Friday, 18 April 2014

What's flat, salty & Bolivian?

The antiplano is a high altitude huge strip of land that runs down Bolivia where the Andes split. Once upon a time it was the bed of the Pacific but now is a bizarre landscape of salt flats, lagoons and geysers. 

Bolivia boasts the worlds largest salt flats, and claims that only the locals know how to cross them without getting lost, or driving on the thin bits and drowning.  With that in mind we got into our jeep with Driver Leo and three kiwis we'd met in Sucre and set off for 3 days of brilliant white terrain and, it quickly transpired, a soundtrack of techno. 

Because the white salt is so white, perspective gets confusing and it's customary to dick around for a hour with a load of props and a camera.  As one who refuses to high five or whoop as a collective I was dreading this bit of 'enforced fun' but surprised myself by partaking with a modicum of enthusiasm. Was secretly a bit relieved when it was all over though. 

That night we slept in a salt hostel, on a salt bed, eating on a salt table etc..  Very comfortable and warm but remarkably no table salt. 

Day 2 felt like we were travelling through different countries the landscape was so varied. From desolate flats, to rock gardens, to flamingo populated lagoons we eventually climbed up a volcano of 5300m where mud geysers spurted and spewed all around us.  Unlike other geyser-tastic countries (yes, you Iceland) where regulations decree you must stand behind a barrier a sensible distance away from the 800*c spurting mud and steam, we were given the instruction to 'try not to fall in the wet bits' and set free to pick our way through.   At altitude it's staggeringly cold so being able to stand in a cloud of (admittedly sulphuric) steam was great.  

We'd been warned the accommodation on night 2 was a little more basic but the dry toilet ('just throw some ash on it') and 6 bed non-heated dorms didn't matter once we'd all grabbed some booze, put on our cozzies and pegged it down to the thermal pool 100m away. 

Beautifully surreal to sit in hot water, in cold weather, under a starry sky drinking red wine and vodka with a group of previously unknown friends.  So much so we stayed there for hours until wrinkly skin and lack of booze made us run back to our salt beds. 

A combination of the above, and the respiratory challenges of sleeping so high gave us staggering cruel hangovers the next morning.  Suddenly the aroma of the dry loo was too much  to cope with and it was all we could do to slump our green faces onto the jeep and succumb to some more hardcore house as Leo drove us to the Chilean border. 

For all the altitude, protests, shonky airlines, challenging loos, alligators, and bed bugs we've had a great time in Bolivia.  Sad to wave goodbye but after 7 weeks of altitude we're looking forward to some sea level living again. 

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