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. 

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Comments
Jen says:

Your photos blow my mind! Wow!

(02.24.14 @ 07:36 AM)