Published: December 12th 2011November 13th 2011
I´m not sure where John Wayne went either...
Oh yaaar... to Spain in a chocolate aeroplane.
The sweaty 24 hour bus journey into the Atacama desert was minus a TV or reclining seat, but I was still content to be travelling onwards. The bus arrived in a tiny place which looked like something out of a Western. San Pedro is about four blocks squared, and full of tourists wanting to experience the desert or take a tour to Bolivia. I booked onto a three day tour finishing at Uyuni in Bolivia, realising that this was the first time I´d be put into a group with strangers, and hoping that they would be good strangers.
After succesfully getting through border control without any mention of a Yellow Fever Certificate, I met my group; another 25 year old girl from Holland, a Spanish couple and a German couple. Us girls got on well, the Spanish couple seemed friendly enough (from what I could understand) and the German couple seemed ok, if a bit comical looking. The guy was short, amicable and chatty; while the woman who towered above her husband only spoke German, had very short blonde hair and a masculine, slightly aggressive swagger about her.
The first day was an upward climb to 4000m above sea
Red because of the algae sediment which the flamingoes feed on, turning them pink!
level. In San Pedro I´d strangely consumed four litres of water in one day, still felt thirsty and had a face like an old lady. This was to get worse as the altitude made it hard to breathe, induced some kind of migrane and made me constantly thirsty. Luckily, weird and amazing scenery was there to distract me. A red lagoon, a green lagoon, a white lagoon, a hot spring, some geysers and many, many flamingoes later, we arrived at a basic building with a few dorms for groups on the tour. I was suffering from the altitude shivers and went to bed early, but not early enough to be asleep by the time the others came into our shared room. Ten minutes after the electricity was cut out for the night, brilliantly loud snoring commenced which I rated only at five out of ten for annoyance; loud but rhythmic. German Woman showed her disagreement by grumbling loudly in her native tongue, so I assumed that she was embarrased of her husband´s snores. Just as I drifted off, piercing screaming woke me up, and I jolted up to witness German Woman sitting up in bed, leaning aggresively forwards to shout
at Spanish Guy, while shining a torch right into his eyes! The German language is not really known for it´s soft, poetic tone at the best of times, and this was definitely the worst of times. Thinking she was having some kind of night-terror, I tried not to find it too amusing or annoying, and went back to sleep. The same thing happened four times throughout the night, and the finale involved her grumbling loudly to her husband for a full hour.
Six very sleepy people got up at 6.00am for breakfast in the morning, and it turned out that I´d misinterpreted the situation; it was actually the Spanish guy who was snoring. A feud subsequently ensued between the couples, and tri-lingual Susan (the Dutch girl) explained that the woman suffered from no night-terrors whatsoever, and had been swearing at the guy in the worst possible way each time a snore exited his airpipes. Angry German spent all day running up to any other tourists who could comprehend her, telling them about the evil Spanish man who had kept everyone awake. I valued my life too much to tell her that she was the cause of everyone´s dark eyes.
Meanwhile, I understood enough Español to listen to the Spanish couple trying to figure out what kind of mental illness their enemy ("mujer loco") was suffering from. After cross-lingual attempts at arguing and another day of beautiful lakes, flamingoes and mountains; we slept in a hotel made out of salt, fortunately in seperate rooms. On the last day (after Angry Woman shouted at me for not speaking German, and comically finding enough English to tell me that this difference in native tongue was "my problem") we drove to the simply amazing Salt Flats. At 4086 square miles, they´re the largest in the world, and it feels like you´re driving into nothingness before stopping at an Island full of Cacti and looking out at pure whiteness.
Later, as we drove through inhabited Bolivia (the poorest country in South America), there was a clear difference from European Argentina and Chile. In Uyuni, we said goodbye to our guide Tibo, who had the rest of the day to see his family before heading out again the next day. Although he's on the road with crazy tourists for 6 out of every 7 days of his life, he told us that he's blessed
not to work in a back-breaking factory like his friends.
Susan decided to come with me to the capital, La Paz, so we got on a rickety bus which travelled for 5 hours down a dirt road before hitting concrete. Thankfully, the guy behind us played all of his ringtones on loop for the entire journey, presumably in a thoughtful bid to lull us to sleep.
There are more photos below