Water and Salt (Lots of Both)

Trip Start Jul 28, 2004
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Trip End Dec 17, 2004


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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

*** Jen´s version follows ***

Après quelques heures de voyage dans les hautes plaines du Pérou nous sommes arrivés à Puno, la principale ville du Lac Titicaca. Je dois dire que les hautes plaines sont hautes (près de 4,000 mètres d`altitude), plates et très sèches. Le tout avec des montagnes enneigées. Puno fut une surprise intéressante, la ville est décrépie mais le marché publique est vraiment publique. Le marché couvre des dizaines et des dizaines de rues, et il opère 7 jours sur 7. C`est l`un des plus gros marchés (et l`un des plus authentiques) que l`on aient vue durant notre séjour Péruvien.

Nous sommes dans cette région du Pérou pour découvrir le lac Titicaca et pour ensuite nous diriger vers la Bolivie. Fidèle à notre politique no-guide, no-tour nous faisons les recherches pour nous permettre de nous rendre sur les îles. Nous voulons voir Amantani, Taquile et un peu les îles flottantes et nous voulons utiliser les mêmes bateaux que ceux utilisés par la population locale. Nous trouvons ce qu`il nous faut et de bon matin, après nos achats de bouffes pour les prochaines journées nous nous dirigeons gaiement vers le port, achetons nos billets pour le bateau pour Amantani, nous nous assoyons prenant un thé de feuille de Coca et attendons le départ du bateau. Vers 8:30 nous nous rendons sur notre bateau, nous nous assoyons, tranquillement le bateau se rempli, pas de gens de la place surtout des touristes, ok, peut-être qu`il y a beaucoup de touristes qui cherchent à faire comme nous. Le bateau décolle et là, il y a un bonhomme qui se lève et nous souhaite à tous la bienvenue sur le bateau. HORREUR! ON C`EST FAIT AVOIR. ON EST EN PLEIN DANS UN TOUR GUIDÉ. Je suis en beau TAB... Pourtant on a posé les bonnes questions, on a bien regardé. Après quelque minutes à avoir la fumée qui nous sort par les oreilles, (plus André que Jennifer) on décide que l`on va profiter le plus possible du tour et que lorsque cela sera possible on s`éloignera et on fera notre petite affaire à nous.

Le premier arrêt est sur les Isla Flottantes, ce sont de véritables îles flottantes bâties a partir de roseaux. Des roseaux séchés sont ajoutés au sol au fur et à mesure que l`ile "pourrit". De plus les "îllageois" batissent leur propres bateaux à partir de roseaux. Les bateaux sont en général bon pour trois mois avant d`être laissé a la merci des éléments et pourrissent petit à petit. (Ils sont tellement bon que l`on apprendra plus tard en Bolivie que des explorateurs Norvégiens sont venue les rencontrés et leur ont demandé de leur bâtir un bateau pour croisé le Pacifique.) C`est impressionnant à voir mais ça sent le piège à touriste à plein nez, (il y avait même une dame qui moulait son grain à la main seulement lorsqu`il y avait des gens qui la regardait) ce qui sera confirmer lorsque l`on réalise qu`actuellement il y a beaucoup d`îles aux alentour où les gens habitent dans des maisons avec mur de bois et toit de métal, le tout quand même sur des îles flottantes - faut le faire.

