Even worse than waking up in the middle of night to find your Thai bus driver hurtling down the wrong side of a steep mountain road, is teetering on the edge of a cliff track filled with tumbled rocks in a beaten up truck half way between Uyuni and Potosi. Whover coined the catch phrase for the Oblivion ride at Alton towers must have ridden this road first for inspiration. It was here that I renewed my faith in Catholism, partly out of a ´when in Rome´ stance and partly out of a desperate hope that a couple of Hail Marys and few Glory-bes may save our battered carriage from careering off the edge and deliver us, Lord, to Sucre. But I´m skipping ahead , first of all we had to cross the Salt flats, and that, I feel, in itself may have had a little divine intervention.
We took a jeep, a driver and cook over 1000kms across desert, flood plains, salt flats and dirt road, up to 5000masl and back down. The first and 3rd day were ´getting there´ days and this meant we travelled for 12 hours stopping now and again for a lagoon or a specific part of a desert and taking photos of Llamaas or Vincunas. The Llamas all have decorations on to denote which family they belong to - this is often necklaces and earrings - which i think they may have been a little embarassed about. The hostels we stayed at were the most basic we´ve stayed in so far, the walls made of mud and stone and the beds made of concrete. There was sometimes electricity and you mostly had to wade through water to get to the loos. On the second night there was only one toilet that had a door, the other had a door frame but no glass pane in it. However this didnt stop one group´s tour guide merrily choosing this loo in which to have his morning sit down whilst I was trying to brush my teeth. The sink was directly in front of the loo and i caught his eye in the mirror. What are you meant to do in a situation like that? Ask him how its going? As I am my Father´s daughter I simply nodded at him, finished brushing my teeth and then collapsed in fit of giggles when I got back into the bedroom.
On the second day we saw some active geysers at 5000masl, despite a sign saying ´go no further´our guide took us right to the edge of the holes. It was like looking into a big bowl of Ready Brek fresh from the pan. Some were so fiesty they spat on our clothes. There were smaller ones popping up and fizzing all over the place. My guardian Angel was once more at work and i made it safely back to the jeep but i wonder how many groups have had close calls with those steaming crators.
On the last day we reached the Salar de Uyuni which is a salt flat 1100km squared. It was misty and bleak when we arrived and we ate a breakfast of pancakes in the salt hotel (made entirely of salt bricks). By the time we finished breakfast the sun had burned the fog away and there was a bright blue sky. The salt flats had a film of water on them, it being rainy season and all. This meant that you could get photos with a perfect reflection in them. We spent two hours running and jumpng and cartwheeling and twirling and balancing to get the most creative shots. Did i say we? I obviously meant just me. Then our guide got creative and played around with depth percetion, he got a good shot of me and Henry balancing on top of a coke bottle. The salt flats were just beautiful, vast and immaculately white, it made me briefly understand why some people might question if the world is truly round. But the tour was a challenging one, 12 hours a day of travelling at altitude in a jeep with 6 people is tough... I´m just glad i´m not 6 foot.
We travelled from Uyuni to Sucre, this is a UNESCO heritage site, not unlike Luang Prabang in Laos. The buildings are majestic and white washed. Yet only 5 minutes from the scentre the same rubble and litter that surrounds most of Bolivas´ towns persists. It feels somehow fake to be sipping cappucino and fine wines in this elegant city whilst there is such poverty on the doorstep. We went to see some dinosaur footprints that had been found by a cement company whilst quarrying for material. It was weird to see traces of herds of the different classes of dinosaurs. The walls of the quarry where they are visible are slowly diminishing as the company continues to dig up the material in and aound the fossiled prints...
An overnight bus took us to La Paz, a city with a reputation for petty crime and breath taking altitude. What the lonely planet doesnt mention is that it has a rough charm about it, lots of stalls, nice cafes and surprisingly clean. Our hostel has murals on the walls and has a friendly vibe. I spent the day having a manicure, pedicure, massage and facial whilst Henry hurtled himself downhill on a bike down the World´s Most Dangerous Road. Or was I not meant to say that he was doing that...