So, I forgot the most important occurance in my last entry. The fact that we were the unlucky victims of another freak Little Man. I couldn't believe it when it came on. I was shocked, speechless, wallowing in terror. We were heading to the Bolivian border, our last Argentinian bus, so of course they had to have this playing as a parting gift. It was right in front of our faces, full volume booming throught the bus, and the best part was, it was a hit. People were losing it. I'm talking snorting. I'm talking hysterics. I'm talking a change of underwear. It was absured. Apparently someone being a midget is out of this world funny. And a dog peeing on a midgets face, even funnier. God help us all. The latinos on the bus were having a riproaring good time, which resulted in Orin and I having a pretty good time laughing at them laughing at the stupidest movie in the world. Wow. Just...wow.
AAAAAAAAAAnyways, as there are no functioning tv's on Bolivians buses we are saved. Salvation in degradation. Who knew. So I think I left off the night before we left on our crazy ass jeep tour, which was actually in a Toyota but soo much easier to say jeep. So be it. We were told that we would be leaving at 9 o clock in the morning, so sure enough at 10 we took over, roared two blocks and then sat for another half hour while the guide did who knows what in who knows where. During this time we got to know our companions.
We had a jeep of six people:
Our guide, Pedro, was a young man of 21 who was a little off in the head though had good intentions. He enjoyed passing people on blind corners at ungodly speeds unknown to us as the speedometer was broken. His favourite phrases where No Problem and Ten Minutes. No Problem, as he was opening the hood of the stalled jeep, as he was lost afterdark in a remote village looking for our hostel, as he had the wheel off and was staring at the smoking brakes. No Problem. Problem, buddy. Ten Minutes was always thrown at us as we got out of the jeep to look at some crazy natural wonder that we would have loved to hang out at for half an hour at least. We want to do more thing than just take pictures! His favourite driving technique was riding the smoking brakes down sketchy steep hills in neutral.
The Frenchman, Niko, was a thirty four year light technician who spent half of his year travelling on the copious EI funds France gives to people in the entertainment business. Nice. He lives in Paris. He hates Paris. Not so nice. Niko enjoyed vulgar jokes an sitting in the front seat while the rest of us bounced around in the back seats. His notable phrases were ¨this pasta sauce smells like condoms¨and making fun of Simon for having a ¨dick and ass¨shower, as the water was absolutely freezing. When first meeting him we thought he was a bit of a loser, as he sported sleek brown Euro shoes, A massive glittering rhinestone ROCK belt and a Japanese shirt with a pill on it. He turned out to be pretty cool.
The two Englishgirls, both 21, Martha and Sophie. Sophie enjoyed vomiting and complaining about altitude sickness, as well as complaining and fixing her hair in mirrors. Martha did not enjoy vomiting quite as much, but very much enjoyed fixing her hair in mirrors. They once met Malfoy in London. He was a twat. They spoke no spanish so were constantly asking for translations from Niko and I. Sophie told Pedro she was pregnant just for fun. Pedro did not laugh. I am not sure what language they spoke, but it was hard to understand and was littered with 'loo' and 'rubbish' and 'loo roll'. Smashing. As preppy as they were we enjoyed their company at times. They wore dresses that were actually just shirts paired with spandex pants.
Then two Canadians, both 21, Orin and Sage. Coolest cats on the block.
Our jeep was paired with another from the same company which took the cook, Marta. She enjoyed yelling 'Hey Chico's' really loudly really early in the morning, and telling me that I am sad. Riiight. The other jeep had a really nice guide that we were all quite jealous of, as well as four crazy ass Malasians who were very funny and friendly and loved to throw around the peace sign infront of cameras. One bright white German, Simon, accompanied them. He looked very out of place, yet they took him in like one of the family and had a great time. Simon 20 year old, very kind, spoke better Spanish than English, and had a beautiful smile. We enjoyed his company very much and are currently trying to convince him to come up north with us.
So this was the lay out peeps. We made it out of town the first day just past 11 am. Only a couple hours late. Good start. The first day consisted mostly of driving through a desert, but it was very beautiful and absurd scenery. The mountains, instead of being made out of solid rock like Canada, consisted of small rocks and dirt packed together. Over the years the rain washed away the weaker parts leaving the strong fingers looming up into the sky, pointy towers of red dirt. We saw hundred of llamas, all with tufts of pink of blue or green or mixed woven into the tops of their ears. Apparently this was used to identify who owned the herd. So cool looking.
We stopped for lunch at a small village where a dirty but curious child greeted us. His only English words were 'no picutres' as a response to Sophie whipping out her camera and trying to photograph the poor guy without asking. The tour after us did the exact same thing and got the exact same response. Pretty messed up. Can you imagine growing up in a remote village yet still being exposed to people from all over the world, all treating you like some strange exibit. Enough to mess your head up pretty good I suspect. After lunch our guide gave us coem coca leaves, which are commonly chewed by locals and tourists alike for elevation sickness. It tastes like the smell of dried fish, but once you moisten it up, add the sweet tasting potassium and stick it under your lip it tastes pretty good and lasts for a couple of hours. At first the potassium makes your tongue go numb, but it feels kind of cool. Coca aids in digestion, altitude sickness, energy and either red or white blood cell production. Cool. Though it is the same plant that can be manufactured into Cocaine, it is not a dangerous drug. I would liken it to tea.
