Across the river in Bolivia
Once in Bolivia, after drinking a couple of beers and talk for a while, we decided to keep moving and do not spend the night in Villazón. The truth is that I didn’t even know what the fuck I was doing in Bolivia. But the people I have met, at least knew what locations were the best to visit. Our first parade for the night was going to be a little town in the middle of the mountains called Tupiza.
After a couple of hours in a bus, we arrived. It was dark already and everybody was exhausted. So we checked in at the first hostel we found, left the backpack and went for dinner. It is impossible to remember what we ate or where – I used to have notes from that first trip but I cannot find them now – But, we ate something, drunk something and slept in the hostel.
Next morning, with the daylight, the town was alive. As many travellers should know, the first morning in a foreign country or city, is beautiful. New things are all around and you are full of energy, ready to discover and explore. Or completely hangover and looking desperately for a place to eat breakfast.
When we were getting ready to go out and buy groceries and the bus tickets to the next parade, the girl who was sleeping in our shared room, woke up. She was evidently a foreigner. With just a “hola” was enough to figure it out. Because I am very friendly and curious I talked to her. She was Finnish but she spoke Spanish pretty well. I invited her to join us for breakfast and she accepted.
Apparently, there were various famous locations in Bolivia that everybody visited. One of them was Salar de Uyuni, our next destination. Merja, the Finnish girl told me a lot of things about Bolivia and Peru because she had been there before. Indeed she have had travelled Latin America for 9 months. Sadly she was going to Buenos Aires in a couple of days. But we exchanged emails just in case we crossed paths again in Argentina. That same day, we left to Uyuni.
“Where the Sun burns from below”
206 km North direction and we were in Uyuni, right when the sun starts to disappear behind the horizon. Same routine again; find a place to stay, get ready and get out for dinner and something to drink. Bad thing was that this time I drank more than some. And not any drink, this was dangerous shit, high-octane whisky, more known as Bolivian Whisky. The fuel of the Potosi exploited miners.
Like the last town, Uyuni was empty during the night. But we managed to find a restaurant where I had my first encounter with really spicy food, although I was careful and had just a tiny taste of this red powerful mix of Bolivian peppers.
With full belies, we went to a bar and started drinking. I only had vague memories of that night. However I remember very well the moment that the fucking waiter said; “Hey kid, do you wanna try a local drink ? – bring it on!” I probably said. And it was there that he took from behind the bar this mysterious unlabeled bottle that seemed to belong to a pharmacy and not a bar.
Believe or not, that drink had 96% alcohol. It is something terrible that people shouldn’t drink if they want to live longer than 30 years old. Next day I was in incredible pain, specially my head that felt like it was constantly hammered. Bad news were that we had to go to for a tour into the salt flats. I cannot believe today that I didn’t reject the plan and just stayed all day in bed.
Well… it was a nightmare. Being inside a 4×4 truck constantly bouncing trough a fucking salt desert, with an angry driver asking you all the time if you were going to puke. When we got out of the car to make the stupid pictures, the sun was unbelievable hot. It burned everywhere, you couldn’t hide, you are walking on a natural mirror. Eventually that terrible adventure ended and we came back to town where we got ready for our next bus trip. Destination; Potosi.
Let me tell you this straight forward about the experience of taking a bus in Bolivia; Death is sitting next to you. It might sound dramatic but is true. You don’t know what a dangerous road is until you have travelled in that country. Roads trough the mountains are incredible narrow, buses are very old and you never know when was the last time that the bus driver slept because they are always eating coca leaves.
“The non-magic bus”
When the hangover was almost gone, something else was going to happen.
During the road trip from Uyuni to Potosi, like everybody else I was worn out. Daylight was gone and we had a at least 4 hours of road. So I putted my sleeping eye cover and comforted myself thinking that the hangover was finally over. But I felt something weird in my eyes. Like itching and a sandy feeling. I thought maybe I got something in it. So I scratched a little but it didn’t work. I tried to sleep but the sensation was getting so intense that I couldn’t.
By the time we arrived to Potosi, when we left the bus under the rain. I couldn’t see a shit anymore. Everything was damn blur because my eyes were full of tears and it didn’t matter how much I cleaned them up because more were coming. So half blind, I walked with the group to a taxi parade and we got a car to a hostel.
Of course nobody understood what was happening with my eyes. But when the hostel owner saw me he asked me if I was alright. I explained what I was feeling and very calmly he said that I had probably burnt my eyes in the damn Salar de Uyuni. I just needed to rest in the dark and put use eyes drops. Luckily one of the guys had some.
Next morning my eyes were better. While taking a morning shower I remember thinking something like “Why is this shit happening, why this much?” But I was hopeful that the unluckiness will end soon. After shower I just came back to bed. The rest of the group was doing the very famous Potosí Mine Tour. Obviously I was not in shape to get into a dusty mine. I was not interested either.
If you have never heard about the Potosi Mine Tourbefore let me explain you briefly: You hire a guide, probably an ex miner and he takes you down the mines to see how the miners work and die in that dusty hell. Why die ? Well. Minery it’s a dangerous job, always, everywhere. But if you add to it 96% alcohol ingest, coca chewing, precarious gear and long hours shifts you get people with 40 years old life expectancy.
I am not joking, you can Google it. Do not read TripAdvisor tho. You will just get people saying how amazing was the experience of feeding miners with coca, seeing them drinking pure alcohol, and surviving in such an environment – and all this for less than 20 bucks!
“Ojo del Inca”
Eventually my luck changed. That same day that my friends went to the mines, we met another guests from the hostel who were Argentineans too and we decided to make an asado. One of those guys suggested that next day we should go to a place called “Ojo del Inca”, some kind of natural thermal waters in the middle of a mountain.
He was right. The place was amazing – Update: I just Googled the place and found out that is closed because many people died drawn. It does not surprise me. The centre of the lake was very deep although there were many signs warning to do not go to the middle. A shame
“Do not tell me what to do”
Travelling in a group is not always an advantage. You have times when is more fun or feels more safe. But always, one day, the pace shatters. In my case was in Potosi when we were deciding where to go next. Some people wanted to go to Cochabamba, some were doubtful and I was just tired of being in a group.
At the end we decided with the Brazilian guy to go to La Paz.