Après environ une heure nous reprenons notre "tour" pour nous rendre à l`ile d`Amantani. La première heure est passée à se sortir des roseaux. C`est pas la matière première qui va leur manqué. Ca nous prendra un autre trois heures et demie de bateau avant d`arriver à destination. L`eau de Titicaca est très belle, bleue profonde, le vent est un peu frais. A notre arrivé sur l`île il y a un comité d`accueil qui nous reçoit. On se fait assigner une résidence ou nous nous rendons et ou on nous servira le lunch. L`île est très aride. Ca doit semble difficile de travailler la terre et le rendement doit être assez pauvre. Après le lunch, notre hôtesse nous montre des tuques en laines qu`elle fait elle même et qu`elle vend. Malheureusement pour elle nous on est pas acheteur. Après notre lunch nous nous rendrons au sommet de Pachatata , lieu mythique ou parait-il le premier Inca fut créer. Malheureusement pour eux le premier Inca n`a pas laisser grand chose à voir mais la marche est jolie et le paysage assez spectaculaire. Après notre marche nous revenons à notre logis ou un thé nous est servi. Petite sieste, dîner et après dîner notre hôtesse nous apportera des vêtements typiques de l`ile pour porter lors de la fiesta de la soirée. Jen est vraiment accoutrer à la Amantani des pieds à la tête. Quand à moi on me mettra un chapeau et un poncho et le tour sera joué, (voir photo). Cela sera plaisant, le band local est excellent, on nous montre une danse locale, que nous apprendrons en 15 secondes et après 2 ou 3 danses je passerai mon temps à admirer le band. Il reste que nous nous coucherons très tôt. Le lendemain, lever vers les 7 heures je vais marcher sur l`ile et prend quelques photos. Retour, déjeuner puis c`est le temps de reprendre notre tour qui nous amènera à la prochaine île Taquille. L`île est belle, elle est plus riche qu`Amantani et la température semble aussi plus clémente. Je crois qu`Amantani coupe le vent du Nord et permet a Taquille de jouir d`un climat plus chaud. Retour de trois heures par bateau, bière et pizza pour souper (la pizza durant ce voyage aura été notre « comfort food ») et dodo.

Lever tôt car nous prenons l`autobus pour la Bolivie ou nous avons décider de passer la frontière à Copacabana avec un groupe spécialiser dans le passage de frontière pour les touristes, bref on se fait prendre par la main et on est assez content. On doit dire que de passer en Bolivie est un peu inquiétant. On s`est fait conter pas mal d`histoire ou les gens se sont fait attaquer, où il ont été malade bref la Bolivie vue du Gringo Trail est un peu comme un western. Nous traverserons la frontière sans problème et la je découvre l`une des bizarrerie des marché financiers sud américain. 1 dollars US = 3, 3 soles péruvienne. 1 Dollars US = 8 Boliviano. Finalement, 1 Soles = 2 Boliviano. Faites le calcul comme vous voulez si la relation est maintenue il y a définitivement une tonne d`argent à faire. Bien sure aussitôt passé la frontière il est difficiles de trouver acheteur pour tes soles péruvienne. (C`est la même chose avec la monnaie de la Bolivie. Un coup sortie de la Bolivie, il y a plus personne qui en veut. Le Boliviens semblent passer pas mal de temps a échanger leur propre monnaie en argent américaine. )

Capacabana est pas mal correct. Le coût de la vie selon les standard américain est très bas. On se payera une superbe chambre pour 6$ US. Bref faut travailler très fort pour dépenser plus de 40$ par jour. On passera une grosse demie journée avant de partir pour La Paz incluant une grosse sieste dans l`après midi bref pas grand chose à dire excepter une cathédrale très imposante et une chapelle ou les gens font brûler pas mal de chandelles. (Ils mettent six chandelles ensemble créant un gros flambeau, c`est visuellement beau.)

La Paz est très cool, la pseudo capital de la Bolivie. (La vrai capital est Sucre mais le centre du pouvoir est à La Paz.) On est tout de suite charmé par cette ville qui est assise dans un gros bol géant. La Paz est un gros marche publique. Il y a beaucoup de gens habillé de façon traditionnel et il y a du monde partout qui vendent de tout. Grosse surprise, contrairement au gens du Perou les Bolivien ne négocient pas tellement. On te donne rapidement le meilleur prix et ensuite pour faire baisser le prix d`un seul Boliviano (soit 12,5 cent) tu vas avoir à travailler fort. Grosse surprise on ne trouve pas de chambre à notre goût. Alors on décide d`appliquer notre nouvelle stratégie. Ce coup ci c`est moi qui m`installe dans un café Internet avec nos bagages et c`est Jen qui parcoure la ville et essaie de nous trouver un logis à un coût raisonnable. Jen reviens près de deux heures plus tard un peu décourager. On va manger et ensuite on se dirige vers ce qu`elle considère notre option la moins pire. Durant notre marche un homme nous approche et nous demande si nous cherchons un place où nous loger. On lui dit bien sur et il nous propose une place qui parait-il nous aimerons et ce à un coût très raisonnable. Jen et moi on décide de le suivre et après un gros quinze minutes de marche avec nos backpack à souffler comme des cochons (on est quand même à plus de 4,000 mètres) on arrive effective à un très jolie hôtel où nous installerons nos pénates pour les trois prochaines journées.

