Flying into La Paz is a beautiful sight at nighttime 3650m up the city looks like a golden shimmer surrounded by mountain peaks. Stepping out of the plane- not so lovely. It’s fair to say we didn’t handle the altitude well. There was one stage where I looked at Simon and gasped- the cold and height had turned his lips blue, skin pale and created triple bags under his eyes. He hadn’t slept in 4 days as every fourth breath had to be a huge gasp in of air. Any small task like tying your shoes, getting changed or even eating is enough to leave you gasping. On our first day in La Paz we stumbled around dazed and confused, making it as far as the gondola and having to turn around as soon as we reached the top as we both felt nauseous. That night we ventured out again for dinner (it turns out our hotel the Golden Palace didn’t have a Chinese restaurant after all) it took us an hour to catch a taxi for what would have been a 15 minute walk, resulting in a very average meal but a lovely Beatles piano serenade.
The next day we climbed another 200m to Uyuni. A dusty town in the middle of a huge flat expanse it’s the starting point of any salt flats tour. Talking a walk around town my search for a pineapple was fruitless (get it?) but I did come across this awesome guy- meet Ricco-Rex! The culturally appropriate name T-Rex now accompanying any salt flat tour with Ivan from red planet, and quite possibly my best tat purchase of the trip.
The first day of our tour covered the actual salt flats and they were incredible. All you can see for miles is hexagon shaped salt with the occasional ‘island’ covered in cactus popping up. One thing people never mention is how hard it is to take perspective photos! And how bad it can be for relationships. Simon fell victim to a Jessie tantrum as the result of his photo taking abilities, as he put it “it looks like someone dropped a packet of skittles on the ground and you’re standing about 10 meters away from it”. Even the very laid back Irish couple we were with suffered a case of couples shortness “I don’t want to lie down if you don’t know if it will look good!”. Nobody wants to do too much of anything at those heights! Luckily our tour guide was an absolute pro at taking them, though didn’t hold back on the feedback, apparently my jumps are terrible and make me look like a frog.
The next day nobody was feeling 100% and there were a lot of stops for sights of mixed levels of interest, way too much Coldplay and freezing cold temperatures. After passing 5000m (around the same as Everest basecamp) we reached our 2nd nights accommodation and were greeted by snow. From that point on people started dropping like flies. While there was a hot pool outside it just didn’t seem hot enough and with Simon immobile in bed I only ventured out to stargaze, which was spectacular. After an incredibly cold night spent in full clothes, sleeping bags and multiple blankets we were all desperate to get away from the hostel and the worst toilet I’ve ever seen (and I once went on a scout camp where there was a rotting cow behind the long drop). But driving out the snow quickly turned into a blizzard and we were forced to turn back. Reconvening near the dreaded toilet it was decided the Chilean border (which many people on the tour were meant to cross) would be closed and we would have to take a slow 7 hour drive back to Uyuni. After we passed the snow the day quickly got tiresome as you craved fresh air but leaving the car only meant receiving a mouthful of dust in the wind, even the most enthusiastic member of our group was struggling just to keep awake as he sucked on the oxygen tank as we struggled home. Back in La Paz we spent our last day exploring the witches’ markets which were very cool and taking refuge in a British pub which drew Simon in with a type of magnetic force. Bolivia was tough!
Note: we also lost a lot photos due to the burglary (coming up in the next post)