We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Trip Start Oct 22, 2009
85Trip End Apr 04, 2010
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Where I stayed
But first we had to get there.
The highway follows the Humahuaca gorge north through some pretty bizarre country (see photos). It's a geologist's dream. It changes from one ridge to the next. I couldn't believe how varied it was. It looks like Arizona in some places, like eastern Montana in others, southern Utah in others and in some--like nothing any of us had ever seen before. Looking at photos is like having only a grain of it--it's too vast--too odd--too different to put in photos or words. Sorry, I tried.
When we were all sitting at dinner the night before in Purmamarca and I said, you know, I haven't given up the thought of going into Bolivia, I had no idea everyone would be so excited about it. Let's do eet, Angie says. And Bill and Inga were just as ready as we were. What great traveling companions--to just like that change your plans and take off in another direction.
We had such a good time with Bill and Inga. And Angie is a great guide, the kind you always measure other guides by--we'll never find another one as good, I'm afraid. She speaks great English, is very knowledgeable and wonderfully passionate about her part of the country. But more than that, she's hilarious, and she tailored the trip to our interests, stopping whenever we said stop! and showing us things she knew we'd love.
We didn't love running into protesters again. Two hours we waited! Cars, buses, trucks--all detained in a line that ran for miles while these guys chatted and laughed and passed the time until 2:00 when they dispersed and we could move again.
Inga and I got out of the car and walked up for some pictures, then went through the line to a gas station where we could use the toilet and buy some snacks
When we got to La Quiaca, last stop in Argentina, we saw a steady stream of mostly women carrying impossible loads into the bus station. I just gasped when I saw the bags on their backs and the looks on their faces, but the story is that Argentinean businesses avoid paying taxes by having these runners bring their goods across illegally.
But even sadder is the dirty business some Bolivian businessmen practice. Bolivians are very hard workers. Say a Bolivian has a t-shirt shop in Buenos Aires. He needs cheap labor so he recruits whatever countrymen he can to come across the border illegally --promising them a job so they can send money home. But he works these guys 20 hours a day giving them only 3 or 4 hours sleep a night.
The thing is, if these poor uneducated folks knew it, they could enter Argentina legally by just walking across the border and picking up the proper papers. Argentina is easy. But evidently there's enough people who don't know that, that this is a profitable venture for the unscrupulous. And the worse part is that one condition of giving these poor schmucks a job is that they have to sign away their land in Bolivia.
We were warned repeatedly--by Angie--don't run. Don't even walk fast. Slowly, slowly. You see, we're at over 12,000 feet altitude and any exertion is felt in the heart and lungs. We found it is a totally different thing to drive over a pass at 12,000 feet and to actually LIVE there.
Our hotel put us up three flights and we were all winded climbing those stairs. My heart was RACING by the time we got to our room.
We were so funny. It was like we were kids away at camp, checking out each other's digs and laughing like crazy about our $18 rooms.
You have a window? No fair--we don' have a window! Well you had a window LAST night.
Our dinner was chicken, fried potatoes and rice. Period. No choices. Angie chose that restaurant because it was cleaner than the others and it wasn't horrible.
They had no bottled water either, but they did have beer, so Bill was happy.
To fight the altitude Angie gave us each an Ibuprofen formulated especially for high altitude and instructions to take it if we started getting a headache. Evidently you get headaches from lack of oxygen to the brain. Everybody but Bob had to take the pill, but he was fine through it all
Bill says going into Bolivia was the best part of his whole trip so far. It's another world, a stark difference in the matter of a few feet. But not like going into Mexico. Bolivia is calm, not frantic like our border towns.
It's. just. so. different.