So 2 and a half months down and 10 countries visited. You find us in La Serena, Chile after our brief jaunt through Bolivia. So, when you left us we were makng our hairy decsent into La Paz. La Paz is spectacular and to all intent an purpose should not function. By that I mean the entire city is built into a valley and houses/huts seem to cling precariously to the edge of the rock and by all logic should be rolling down the cliffs.
Bolivia was not on the original tour list, but none the less it proved to be a unique experience for a number of reasons, namely our first experience of the shared dorm in a hostel. Not only are these oversized rooms full of bunk beds, they are for both boys and girls. So arriving at the Brew House Hostel, La Paz we were ushered into a room already occupied by 5 girls into their mid 20s. I know what your thinking and sharing a room with 6 girls might sound like fun, all pyjama parties, chatting about boys and doing each other´s hair, but quite frankly they are just as many girls who snore, smell and talk in their sleep as there are boys To top it all as if altitude wasn´t a big enough problem in these parts, our bloody beds were adjacent top bunks with no barriers to prevent falling off the 3 metre drop. Making it through the night without completing said action was an achievement in itself.
The next morning we hooked up with the rest of our Inca group to complete possibly the most ill advised decision of our trip thus far...and I´m not talking about Guinea Pig. Officially the world´s most dangerous road is in Bolivia and is so called because of the number of fatalities that have occured on this stretch of 62km road. A suprising number of Israeli guys attempting their own version of the Superman and Bolivian drivers tanked up on pure alcohol to give them the courage journey the route...or that´s what our guide, former professional mountain bike rider and ex ballet dancer, (I kid you not) Dale from Brighton kept telling us. At its worst it is a car´s width of gravel that clings to the side of the rock, whilst the other side offers a stunning view and 1000 metre drop to certain death. It begins in the snowy mountains at about 4700 metres and winds down the path to approximately 1200 metres....and we mountained biked down the thing. Worse still the day we decided to engage in this act of suicide it rained and the clouds came in so thick that for certain stretches we couldn´t see 10 metres in front of us. I have to confess that although we managed to complete it, using the numerous crosses at the side of the road as a warnings to not go too quickly, the whole experience is slightly terrifying and we spent more time worrying about each other rather than enjying the thrill. The moral argument against undertaking such a feat that has caused so many deaths is compelling and you have to wonder whether companies, some of them absolute cowboys, should be making money out of its reputations. Although, it remains to be seen whether the scary bit is the bike ride down, or the journey up the same road where your life is in the hands of a slightly rough arouns the edges Bolivian driver.
No time to spare, we packed our bags and caught a 10 hour overnight bus to the Uyuni, a bizzare Bolivian ghost town that is the basis for all trips out to the desert and salt flats, but unlike Jesus, our trip into the wilderness lasted a mere 3 days and 2 nights. We met up with our grumpy Bolivian driver and cook and head out towards the horizon. The word barren is an understatement, but the scenerary is spectacular (see photos). However, whether 16 hours in 4x4 on none paved roads is worth the pain in the backside and a few shots for the camera is questionable. Furthermore, it is freezing at night and you are forced to sleep on a bed made of salt blocks wearing every item in your back pack just to stay warm. A shower is defnitely out of the question.
Now on our travels we have met a number of people from a great variety of countries, but no citizens have impressed me quite as much as the Dutch. Not only are they fleunt in their mother tongue, but they possess a incredible grasp of English and most can turn their hand to a more than adequate use of Spanish. All this comes at a price though and the deal they have made with the devil is that they are absolutely stark raving mad. Take fresh out of high school Yop (well that´s how it sounded) who with his equally wacky Dutch pal had been touring around Bolivia on a horse they had bought from a local, drinking water out of any stream they could find, camping at the side of the road and generally having no clue about life in general. On trading in the horse he acquired a motor bike and proceeded to follow us in our 4x4 into the desert. Did I mention he doesn´t have a license? By all reasoning dear old Yop should not be with us, but it may be his complete naivety to the danger he is in that just sees him through......we wish him luck!
The final day of the trip drops you off over the border into Chile. Like previous crossings from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, the difference is instantaneous. From gravel tracks to paved roads. At one point I questioned our Chilean driver what these magical hieroglyhics and coded figures were at the side of the road. He replied without battering an eyelid ´road signs and speed limits´. Oh to be back in the emerging first world! Bolivia is the poorest country in the continent and like the city planning in La Paz, shouldn´t really function and frequently doesn´t. But then again it is yet another country that has been crippled by war, corruption and tragedy...so there are probably no suprises there.
You notice the price hike pretty much instantaneously, but more to the point you notice that you barely understand a word anyone is saying. Where your pigeon Spanish had begun to sound passable in other countries, Chile has the ability to turn us all into Manuel from Faulty Towers....´Que?´. It is just another way in which Chile seems to have a very unique identity compared to other South American countries. Note our efforts to buy groceries in the supermarket brought the line to a stand still as they checked our passports and other forms of identification just to spend the equivalent of 3 pounds.
Anyhow, tomorrow we continue our march towards Santiago. We have completed the majority of this journey via 17 hours of overnight bus from San Pedro down to our current location. The bus system is excellent, you are served meals, given blankets and get to watch movies - although I did have top endure Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in ´The Runaway Bride´ so the jury is still out on the movie showing.
So Adios Amigos....bring on the cheap wine and the gourmet food - yesterday I was forced to by new jeans to do justice to my new super slim frame...I can now wear skinny jeans without irony!