The Bombproof Water Bottle
From Salt flats to Salta (and then Buenos Aires) A few nights ago we huddled behind a woefully poor gas heater in another tour office awaiting a train to the Bolivian frontier town of Villazon. A Daily Telegraph article on the wall confirmed that we had just experienced three days in one of the most remote and challenging environments on Earth; especially difficult if you're barely equipped for a day out in Uckfield, let alone the high Andes. Arriving in Uyuni last Sunday morning the first thing that hit us was the severe cold (minus 20 centigrade...brass monkeys). The town was like God's fridge, but not the nice one with a Marks and Sparks buffet selection, the one he keeps in the garage with stale fish fingers and loose peas rolling around in the drawers. Completely void of charm. After a while we were packed into a jeep with two dutch blokes, Guy and Marten, and two German girls, which became like the Eurovision song contest once we got the tunes going via someone's Ipod. We were driven by a chap called Heladio and accompanied by a psychotic young cook who came to resent our music and would often sulk outside the jeep. Bon Jovi will do that to you. Rumbling into the Bolivian desert our first stop was the 'world famous' Train Cemetery...choo choo!! Literally scores of rusty old steam engines piled end to end in the desert - the drivers probably froze to death as they entered Uyuni or heartbreak because they couldn't find Burger King in La Paz. Our main stop for the day was truly magnificent - the Salar de Uyuni, the World's largest salt flat, the remains of a dried up lake that stretched thousands of miles across the Bolivian desert and finished in Peckham. The Telegraph article said that 'the only thing to do in the Salar is to be in it'. The vast dazzling whiteness makes for a bizarre experience; it is hard to believe that you are not standing on snow and it makes you want to piss yourself. In the afternoon we visited Isla Incahuasi, an island in the centre of the Salar populated by Cacti and numerous mounds of a hard substance that we decided was rock. At lunchtime, sitting at a table made of salt rock, the cook was already beginning to play her evil games by refusing to disclose what the meat was she was serving up. We agreed on Alpaca but it was probably the remains of the last tour group who dared to listen to Bryan Adams in the jeep. With our bellies full of curious meat and safe in the knowledge that the Amsterdam Sex Museum is a better bargain than Madame Tusauds we all played on the salt, taking weird perspective pictures of one another. In the evening we went to the small hamlet of San Juan, where the accomodation was disturbing and made us feel like extras in Midnight Express. With temperatures dropping enough to make an Eskimo reach for some Lemsip there were no heat sources, ridiculously thin blankets on the bed shaped metal frames and the toilets were like a London Dungeons exhibit. All we could do in the circumstances was to crowd together around a candlelit table and play drinking games (it's in my survival handbook written by George best...honest). We were joined in our lifesaving activity by three lads from Leeds - a little town near to Emmerdale Farm. That's how we all came to be standing on chairs - Barnes, Carter and Yorkshire boys - singing 'Two World Wars and One World Cup' plus various other classics to the two German girls, who probably didn't take offence in their semi-conscious state. That night we went to our cells dreaming of pink duvets, tea and toast with Anchor butter...and the Amsterdam Sex museum. The next day was confined mainly to the jeep, stopping to look at the Ollaque Volcano on the way to the Eduardo Avaroa National Andean Wildlife Reserve on the Chile and Argentina border. The main attraction within this area is the lago colarados - colourful lakes in shades of pink, green and blue (although the blue could be considered cheating...'Oi..I've made my garden into a National Park, it's got green grass and a brown fence, that will be 30 bolivianos you mug...and mind the cat sh*t'.) Disappointingly many lakes were filled with dead flamingos, not knowing how to play 'chace the ace' with vodka and red wine they succumbed to the freezing temperatures. The accomodation in the reserve that night was barely better than the first; made worse by the fact that we were booted out of bed the next morning at 5.30am to go and look at a geyser (no...unfortunately not an Evening Standard selling geezer outside London Bridge station). We were delayed by a flat tyre on the jeep and we all suspected sabotage by the cook. We have no evidence other than the fact that she gave us only yoghurt and bread for breakfast when everybody else had eggs and warm things; although Victoria, Marten and Me sat and ate contentedly whilst others enjoyed a dip in the thermal springs. Quite enjoyable watching other idiots freezing their t*** off...it looked like bathtime for the Smurfs. In the afternoon we headed to the Chilean border so the rest of the group could cross over to San Pedro de Atacama - hugs and handshakes were had all round before we had to turn back to the road to Uyuni. We had to be there by nightfall so the cook could attend her anger management meeting. Summary of travelling undertaken in last week: Saturday night: Bus from La Paz to Uyuni (9 hours). Plus hot food..they said it was pasta, was obviously mash potato with four peas on top. Tuesday daytime: 12 hours total in Jeep from Chilean border to back to Uyuni. Psycho cook happier due to departure of German girls with Ipod. Tuesday evening: Train from Uyuni to Villazon (10 hours). Thankfully not one from the cemetery. Wednesday morning: Crossed into La Quiaca (Argentina). Walked: managed to cross border without apologising for the Falklands. Stayed in Tourist Hotel, watched Charlie's Angels. Fine performance from Bill Murray. Friday morning: Bus from La Quiaca to Salta (11 hours). Lots of delays due to Argie police checks...perhaps the cook's on the run? Stayed in Salta...Victoria cooked her first ever meal for Thomas at a hostel. Tears of joy. Saturday Afternoon: Bus from Salta to Buenos Aires (21 Hours). Almost missed the bus after a stopover at a service station due to Barnes wanting chewy sweets. Also realised that sleeping bag is starting to smell of boiled cabbage. A laundry is top on our priorites as we continue our adventures in Buenos Aires. Good impressions so far....Barnes does a half decent Drew Barrymore...and the city itself looks like it will be fun. We'll let you all know, Victoria and Tom xxx P.S. Enjoy the photos when we eventually get them up. In the meantime, cover the living room carpet in salt, get naked and have someone pelt ice cubes at you and you too can have the Uyuni slat flats experience. Moody Bolivian cook optional.