Les marchés de La Paz sont assez spéciale. Il y a un gros marché de linges et souliers et casseroles et balais et fruits et légumes et viandes et.... FOETUS DE LLAMA. Il parait que 90% de la population Bolivienne ont un foetus de lama enterré dans leur sous-sol. (J`ignore ou il prennent tous ces foetus, pas sur que je veux le savoir).

Jen profitera de notre séjour pour aller voter à l`ambassade américaine où elle ajoutera sa voix aux forces libérales.

Après trois jours nous nous rendons à Uyuni en passant par Oruro. A Uyuni nous ferons une randonnée de quatre jours dans les salières d`Uyuni et dans les région avoisinantes. Nous avons été chanceux et avons joint un groupe de quatre personnes composés d`un britanniques, de deux américains et d`une allemande. C`est assez lunaire comme expérience, couleurs, sol, roches, températures, solitude, .. Mieux que de décrire cette région je vous réfère aux photos.

A la fin de notre aventure Bolivienne nous partons un peu triste car le pays est interessant et nous espérons un jour y retourner afin de faire les autres régions de la Bolivie.

Prochain arrêt; l`Argentine ou on nous a promis les meilleures steak de l`univers-tout-entier.

Je vous embrasse tous,

Andre

******
Hello All,

I´ve created headings to add a little spice to the rambling narrative...

Lake Titicaca - one of the highest navigable lakes in the world After one train and two buses, we arrived in Puno, Peru in the late evening of Thursday, October 7th. We found our way to a hotel recommended by a woman we met in the Cusco bus station with only a little uninvited assistance from two different tour operators posing as helpful hostel managers. We fended them off by telling them that the next day we were doing laundry and checking e-mail, not going on tours (kind of like, "uh... Tomorrow? Must wash my hair." We really did those things the next day and enjoyed a day of wandering through blocks of a mercado (market) that started literally on our hostel´s doorstep (food in the streets and anything you could possibly want crammed in a small maze of shops between). Too bad we didn´t need any kind of potatoes or corn, because those two products alone took up several blocks.

Puno, a lake-side town at an altitude of over 12,600 feet, offered a pleasant resting spot with nice view of the lake, a very touristy pedestrian street, two plazas with trees groomed in bizarre, unidentifiable shapes, the extensive market and not much else. I expected the lake to be surrounded by snow-covered peaks, but no. Even though we are very high and perhaps because of that, the surrounding peaks are not much higher and most did not have snow, just pointy brown hills, really. We wanted to go from Puno to two nearby islands and stay with locals, learn about island life, and of course, enjoy lake views. We had read one could arrange this trip without a tour and in fact, this was better for the islanders because all proceeds go directly to them. After our best efforts to avoid an organized tour, we were very disappointed to find, when we boarded our island-bound vessel, that, in fact, we were surrounded by other tourists and had a guide who welcomed us in Spanish and English - a guided tour it was. Oh well.

Our first stop was the "Islas Flotantes" (Floating Islands). The story here is that the Uros people live on man-made floating islands and build beautiful boats, all created from nearby reeds. Although there are 42 inhabited islands, about 20 open to tourists, there are apparently no pure Uros left today as they have intermarried with the nearby Aymara people. On the "tourist" islands, everything is made of reeds and some wood; each had small huts, a lookout tower (a little wobbly) and souvenir stands, of course. We couldn´t help but notice, though, that the surrounding islands (not tourist attractions) had many buildings made of corrugated metal.

