The Salar

I took a trip to the Salar de Uyuni this weekend–the largest salt flat in the world. It is a 4,000+ sq. mile expanse of white.  It looks like a thin layer of snow… made out of salt. Kind of like you’re standing on the moon. A big, flat, white, optical-illusion-y moon.

 

We made it to the Salar from Cochabamba by 4-hr bus to Oruro, then a 7-hour, totally bitchin’ train to Uyuni. We traveled along the altiplano of Bolivia, which is a dry wild west of a place that randomly includes a huge lagoon full of pink flamingos. The train was fantastic. My Polish travel companion mentioned that it was nicer than in Poland and I had to agree. The tickets were cheap and it ran so smoothly. And you knew when it was coming and it was on time and you had a seat and… man, it felt great to be riding one again.

Me and Steve about to board the train from Oruro to Uyuni

I’d heard a great deal about how the altitude of La Paz will get ya, but I wasn’t really expecting it in Uyuni. Turns out, the pueblo and the flats are at an elevation of 16,500 ft. That’s face-tingling, short-breath, headache elevation. And as it happens, I am one of those people who don’t take to it very well. So despite buying a huge bag of coca immediately in Oruro and consuming a good deal of it on the train, taking altitude medicine and a lot of water, I still felt pretty weird most of the trip. Alas, it was worth it. Because I got to see things like this:

piles of salt in the Salar
Incahuari Island in the middle of the Salar. It’s covered in coral and massive scary cactus.
Me, next to the massive scary cactus
fun with optical-illusion and the Japanese guys who were on our tour
“Eyes of the Salar”

Notes on returning to Cbba after the Salar:

-Haven’t written about daily life here as most days I spend a lot of time treading water.  I listen to a lot of folk music, am awaiting word on grad school, and am still trying to learn Spanish.

-Spanish is going really well.  I feel confident doing whatever I need to do in town, and have fluid conversations all day long with locals.  Today, for the first time in a big group class I spoke up. The subject was Dia de los Muertos, and similar traditions in our countries.  I ended up weirdly arguing with a Polish priest about how halloween wasn’t evil.  Afterword, a professor said I’d done well, which was a much-needed confidence builder.  I was confused at what he was talking about until I got home a read this crazy shit: Halloween is Evil, says Church in Poland

-I came to the conclusion that perhaps my pent-up anger living here regarding machisimo culture, rabid dogs on every corner, and a general uneasiness has perhaps manifested itself in giving me a spunkier personality.  Debating in Spanish is FUN.

-Anyway, I have 3 weeks or so left here and then I’m going to Peru and Chile.  Where I plan to visit Triz, cafe-sit, train-ride, beach-lay, explore and listen to music like this.   I am determined to find romantic South America.

Monos, motos and mosquitos

Chapari, Bolivia

I paused for a moment among the lush green jungle plants and listened to the lomos chirp in the trees around us. Putting my hand on a vine entangled next to a tree I closed my eyes in exhaustion. My entire body was dripping with sweat and water from the waterfall I’d jumped through earlier in the hike through the monkey park. When I re-opened my eyes my vision was blurry and I felt the all-encompassing pressure of dehydration in the jungle of Bolivia.

It was the monkey who stole our water bottle. He then proceeded to take off the cap and drink the water. They were not timid monkeys in the park, we learned when one climbed up my professor’s back and sat on her shoulders for several minutes–and then stole her phone.

The little brown monkeys were trouble
The black ones were pretty cuddly though

Two friends and my professor accompanied me to Villa Tunari, a tourist pueblo in Chapari, part of the Bolivian jungle just a few hours outside of Cochabamba. The sun was rising and our blood alcohol was still high when we left Cochabamba last Saturday morning and drove through misty mountains in the coca-growing region of Bolivia.

Donde están los cocaleros?

Chapari is stunningly different than Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Toro Toro, the other places I’ve visited in Bolivia. It is how I pictured Bolivia: lush green misty mountains, little outdoor restaurants serving fried yuka, and big open trucks full of campesinos rolling down the highway, passing you as you hold on for dear life to the driver of a moto-taxi, sans helmet.

Moto-taxi to the monkey park

Ah, it was beautiful. And the humidity was as good for my skin as the mosquito bites were bad for it. As usual, Bolivia offered raw adventure at a possible high mortality rate. But the Singani kept us rolling, the yuka kept us fed and the Armadillo my professor ordered at lunch the first day kept us on our feet.

And best of all, I found my first white veranda.