077 / Unboliviable blacks & whites

077 / Unboliviable blacks & whites

Granted, because of the extremely short, speed date character of my stay in Bolivia, it’s pretty hard to give a complete account of this country, but we all remember, from dating, that we have only one shot to make a first impression… To me, this wicked country made me think of a GEN code (Streepjescode, for the Flemish crew). The place is full of contrasts, with lots black and white, but not so many shades in between.




When I arrived in La Paz, it was raining, superlatively high (3700m), cold and I had already spent more than 12hrs on a “bus”… Imagine arriving at a date in this condition… It doesn’t need a drawing to explainv that our meeting was mediocre. I decided to skip this inhospitable place and booked a bus for Uyuni (another 12 hours), with immediate departure. I arrived there in a shape worse than a Christmas tree late March. Everything changed for the better when left for a 3 day trip to Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world. Black turned white… very white.



First stop was a visit to an old train cemetery, that was so nostalgic that it gives you a feeling that combines the blues and fantasies about Western train robberies and dusty gold seekers. After some more hours of driving (honestly, going around the world involves a lot of moving) we arrived on the unreal salt flats. The scenery could have been icy Antarctica, a minimalistic Stark kitchen or the very gates where Saint Peter quite arrogantly decides who enters heaven and who goes down (to Potosi, cfr Infra). One third the size of Belgium of pure, untouched white. It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve ever laid my eyes on. All conventional rules melt in this vast desert:  perspective, distance, humidity, light,… The salt flats have their own Constitution, and it’s one that merits respect.




After a while in Latin America, I’m also quickly becoming an expert in 2 to 4 days tours & expeditions. One vital element for the success of a tour, much more than the size of the pillows, the suspension of the jeep of the temperature of the cerveza, is the composition of the group you happen to land in. It’s a bit like trying jeans in a Levi’s store. You know right away if it fits. The difference however is that you only get one pair, and you’re stuck in it for a couple of days.

Before, I’ve been in uptight, skinny groups of couples with very little perseverance, that leave no space for jokes or improvisation. I’ve been in very loose, beggy groups where nobody’s really interested what’s going on. I’ve been in too small groups, that feel like wearing tiny shorts at a cocktail party, and in groups that where so big and heavy they wore like an 80’s jeans salopet (some words you really can’t translate…).

But the crew I visited Salar de Uyuni with was like that perfect, slightly stained and used 501 where you want to go to the end of the world with. It looked like a random bunch of 5 Aussies, but their friendship was so complete, their acceptance of “temporary members” so unconditional and their creativity in drinking alcohol at any moment of the day so endless that it was the best group you can imagine.



I realize that it sounds a bit like the last 5 minutes of a Sunday afternoon family movie, but these guys reminded how cool your best friends are! Mine all get a bear hug and an extra beer as soon as I’m back!

After the salt flats, we visited some thermal fields and hot springs. Because the outside temperature was so low in the early morning, the hot springs had their full effect. There were also a couple of lagoons with different colors (red, green,…) and some flamingo’s. However, the lagoons looked all quite the same and the flamingo’s weren’t even that pink… which proves the point that black&white are Bolivia’s ruling colors… 



I took off North the next day, to Potosi. Once the biggest city in the Americas (and still the biggest city above 4000m in the world), Potosi was in its colonial days a bottomless source of silver and thin. Now, a couple of thousands miners exploit whatever’s left in cooperations without any government intervention or mechanical tools. A visit inside the Cerra Ricca (rich mountain) mines hits you in the face like a titanium baseball bat. These miners work from the age of 14 in conditions which include 45°C, no oxygen nor light, toxic gases mixed with eternal dust…  With their back curled to fit the low corridors, They push carriages rocks up to 2000 kg, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week with only coca leaves for breakfast, lunch, drug and drink.




Traditionally, the miners honor the Tio, the devil, the owner of the underground, with gifts for good fortune. In a rather similar way, the uneasy tourists offer the workers dynamite, alcohol and coca leaves, in a desperate attempt either to support the activities or to buy off their luck on seeing other people’s faith… It’s probably a mixture of both. The tour lasted only two hours, enough to exhaust and humble even the most ambitious career kid.




My last days in Bolivia led me to Sucre, which honors it’s name with a easy-going pace, a nice climate and a beautiful, white town center. It rivals with Arequipa for the title of “Ciudad Blanca”. The white city… What else? 



 When I left for Santa Cruz, I was a last time amazed by this country, when I saw the original “tuning” of my taxi. My driver had simple moved his steering wheel to the left to be in accordance with regulations and was happily driving along. Something I intend to do as well, though with all my parts in the original place… direction Sensational Brasil!Dia14.JPG 


13:19 Gepost door Wouter* | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: voer sleutelwoorden in |  Facebook |