The boat ride to our destination for the night, the island of Amantanì, took a couple of hours. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a group of colourfully-clad young women, all wearing identical traditional dress. We were assigned a host and led to our new home. Our accommodation was a simple room in an apartment adjacent to our host family´s house (apparently, some actually stayed within the host family´s home). We were immediately served lunch - a nice quinoa soup, some boiled potatoes and eggs and a tea made of a local herb, called something like "muña".

The daughters of our host family insisted that we borrow beautiful hand-knit alpaca hats (even though we had perfectly adequate hats in our possession, perhaps some tourists aren´t as well equipped?) and then we were whisked off to see an attraction of the island, ruins of a temple dedicated to Pachatata. As I understand it, local legend states that Pachatata, and his more important female counterpart, Pachamama, rose from the waters of lake Titicaca to found the Inca Empire. The Pachatata temple´s ruins are on the top of one of the two humps of the island - the other hump has the temple dedicated to Pachamama. We zipped right up to the top of that hill, thankful at last for our elevation acclimatization program (EAP) as we watched the others gasp for every panting breath at that altitude. Unfortunately, the weather had turned from beautifully sunny to grey and threatening so we headed down quickly.

When we returned to our new home, we were served dinner in our room then our hostesses, came to "dress" us for a "village dance". Andre was given a handsome pancho and advised to wear his borrowed hat. The women helped me put on the same clothes they were wearing over my clothes. I was wrapped into two skirts (the top a bright pink), a brightly embroidered white shirt, and the best part, a long black embroidered scarf to drape over my head. We were then escorted to the communuity hall where there were mostly a bunch of other similarly uniformed gringos and some hosts, and a fantastic band. We were shown how to do the traditional dance (a basic back and forth frolic with an all-join-hands-and-run-around-the-room circle at the end - think hava nagila) and danced the night away. Or, at least for a couple songs... the music was great. I´m sure it´s hard to believe that we headed home before that "traditional" party was over. We´ve posted a picture that captures the outfits, if not the scene.

Curiuosly, as we walked home in the pitch dark, we realized that our home is not the only one that has no electricity. The entire island has no electricity, though it seems there is an infrastructure for electricity, ie. street lights and wires everywhere. Some homes had solar panels which, in our hosts´ case, we were told was for the telephone.

After a delightful surprise of pancakes for breakfast (I had seriously convinced myself that were going to have another soup which would have been fine I´m sure), we all piled on the boat to head to the neighboring island, Taquile, an hour´s ride away. Though we had done our best to play along nicely with the undesired tour, when we arrived at the island, our friendly tour guide glared directly at us as we were about to disembark and said, ¨it´s very important that everyone wait for me at the gate ahead, especially YOU two, because I´m going to tell you very important information and you might have to spend the night on the island if you don´t hear it!¨ Well, then... The important information was the boat would meet us in a couple hours on the other side of the island. And, as he correctly guessed, we left the group at our first chance (the tour was having lunch together in the central plaza) and headed off to picnic with a view from the top of a hill. The island was a little greener than Amantani and appeared to have more of a town rather than the assortment of homes in Amantani. It was very pretty, being surrounded by the brilliant blue waters of Lake Titicaca helped. We wandered around the island until the designated time and then dutifully returned to the boat (at the different dock).

We returned to Puno (another 3 hours in the boat) and were happy to relax again at Hostal Santa Maria in the comfort of the same room we´d stayed in before.

Copacabana - Our Entry to Bolivia This time we intentionally sought out the tour company bus. We were a little concerned about the border with Bolivia, because one of our guide books mentions the possibility of all kinds of unpleasantries (bribes, drug planting, searches, etc.). The tour companies essentially escort tourists through the border - it seemed worthwhile to pay a little more. As hoped, the exit from Peru and entry to Bolivia were non-events and after changing a little bit of money, we were off to Copacabana. This little town´s greatest feature is that it is on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Small, touristy, and fairly non-descript. We did land a fabulous, very affordable room with huge windows, overlooking the lake. The big activity here is to go to Isla de la Sol and/or Isla de la Luna, however, since we had just been to islands in the lake, we didn´t feel we needed to visit them. We´ve heard that they are different and very beautiful, however, so if you´re in the area, you might want to check them out! Copacabana served as a pleasant resting point on our entry to Bolivia. We were welcomed by lovely low prices and credit card accepting, breakfast-serving hotels - I think we´re going to like Bolivia!

