If the Lake District tickled Wordsworth to jot down the odd line about daffodils, thundering great symphonies should have been written about the SW of Bolivia. Here, rumbling over the altiplano (highlands) in a 4WD at around 4km above sea level, 6,000m volcanoes are just the backdrop, as everyday as the dull thump of an altitude headache. The past week has brought us a catalogue of geological porn, from belching geysers to rainbow lagoons. However, our scientific Spanish being what it is, we are absolutely none the wiser as to how any of this stuff occurred. So if you´re expecting any iota of insight into the hows and whys of the earth´s incredible activity in this area, stop reading now. In fact, if you took dual science for GCSE, do the same. You will learn nothing here.
So, last Sunday in Tupiza at 8.30am, with the strains of the previous night´s Bolivian karaoke ringing in our ears (the bar looked like the set of a ´Crystal Maze´pilot episode – tin foil everywhere) we folded ourselves into a six-man Jeep with two Aussies and our Bolivian driver, Vicente. And a cook, Modesta. Ok, so it wasn´t exactly ´Touching the Void´ but legroom was tight. And there were no headrests. Across the next four days, we bounced along 1,000km of rocky desert to a soundtrack of Bolivian cumbia – a song about chicas and sugar on repeat – courtesy of Vicente,´I Come From a Land Down Under´from the Australian iPod (with apparently no irony) and some serious indy guitar stuff from DJ Kibbey.
The Pommy-Oz alliance travelled in convoy with a United Nations Jeep of Nowegians, British and Australians behind. We ate together, slept together, weed behind rocks together, attempted to play cards together (the rules of Shithead differ according to where you come from, it turns out) and fed a chinchilla together. We became very close.
Of course, this was all very nice, but the real reason we had come on this strange multinational outward bound version of Big Brother was not to bond with our fellow Jeepees. We wanted to feel the presence of Pachamama, which is the Bolivian name for Mother Earth. It´s not hard to see why the belief in the spirit of the earth is so strong here. There´s so much activity on the surface that there has to be something down there pulling the strings. In no particular order, attractions in this geological theme park include lagoons (green, red, white, blue…you get the idea), hot springs (great when you haven´t showered for two days), rock formations from a Dali painting, deserts (dry), a smoking volcano, miles and miles of retina-witheringly bright salt flats punctuated by cactus-covered islands, sunrise over the salt lakes, big farting geysers. And not a safety rope or warning sign in sight.
It´s hard to pull out enough superlatives to really do the whole thing justice, but it says alot that the crushing headaches and marrow-freezing temperatures were a tiny price to pay for the experience. $180 seemed pretty fair too. That´d get you one night at a posh B&B in Ambleside. Take that, Wordsworth.
To view some photos from this trip, click here.