I’ve got a plastic bag next to my legs containing a one litre bottle of 96% ‘drinkable’ alcohol, and a dozen pieces of fireworks. So I’m going to rush things a bit.
18 Sep – we went shopping. Ben & I bought a suit each, while Pen sat playing with the young boy who liked to throw his food on the floor and sneak peeks at the big gringos trying on trousers. We bought suits. And ties. Paisley ties, Moscow 1980 Olympics ties, and others. Then Ben does his nerd thing for ages. I buy more ties. Big strong bear tie. Big wide stripey tie. Then we sit around. Meet arsetralian Pete again. From Rio. Ran into him in Copocabana, and then he enters our hostel. He has a girlfriend now, and doesn’t seem to want to play chess against Kruse so much anymore. Fair enough – I wasted him last time. And girlfriends are better than chess.
Anyway, we went to the bus station to get on our bus. After a while, a lady leads us and other gringos to the bus. Out of the bus station. Along the road. Across the road. Along another road. Reasonably long walk – enough to make the gringos start laughing nervously. Eventually, we find a bus parked on the side of the motorway. Then, we wait while locals load huge sacks of something onto the bus. Ben feels not so good. Ben is a hom. One hour later – we get onto the bus. Then we leave. Finally. Pen & Ben find it uncomfortable. Fair enough, I guess. Lingering smell of faeces (from when we were waiting – concrete canal of something which smelled suspicious).
19 Sep – we arrive in Uyuni a little late. But early enough to get our stuff, go to tour agency and confirm we actually have a tour, and then breakfast. I don’t get my eggs. I like eggs, but he didn’t give them to me. Dumb. Then, into the landcruiser. We have one arsetralian couple, and one israeli. His name is weird, so I decide to call him Jude. Short for judaism. Our driver/guide is called Oscar. We drive places. Train cemetery. Group of kiwis thinking they’re funny wearing cowboy hats and bandannas. Ben & Kruse actually being funny wearing suit with tie. Then, small town where they process the salt. Buy trinkets – cup & dice made of salt. Then, we get to the salt flat proper. Salt flat is cool. Big. White. Flat. Salt. Take a few inappropriate photos, then go on. Stop again, more photos. Don’t take advantage of the lack of perspective for cheesy photos. Do take advantage of the large amount of white powder for cheesy photos. More driving. Salt hotel. Hotel made of salt. Have a beer. Paddle in their pool, wearing suit. Lick the wall. Drive on – nearly leaving Penelope behind. Not quite. Oh well, maybe next time. Island in the middle of the white. Cactus which is 1200 years old. German girl in bikini pretending to hug cactus. Ben & Kruse in suits. Lunchtime – we buy lots of cerveza. Give Oscar one. We kind of set the precedent regarding booze. Drive on. Another salt hotel. Have a nice cuppa tea, and nearly watch sunset. Drink whisky. Drink beer. Drink wine. Teach israel & arsetralia the chinese dice game. Drink more. Eventually – bedtime.
20 Sep – up at 5:30. Quick breakfast. I eat nada, as hangover and dry bread do not mix well. Into landcruiser. Oscar drives us onto the salt, and we watch the sunrise. Cool. Then – onwards. Us and arsetralians played the “What’s your favourite song about …?” game. Good game. It quickly turned into “Name every song you can think of about …?” Better game. Then we went to a pre-incan cemetery. Mummies in rock holes. One had a hat on. One had his skull sitting next to his pelvis & spine. Then we drove some more. Saw some pink flamingos. I scared them all away so that people had to walk to other places to take photos. Then we drove some more. Oscar drives good. Another lake. More pink flamingos. And some white ones. Lunch – and a very expensive (relatively) bottle of wine. More driving. Saw a big stone that looks like a tree. It’s called the stone tree. Inappropriate photos. Or appropriate photos. Depends on your perspective, I guess. More lakes. More flamingos. Then a red lake. Lake – very red. Very pretty. Then to a tiny settlement in the middle of the desert – and negotiate a room. Arsetralians and kiwis are worried for a while. No bar in evidence. Kruse does the legwork, and finds one. Buy cerveza. Drink cerveza. Discuss marrying a llama. Buy more cerveza. Drink it. Kruse goes back, buys ALL the cerveza. And a bottle of wine. Rather cold by now. Very very cold. Drink the cerveza sitting around the fire. Put balaclavas on. Scare swiss girls in next room. Ha. Off to bed late and drunk, after being told we’re leaving at 4am.
