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WIELICZKA SALT MINE

AND A FEW THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT POLAND

rain 12 °C

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located in the town of Wieliczka about 20 minutes outside of Krakow. It operated in the 13th century and produced table salt continuously until 2007, At that time it was one of the world's oldest salt mines in operation. The mine’s attractions include dozens of salt carved statues and a number of chapels.

It was fortunate I had planned this 4-hour tour for today because the weather was crap. It rained on and off most of the day. Of course, I knew nothing of that in the 2.5 hours that I was underground. The tour takes you to 135 meters underground (appx 440 ft). Normally, you descend into the mine by stairs, 480 steps followed by another 320 however because of the back log of guests our giant tour group had to take the mine shaft which is normally only used for the ascent. Personally, I would have rather done the stairs even before I saw the elevator. At no point does anyone ask you if you are claustrophobic or explain that you may stop midway, only that it will be a quick 14 seconds to the base of the 480 steps. I have never been so close to 8 other strangers. You are literally jammed in, they push on your arms and legs to close the little doors. It was way more than 14 secs and when we stopped completely in the dark, I had a quick moment where I wondered if I would panic. We all sort of figured that the 3-layer elevator might have to let people out in steps and we were right. It was definitely longer than 14 seconds. We did walk the last 320 steps which were on nice staircases and an easy walk so I am not sure what all fuss is about. On the way up they told us it would take 45 seconds but that went really quick and we lucked into only having 8 people so I only had to touch my neighbors not cuddle up. I have to wonder how many people who walk down panic when they see the elevator up. It is crazy so there has to be some who just can't do it. It was well worth the visit despite the bit of disorganization. It was really interesting when light was put behind these grey salt figures and they became translucent. Here’s what we saw below.

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They had one room where a machine took your picture and emailed to you. This is mine. I think it looks like I was using the toilet and was suddenly surprised someone was taking my picture.

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On the return, I got dropped off at the main square where I had some lunch, some mulled wine and planned my afternoon.

I visited St. Mary’s Basilica which was lovely but I am not one to loiter in such places. Did you know that Poland is a deeply religious country with 92% of the population being Roman Catholic?

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I also visited the Cloth Market. A beautiful building filled with shops. Most sell amber, the native gemstone of Poland but I bought none.

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I then made my way to the music academy where I planned to have coffee on the rooftop café but it was closed. I was very disappointed. At this point it was pouring hard so I decide to give in and make my way back to the hotel.

Here is the indication for a unisex bathroom in Poland? I am told that there are lots of these and locals say that many a romance begins in the queue for the toilet. Sometimes, if the bathroom is not unisex, the symbols are split. Would you know where to go?

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Tomorrow I fly to Dublin for a week of meetings. I have enjoyed Krakow way more than I expected. I could easily spend more time here. I didn’t make it to the castle or any museums. The city is very clean, people are friendly and most speak some English. Most of the tourists I met were from the UK and I have several servers tell me I was their first Canadian. I am certain I am not the only Canadian to visit but surprised that we are not up there since Canadians enjoy Europe. I was asked more than once if I was afraid of Donald Trump being so close. It is very cheap for a European country. I could have a large meal with wine and water for $10. A little more in the main square. The two drives outside the city looked lovely and I feel like Poland deserves a proper visit. I’ll be back.

Oh...and of course I am the circle. I didn't need any more reminders that I am round.

Posted by curlygirl 13:03 Archived in Poland Tagged mines salt krakow Comments (2)

