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Potosí - Porca Canyon - Andean Wetlands - Uyuni

Celebrating our 46th Wedding Anniversary


View High Altitude Landscapes Tour - Bolivia, Chile & Argentina 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY TO US

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I wake up grumpy after a bad, bad night with what feels like a ping-pong ball bouncing around in my head, lots of coughing, a blocked nose, and a doze of diarrhea to boot!

Plaza de Armas

This morning's walking tour of Potosí is taken by car, mostly around the 10th November Square (also known as Plaza de Armas)

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Porca Canyon

The road is winding and the views are spectacular. We stop at the Mirador (viewpoint), where Juan describes the various plants we see. He is incredibly knowledgeable!

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The river is dried up to a mere trickle

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Parastrephia
This plant, which is endemic to South America, is often used in traditional medicine, for ailments such as bone fractures and bruises as well as toothache.

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The dead plant can be used as a fire starter – the thin air at this altitude can make it difficult to light a fire.

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These small tufts of Festuca grass are popular foods for the llamas.

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Andean Wetlands

I never expected to hear these two words together – to me, the Andes are synonymous with high-altitude mountains, not wetlands. These marshes surrounded by dry hills are fed from underground springs and are favoured by livestock and wild birds alike.

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Who knew llamas came in so many different colours and patterns?

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Glossy Ibis

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Puna Teal

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Yellow Billed Ducks

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Andrean Goose

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Puna Miner

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Andean Flamingo

I am a happy twitcher today, as apart from the ducks and ibis, these are all lifers (translation for those of you who are not into birding-lingo: I am a happy bird-watcher, as these are birds that I have not seen before).

Cactus Valley

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As well as some impressive cacti, these hillsides are also home to the beautiful tree known as the Sacred Flower of the Andes (Cantua buxifolia).

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The different colours of the rock and soil are down to oxidation – the green from tin and the red is caused by iron.

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Uyuni

As we approach Uyuni, Miguel stops the minibus so that we can take some photos of the town and appreciate just how flat it is compared with the area we have come through from Potosí.

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Uyuni is surrounded by massive salt flats, with the Tunupa Volcano in the misty distance.

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Hotel Casa de Sal

This hotel fits nicely into the category of Unusual Hotels We Have Stayed In: the walls and furniture of the hotel are built of salt. Yes, salt. Blocks are cut from the salt flats, to create 'bricks'. The walls, beds, and even most of the furniture are made from salt.

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From the reception, we enter a huge atrium, a bright and airy common area, with comfortable seats and loungers. It does, however, remind me of another unusual hotel we stayed in last year: Bodmin Jail Hotel, a former penitentiary that has been turned into luxury accommodation.

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The salt bricks have a lifespan of only 10-15 years, as rain causes them to disintegrate so they must be replaced regularly. I am also guessing the salt speeds up the corrosion of wires and other metal objects around the building.

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The lines in the blocks represent the rainy seasons during the creation of the salt flats, as well as sediments in the salt,

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During check-in, we are offered a cup of coca tea, and while we are finishing the brew, the receptionist takes all our bags down to our room.

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Our bedroom is the nearest to the reception and features three large beds and a seating area, with lots of room for luggage. This is a huge change from the quaint colonial hotels we stayed in for the last couple of nights. I love the fact that it is so bright – all too often hotel bedrooms are dark and gloomy, making it difficult to do things like sorting through luggage or putting on make-up.

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Love the cool basins in the bathroom

Everything looks quite luxurious until I look up at the celling, which looks totally unfinished.

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Restaurant Boca Grande

After dropping our bags in the room and freshening up a little, we grab a taxi and head to a restaurant in town for lunch. We don't want too much to eat as we are splashing out on a fancy meal tonight, so we just order a sanguish de carne chorrilana. Very similar to a burger, the roll comes with sliced meat, onion, and peppers in a sauce. It is just the right size for what I want and very tasty.

