Well, it´s been a busy beginning to my trip. There has been tons of terrain covered and many fascinating activities. My recap will be fairly quick, as there is a few people waiting to get on the computer after me and I also need to jump in the shower before I head out to dinner. I’m pretty beat up from biking down the world´s most dangerous road, but there are more details on that adventure to come.

Currently, I am in La Paz, Bolivia. It is an absolutely lovely city, with tremendous personality, wonderful architecture, and a never ending list of things to do. Bolivia, by itself, is probably one of the finest countries I have ever visited. Although a significant portion of the population live in a state of destitution, they are extremely amiable people that generally relish the chance to engage in conversation (especially with foreigners). Meanwhile, the landscape is littered with some of the most beautiful sights imaginable. As I recount my path to La Paz, you will see what I am referring to.

The journey started, as planned, with my departure from Buenos Aires on the 11th of April. From there, I bused just under 25 hours to an area of northern Argentina called Salta. Mostly known for its indigenous culture, Salta provides quite the contrast from the city life I became acquainted with in Buenos Aires. People run on an even slower pace, seem more in touch with their Incan roots, and look much more Bolivian than they do Argentian. I didn´t get the chance to spend much time in Salta, unfortunately, as my plan was to head cross the boarder as fast as possible. In the time that I was there I did manage to do some exploring. Two notable sights: The Incan Historical Museum, where the sacrificial bodies of three Incan children from the Volcan Llulliallaco are located (check the website, http://www.maam.org.ar) , and the view from the city after climbing for nearly an hour up what seemed to be a never ending row of steps. The shot from the top was well worth the effort, and the photo that captured its beauty, for some reason, won’t upload.

I moved to Jujuy the following day. Like Salta, Jujy is a northern province with a prevalent indigenous culture. A dried up river separates the town that is dense with loving people who greet you with smiling faces and whose warmth fills the atmosphere, giving the city a lively feel for its minute size. The dress becomes much different as one continues further north; a mix of posh South American style is combined with traditional Incan attire. It gives the sense that the Incan Empire’s presence has yet to fade away and is very much alive even to this day. I am confident that I will gain more exposure to the Incan tradition as I head along the Western coastline, percisely where the Incan Empire existed so long ago,

After my short stay in Jujuy, I ventured further north in an attempt to reach the Bolivian boarder by nightfall. I managed to do so successfully, but problems did arise along the way. The first portion of my trip was to La Quiaca, the very last town in Argentina before you enter Bolivia, where you are required to pass by foot through the boarder. The bus ride is supposed to take a relatively short 3-4 hour ride, yet mine managed to take 6.5. I guess breaking down in the middle of desert present its problems, something that I happen to be experiencing first hand more often than I would like. Fortunately, the landscape from Jujuy to La Quiaca is mind blowing; steep mountainous inclines overlooking rolling green hills, Martian red rock formations rising from valleys of dust and dirt, followed by picturesque peaks of the greenest sort speckled with all different shades and vegetation almost as if it rained paint instead of water. My description can hardly do justice, for it is truly something you need to see and experience before you can understand completely.

Boarder crossing went relatively smooth. I had to pay some money for a visa, but aside from that everything was fine. The town where one is meant to cross over from Argentina is called Villazon. This little village provides very little and hardly made an impression on my memory. I think most backpackers used it strictly to get to their next destination rather than explore and become acquainted with. I did the same.

For the next leg, I jumped on a bus whose final destination was Tupiza, Bolivia. Tupiza is regarded as one of the best places to go if one is attempting to visit the Salt Flats. This portion of my trip also acted as a marker for future conditions: I had officially entered the territory where roads are no longer paved and hot showers just as uncommon. The 3 hour drive from Villazon to Tupiza was dictated by my bus driver weaving through constructions sites and over cones at nearly 60 miles per hour, inches away from 40 foot cliffs and on a dirt road (or should I say path) that winds through the mountain range without the presence of any street lights to guide the way. I was ecstatic when I finally reach my destination, swearing to never take a night bus in Bolivia again for purely practical reasons all based on safety issues.

As I mentioned before, Tupiza acts as a gateway into the Salt Flats of Bolivia. I doubt many know about the Salt Flats, so I will give a little introductory course so everyone can catch up. The Salt Flats, or more specifically the Salar de Uyuni, is the highest and largest in the world of its kind. As it was explained to me throughout the trip, the Salar was originally a prehistoric sea. Mountains began to form around it throughout time (millions of years ago), trapping the ocean inside until it became smaller and smaller and the water evaporated completely. Wikipedia actually has a good article, which you should check out. Just type Salar de Uyuni and you’re good to go, especially because I can’t upload the photos I have due to technical difficulties.

