on our beds.