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We return to the hotel to chill out for the rest of the afternoon, before going out for our anniversary dinner. Later, as we are waiting for our taxi in the hotel reception area, a group of Eastern Europeans arrive, with some standing outside smoking, and the others blocking up the open doorway. Not only does it mean that they are letting the cold air in (it is around 9 °C this evening), their second-hand smoke is playing havoc with my chest infection. After a few minutes of feeling that I can't breathe, I have to ask them to go either outside or inside and close the door. They all go outside, then a few minutes later come back in as a group. Despite huge signs in reception and the rooms, they are carrying wine bottles and ask the receptionist for six plastic glasses (not very eco-friendly). So not only are they inconsiderate to other guests, they are disrespectful to the hotel rules, and reckless to the environment. How to create a bad impression in just a few minutes!

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Hotspot, The New Religion

I spent a long time online before we left home to try and find a special restaurant in which to celebrate our anniversary this evening. It seems Uyuni is not overflowing with gourmet restaurants, but when I came across reviews for this oddly named place, I was immediately smitten.

The entrance is totally unremarkable: no huge advertising boards, no menu outside, no windows with pretty lights and views of diners enjoying themselves inside; just a plain door in a mud brick wall on a dusty side street with nothing much around. Steep stairs lead to a funky dining room with quirky artwork and a friendly welcome.

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Even the toilets are skilfully decorated. Ladies on the left, gents on the right (yes, I did go into the gents!)

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Once inside the dining area, we are transported to a different world, one in which we are about to go on a gastronomic journey through Bolivia. The dark lighting and eclectic décor, with its red, white, and black theme, does remind me a little of a rather seedy club I occasionally visited in my wild days some 40 years ago.

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The waiter patiently explains everything to us in great detail - and perfect English - while I make copious notes. The service is friendly, attentive, and unpretentious: the cutlery is delivered in a pile on the table, and for each course, he recommends which utensil we should use. The focus here is very much on the food and the taste experience, rather than the impersonal scraping and bowing to pompous diners you often find in upmarket restaurants. I like it.

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There is no choice of food, just a set menu (with the usual questions about any dietary requirements, of course). With no preconceived notions of what to expect, each dish is a revelation, an elaborate work of art, and a complete culinary experience, with elements from each region of Bolivia.

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First Course - Highlander Salad
All the ingredients for this dish are found in the Andes, and include fried broccoli, cheese, avocado, beetroot crisps, papalisa potatoes, and cucumber, with a sauce made from sesame, pineapple, and cumin. It is suggested we eat this using the smaller spoon and start from the centre to the outside. I love the fact that we are informed about which way to eat it to get the best out of the flavour and texture combinations.

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The initial bite reveals a hint of acidity, followed almost immediately by something sweet. To me, the texture of the food is at least as important as the flavour, and this dish does not disappoint, with the fired broccoli providing a delightful crunch, the cheese is slightly salty, the centre is sweet, with the broccoli providing the prominent taste.

Second Course – Carrot Flowers
This dish represents the flowers of the cactus found here in the Andes. The rolls of carrots are filled with creamy peas, quinoa, maracuya (a type of passion fruit), curds of coriander, and topped with pineapple chutney.

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It is recommended that we eat each carrot flower in a single bite with the smaller of the forks. The combination of the crispy texture of the carrots, and the juice sweet taste of the pineapple and maracuya balances the smokey flavour of the sauce beautifully. I really enjoy this dish, and write “Oo la la” in my notebook.

Third Course – Vegan Ceviche
I am not about to let my confusion about how a 'vegan ceviche' might work prejudice my exploration of the intriguing bowl of as-of-yet-unidentified ingredients.

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The dish contains dried and reconstituted broad beans, onions, oca (a tuber similar to a potato, which has been grown in the Andes for hundreds of years), sweet potato smashed with orange zest, papaya, and dehydrated tomatoes.

A jug of mint sauce, made from two different species of mint, as well as a local aromatic herb, and tumbo juice (known as banana passion fruit in English)


With this, we are told to start from the centre of the bowl, using the big spoon.

