to the real South America...
Sun Oct 20, 2002 1:08 pm
Not to say, of course, that Argentina and Chile aren´t
down here and weren´t an experience. Yeah, people are a little browner,
speak Spanish, but, for example, if you go in a restuarant, you can expect
it to be pretty tasty, safe to eat, and the food to arrive on matching
plates and drink in non-chipped glasses.
Now Bolivia is whole different ballgame, and it was obvious from the moment
that we arrived at the border that a change awaited us. A bit delirious
after a 7 hour bus ride from Salta, which left at 5:30am, (and which was
the first bus ride with a flat tire, I might add) we stumbled from the
bus to find a new world. Ladies in traditional dress, with bowler hats,
skirts with petticoats, shawls, and babies strapped to their backs. Amazing.
We got a taxi to the border- a car from about the mid-seventies with no
inside door panels- and strolled easily into Bolivia- not even a second
glance from customs. From Villazon, the border town, we took a train to
Tupiza. We got the top class for about 5 dollars, and had a comfy ride.
Tupiza is bascially an old west town. It is just south of where Butch
Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their end, and its dusty streets and
red rocky surrounds feel very cowboyish. Our first night, we watched the
movie, then spent 7 hours the next day riding through the local countryside.
We saw some cool rock formations- one called Valle de los Machos, or Valley
of the Males, for which you´ll have to use your imagination. Of
course, the guy we hired the horses from kept saying ¨Good horses.
Horses no crazies.¨ Um... total lie. My horse was completely mental
and afraid of everything. I had visions of falling and breaking a limb
and having to go home early, but we made it ok, (except for Alison´s
sore butt, and our painful knees) and got great views of the countryside
and of little villages where people were farming using just oxen and donkies.
It looked so primative, but beautiful.
The next morning
(Tuesday, I think), we left for a four-day jeep trip from Tupiza to Uyuni
throug the Bolivian altiplano. Our first day, we went to San Vincente,
where Butch and Sundance are supposedly buried although their graves are
unmarked. Boring town really, which is now experiencing a mining boom
and doesn´t remotely resemble the town in the movie. According to
one of our guides, five months ago it was a ghost town. Now there appears
to be between 25 and 50 residents and there were army soldiers painting
new barracks -- jungle camoflague in the desert -- not really hiding anything.
We also got
a flat tire, our first car trouble of the trip.
The second day was REALLY long. Lots and lots of driving- about 12 hours
total- and not too much to see until the end. By the afternoon, we arrived
at Laguna Verde (which is supposed to be green but only really so in the
morning), some hot springs, then up up up to 4850m to see some geisers
at sunset. Immediate altitude sickness set in, and by the time we finally
reached our accomodation for the night, I felt like death. Didn´t
help that we had to share aroom with about 7 other people, plus the six
of us in our jeep! A little coca tea helped set me right (well, that and
being sick, but they really put a lot of stock into the healing power
of coca here), and, after a miserable night´s sleep we were off
to Laguna Colorada.
Very strange thing about the lakes here- they are brightly colored with
all sorts of mineral and toxins, and full of pink flamingos. What they
are doing there, I can´t imagine, but it is so strange to see a
red lake with pink flamingos and snow capped mountains in the background.
The real excitement that day came when the other van we were travelling
with broke down in the middle of a salar (salt flat). Because it had been
raining, we were driving through inches of mud covered with inches of
The guys in front tried so many times to start the jeep that they drained
the battery so, as you do, they took our battery out of our jeep and kept
trying! We were all freaking out, but it turned out ok when the engine
finally started and our battery was restored. Then our jeep broke down
about a mile from our stop for the night, but some banging with a hammer
under the hood seemed to fix that. All part of the experience.
(Continued in Salar de Uyuni . . .)