Monday, January 16, 2006

Three days in a Jeep - Salt Flats and all...

Not so many hours on a very bumpy bus with only stunning scenery and llama jokes to entertain us with later, we arrived in Uyuni. A middle of nowhere sort of town to arrange our jeep tour up, down and out of Bolivia. We had been joyfully reunited with Arnie the night before (which resulted him and Mik crowd surfing on sofas in a deserted karaoke bar in Potosi and other strange happenings) and were ready for an adventure.

So after a bit of tour price haggling we prepared in proper style with a lot of cheap plonk. Remember never ever to play monopoly with anal people. Not many people have annoyed me in these great few months but I would not have cried if a certain random English guy we met had a freak accident involving the loss of his bollocks. That is of course if he had them in the first place – aaaaaaah it feels so much better to let that out.

The next morning we rocked up to a 4x4, met are intimate (8 people in not too big jeep) traveling companions Alexandra and Vroni, and head off for the salt flats. As you will see from the pictures, the scenery is absolutely mad. A huge ancient lake that covered most of southern Bolivia receded leaving behind mile after mile of slightly damp salt flat. This creates loco views of blinding white stretching to the distant mountains. Add to this a large cacti covered mountain in the middle and you have ridiculous photo opportunities and a lot of fun.

After hours of driving across this absurd looking landscape with Boney M on the stereo (I kid you not) we ended up in a small outpost in the middle of nowhere for the night, the name of which I never caught. A visit to an Inca graveyard where you were encouraged to peer into shrunk-mummy inhabited tombs was eerie to say the least but I also think quite wrong. A most beautiful setting of the sun going down over huge volcanoes and llamas grazing in the not so verdant planes betwixt. This did not fully remove from my mindset the high possibility that these places of rest were broken into for profit and it was profit that we were giving the nowadays keepers. A strange experience. A few drinks was then a necessity and quite a wild night ensued with other groups to all of our surprise. The guides were great providing quite a feast and afterwards we headed to both of the only two noticeable watering holes in town. A lot of serious politics was discussed with some nice American guys and then finally my first knowing sight of the southern cross – moving quite a lot at that point but stunning none the less.

The next day we crossed country that was in my eyes at least if not more stunning then that of the famed salt flats. Stretching from sparse desert invaded by ancient volcanic fingers, through huge mountains of multi-coloured grit and dirt, to flocks of flamingos in caustic lakes of vibrant reds, blues, yellow and greens. A huge red lake occupied by thousands of flamingos at the foot of mighty mountains sticks out in the memory. For me the highlight of the day was Mik and I lifting boulders to create our very own stone pile as our insignificant offering to our surroundings. Breathtaking. We ended up at another place even more seriously in the middle of nowhere and despite watching Mik´s impromptu swinging fire show I had a night centred around being in a cramped ball - stomach problems – these things happen.

And then our last morning in Bolivia. We were up around 5am to see geysers erupting violent clouds of sulphurous gas at 5,000m. In other countries there would be barriers or warning or something, but in Bolivia no worries, climb everywhere, jump everywhere if you want – fun. From here we spent our final couple of hours before more stunning lakes in the shadow of a 5,950m monstrous volcano. A truly great jeep trek across landscape that blew me away. In such places you truly feel the power of nature and the delicate balance that our lives depend upon.

So to the border we went, with the Attacama and a new country lying ahead of us…. In all honesty I was sad and happy to be leaving Bolivia. Three weeks here were some of the most interesting and adventurous I have had the privilege of enjoying, but interaction with the locals is comparably difficult. A country with so much more to offer but part of me looked forward terribly to descending from the Altiplano, and so it was.
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