Sunday, 18 March 2007

Eight people, three days, one jeep and no showers

Somebody open a window.

No, wait, everybody open ALL the windows.

We went on a tour of the beautiful southern Bolivian landscape, and by the final day we were humming so badly the animals could smell us drive past in Venezuala. When one of us raised an arm to point out an interesting geographical feature we were stripping the leaves off bushes at three metres.

It was worth the olfactory abuse, though, because some of those geographical features were pretty damned interesting.

Vast savannas, seemingly endless deserts, vivid green lakes and a mildly active volcano. It strikes me that a volcano can be mildly active in the same way a bullet could be mildly unhealthy or a case of syphillis could be mildly unwelcome, but alas we couldn't get close enough to find out just how mild a stream of red hot molten lava can be.

We started out at the Salt Flats, which is like an Arctic landscape of bleached white reaching to the mountains on the horizon. Several travellers I'd met described it as the most beautiful place they'd ever been, and it was okay.

That evening we stayed at a local pueblito in a house made of salt - salt brick walls and a salt floor, sleeping on beds made of salt and we ate at a salt table while sitting on salt chairs. Strangely enough, though, when I asked for salt with my dinner I was given ketchup, but if I suppose if you live your entire life surrounded by salt the last thing you want to do is eat it.

The second day was the one for the great landscapes as far as I was concerned, though, really rugged scenery with bonus flamingoes.

There were several other jeeps doing the same or a similar tour, but our group was by far the coolest (hi, guys and gals). Also our driver was the good samaritan of the bunch, delaying our departure on the second morning while he tried to help another driver rescue his four wheel drive that had somehow gotten stuck in about an inch and a half of mud, and regularly stopping to help fix the jeeps that had broken down in the middle of nowhere.

After a while this got pretty tiresome, and we were trying to encourage him to just drive past. Scr*w these guys, we'd say, let's go. It's not that big a desert after all.

By the third day I think the basic mode of life and lack of sleep was starting to take its toll on me, because I found myself mumbling to myself "yeah, geysers, so what, seen 'em" or "interesting shaped rock, big deal", but it was a fantastic experience.

Before the Salt Flats I did a mountain bike ride down what is officially (apparently) the most dangerous road in the world. Having been to India and witnessed Delhi driving first hand I found myself sceptical of this claim, but they say that an average of one hundred people (including two cyclists) die every year on this road, so it's clearly going to be up there in the top ten.

It was brilliant, hurtling down a bumpy dirt track with nothing standing between me and certain cliff-bottomed death but my poor balance, terrible co-ordination and complete lack of experience on a mountain bike. I loved it. I'm tempted to do it again.

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