Photos by Ivan and Karla
Text by Karla Gachet
Email to family
Familia! Yesterday we finally crossed the border and got out of Bolivia. The last part was intense. We were over 15 thousand ft in altitude and the cold reached the bones no matter how many sweaters we wore. The landscapes in the south of Bolivia are amazing: snow-capped mountains, green, red and blue lakes, flamingos and llamas everywhere. The best part were the hot springs where we soaked after three days of no showers. You can imagine the joy.
It all started after the Uyuni Salt Flats. People told us the roads were in bad conditions and had no signs. The best thing to do was follow other tourist guides’ cars that were headed to the lakes, so we wouldn’t get lost. One of the guides agreed to help us out. He suddenly started driving very fast. When the dust cloud he left behind settled, we realized we were alone. He had abandoned us in the middle of nowhere. There was not a soul to ask which way to go.
So we guessed. The bumpy road suddenly divided in three. Ini mini miny moe.. we followed our instinct and thanks to grandma’s prayers in some parallel universe, we made it to the first rest stop in a town called San Juan. The thoughtful guide was already eating dinner when we got there. He freaked out when he saw us because he probably thought we would never make it. Since we had to buy gas from him we couldn’t tell him what an ass we thought he was.
The problem is that in Bolivia no one knows how to give directions. A nicer guide told us we could follow him because the road really gets narly. More??!! Indeed. You wouldn’t believe it. There were huge rocks that the car had to climb going up a steep mountain with a precipice to one side. I just closed my eyes as Ivan drove and aged three years in three minutes. No one , not tourists or their guides could believe we were doing this road on our own. At this point, we couldn’t either.
We got to the famous red lake which has two hostels. One is really bad and the other one is worse. The bed sheets have never been changed, the roof was falling apart and some stoves rusted in the halls. Tourists looked for a corner where they could pee since not even the bravest risked setting foot on the bathroom which had stopped working a few days ago. To top it all, Ivan and I got into a fight. I think the stress of the day and tiredness made us snap. So we slept , frozen.
The third day the car couldnât take it any more and started coughing. It would run for a bit and then stop. Once again, all the tourist guides passed our stalled car without even waving goodbye. We were alone with our great knowledge of car mechanics. We stopped to look at the engine which was as useful as opening a book written in Arabic. We begged the car (we named it Sancho) to please wait until Chile to break down, not here. We even promised a good wash and an oil change.
Sancho continued with baby steps until we made it to the hot springs were he was diagnosed by an expert: gas filter full of mud. And that same evening, yesterday, we crossed the border into the civilized San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile. Prices were four times higher. It wais soooo expensive I didn’t see us spending much time there. We planned on resting and continuing on to Argentina.
So that’s that. We had a great time but Bolivia is for the brave. Sancho went to the dark side. He traveled roads that changed his soul and he will never be the same inocent jeep. And us… Well, we will miss the rawness and beauty of Bolivia, but it’s always good to experience the joy of having toilet seats.
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