Well, this was one of the first destinations that I absolutely wanted to see and it lived up to the hype. I signed up for a four day tour, each day dedicated to seeing all the sights this portion of Bolivia has to offer. Although the area is now desert, its absolutely captivating. Each minute you are presented with something outside one’s normal scope of experience: sweat peach sunrises coupled with star speckled evenings where you can see the Milky Way and constellations you never knew existed, pink flamingos and pink lagoons surrounded by bleach white minerals that blind the eye if you don’t wear sunglasses, seven colored mountains of shapes and sizes that appear as though someone took their thumb, rubbed off each jagged peaks’ face, and left the unimaginable array of colors that lie beneath fully exposed.  All of this makes you feel you’re on a different planet, no longer human, totally in awe of the beauty that exists in this world and wondering if it is real.

The funny part about my trip is that I was placed in a vehicle with four Israelis, which there happen to be a lot of traveling throughout South America, that predominately spoke Hebrew. By the time the trip ended, I had listened to so much Israeli music and heard an overwhelming amount of their native tongue that I felt prepared for a Bar Mitzfah. I think they group wanted to give me a copy of the Torrah as a parting gift, but couldn’t find an extra amongst the things carried in their bags. A lovely bunch of people and tremendous to travel with – they shall be missed,

As I left the Salar, I entered the town of Uyuni. The place was trashed, literally, and couldn’t have thought of a more effective way to be brought back to reality. The landscape, as I leaving town and headed to Potosi, was filled with garbage. The greenery that speckled the landscape on my way in had now been replaces with various pieces of rubbish on my way out, so much so it almost looked like garbage cans hadn’t been introduced to this part of Bolivia. I actually asked someone in the town if they knew where the garbage was, to which they responded : ‘I don’t know’. It was ended the trip on a bad note, but I soon found the melody again once I arrived in Potosi.

I linked up with a group of two Englishmen, one English woman, and a German girl. I met this crew on my Salar trip as well, they being the people I would converse with when I was not trying to pick up Hebrew. They informed me of a town called Potosi, in the mid Western section of Bolivia, where mining of various sorts was still alive. Better yet, various tourists and backpackers that were willing to fork over the cash can explore the mines themselves with the assistance of a guide. As expected, I said sign me up and went with them. Terrible decision. Let me tell you, the idea of exploring an active mine is a lot cooler than it is in practice. What I also didn’t factor into the equation was that the mine I would be exploring was located in a third world country that most definitely didn’t enforce the necessary safety regulations to protect its workers or the people dumb enough to pay to go inside, thinking it was a good idea. The place was rugged to say the least. After walking around 300 feet inside the first tunnel, I immediately regretted my decision. The air was so moist and hot that you felt as though you were suffocating, regardless of the fact that Potosi is the highest city in the world and it was already hard enough to breath. Then, as you attempted to move down each level, you were required to slide down holes that were no larger than the length of your shoulders and dropped you down 10-20 feet along side a 50 foot drop to your inevitable death. If you were lucky enough to make it that far, you were rewarded with a rather brisk meeting with a real, present day Bolivian mine worker who requests you to carry his 45 pound sack of minerals up the two levels that you barely managed to climb down. It was intense. I have never felt more fortunate to be alive after leaving that god forsaken place, feeling tremendous pity for those who are forced to live their and knowing that no job I will ever have could ever be as bad as that.

Interestingly, however, is that the day of the mine exploration was also my new British friend James’ birthday. Now if someone, particularly a male within my age group like James, were to come up with a list of presents that would be the most awesome to receive, what would be on it? Surely, dynamite of course. Yes, I am referring to TNT, the stuff that goes boom and exactly what James received. For a whopping $3.50, my other new friend Tom and I purchased James a newly made stick of dynamite, ammonium nitrate, and a fuse to top it all off from the miner’s market in Potosi, where such purchases are entirely legal and require no proper identification whatsoever. Blowing up the side of the mountain after our escape from the mine made up for all the suffering we each experienced inside for the 3 hours we were there. Throw that on your bucket list.

Now, I am in La Paz. I arrived on Sunday morning at approximately 5AM and will be leaving tomorrow at 6AM. James, Tom, and I are on our way to the Amazon Basin, to do some piranha fishing, anaconda hunting, and swimming with pink dolphins. From the looks of it, I expect the excursion to be pretty epic and will update upon my return. Another notable event happened today, when I biked down Bolivia’s Death Highway. Regarded as the most dangerous road in the world (another biker died just last week as she went over the edge and fell 1000 feet to her death), it takes those who are willing to participate from 4900m to 1400m (times by 3 for conversion to feet) in a matter of 5 hours via bicycle. Top speed is around 60 mph.The scenery varies from cloud covered mountain at the top to lush jungle at the bottom. One of the more intense things I have ever done and sure as hell beats the shit out of getting hit by cars in Buenos Aires. I also have the shirt to prove I survived if there are any doubters.

I love and miss you all. All the best from Bolivia and I plan to post pictures once I am in a location that will permit me to do so.

Will

Advertisements