MEMORIES OF BOLIVIA

THINGS I DID AND DIDN'T HAVEE TIME TO WRITE ABOUT BUT WANT TO REMEMBER

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1. Tourism – They haven’t quite got it mastered yet but they are getting there. Our excursions and travels were all without incident but bathrooms and water were never as simple as in Peru. Our tour coordinator thought a 4-ounce bottle of water would do us on the 11-hour bus trip.
2. Mining is the number one industry.
3. The poorest of all the South American countries. Sixty percent of the population live below the poverty line and it is worst in rural areas. Some of the areas we drove through were the worst I have ever seen.
4. Has two capital cities. Sucre is the official capital although La Paz is considered to be the administrative capital.
5. Altitude. La Paz, is considered to be the highest capital in the world. It is 3640 meters above sea level (11,942 feet).
6. The airport (El Alto) is even higher at 4100 meters above sea level. We were many places higher than that. We felt fine until we walked up hill, even an incline was labour intensive. Everything was up hill!
7. With altitude comes dry land and dry air. My skin feels like leather. We all had a few minor nose bleeds.
8. Wifi – almost as bad as Peru.
9. Even more people chew Coca. The government claims to have strict control over the use of the leaves claiming all the cocaine in the country is coming from the bordering countries. From what I gather, no one believes that.
10. Bolivian Salt Flats. Tick! 11,000 square kilometers of flat white salt. Once under the ocean, now hosts very little wildlife, except the pink flamingos.
11. Many issues with drunk drivers on the salt flats. We even saw a driver, with tourists, drinking out of a flask. I expressed my concern when we booked and we had no issues. Our drivers were great.
12. Eighty percent of the population is Catholic however the Quechua and Aymara often pray to the Virgin Mary and the various Catholic saints while simultaneously offering sacrifices to the Pachamama (Mother Earth). Llama fetuses are often part of the sacrifice.
13. A decent meal is…..I am not sure we had one. Quinoa and potato with no seasoning. A bottle of water was between 5-8bs. Pizza was popular and our saviour. Our hotel in La Paz did have decent food and we ate there a few times.
14. The currency is the Boliviano; one Canadian dollar is about 5 bs.
15. Llama is on every menu.
16. The Cholas or Cholitas. The ladies in the big skirts and bowler hats or fancy hats carrying the colourful bags which hold goods or children. The sense of elegance is a direct contradiction to the obvious poverty. I often felt like I was walking through a movie set.
17. I will not forget all the begging in the street or worst the very young children dancing in the streets with a money dish in front of them. When we walked by, I saw a mother push her daughter to perform in hopes that we might pay. As much as it breaks my heart, I would never pay. I cannot encourage such exploitation of children.
18. I won’t forget the kids being offered cocaine in the streets in broad daylight.
19. La Paz was interesting and beautiful but it was also a little scary. I never felt like going out after dark. As much as I loved my time there, it made me a little sad.
20. I won’t forget how I felt when my guide told me he saved two of four Advil I gave him days before. Here’s what happened…..

While we took the nice tourist bus to Uyuni, our guide had to take a different, and I imagine, not so nice, bus. He had little sleep and at the end of our magnificent first day on the salt flats, he looked tired and mentioned he had a headache. He said don’t worry, I will go look for a pharmacy to see if I can get something. I gave him enough Advil for the night (4). Three days later when I hired him for our extra day, he asked me about them and said they worked so well, he saved two of them in case his daughter or wife had a headache or pain. He told me medicine was available but expensive and they would never use ibuprofen for pain, it was for serious fever. The conversation continued and I got the impression that although he was university educated, his life was not that easy. When we parted, he had my bottle of Advil, some Tylenol and a number of other things that I no longer needed. Talk about perspective.

Posted by curlygirl 15:13 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia salt flats uyuni Comments (0)

SALT FLATS TAKE TWO

MORE TIME TO EXPLORE BOLIVIA’S TREASURE

sunny 14 °C

Our day started at 10 this morning which was a considerable sleep in on our very busy schedule.

We headed back out on to the flats and drove 100 kilometers towards a small village stopping to look at a volcano along the way. We were supposed to climb this volcano but it is over 18,000 feet. Not a chance when we have just adjusted to this altitude. So instead we made an alternate plan and continued on to the village. Juan told us that only 40 couples remain living there and that all the children had moved to bigger centers. That only makes sense given the isolation. Saying that it was a real treat. First we saw fields of llamas and flamingos nearby by drinking in the little puddles of water. I had no idea flamingos live here. It seems there would be nothing to eat. And what does that salt do to their blood pressure. I tried to get close to them but they didn’t like me if you can imagine that.

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In the little town we visited the home / museum of a local man who, over the years has found tons of artifacts from the pre-inca times, artifacts from those known as the Tiwanaku. Here, sitting in his backyard are intact jugs, pottery, weapons, cooking utensils that are thousands of years old. This would never happen in North America as they are so valuable and impossible to replace.

This same man has created rock formations to look like animals. A bit of an artist in a strange sort of way.

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As well, there is an open tomb where a mummy remains as it was found.

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In the same village sits a church that was once surrounded by homes made of stone. The church is still used for special occasions. Isaac did't quite fit in the bell tower.

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Next was a visit to a cave. There were three kids looking after the generator for this cave and they pulled up on motorcycle.

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After another picnic lunch on the salt, we visited another rock formation where another tomb was found. Again, in the middle of no where and wide open with no one guarding the remains.

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From there we began the long drive home. We stopped midway for a few more attempts at goofy pictures. Isaac slept through this.

