Whoops,  should’ve purchased
a guidebook.  

I heard Bolivia was one of the greatest countries in South
America so when I was dreaming up my trip I wanted to be sure I made it there.   The #1 recommended thing to see in Bolivia is
Salar De Uyuni, the salt flats in the town of Uyuni, a town in the middle of
nowhere.   I looked at some gorgeous
photos of the place and knew I wanted to see it myself.   I
googled, ‘what’s the closest airport to Uyuni?’ and the internet told me that
Calama, Chile was the closest airport so I booked my flight(s) to get there
from Iquitos.   

What I didn’t understand was that though Calama is technically
the closest airport to Uyuni there are NO FUCKING ROADS between the two
places.   Calama to Uyuni is an 8-hour off-roading
experience through the volcanic waste land of Northern Chile and the moon.  A long and frustrating story short, I was picked
up by one driver in Calama and driven to the border of Bolivia where he handed
me off to another driver.   This amazing
feat was all coordinated by the hotel I chose in Uyuni for the prohibitively
expensive price of I-can’t-tell-you.    The
driver who picked me up in Calama had lost his mind long ago, poor thing.  He navigated the three-hour experience
without taking his eyes off…me in the backseat.   This was while he stuffed piles of coka
leaves in his cheek and told me stories of how other travelers were scared by
his driving.   Still floating from
ayahuasca I couldn’t have cared less.  I
thought his craziness was entertaining and every time he decided to glance at
the ‘road’ I shook my head with a smile and whispered ‘fucking tapped’ as I
looked out the window at the passing active volcanoes.   The guy who picked me up on the Bolivian
side of the border was a kind and gentle man. 
He got me to my hotel safely, spoke no English, and kept me out of
Bolivian jail.   There we were at the shanty
hut that is the Bolivian border control where I was told that I needed to buy a
tourist visa for $135 USD.  This wouldn’t
have been an issue if I had more than $80 on me or had ever even heard of
needing a travel visa for Bolivia.  I
showed him my credit card with a fake tear in my eye and he gesticulated
passionately and waxed on in Spanish.  I
bet he was congratulating me on my planning skills and attention to
detail.   Somehow my driver and the
immigration guy settled on a plan to let me through if I pinky promised to go
to the immigration office as soon as I reached Uyuni, the nearest town and the
nearest ATM machine, five hours later.  Cvita told me that she wrapped me in a
protective bubble for Bolivia. I give her all the credit for this.


I arrived at my hotel that I, not surprisingly, booked in
haste.  I thought if I booked a fancy-ish
hotel they’d be able to organize that ridiculous transfer which was exactly
what happened. The hotel overlooked Salar De Uyuni and was made entirely of
salt.  Salt floors, salt walls, salt
furniture, you get the point.  It is an
absolutely gorgeous space and chock full of Bolivian kindness, inconvenience,
and culinary failure.   Because they deal with rich folk, the hotel only
books private tours to see the salt flats. 
This is in contrast to the usual way people see the flats: with six
other really fun people drinking beers and taking pictures and having a
blast.   So there I was at a really nice
hotel for the sole purpose of needing to book the transfer from Calama and I was
on the rich kid solo track.  Boo.

Salar De Uyuni is an impressive geological site and it’s hard
to believe such a thing even exists. It’s over 400 sq miles of a white salt
crust that was once a prehistoric salt lake. My afternoon on the flats was
spent with my guide, Francisco, who was kind and crazy and tried hard to make
our afternoon as fun as he could.  He let
me drive the truck over the flats, he sung my name most of the afternoon, and insisted
I photograph him posing near his truck. 
All the while Land Rovers teeming with laughing people sped by us as Francisco
and I tried to pantomime normal conversation.  I focused on the photography and made the best
of it.  Later on, as the sun set over the
salt flats, the ridiculous struggle and expense of getting there all made
sense.  I was awe struck by the beauty,
the endless reflective expanse, and the deep pink, red, and blue that reflected
off the salt.  If you know me you know I
never say this, but I love my photos of that evening.  In the end I’m very happy I was there.


As soon as I landed in Calama I knew I couldn’t make the
return trip to catch my flight back to Lima so I immediately started making
alternate plans.   The only possible way
out of Uyuni, which is actually on another planet, is by either prop plane (fuck
off) or an overnight bus to LaPaz.  Bus
trip it was. Every single person on that bus was tossed like a rag doll for 11
hours as we traversed non roads to LaPaz through the middle of the night.  I was sitting in my hotel room in LaPaz still
hammered on Tylenol PMs at 5:45am.   I
had no idea where I was.

I was thrilled to finally be staying in the heart of a city
and I loved LaPaz immediately.   In fact, I love Bolivia.  I love the people, the style, the hats, the shawls,
and the skirts the women wear.  I love
what Bolivians look like and how they treat travelers.  I love the landscape and it’s other worldly
beauty.  Any struggle I had in this
country was entirely my fault and again and again I was met with kindness and
grace in spite of my stupidity.    I spent
my day in LaPaz walking the city from one end to the other, visiting museums,
buying things I loved, and feeling the altitude. I watched the sun set over the
city from the rooftop restaurant of my hotel. I ordered the llama medium rare.