La Paz, Bolivia - The highest almost-capital city in the world We took a morning bus to La Paz and arrived in this, the biggest city in Bolivia, only a few hours later. La Paz is built in a big bowl in the altiplano (high plains) with an elevation range of over 11,400 feet at the bottom to the airport above at over 13,000 feet. While it is apparently the commercial and political center in Bolivia, much smaller Sucre to the southeast is the official capital of the country. My first impression of this vast bowl city was that it looks unfinished. Most buildings are industrial brick with seams exposed - they seem wanting a layer of plaster and some pretty paint.

After some serious hotel-searching and defeat, we started with our packs reluctantly toward the best of the grungy evils, when a smiling older gentleman asked if we were looking for a place to stay. Feeling brave and figuring it can´t be worse than where we were headed for the same price, we followed. Up, up, and up along the side of the bowl, through the crowded streets of the Mercado Negro (called the black market even though it`s really just a market), our new friend raced ahead, looking back and smiling occasionally. At the end of our journey, we arrived at a beautiful hotel. They had a lovely room with a view of La Paz (see photo) right in our happy price range. We gladly took it. It turns out that our guide was an employee at the Hostal La Joya - the security guard/maintenance man - so, we saw him often over the next few days.

We spent our days in La Paz wandering the crowded market streets (see Andrés great market photos) and exploring the city´s ritzy and university sectors. We found La Paz an energetic city with a delightful blend of the traditional Andes culture (women in traditional clothing selling soups from huge pots on the streets), contemporary urban style, and young university beat. There were wide city streets lined with fancy department stores, movie cinemas, cafes and restaurants, and women in traditional clothes and hats selling newspapers, candies, scarves or sunglasses in sidewalk stands.

Aside from simply enjoying the La Paz scene, one highlight for us was a very educational visit to the Museo de Coca (the Coca Museum) where we learned about the important role coca has played in the Andean traditions as well as it`s use as a stimulant, cocaine production, cocaine use and addiction, and the US involvement and perspective on Bolivia´s coca production. Many traditional ceremonies involve offerings of coca. Further, many people chew coca leaves as a mild stimulant - something like drinking coffee or chewing tobacco. The production of cocaine itself seems quite complicated and was originally done by pharmacuetical companies to create a popular and effective pain-killer. As I understand it, several synthetic versions of cocaine have been developed (novacaine, for example?) and the pharmacuetical use of cocaine itself is obviously less popular now. However, during the years of excitement about cocaine as a fabulous stimulating and pain-killing substance (say mid-1800s to 1916), it was sold in popular wines, in Coca-cola, of course, and used by several famous people, like Freud.

Even though pharmaceutical companies still purchase large quantities of coca leaves for medical treatments and Coca-Cola still purchases eight tons for flavoring purposes, the United States has taken an anti-coca production position (the aforementioned companies are protected by an exception clause) that encourages campesinos (farmers) to destroy the coca crops. This policy has apparently caused people to start new feilds of coca to receive the benefits from burning them. Further, you can imagine the inherent conflict of destroying your own livelihood if you are a farmer whose sole source of income is a crop that is widely used in your own country for nutritional, medicinal, social, and cultural purposes. The museum claims that 50% of the world´s illegal drug consumption of cocaine takes place in the US. And, seemed to imply that it is foolish for the US government to be meddling with Bolivia´s production of the benign coca leaves when it is what the people in the US do with it that causing problems in the US. And, for the record, (for the kids at home) they clearly stated that addiction to cocaine is very, very bad and it is not a good idea even to try it once.