One word: Wow! The flavour is acidic and sweet at the same time, the crunchy texture of the beans is similar to that of cornflakes, and the mint veritably explodes with taste in my mouth.

Fourth Course – Pork Belly
Apparently, this dish is known as Electric Impulse. I can't quite work out why. The pork is cooked for two hours at a low temperature and served with a sauce made from a local variety of plantains. The plate is also home to ½ caramelised oca (a potato-like tuber), which amuses me – it looks somewhat lost on the plate – it's the only vegetable accompaniment to the pork.

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When the pork is brought out, it has a glass covering it, which the waiter removes to reveal culinary smoke escaping.


The pork is meltingly tender and the skin is delightfully crunchy and flavourful.

We do get some bread rolls, however, which are steamed and then finished in oil to create that golden colour and a lovely soft centre with a deliciously crisp exterior.

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A small bowl of pineapple chutney also arrives.

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Fifth Course – Dessert
Having earlier mentioned that we are celebrating our anniversary this evening, we are presented with a candle on the dessert plate, and the words “Happy 46” on it. How thoughtful.


The daring dessert consists of three different tiny mouthfuls, each different, and creating a mixture of flavours and textures.

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On the left is a strawberry cube, made from milk treated in three different ways, and served with cinnamon biscuits.

At the back is an apple stuffed with the fruit from the local pitahaya cactus (similar to a dragon fruit) and cream cheese.

On the right-hand side is maracuya (local passion fruit) ice cream

We finish with a cocktail (well, it is our anniversary!) called Smoked Coffee Margarita. It consists of coffee, passion fruit juice, coffee liqueur, Triple Sec, and tequila, with the rim covered in coffee salt.

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The drink is an assault on the senses, with its unusual smokey taste, hidden sweetness, and powerful taste of coffee, with the unusual combination of the salty rim adding to the adventurous mix of flavours. It carries quite a kick!

Everything we have been served this evening has been scrumptious, elaborate satisfying, and exotic, with a kaleidoscope of flavours - a real foodgasm! The service has been impeccable and the company delightful. This place is a real gem, and not at all what you'd expect to find down a deserted dirt-road in a small wild-west-like town like Uyuni, which has a delightful hippy vibe and is full of backpackers and adventure tourists.

After a memorable anniversary, we make our way down the deserted side street until we reach a junction to try and grab a taxi for the journey back to the hotel. I have read that sleeping in a salt room is beneficial to respiratory health, as inhaling salt particles may reduce inflammation and mucus in the lungs, to help improve respiratory conditions such as asthma, allergies, and bronchitis. I can but hope.

Goodnight from Uyuni, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this amazing trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 17:29 Archived in Bolivia Tagged birds cactus sheep anniversary prison celebrations llama ducks salt potosí south_america flamingo burgers ceviche salt_flats mint ibis uyuni cacti jail artwork cocktail goose tunupa coca_tea bird_watching funky plaza_de_armas salt_hotel teal undiscovered_destinations oca miner twitcher boca_grande pork_belly maracuya papalisa happy_anniversary 10th_november_square porca_canyon parastrephia festuca_grass andean_wetlands underground_spring oxidation cactual_valley sacred_flower_of_the_andes cantua_buxifolia tunupa_volcano casa_de_sal salt_bricks bodmin_jail_hotel the_hotspot_the_new_religion foodgasm vegan_ceviche tumbo_juice flavour_explosion ptahaya_cactus

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Comments

Fabulous - the landscapes, the unusual hotel (yes, it reminded me of a jail too!) and that amazing meal 😍

by ToonSarah

It was one of many highlights - Bolivia was full of them! ♥ Thanks for commenting, Sarah x

by Grete Howard

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!!!
Quite an amazing day to be honest. I have been to Uyuni as well but haven't experienced staying in a salt hotel. I am more than curious how that went and yep, I hope you feel better after staying one night in the hotel!

by Ils1976

May I add that the pictures are awesome as well, I love all of them! Sorry, had to write this! :)

by Ils1976

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