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so much, and so little in southern bolivia

BOLIVIA | Thursday, 25 May 2006 | Views [1617]

(pictures will tell all that I left out.. coming soon)

I left la  paz, as planned to take a tour of the salt flats (largest in the world) in southern bolivia. I made my way on bus to Oruru, about 4 hours, then got on my business class train car (since economy was already full that day), headed 7 hours to Uyuni. The train was comfy, and I sat next to this nice guide from arequipa, the first obviously gay south american,  I have met in all of my travels....  we watched         funny bolivia folkloric music videos and a few movies (speed, and something else I dont recall). They served us  cokes and nice little milk cookies, a regional speciality  loaded with sugary goodness.

Arrive in Uyuni around 1030pm, all the backpackers scurry to collect their bags, and I find my contact from the tour agency I booked through in la paz. She escorts me and a few others to a hotel across the street, cheap, nice, water is as cold as ice.... I wander to the plaza in search of food. and all  that is open is a pizzeria, that is out of pizza and can only offer me pasta (which I ate for lunch).. so I beg for some garlic bread, which is buttery and delicious.

next morming I wander around town, find the markets, check things out. Its a pretty desolate place, a town that was once full of industry and workers, and now relies solely on tourism.  and it´s cold... 10am I m waitin gin the tourist office,with a swiss couple that I met in la paz,marcus and susan who I am about to get to know very well over the  next 3 days. 1030 our toyota landcruiser pulls up, we load up, pick up 2 more canadians and a belgium and we are off...

first stop, cemetary of trains.. a graveyard for trains since 1980, mostly english, when the technology changed, they just left the trains here,some still on old tracks.. interesting place , rusty and emblamatic of something.

next to the salt flats... huge 12,000 sq km  of salt. at some points 12 meters deep.   only one small town still processes it, bc there is really not a lot of money to be made. they supply the salt to most markets in bolivia.

white, gleaming, mounds, flat area as far as the eye can see.. hard to believe its not snow.... with the cold and all, I couldnt shake that idea. beautiful.

the caravan of 4x4s cruised across the salar, stopping in a small town to offer us salt crafted souvenirs, and continued on to the isla del pescado (called so because from above it is in the shape of a fish). I´ll call it cactus island, because that´s what it was. grandazo cacti, some 1203 years old, growing only 1 cm per year. imagine that.  awesome. there was a nice loop around the island with different vistas of the cacti contrasted with the salt flats in the background.

from there we continued on,  driving through some areas flooded with water, a nice effect, more salt... stayed the night in a little town, where the tour company has built a hostal... dorm rooms, dining room, ping pong table and dvd player. we arrive at 5pm, and start playing cards to kill the night. there are about 30 people total in 5 cars..  it´s a slumber party.but at least we will be warm,  it´s much more than we all expected.

next day, continue on, geyesers, lakes, landscape becoming more desert like, volcanic rock gardens, etc. dusty as ever, we cruise through the landscape, up to 5000 meters, stopping occasionally to gah gah and take photos.  spend the night at a cold little ¨hospedaje¨  next to laguna colorado, where there are flamingos, which we can hardly see.. but they are there, and keeping warmer than we are.

we all chip in to buy a bottle of rum, surprisingly for sale at the one store, in order to  help keep warm. after pouring is generously in our tea after dinner, we realize we cant taste anything.. and conclude the alcohol has evaporate. marcus, very upset by this rip off, takes it back to the tiend and demands another... he  suceeds.. however the second is just as tasteless as the first. cant expect much in the middle of nowhere...  so he takes it back again, and gets 2 large beers, which they assure him are good quality (and they know bc it´s what the locals drink). 

cold and cold, we all bundle up as best we could and shut the lights at 8pm.

next morning, more geysers, proof of the cold, when the steam from the geysers hits the rocks and turns to  ice.   more desert landscape... much of which seems familiar, like death valley, and most of which seems completely remarkable and new.. all of which has a different feel though. you can feel the remote , isolation and lonliness  of the place. only vicunas run wild. no other animals in sight.. and barely plant life can survive. we pass the Dali desert, named so bc it resembles a painting of his.. and end at the green lake, which becomes green with the current of the wind, starting to change slightly when we arrived.

10am we are loaded onto a bus headed for the chilean border. eat breakfast before we leave, good bread and cheese.. signs of new life to come in chile.

Tags: Adventures

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