Am not sure what the Spanish is to stop a horse when at full gallop. My research shows me that it isn’t “Jesus Christ for the love of God fu**ing stop you son of mother ******, stooopppp!!”. It was exhilarating though, right up until the time my right foot came out of the stirrup and pulling the reins did absolutely nothing. So, about 10 seconds in.
As with Paraguay, I had no image envisaged of the country. My go-to, football players of the world, drew a blank. I did recollect that their capital is called The Peace, it had a lot of high-altitude football pitches which other nations complained about, and it had an exhilarating Death Road – a route that traverses mountain sides with buttock-clenching drops to the sides. What isn’t very well known is that Bolivia is packed with such routes: all of which have huge drops; all of which are extremely narrow, windy and bumpy; all of which result in your stomach feeling significantly lighter. Needless to say, driving these roads requires concentration, planning and a suicide note if you’re stupid enough to drive in the dark.
So the most significant thing about driving in the dark is that, in our case, you cannot see death, but just feel it. The road from Taruja to Tupiza was going very well until all the traffic died and asphalt disappeared. Then we were on our own, plodding up mountainsides, slightly aghast at the sheer beauty and vastness of the rocky landscape. There’s only so many times you can say “Well . . . that looks steep” After some significant climbing, which Izzy tackled liked a mountain lion (as opposed the timid lambs she was carrying), we hit an outcrop of perhaps 5000m. It’s the first time I’ve looked a lightning storm square in the eye. Naturally I thought this would be a good time to take some pictures, perhaps even camp out the night and watch the storm pass. Then we realised that perhaps that the passing storm was passing in the approaching type-way, and it was time to move!
Several days in we’ve really enjoyed Bolivia. Our first feel of the country though was slightly different as it came with two requests for bribes within two hours. Not exactly enticing. The first was rebuffed, the second resulted in a one-dollar donation. Fortunately we haven’t been bothered since, still a few days to go though. We’ve bumped into more tourists in Bolivia than elsewhere, and hence done some touristy things like horse-riding, as you may have guessed. The rugged landscape is entirely befitting Spaghetti Westerns, with our guide playing some Ennio Morricone on his phone as we rode through places with names such as the Devils Gateway. We then headed further south west and into the national park nudging the Argentinean and Chilean borders, across roads and tracks that reminded me of a recent horse ride.
On occasion I do like give myself an impossible task (like John Wick, but infinitely less cool). With Rich convalescing in a hotel, I drove to the famous salt-flats of Uyuni about 100km away to spend the night star-gazing and taking silly pictures. All was going well until I locked myself out in the morning with the engine running. Knowing I’m a complete imbecile, I have a safety net: a spare key padlocked under the car in a hidden place. Unfortunately for me said padlock was completely ruined by salt and dirt, rendering it impossible to save myself. Awesome! So not only was I in the middle of a salt flat 100km from my compadre with a spare key, I had no access to water, food, tools and the engine was running. Oh, and my phone has no network access. Given Salar de Uyuni must get over 100,000 people visiting a year, it took me an hour and a half to spot another car and wave them down across the vast plain of salt. To my utter incredulousness (think horse riding) the car stopped, took one look, and then carried on across the horizon. Thirty thirsty minutes later another car. This time a lovely Brazilian couple (Rafeal and Maria) helped me break into Izzy, Rafael being a mechanic and also my personal hero that can break into old Land Cruisers with a shoelace. What a guy!
So Bolivia in a nutshell: llama steaks; flamingos on salt-flats; very little toilet roll for some reason; epic roads; beautiful national parks that look exactly the same as the rest of the country; mad horses; and finally bucket loads of tourists, although fortunately some that even rescue those in need. I remain lucky and alive!
The blog will be a record of everything - from idea conception to old age in making this adventure happen
You can find the excellent 2006 Antipodean Adventure blog by Dwyer Rooney here