O.k. enough of that, another fabulous highlight of La Paz was the witches´ market (Mercado de Hechiceria) which I stumbled across while looking for a hotel, but later read about and sent the world-famous photographer, Andre, to covertly capture it digitally (we had read that the vendors/witches? don`t really appreciate photos). Unless you are looking, you might miss it, but there are several blocks in La Paz where the ladies in the sidewalk stands are selling a most unusual collection of things: feathers, candles, fresh flowering herbs like chamomile, small stone sculptures, bottles of oils and powders, and most surprising, llama fetuses! Here´s a short article in National Geographic if you want more: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0530_030530_witchdoctors.html

Another highlight was a fancy movie theater where we saw a lousy movie however, we were impressed with the balcony and assigned seats. We also visited the US embassy where I was elated to discover that I could vote. All in all, we loved La Paz and were starting to love Bolivia with its affordable prices, modern conveniences, interesting culture and landscape, etc. and so on. We started to think that maybe we should stay longer in this fine country (one that we had originally planned on skipping), but we decided to stick to the second original plan and headed out on a morning bus to Oruro on Thursday, October 14th.

A Mid-way Point - Oruro, Bolivia We arrived in Oruro, a modern city, during a convention so we had some trouble finding a place to stay. Soon enough, though, we found a fine room for a little more than we cared to pay, but we weren´t going to be picky. Even though Oruro is on the railway line to Uyuni, a huge tourist destination, it was apparent that not many tourists hang out there, because we had clearly returned to the land of people gaping at gringos. It`s weird, but in a way, that made me feel better. The city`s streets were packed with uniformed school children, suit-clad business people, and general busy-ness. Unlike La Paz, there was little sign of Andes culture, mostly just modern, pulsing city. We weren´t really there to sight-see, just to get a feel for Bolivia and maintain a reasonable travel schedule (the guide books recommend avoiding night buses, because drivers tend to fall asleep!), so we spent our time wandering the streets, checking out the main plaza, buying our train tickets, and getting on-line.

While we were there (about 24 hours), we witnessed at least 3 different protests. One passed while we were in an internet cafe with loud exploding fireworks and nobody inside moved, giving the impression that this was a common occurance. The second protest seemed to be campesinos which we avoided, because we had read that Americans are not popular with campesinos given the US policies against coca. The third protest was against discrimmination of people with disabilities - another heart-breaking reminder that there are large populations here (the disabled, the elderly, etc.) who are not protected by law or cared for under government programs.

Uyuni - The Town and the Tour We hopped on an afternoon train to Uyuni. We had a lovely dinner on the train with some travelling flight attendants from Holland (well, the food was marginal, but the company was very nice) and arrived in Uyuni around 10:30 at night. We were shocked, and not a little annoyed, to find that the town of Uyuni seems to exist only because there are tourists who come there to see the spectacular countryside south of the town. We were bombarded by women trying to get us to their hotel and on their tour in the morning. We went to an odd place that appeared to be under construction. The woman who brought us there had mysteriously disappeared before we got a chance to ask where the showers were and if they had hot water, so I left Andre and scoped out a couple of other options. Everything else was the same price and nothing looked better, so we stayed. As it turned out, the showers were brand new and it was the first, fabulous hot shower we`d had in months.

One of the tour sellers was in our hotel room (I kid you not) when I returned at 11 p.m. talking to Andre about how great the tour was and how she would cover the cost of breakfast if we committed to going on the tour with her. We told her we would talk with her in the morning - it was too late to be discussing such matters with no comparative data. In the morning, this persistent young lady arrived at our door, before we`d even stepped foot outside to start our investigations. We told her we`d find her in an hour and tell her what we thought. Jeesh!!

For a little background, we were embarking on a four day tour by jeep through the salt flats near Uyuni and then on to see a variety of other spectacular naturally occuring sights - colored lakes, volcanic mountains, thermal springs and pots, etc. The books warned that it was essentially luck of the draw if you get a good tour, but they explained a few important things to look for. For the official record, I was not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of sitting in a jeep for 4 days - sitting in vehicles for long periods, day after day, is not really my cup of tea. But, every indication was that it would be well worth it for what we would see.

