E-mail From Buenos
Okay, maybe some of you would have thought. But, personally, I had absolutely no idea
what this country had to offer until people I met along the way in South America were
telling me that I had to go.

And so I went…

I have made it no secret that I was clueless about South America and what it had to offer
before coming out here. But I kind of like it this way. It makes it so that I have fun little
surprises at every turn.

And in this country, one of those surprises would be Salar de Uyuni. Two months ago, I
would not have had a clue what somebody was talking about if they mentioned this. I’m not
surprised if most of you don’t know what it is either. But hold tight…my Bolivia report is
about to tell you.

In a nutshell, the Salar de Uyuni is a massive salt flat in Bolivia.

In a not-so-nutshell, six of us made our way out there from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.
The trip provided more than just seeing a salt flat; it came complete with a field of geysers
(we didn’t actually see a geyser spout off but we did see a lot of gurgling mud), taking a dip
in thermal waters, seeing flamingos and loads of llamas (complete with their flair of yarn
ribbons tied at their ears) and vicuñas (kind of like a llamas not-as-cute cousin).

Everything about the trip was great. Despite everything else we did and saw, clearly the
highlight was saved for the very end when we would get to the salt flats. The group of us
could not have gotten along better (as the books say that this kind of thing can make-or-
break this trip). This might not sound very exciting to some (or most)…but think of it this
way: San Francisco is 7 miles by 7 miles. This equates to 11 kilometers by 11 kilometers.
That is roughly over 120 square kilometers. According to Lonely Planet, the Salar de Uyuni
salt flats are…get ready for this…12,000 square kilometers! They go on for as far as the eye
can see. Combine this with the affects from altitude and six new friends have the tendency
to completely dork out in such conditions. Never mind the lack of perception you have with
the sky reflecting a mirror-image onto the thin layer of water sitting on the salt. Really just
an amazing sight.

Anyway, here are things a group of people might be tempted to do:

  • Handstands, headstands and cartwheels.
  • Rubbing your feet against the surface for a DIY foot exfoliation.
  • Fun illusions of people standing in a person’s hands.
  • Running away from absolutely nothing.
  • Having our bodies form letters so that we could spell out words like ‘Salt’ and ‘Love’.
  • Doing a team pyramid.
  • Video-taping a freestyle session where we all do our own thing (Cindy – you will be
    happy to know that I was a Whirling Dervish. I think my practice at that bar in Turkey
    really helped.).
  • And my personal favorite (I’m sure it was actually a team favorite): busting out a re-
    creation of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video. Marc, who was videotaping this, said
    that we were looking more like puppy dogs than zombies. We weren’t hearing it,
    though. We rocked.
  • (Karl – I am holding off on what you did with the Boliviano.  )

Because we were coming off such a high, it would only be right if we crashed to the ultimate
low…which would be taking the overnight Bolivian bus to La Paz.

Now I know that I have mentioned in the past some of the long bus rides that I have done.
But I don’t think I have ever truly complained about these rides. I bring this up so that you
don’t think I am going to be a whiny brat right now. The complaining officially begins…now.

We got the last six seats on the bus in the last row. This was okay with me. I knew the roads
were going to be bumpy and not paved. But I sometimes have fun with stuff like that. Plus,
with the exception of Robin who had to sit up a couple rows, the other five of us had the
entire row to ourselves. It could be fun, right???

Hour 1: It was nice that we got the last tickets…but these were ‘gringo’ tickets. Locals don’t
need seats and are entirely content with sitting smack in the middle of the aisles and even
standing for hours on end. I’m claustrophobic and things like this have a tendency to freak
me out.

Also, they shouldn’t have overhead storage on these buses. Completely pointless. I say this
because I kind of felt a thud. Turned out something fell onto Marc’s lap. It was my balsamic
vinegar that I bought in Mendoza. That could have fallen on anybody’s head. It was just
luck that nothing happened. (Later in the night, Karl’s huge thing of water would fall.)

Hour 2: We had a stop. Since there was no bathroom on the bus, I think I kind of made
myself think that I really had to go. Nobody in the aisles would budge. I had one option. I
climbed up on the armrests in the aisles and grabbed onto the rails where the overhead
storage bins were and eventually climbed my way to the front of the bus. Just in time for
the bus driver to get back on to say “Vamos!” And back I climbed onto the armrests and
made my way back.

Hour 3: The bus stopped. And it stayed stopped. And then it turned off. I could feel myself
getting panicky. The only thing that calmed me down was being on the bus with friends. I
seriously would have lost my you-know-what if it wasn’t for that. After sitting there for over
30 minutes, I knew I just had to get off. I had to pee. I needed air. I just needed off the bus.
Lindsey told me she would come with me. Being the pro I was, I led the way with our
armrest obstacle course. I had to use my flashlight as the bus was pitch black. We get to the
front. The door that leads to the driver is locked shut. We are literally trapped. The locals
were asking the driver to open up. We could hear the “No!” coming out of there. Lindsey
was now really needing to get off, too, in a bad way. Emily yelled out “Mi amiga esta
enferma!” This was the ticket. They opened the door for us. Ahhh…air. Who cares if it was
cold? It felt way too good. We were also able to see that the delay was due to the flat tire that
our bus had.

I won’t break the bus trip down any more other than saying that other inclusions were:
having to wake up at 4:30am for a bus change; all of our extremities being completely
numb due to how cold the bus was; the bus guy miscounting the number of gringos and not
having enough tickets for me and Emily on the new bus after the switch took place; the
Bolivian woman sitting
in the aisle next to me and over-taking my armrest; almost arguing
with a woman right before we got to La Paz who was collecting the tickets because she was
saying we would have to pay, etc. There was more. There was a lot more. But I have gone on
too long. This is just to say to people at home: never complain about MUNI. Heck, I won’t
even complain about the 30 or 45 going through Chinatown any more. I thought this bus
ride was never going to end.

Finally it was the morning and I saw a canyon with a city nestled into it: Are you kidding
me!?!? It was La Paz!!!

I know certain people can’t stand this city…but I really, really enjoyed it! First of all, what
isn’t to love when it means that you get to get off of the worst bus ride of your life? But
really, it was the first time since Vietnam that I experienced culture shock: the clothes, the
hairstyles, the colors, the street-side markets, the guys yelling out for people to hop into the
collectivos, the different kinds of food. And then there was the shopping that was amazing.
Who knew??? Though I could have lived without seeing llama fetus’ being sold everywhere.
Truly as disgusting as it sounds.

We all had some fun times in La Paz – my last night being capped off with a night out where
we closed down the bar. After an hour of sleep, it was time for me to get on a bus to head to
Copacabana on Lake Titicaca.

Ohhhh, Lake Titicaca. What a nice place to unwind from the busy city life in La Paz. My
highlight was doing a day of trekking on Isla del Sol. Who would have thought being in
Bolivia would have reminded me of being in the Mediterranean? But it did.

Yesterday concluded my time in Bolivia when I crossed over into Peru (I am now in Cusco).

I know this was a long, drawn-out way of saying it (but aren’t you used to that???)…but I
really had a great time in Bolivia. What a fun, unexpected treat!