I did it!
I survived four days in a Jeep with five strangers without a shower in the freezing Altiplano of Bolivia including:
and minimal access to electricity.
For someone like me who likes to run every morning, eat reasonably healthy, and have lots of me-time, a tour like this is a little frightening.
But it is totally worth it to see some of the most beautiful landscapes in South America, and I will be sharing my photos starting next week.
But first, let’s get practical.
I was mostly prepared, but there were also some surprises along the way. If you ever take this tour (and you should), here are my tips for surviving.
6 Survival Tips from Tupiza to Uyuni
#1 – Pair up with travelers you like (if possible).
This was not an option for me as a solo traveler. My previous location was Tarija, which is not on the backpacker trail, so I did not pick up a travel buddy for this tour.
But I did get lucky with my group.
There was a Canadian couple, a solo traveler from Vancouver, a solo traveler from France cycling his way through South America (that is pretty bad-ass if you ask me). We are all on long-term trips and have experience traveling solo, meaning we have interesting travel stories to pass the time, AND we know how to respect shared spaces.
I have to admit there were certainly times when I wanted to punch someone because of repeated annoying and/ or ignorant comments, however, there were only a few instances. Once again, I was lucky.
The point of this admission is that if I had a friend with me, my frustration could have been easily vented. As I said before, my group was pretty awesome, but I imagine this could be a big problem if you don’t get along with people on your tour. Seriously, four days is a long time
#2 – Be cool about seat rotation.
In most Jeeps, you have two front seats (the driver and the cook), a middle row for two passengers, and a back row for two passengers. In our case, we shared a cook between two Jeeps and had a fifth passenger in the front seat.
The back row sucks. A lot.
And I am only 5’2,” so imagine how cramped it must have been for people of normal height.
Luckily, I was with a group that did not try to pull the BS that the short girls (there were two of us) should take the back simply because we fit better.
There was no debate about rotating seats each day.
My advice is to be clear the first day about expectations regarding seat rotation before you even get in the Jeep.
# 3 – Be prepared for the cold.
I get cold very easily.
My lips turn blue when I am cold, and it freaks everyone out.
It happened when I learned to scuba dive in the Caribbean while wearing a wetsuit. It happens at outdoor tailgate parties at Ohio State football games.
It happened on this trip multiple times, but I was just warm enough to not be miserable.
I already had some gear with me, including wool socks, hiking boots, scarf, and a cheap hat and gloves I bought to survive the Buenos Aires winter last year. In Tupiza, I bought a long-sleeve base layer similar to the material I have for snowboarding and these sexy Alpaca socks.
I was told Alpaca is warmer than other types of wool socks, and I believe it.
The nights get really, really cold.
The second morning we left very early (still dark outside), and we got a flat tire.
I kept walking around to keep the blood flowing while our awesome drivers changed the tire in under 25 minutes, but my toes were still frozen when we got back in the car.
It is that cold.
The homes we slept in did not have heat, but the beds were covered with about six layers of heavy wool blankets. Those blankets are amazing. I tucked into my sleeping bag and wore my sexy knee-high socks, leggings, base layer top, hat, and gloves. I needed it all to stay warm. (Note that you can rent very warm sleeping bags from most tour agencies, but I used my own, which was not quite as good.)
#4 – Be prepared for lack of electricity.
Every time we arrived at our sleeping quarters, the first thing I did was scout out the power outlets. Although it is not guaranteed at every place you stay, I found an outlet every night.
And I made sure to get to it first.
There was usually only one outlet in the entire building, which is why it is important to scope it out.
Sometimes the electricity is turned off and only comes on for a couple of hours late at night when you eat dinner. Don’t be afraid to ask if and when the electricity will be turned on.
There are two things you can do to conserve the charge of your batteries:
During the day, keep extra batteries in a pocket close to your body.
At night, put all batteries in your sleeping bag with you.
The freezing cold of the Altiplano will drain batteries almost immediately. Someone taught me the sleeping bag trick during the worst hike of my life in Patagonia.
Of course, you should have at least one spare set of batteries for all cameras.
# 5 – Avoid altitude sickness (and know the symptoms).
On this tour from Tupiza, you ascend rapidly. We slept at over 4,800 meters (15,748 feet) the first night.
Be sure to spend two or three days adjusting to the altitude in Tupiza. Then when you start the tour, drink tons of water, take it easy, and chew coca leaves. I drank about three liters per day.
(Note: The tour I went on provided water, and there were a couple of places they could buy water on the third and fourth days in case they ran out.)
I started chewing coca leaves when I was hiking in Tarija. Be aware that coca leaves diminish your thirst and hunger, so be sure to eat and drink plenty.
There is not much chance for athletic activity beyond a five-minute walk, however, some of the guys in our group played soccer and basketball with the local kids in the small town we stayed in our first night. They all felt like they were going to die afterwards.
The symptoms of altitude sickness include fatigue, lightheadedness, drowsiness, lack of appetite, headache (caused by dehydration). I have been lucky to never experience this, but others I know have told me how miserable it is, and there is little you can do once it is full-on. Start chugging water, force yourself to eat something, and take it easy.
#6 – Lay off the alcohol, and go to bed early.
You have to wake up very early every morning, especially if you are with good tour guides that try to get you to the sites before the crowds show up. I think we had to get up at 4am the second morning!
(And yes, the sites do get crowded – more and more Jeeps show up each day.)
You can bring alcohol, but since it dehydrates you and could contribute to altitude sickness, I did not risk it.
Until the last night…. I had two celebratory glasses of wine, as did most people in our group.
Have you been on this tour? Any other tips?