by Adam Jeffries Schwartz
Holiday on Ice
In the southwest corner of Bolivia there's a salt flat. And--I know--I say salt and you think shaker, salt flat and you think a pond--a place to go on a Sunday. Well, forget all that. This flat is the size of Holland, which in this context, is a lot of salt.
There has been rain and the clouds are reflected in the still water, from the salt, which in this quanity resembles ice: it crunches, it sparkles, it rips into your feet, and; it's all you can see far into the horizon. There's salt and sky and clouds and you wonder why you ever would need more than that.
You go to Uyuni, in the southwest corner of Bolivia, a town dedicated to tours of the salt flats. This should not be understated, there is nothing in Uyuni that is not related to these tours.
Most people go for two nights and three days; you will see: salt, really big rocks, colored lakes, flamingos, volcanoes, a couple geysers and the desolate border with Chile.
I fear and loath package tours and never go on them, but this was worth it.
There are eight people in the van: two Spanish women who speak Basque (Euskara), A Dutch woman who is living in Peru, a Dutch/Bolivian couple, who met online, giving hope to us all and a Danish man who I met in Sucre, who's the wisest nineteen year old in the world.
Besides Augustine, the sweetie-pie driver/cook and me, the average age is twenty-two. There are many (many) discussions on the relative difference between being nineteen and twenty-two.
I'm older than everyone else in the van--combined. No one else even remembers Rutherford B. Hays, but he wasn't such a great President anyway.
More about the Van
There's a front seat, a back seat, in which you can both cross your legs and breath and there's a back back seat in which you can do neither. We develop a seat rotation system so complicated that only three people in the world understand and two of them are dead (Prince Albert, Benjamin Disreali). The third person, thankfully, is the Bolivian half of the couple.
Driving on salt and water and clouds. Sleeping in a hovel. An Israeli group warns us not to shower there because last week some Israelis were gassed in the shower. Really, I'm not making this up.
At dinner local Bolivian boys both sing and play instruments off key. Outside there's a herd of llamas.
There are big, BIG mountains and lines etched into the flat yellow ground. The lines are parallel--five in row, sometimes they curve around a mountain. If the world survives, future archaeologists will wonder what caused the lines (Tire tracks).
We see colored lakes with flamingos (smoking, drinking, carrying on.) We see a volcano and then we sleep in a barrack. No showers again, but not for genocidal reasons; hair is getting matted but it doesn't seem to matter.
At dinner we tell stupid jokes. OK, that was me--and only me-- telling the stupid jokes along with a whole lot of trivia.
Starts stupidly early. We see geysers, hot springs before light and then pass the desolate border with Chile, where I get off and everyone else goes back to Uyuni.
The Information Guy
Go see this guy, he's a genius. He collects questionnaires from tourists and has rated all 150 million tour agencies by 75 zillion categories, although I'm not sure how different the groups are, as we go to the exact same places in the same order.
There are sometimes so many vans parked in one place, with so many tourists photographing each other that it looks like a paparazzi event; you almost expect Anna Nicole Smith to pop in from the great beyond for one last photo shoot.
(Information is half a block from the clock tower at the end of Arce. Tell him I say hi)