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Published: November 26th 2008
Of course that day I had to wear black
Finally I have found an empanada that did not make me question its palatability. The baked pastries, filled with everything from a simple slice of cheese to potatoes, meat, and vegetables and folded into a calzone-like shape, grace the streets of Bolivia. Most empanadas are cooked in the morning and placed in carts parked along the street by old women or in a bakery window. As the day warms the bread dries out and the empanada´s contents take on a radioactive entity. Ever since my long night hanging my head over a urine-stained toilet, my food selections have become somewhat more picky. Needless to say, I find myself praying a lot more before I eat.
I sat in a window overlooking La Paz, munching my empanada of meat and potatoes and sipping my banana fruit shake, and thinking about the past week of whirl-wind adventuring in the Solar de Uyuni in the south of Bolivia. Rosalinde and I arrived and booked a morning bus from the mining town of Potosi to Uyuni. Unlike our first trip to Potosi where we were the only gringos on the bus, this time we were accompanied by at least six others.
Bits of Beauty
In an otherwise dark or light world.
Boliva was quickly becoming my greatest friend. I thumbed the pages while eating, sitting, walking, and occasionally on the edges of very busy street corners. Six hours of bumpy bus travel enriched my mind for tour booking in Uyuni. LP suggested booking a tour with four or more people, six max, to ensure a place with the right company (sometimes a company will shuffle you to another company the day you leave if they don´t have enough to fill the vehicle) and an occasional discount.
Jeff, a Canadian from Montreal and Neanca, a Dutch med student, had been met previously in Potosi at our hostel. We invited them to join us, and that evening, after barging our way through the flyer-touting locals to our hostel, we moseyed around town in search of tour companies. I had read on travel blog about an individual who had used Blue Line several weeks previous to our arrival. The reviews were good, so after hearing a tour spiel from our very pregnant hostel owner, we made our way to Blue Line. The tour operator explained the trip to us. The basic three-day tour involves a stop at the Train cemetery outside of town,
a visit to the areas where salt is collected for distribution around Bolivia (none of the salt is sent out of country due to the low price of the product), a stop at a salt hotel, a cactus island, lagoons of flamingos, weird rock formations, geysers, and a stop at a hot springs.
Individuals can then take a very long return day back to Uyuni, or be dropped at the boarder of Chile for those who choose to adventure on. Rosalinde and I had planned on returning to La Paz while Jeff and Neanca were aiming for Argentina. The differences in plans ensured a somewhat dubious future for the four of us, but as soon as the tour operator mentioned that the road from the boarder to San Pedro de Atacami was paved, we were sold. From San Pedro individuals can book buses to Salta in Argentina, or Arica, and then on to La Paz.
600 bolivianos (roughly $80 dollars) later we were booked for a ten am departure.
After an evening of water-cookie gathering and a shared beer for celebration, we fell asleep before ten, exhausted as travellers should be. In the morning we arose at
They told us to bring a LOT of water, so I did.
seven, and departed, happy to be out of our expensive 35 bolivianos a person hostel. We had planned on leaving at ten to be ahead of the other tour operators who departed at ten-thirty (I had suggested leaving at nine, but the tour operator just laughed at me). The other two tourists, a Danish couple, were to be our friends for the following three days. However, as ten am came and went without any sign of the two, hearts grew sour. As our tour operator left the office in search of the two, we decided to divvy up the seats, giving them the back seats. Fifteen minutes later they arrived, full of apologies (apparently the hostel had not woken them up in time) we glanced at them with polite smiles, and slid the back seats open before stepping aside.
Our Toyota Land Cruiser was impressive. Its white paint matched the surrounding salt flats, reflecting light with similar intensity. The tires bounced across rocks like a cloud (I later learned that the vehicle was only three months old) and as other vehicles passed us throughout the day I grinned in smug satisfaction over the fact that we had the newest
Such a Lonely Planet, I am glad I could be it´s little friend.
vehicle of any company. Our driver/cook/guide for the trip was a calm man with a handsome face named Juan. After kissing his family goodbye, he loaded our packs onto the roof of the Toyota and tied them down with a tarp.
True to schedule, we arrived at the train cemetery first. Gutted engines and cars sagged in coppery dullness against the while solar. We raced around taking pictures (as would be our theme for the next three days) before hopping back in the car, anxious to stay ahead of the crowd. A short stop at the salt factory, which was more of a small town where locals sold objects made of salt or salt crystals to tourists. Bored with spending money, I chased llamas around the flats hoping for a perfect picture.
Our final stop before the island was at a salt collection area where individuals raked salt together into waist-high piles for transportation. The ground was wet in places, soaking through my light tennis-shoes. Twenty minutes later we set off again, this time straight across the solar, island bound.
The solar is an otherworldly experience. The salt flats, created by a trapped sea that slowly evaporated
The Pimp Mobile
We were rocking it pretty hard...or would have until our tape player died (which I was actually quite thankful for...Bolivians have a penchant for 80´s music..)
at a time before the Incas existed, carpet about 12,000 square kilometres of Bolivia´s South.East region. The white color is not only blinding even in sun glasses, but it also creates a nasty burn for those who come unprepared with a high rating of sunblock. Nothing grows on the solar, the salt ensuring little sustenance, and thus an individual can see for miles in every direction. However, the scenery can become boring after the initial hour, and I made quick work of my stolen book (my hostel, Koala Den, had bookcases full of paperbacks left by previous residents. However, they asked that everyone pay a fee to take a book. Annoyed by the constant twiddling of my money, I casually stuck two books in my bag the morning I left).
At the Cactus Island we stopped for lunch. While Juan prepared meat, coos-coos-like rice, vegetables, and watermelon, we hiked to the top of the island. The island, a veritable oasis of time and life, was used by the Incas as a stop-over for runners ferrying messages across the land. We stumbled our way up, tripping over dusty rocks and laughing at the faces we saw in the cactus. They
It took me awhile to recover from this, aparantly I am no longer as lithe as I was when I was twelve.
rose like trees, some hundreds of years old (Juan said that they only grow about a centimetre a year), arms with white flowers being offered to the sky.
After a fabulous lunch, we spent another hour or so making jumping pictures or trying to create distance shots. Nearby a caravan of Israelis kept us amused with their partying (another theme that would continue throughout the trip as we saw the same individuals at each stop). Rosalinde and I shared amused glances as they kicked on the party music and started dancing around (and in one case, on top of) their Land Rover.
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