South America, Day Twelve: Bolivia

It’s going to have to be bullet points, guys.

  • Picked up at 7.50am in a mini-bus called ‘Cordillera Traveller’ (booked via Kanoo Tours).
  • Chilean checkpoint: stamped out of Chile (retain the disembarkation card when you first arrive in Chile… or else you’ll be screwed).
  • Another checkpoint for entry into Bolivia. It’s a shack in the middle of nowhere. It will also be freezing cold (altitude).
  • Bus broke down.
  • We saw three llamas in the desert.
  • There were signs that said ‘no-overtaking’. (We saw these signs as we over-took).
  • We drove by yellow fields… lots of yellow fields.
  • Altitude: it hits you hard. Breathlessness… dry lips… tingly nostrils… you become very slooooow (hence bullet points)… your head will feel like it’s not big enough for your brain… heart flutters… an immediate head-cold… stuffy and sniffy and heady and blargh… take it slow, drink water, deep breaths, take Diamox (get it prescribed in the UK)… don’t rush… don’t do any exercise… breathe through your mouth, you’ll be ok…

(Ok, I’m becoming acclimatized. Here’s my attempt at a paragraph…)

Before heading to Bolivia, take a LOT of warm clothes. And loads of sun cream. It’s very sunny and it’s very cold. Take lip salve.

(Fail. Writing is a massive effort).


Incredible sights… the mountains are multicoloured… as you approach the red, orange and yellow hues, the azure sky provides the ultimate contrast. The first stop was ‘Laguna Blanco’ – the white lagoon. Absolutely beautiful. A pool of white-washed blue, crystal clear water in the middle of a desert.


The towering brown mountains are speckled with gold, terracotta and blood orange. The vegetation out here is bizarre. The ‘flowers’ are like sea urchins – or they could be mistaken for row upon row of Gremlins (when they’re all rolled up, know what I mean?)… or those toy trolls you used to get.


(Hold on, I think I’m repeating myself).



Then we visited the ‘Laguna Verde’ – the green lagoon. The wind in collaboration with the minerals in the water turn the lagoon into a turquoise pool; the waters of which are surrounded by earthy mountain slopes and clear skies. Beautiful.



Now we’re at a natural hot spring (the water is 30 degrees but we forgot our bikinis) and I’m sitting on a rock, writing this entry with shaky hands, trying to catch my breath. It’s a bit like being stoned and unfit at the same time.



We’ve seen loads of wild llamas and deers… it’s magical watching them bolt across the landscape.


Our driver is very sweet. He speaks very slowly and pronounces each word. Everything and everyone is a lot slower. Each moment is presented as if out of a frame-to-frame chapter book… flick – slooooow – flick – slow – fliiiiick  ………………………..

The toilets are horrendous. There isn’t much in the way of hygiene here. And you have to pay three Bolivianos for the privilege. You get handed dirty tissue to wipe your delicates with. In the last toilet, there was just a hole. Don’t expect a flush. You’ll be lucky if there’s a bucket of sand.

(…Going back to last night quickly; San Pedro, Chile… So the night was spent at Barros. Cheap / good food and live music. 2,500 pesos for an omelette and chips and 2,500 pesos for a Pisco Sour. We saw three acts – a duet, a band and a trio. Awesome music! We had such a wicked night! Vicki pulled the tour guide. And I met a composer/musician called Max. That’s not his real name. He was incredibly charming and spiritual. We spoke about dreams and destinies as we shared a smoke…)

… Back to Bolivia…

So after the hot springs, we saw and smell some smelly geysers… smelt like egg, cabbage and arse.

Now we’re in the “hotel”. Five to a room. Dirty, dirty conditions. No shower. No hot water. And I think we’ve got a frankfurter for lunch….

Yep, yep we have.

So after “lunch”, we headed back out into the wilderness. This time we watched flamingos strut their funky stuff in a multicoloured lagoon – red, orange and blue water surrounded by green and yellow vegetation. And, across the way, Laguna Roche (the red lagoon) – the water is blood red and its surrounding kaleidoscope of colours is just unreal. The red tide laps lazily on the salts that separate the waters… and steam cascades into the air thanks to the nearby geysers.




We headed back to the “hotel”, via the shops (or shop), to buy water and toilet roll. We bought every single bottle of water and toilet roll. Needless to say; it’s probably best if you prepare in advance. A lot of the shops don’t really have much – or anything – to sell.

ADVICE: Bring toilet roll, anti-bac, wipes, wet wipes, bum wipes, tissue, pills, water, BRING EVERYTHING.

(I’m repeating myself again… altitude…)

We got back to the “hotel” around 5pm so hung around in the kitchen (warmest place) for a couple of hours, ate dinner at 7 (much better than lunch), and wrote our diaries before lights out at 9pm. Yes. 9pm.


No hot water. No showers. No electricity after 9pm. No flushing toilets. No normal coloured tap water.

We’re spending a lot of time with Amanda (she’s from London), Jim (Scottish engineer – currently suffering with altitude sickness). There’s also a Brazilian girl in our group – Luisa – but she rarely speaks. And there’s also a very sun-burnt Brazilian blonde who speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French and some Hindi. She puts us to shame.

I’m a bit apprehensive about tonight’s sleeping arrangements. Sharing a room with strangers is fine… but it will be pitch black soon and I’m freaking out about the potential creepy crawlies. Let’s hope I don’t have a night terror. I’m also saving having a wee until the last possible moment because the toilets are RANK. And it’s about zero degrees outside.

On that note, na night.

(The majority of these photos are thanks to Vicki Brand)


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