That evening Pedro had a bit of a time finding our hostel in the darkness of a small village, at over 4000 meters above sea level, but eventually we pulled in, ate some dinner and went to bed to get up at 4 30 am the following morning. So, of course, at 6 am Pedro woke us up. The poor Malasians had set their alarm, believing what the guides said, ate brekkie and sat there twiddling their thumbs for two hours. Lame. We drove for a while and then came upon these isolated old Spanish ruins, dating back to the 1500's. It was a gold mining town known for much illness and presence of the devil. Spooky story, but amazingly peaceful place. I hiked up the mountain, gasping for breath at such high altitude, and found myself a little rock to perch on. There I sat, enjoying the silence in the early morning chill, savoring the fact that I could hear no other living being on earth. As I admired the ruins I noticed some animals, relatives of the chinchillas, with big long tails, picking their way through the ruins and ocassionally batteling. It was an amazing moment. Soon enough Pedro was laying on the horn and I made my way back as fast as my shallow lungs could pull me, not before he made Orin shout out to me.
We drove on, looking at gorgeous views, lakes with flamingos standing on their spindly legs, and huge flats of Borax, the mineral soap is made of. For lunch we stopped at the hot springs. I had been led to believe that we would be swimming peacefully in a lake, but pulled up to find 20 people packed into a pool. Bummer. A little put out we decided to eat first. When Orin and I came out from lunch the dozen jeeps were gone and the pool was empty. We changed up and jumped in with gusto. It was a neat rock pool with a sand floor, fresh hot water leaking out from under a rock and the excess pouring over a little waterfall into the lake. It was hot and relaxing, and soon our group joined us and we all relaxed until again the horn sounded and we were herded back into the jeep.
After lunch we went to a beautiful green lake that mirrored a volcano. It was gorgeous. Next stop was the geisers, which were not at all like I was expecting, but amazing in their own way. They lay at the almighty 5000 meters above sea level. Wow. A bunch of steaming sulpheric pits lay together in the earth, filled with bubbling boiling mud. We were allowed to wander through them, though found out after the other tour was not as it is quite dangerous. Thanks Pedro. There were plenty of hissing steaming holes, and craters ranging from a foot wide and long, to 10 feet wide and long. Very amazing and wild! I took a video, which turned out pretty good.
The next morning I woke up tired and breathless to a pancake breakfast. Pretty good. I miss fruit in my pancakes with yogurt and some tasty ass Maple Syrup on top though. That day we saw a red lake full of flamingos, lots of vicunas, which are smaller and lovely relatives of llamas, a smoking volcano which gave me flashbacks of terror, and a series of five lakes quite close together, all before lunch. After lunch we visited the Dali rock, which is a wild looking rock which could easily be imagined in a Salvador Dali painting. Very cool. That evening we stayed at the Salt Hotel, which was not a hotel at all, but still quite interesting. It has salt floors consisting of loose thick salt granules, and the walls, beds, tables and benches were all made of bricks of salt.
The last day was chock full of stuff to do. We woke up super early to watch the sunrise over the salt flats, Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world, covering 12,000 km2 and at the center reaching 150 meters deep. Craziness. The sunset was quite beautiful, though cold cold cold! After the sunset we had breakfast on an island overrun by massive cactus, one being aprox. 1300 year old, recently dying in 2007! Holy crap! This Island was the resting area for Incas crossing the salt flats. What an amazingly long and painful journey that must have been. We hiked around the island for a while, ate brekkie then spent about an hour fooling around taking pictures on the salt flats. From a photography aspect the salt flats are quite amazing as they have no depth of field, so we have some pretty funny pictures. On the edge of the salt flats we saw men in ski masks using picks and shovels to harvest the salt into small salt pyramids. Shitty job, man. Next we visited the salt museum, which consisted of some strange salt sculptures of armadillos, people, llamas, etc.
Our last stop was at the Locomotive graveyard just out Uyuni. It was very very cool, the old rusty wrecks sat quietly, one still on the tracks. I really liked this stop, as did Orin which you could all easily guess.
That evening we gritted our teeth and got on the bus to La Paz at 8 pm with Simon and the Malasians. We entered the bus to find we were the only people without blankets, and were sitting at the very back on the bench seat of five, shared with a dude listening to Cradle of Filth and a very old Abuela and her two grandchildren of 6 and one. Oh. Fuck. Me... She sat croslegged so the six year old could lay on the floor and proceeded to pack him with blankets, making me very nervous as it gets very cold at night. This would prove to be true and Orin and I froze half to death, not being able to feel our feet until we arrove. The first five hours of the bus ride were the kind of unmanagable bumpy that makes your face itch from vibrating so much. You could nod off for a minute of two but would wake up mid air virtago before crashing down onto your seat. The last 6 or 7 hours were paved and we somehow managed to make it to La Paz without offing ourselves.
La Paz is pretty neat. The first day we spent sleeping and eating, and today we wandered around a number of markets, buying a ridiculous ammount of things that we are going to regret carrying for the next two months. We visited the Black Market and the Witches Market, which sold dried llama fetus', apparently they are buried under the porches of new houses for good luck. Okay then.... Enough out of me, hope this account wasn't too long. Thank you so much for the record making three posts! Awesome, made me smile! And Karlos, there is not such thing as being too old to travel! We have seen some serious geezers here having the time of their life. And knowing a bit of Spanish will make your life a whole lot easier down here.