. Another fib by Rocco no English speaking guide but Andre is a god send, again we are humiliated by our laziness with language. We also saw a desert fox no doubt looking for tourists to throw it some food so they could take a photo. Without checking any ticket or documentation the driver threw all our bags on the roof and off we went driving across the desert roads climbing higher and higher still. My head was hurting, like seriously hurting, however the Lady seemed ok, everyone one else in the bus like me was in pain. We paid 150 Boliviano’s each to enter the park however the altitude had done funny things to my insides and I ran off to find a toilet. The driver was most unhappy and was beeping his horn, we thought he was a bit moody and were all a bit afraid of him until when he saw us struggling with the altitude he was handing around his coca leaves to ease our pain.
Our first stops were a couple of lagoons, Laguna Blanco and Laguna Verde before we arrived at the thermal pools. They are in an amazing place however I was just struggling too much to consider getting in. I just sat on a rock with my head in my hands. About 20 minutes later we set off again and arrived at some geysers which were apparently amazing however I couldn’t get out of the car, I couldn’t wake up. I just felt exhausted with a terrible headache. We drove across more and more amazing desert and arid scenery before arriving at Colorado Laguna and our overnight digs
. Rocco again had mislead us but we coped well with our six bed dorm (we were the first group to arrive so commandeered the best room. The toilets were swimming and you had to take a petrol can in to the cubicle with you to flush also one sink was blocked with scum – oh Rocco – you played us well. We had a late lunch of salad and potatoes (strangely not anything that we had suggested) which was really nice and light.
After food we went for a trek around the lagoon and up to a viewing point, it is hard to explain just how tiring this was but the lagoon was amazing with even more flamingos than at the other lagoons. We arrived back at the hostel just before dark and all just collapsed on our beds. There had been an incident with one girl from another group who hit her head on the roof of the jeep but because of the pressure at altitude the cut had burst open and it all looked a bit nasty, fortunately someone on the trip had some medical training. To give you an idea of how odd things are at 5000m above sea level my sunscreen exploded all over my coat as the pressure inside had increased so much. At one stage I spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out whether the word scapegoat was actually scapegoat or goatscape, I wasn’t in a great place. We were called for tea by Lucas our driver and we were served soup followed by spaghetti, again it wasn’t quite what Rocco had promised but we were grateful all the same
. Oddly though despite us all confirming no one would be drinking (and Rocco telling us we would have everything we need except alcohol) we were given two bottles of wine. Someone decided to open one, Erica almost downed her glass, I had a couple of sips but knew this wasn’t helping me so I gave Erica mine, the other lads struggled on before Erica finished off the rest of the bottle. Everyone except Erica felt a bit drunk but the Lady is obviously born to deal with altitude. I had about 5 hours sleep before I woke up and clutched my head for about the next few hours (I was asleep by 20:00). We had spent most of the evening laughing about Rocco and just how many lies he had told us, none the less it wasn’t going to spoil our fun.... although day 1 we had endured more pain than fun.
We headed off from the hostel at about 07:30, we put some money under the door (everyone at the hostel was clearly wasted last night and nobody was about to pay) and headed off towards Rocco's shop where he had agreed to meet us this morning. No sign of Rocco and his promised good exchange rates for money, but a bus did turn up at 08:00. We signed out of the Chilean border (this took about 45 minutes) and found a tiny little grocery shop which changed money. We knew we had been had but it was comparable to the other exchange places in San Pedro De Atacama we checked out the day before. Armed with our Boliviano’s we re-boarded the bus and set off on the ascent to the Bolivian border. We arrived at this tiny little hut in the middle of nowhere, got out and were gobsmacked at how cold it was, how windy it was and how difficult it was to breathe. We were a bit at a loss what to do so we went into the hut and got stamped into Bolivia. All of a sudden a few 4WD Land cruisers rolled up. We had bumped into Kieron from Ireland who we met in Salta so we decided to head off as a five. An older chap called Andre from Canada also joined our group and was able to speak to the driver in Spanish (who did not it turned out speak a word of English) who just agreed to take the six of us