We talked to a couple of recommended agencies, compared prices and vibe and made a decision. We researched little, except how much water they provided and how many other people were being jammed in the jeep. As it turned out, we thought we were going on a tour with four French people. When two jeeps pulled up, however, we were directed to a jeep with four non-French people - we had actually been pawned off to another agency, because ours had filled their jeep with French people and apparently this other agency was looking for two more passengers. As it turned out, our new tour friends had done their research much more completely - they had, in fact, looked at the jeep´s engine, checked the tires, discussed the menu, asked for heat, etc. We were impressed and happy to have joined them. Our happiness only grew when we discovered that they were some of the greatest people we´d met in our travels. Since we were going to spend some serious quality time with them over the next few days, this was a great relief.

There is no way that I can effectively describe what we saw - you have to see it, so check the pictures. The first day, we visited the train cemetary - not high on my list of activities, but kind of interesting. The trains are retired trains from a long time ago - 1800s? They were used to transport minerals from the area to Argentina and Chile. We then picked up our cook and headed for the salt flats which looked like miles of white ice. We stopped at an "island" which, of course, is not an island because it`s not in water. The "island" is made up of huge hills of dead coral (yup, one more place in the world that used be covered by an ocean and I guess that explains all that salt) and thousand year old cactuses. We had a deliscious steak and mashed potato lunch there (good thing we picked up the cook!) and headed on. The next few days are pretty much a blur to me - we saw cool rock formations, beautiful multi-colored mountains, an active volcano, tons of Flamingos (three kinds), a red lake, a white lake, a green lake, borax mining, thermal pots puffing up sulfuric steam, this weird shimmering effect on the horizon which I think was caused by the sun´s reflection on the flat mineral beds, and probably other stuff, too.

The nights are somehow more uniquely defined in my mind. Our first night was spent in a fairly nice building - we all shared a room and had a table for mate (herb tea), dinner and games in the hallway outside as were the bathrooms. The beds were typical of what we`d found in Bolivia - kind of like La Paz, shaped like a bowl. There was no heat, but we were not cold. We played a game that Peter, the Scotish sportcar-designer traveling around the world for a year, intruduced. The game, called Perudo, is a dice game played by guessing (correctly or incorrectly) probabilities. It was fun and we stayed up late and were surprised when our breakfast arrived at 7.

The next night, we were at approximately 5000 meters in elevation. It was very cold even before dark. It was even colder as night set in. There´s a photo of our room which included our game table (note the saggy beds). The bathroom was a couple doors down and had neither a light nor a door. We warmed our room with small candles and played again until it was too cold to stay out of bed. That night, despite the tiny bed, I insisted on sleeping with Andre. I couldn´t even consider trying to warm up my own bed!! We survived, of course, but in the morning opted to skip bathing in the hot springs, figuring there was no way we would remove the 5 layers of clothes we had piled on.

Sadly, at the beginning of the third day, we said good-bye to half our party - they were heading to Chile and we were close to the border. The departing friends were Peter, off to spend a few months in Asia and Jake and Amy, Americans who had spent two years in the peace corps in Antigua and Granada respectively, were traveling for a few months in South America and heading home for Thanksgiving (the first at home in a couple years). We felt quite lonely after they left, but Andre and I were happy that Petra, a German woman who is traveling in South America for a year, stayed with us.

We spent the rest of that day quietly (somberly?) driving through miles of dirt track with views of mountains and odd wind-formed rocks. That night, we stayed in an actual hotel-like place and we were served our meals in a restaurant. Petra followed the game path that Peter had set us on and taught us a new card game (which we have continued to play on many buses since). Our last day was mostly driving with breaks at small towns along the way. Our driver and cook seemed to be having a disagreement - one possible interpretation was that he was very, very hungover and she didn´t appreciate it nor the way he was driving. Oh well. We made it back to Uyuni safely. We spent the afternoon there and had a parting dinner of pizza and beer with Petra at a joint owned by a guy from Massachusetts. At 10 p.m., Andre and I boarded an overnight train and headed for the border of Argentina.

Hopefully, we will write again soon with the next few weeks of our adventure. I hope this message finds you well. We are sadly counting the last days of our adventures in South America. We will be back in North America by Christmas. Hugs to all,
Jen
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