Saturday, May 21, 2011

First night in Bolivia

We got back yesterday from our trip. After a 13 hour bus ride from San Pedro we arrived in Salta at 11:30pm, just in time to enjoy a steak dinner at the local parilla next to our hotel. The next morning we got on a plane and were in BA by 2pm. We didn't have access to internet until we got to Chile but even at the hotel, the wifi had unpredictable behavior except you when you predicted it wasn't working. I was able however, to write in my journal just about every night either at dinner or cozy in my sleeping bag with the only light coming from a flash light.

The tour began at 10am on Thursday. We met our driver and guide, a five foot five Boliviano in his mid 30s named Alfredo. The tour company informed us our driver didn't speak a work of English which was nerve-racking and exciting at first and later we could not be more grateful for it because the next five days would be a a full-on Spanish class. On day three I had a dream solely in Spanish and day four I kept accidentally writing in Spanish in my journal.

Most of the first day we spent driving and stopping at scenic spots where we would take photos, stretch our legs and explore. The landscape was incredible. Each time we turned a corner or came over a hill it felt like we were entering a new country. The minerals and elements in the earth bring out hundreds of different colors, textures and shapes in the mountains. One minute we were on a windy dirt road on a cliff overlooking a green valley and hugging a enormous mountain and the next we were cruising through a dry desolate desert with nothing in front of us but road and nothing beside us but sand and llamas. In some parts, gigantic volcanos that were once active thousands of years ago, spit out rocks that have spread all across the land and are now permanent fixtures in the earth's living room. We passed by small pueblos including one that only had ten residents. The pueblo was nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. To reach their mail box they have to climb fifty feet up a cliff. These people take a segregated and simple lifestyle to a new level.

Other sights we saw as we peered out the window of our four-by-four Toyota Landcruiser included abandoned train stations, mines extracting minerals from the earth, small cemeteries with dying flowers and llamas grazing. Besides from the pueblos there was no sign of human life or manmade objects. The nature became our bathroom.

As we approached the town where we would sleep, we stopped to chat with another tour guide car. As I eavesdropped the conversation, I picked up that the salt flats were closed due to rain and it was confirmed when Alfredo looked back at us with a discouraged look. It only rains two times a year in this part of the world and it rained two days before our arrival. Thats what you call bad timing. Our original trip had to be rerouted since we would not be going through the flats. The reason it is closed is because the middle is lower than the outside and too much water collects for the cars to go through. Fortunately the outside was dry enough for us to go 20 miles in, so we were able to see some of it.

We got to the town where we would stay the night. The town looked abandoned because the buildings were torn down and there wasn't a soul in sight. It only took twenty seconds to get from the front of the town to the other side where our hostel sat. A few large Bolivian ladies sat behind tables with souvenirs and clothing laid upon them. We were escorted to our room, which was in a building made of salt. In fact, everything from the ground to the bed to the tables were made of salt. There was a big room with seven twin beds and a separate room with one large bed, all laid with bright red covers. There were no other travelers staying here. It was only 5pm so there was a couple hours to waste before dinner. After settling and putting on a couple more layers of clothes, we explored the area. The town is based off salt. Small one room factories with backyards full of salt piles laid the land. Workers take the salt from the salt flats which are close by, burn it, clean it and package it.

Tea and cookies awaited us at our room when we returned. The hot water felt good on our hands and bellies. Before all the natural light left the earth, we read, wrote in our journals, ate dinner and jumped into our sleeping bags because it was just too cold to be out of them. Matt and I looked at each other all bundled up and just laughed at where we were and what was happening. Although the room and bed turned out to be quite cozy, we both woke up multiple times in the night from being anxious. The silence was eerie and the door wouldn't lock all the way. At 6:15 am we heard a knock on the door. Time to wake up and head to the salt flats for sunrise!
The bus ride from Salta, Argentina to the border of Bolivia. 

Finger rock.

Pit stop for lunch. 

Our driver, Alfredo


First night at the salt hostel.

Bathroom. There is a first for everything.

Stray dogs are everywhere in Bolivia and Chile.

Tea time. 

Getting cozy with a cold brewski and a book.

6:20 a.m.

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