Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Australian, a Scotsman, a Mexican and a Dutchy get in a jeep...

Sounds like the start of a very bad joke, but in actual fact was perhaps the best four days of my trip. After a stunning train ride to Tupiza from the border of Bolivia, Judy and I met up again with Neil, the Scotsman, who we'd met in Humahuaca. He'd met Roberto, a Mexican guy, and together we booked a four day, four wheel drive tour, leaving the next morning.

Our intrepid driver, Xavier and cook Sylvia joined us in a 20 year old Landcruiser (though if Top Gear has taught us anything, it's that these cars are indestructible!) and off we went. Absolutely breathtaking scenery. First red jagged rocks (and a lot of mud), then onto some incredible mountains. What was most amazing was how quickly the scenery could change completely - from rolling hills that looked like they were draped in velvet, to jagged snow capped peaks. It was only 2 hours in that we got a puncture in the tyre, but Xavier had obviously fixed this problem more than a few times before, and we were back on the road before we knew it.

When I say 'road', I mean dirt roads. A lot of it was very hard going, very bouncy and poor Judy suffers from motion sickness so it wasn't always fun for her. The altitude got to us all - at the highest, we were at 5,000 metres. The second day, I was an absolute mess. We'd reached a thermal spring and after a welcome hot bath (there were no showers for the first 3 days!) I started feeling quite woozy and tired. I think I got into bed at 6pm that night and slept the whole night, awaking fresh and ready to go.

There was just too much to describe - wildlife included many many llamas, flamingoes, crazy rabbit things called vizcachas, that moved like wallabies and looked like Confucious, small foxes called zorrandinos, and camely/deer type things called vicuñas. Then more different scenery - the multi coloured lagoons, often covered in white borax, full of bright pink flamingoes, more mountains, and a few volcanoes. At some point, we had to stop because of a clutch fluid leak, but again, Xavier sorted us out in no time.

On the last evening we reached the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flats at 12,000 square kilometres. White as far as the eye can see, which looked like ice. Our accommodation was a salt hotel, that is the floor was covered in chunks of salt, the chairs, tables and beds, all made of salt...and most welcomed, a hot shower!! It was on this night that we learnt we'd been travelling with a celebrity. Roberto is a Mexican cross between Steve Irwin and David Attenborough! He's a biologist but has made a few tv series on different animals and natural things. He showed us one of his DVDs and it was so cool! We are now all proud owners of our own copies, unfortunately no subtitles, but most enjoyable!

On our last morning we went to one of the 'islands' in the flats, which was covered in ancient cacti (the oldest being 1200 years old). It was a bizarre sight, looking past massive cacti into a sea of white salt. After breakfast, the fun began. As the salt flats are indeed flat, there is a lot of fun to be had with photography and perspective. We were all close to crying with laughter at some of the results, Xavier being an extremely enthusiastic stager and photographer. Our trip ended with a visit to the train cemetary in Uyuni, lots of old rusted out carriages surrounded by blue skies, golden sand and plenty of rubbish.

It was quite sad when it all came to an end in Uyuni, an absolute ghost town, but popular with tourists heading for the salt flats. Judy left me this morning at 3am to head to San Pedro in Chile, which was sad. It was great travelling with her, and Neil and Roberto as well. I've glossed over this experience, there are many many photos for those at home to sit (suffer?) through when I get back, but I'm so glad that I took the opportunity to do it.

I've decided to take a chance and travel up to La Paz to get a flight back to Buenos Aires, to save spending (at least) 3 days on busses. Hopefully this chance will pay off. Not to worry though, I can always head for Lima and pick up my connecting flight there, but hopefully it won't come to that. I'm travelling overnight tonight with a couple of Swedish guys, an Englishman, and the two Danish girls I've run into on a couple of other bus trips...a good group for sure.

Fingers crossed I can sort it all out in time, and my credit card works fine. I discovered this morning that someone in Brazil had emptied my savings account, I don't know where my card was cloned but the money is gone until I get home and file a complaint. Grrrrrrr!! Oh well, if that's the worst thing that has happened to me, then I'm not too annoyed.

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