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After returning to Uyuni we grabbed a quick supper and caught a flight back to La Paz. Looking forward to have two nights in the same bed. and having some time to relax today.

Posted by curlygirl 06:32 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia salt flats uyuni Comments (1)

THE INCREDIBLE AND SPECTACULAR SALT FLATS OF UYUNI

“I THINK I MAY HAVE DONE SOME DAMAGE MOM”

sunny 15 °C

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I am writing from under my duvet and heated blanket at our beautiful salt hotel. My view as I glance up from my computer is a dome of salt blocks above my bed. The hotel is made primarily of salt with some wood used in the framing and hallways. There are fireplaces everywhere and I feel such peace. Isaac is snoring beside me as he is completely exhausted from a very full day in the open air. He loves the hotel but his giant feet almost got him in trouble as he was gazing around and accidently chipped a little salt from a center piece. Oops.

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We have had so little down time and terrible internet so I am writing this in hopes of catching up tomorrow from La Paz.

I will write little and share way too many pictures of this incredible place that was simply an ocean 50,000 years ago. As the ocean evaporated Uyuni was left with a never ending sea of salt at over 3600 meters above sea level. The remaining salt is mined and exported and draws thousands of tourist a week. It is no wonder. I can’t believe that when I first started planning this trip with Lorna I didn’t really want to come here. It is now on my list of favorite places I have seen. I loved my day.

We arrived in Uyuni at 7 am and after a leisurely breakfast headed out.

Our first stop was quite bizarre. We visited the train graveyard and it is exactly that. Uyuni was once the maintenance center for all trains in the region but as technology improved, the need no longer existed and the old trains were simply left in the area. It didn’t sound all that interesting but it was cool. The kids had a blast climbing around and on top of the wrecks.

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From there we went to see how the salt was processed and ventured out onto the salt flats. We stopped to see the oxygen bubbling up from the water below. Yikes, it was scary to learn that there is water all below us and people have actually gone through. A 45-minute drive took us to the middle of the flats where we tried some funny pictures and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

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lunch

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Then another hour drive into the vast fields brought us to the most specular little island filled with cactuses. We hiked to the tops for more incredible views. I have never seen anything like it.

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Another hour drive (I have no idea how our driver knew where he was going since everything looks the same) took us to an area which is normally filled with water so we could see the reflections. In the last week the water evaporated leaving only small puddles for us to take some reflection photos and watch the sun go down.

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The entire day, I was mesmerized by the never ending sea of white and the constantly changing skies, clouds and colours.

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I thought nothing could make the day better until we arrived at our hotel. Cozy, quaint and unique. Yet another very special place on our little adventure.

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Posted by curlygirl 20:44 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia salt flats uyuni Comments (4)

A LITTLE COCAINE WITH YOUR ALPACA SHAWL ANYONE?

SEEING THE BEAUTY AND THE DARK SIDE OF LA PAZ

sunny 14 °C

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La Paz is a beautiful city and we had a chance to explore it first with our guide Juan and later by ourselves.

First we went to a high point to get a view of the city below.

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Next stop was the Moon Valley which was named after Neil Armstrong visited and described the landscape to be just like a moon valley. Of course it was a less developed back then but the combination of rain on the mud makes an interesting landscape.

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We stopped at another high view point before heading down to the local square where Isaac once again joined the police for a photo op. There were lots of locals enjoying a Sunday afternoon.

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Check out the numbers on the clock. The designer thought this is how it should look in the southern hemisphere.

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After lunch, we visited the famous witches’ market which is really more of a handicraft market. There are a few shops that sell supplies for black and white magic which is still practiced today in Bolivia. In addition, llama fetuses are used for sacrifice in the region. There were all these silly looking gods as well. They looked more like dolls.

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We had a quick look there before spending the afternoon poking in and out of shops. We did notice some locals selling drugs but they were not interfering at all. But, at one point while the grownups were looking at the alpaca products, a drug dealer approached the kids to see if they were interested in cocaine. When I approached and asked what was happening, I heard him say something about the “madre”, Spanish for mother and that was the end of that.

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We stopped by San Francisco Cathedral before making our way back to the hotel in time to catch our overnight bus to Uyuni. The bus left La Paz at 9pm and arrived at 7pm. The bus was comfortable with seats that reclined almost flat so we all got a reasonable amount of sleep. A big step up from our hippie bus ride the day before.

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popcorn

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These ladies are called chola derived from the Spanish for pretty.

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Posted by curlygirl 02:55 Archived in Bolivia Tagged bolivia salt flats uyuni Comments (2)

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