21 Sep – I wake up to daylight. Figure the whole 4am thing hasn’t gone too well. The israeli is full of panic. Tries to wake up Oscar. Lady tells him to let Oscar sleep. I want to tell him to let Kruse sleep – but I’m just too damned nice. Eventually we all get up. Nearly every other landcruiser is gone. Three left. Two with two flat tyres. Including ours. The raucous noise from the guide’s hut/quarter starts to make sense. I notice many empty beer cans there. Either drunken joke, or malicious anti-our-company – but either way Oscar is looking dishevelled, and we have two flat tyres. And Oscar seems to have a bruise under his eye. So – tyres re-inflated, and we’re off. Oscar is rather obviously still drunk. Some rather fast driving – but Ben & myself are happy – as we’re hoping to find out, and catch, whoever punched our Oscar. Oscar does have several conversations with people we meet at various scenic points. Nothing which seems like accusations though – so no biffo. We see some lakes. Green lake is my least favourite. Geysers. I don’t like geysers. Then, a hole with steam coming out. We have a genuine flat tyre. I help Oscar change the tyre, and also play with the steamhole. Throw rocks into it, and watch them fly up. Find some snow – throw that in. Snow is cold. Very very cold at 5200m above sea level. I roll the flat tyre over the steam hole. Sweet. More driving. More lakes. Llamas. Start drinking whisky. And playing the “Speights beer cap trivia game”. Didn’t have speights. Did have a bottle of whisky. You figure it out. Then we saw some big rocks. I climbed a big rock. More landcruiser. More speights-beer-cap-game. Finished the whisky. Onto the bottle of wine bought last night. Then, another flat tyre. About 200 metres from the outskirts of Uyuni township. Borrow a tyre from another landcruiser driving past. Back home. Sweet.
Then – try to get bus to La Paz. But they’re all full. So – decision made… a night in Uyuni. Pizza for dinner, video camera filming band also seems to like us. We act appropriately. Or inappropriately – depends on your point of view, I guess. Find a hostel. Drop stuff of. Drop Pen off. Ben & Kruse go for a walk. Pass on the gringo bar despite it advertising “No chickens”. Drink at a restaurant next to a table of teenage german girls. Talk serious stuff. Growing old, marriage, children, wishing we were single so we could do more than be looked at by 6 teenage german girls. Restaurant closes. We eventually settle for the “no chickens” gringo bar. Order drinks. Find a big scrapbook – inviting us to write which “extreme drinks you drank”. No entry is too impressive, other than the entire page of unintelligible drunken scribbling. We decide something needs to be done. So we drink the bar. If anybody has ever seen Ben and myself attempt to “drink the bar” – you’ll know what we did. And we succeeded this time. Then a little peroxide-blonde english chap tried to talk to us. Bad idea. Ben started picking a fight. I was in full “Sorry about my mate, he’s a dick and drunk” mode. But occasionally lapsed into “being Ben” mode. Eventually little blonde pom and his friends invited us out onto the street to “talk about this some more”. We agreed. Then drank their beer while they waited outside. I’m a lover, not a fighter. Or maybe a drinker. Ben being extremely smashed, and bar staff not being too keen on us anymore (used to be keen. Given free drink out of a clay vessel in the shape of a female body – with a hole to drink from in a most inappropriate/appropriate location) – we left. Not too sure what happened after that. Vague memories and blurry photos of Ben lying on the ground after falling over a knee-high fence in a park somewhere. A little bit of climbing onto roofs. Perhaps some breaking into the supper room of an expensive hotel. Eventually got back to our hostel, after lock-down time. Tried to break in, perhaps? Got let in, I think. Woke up Penelope with “not too sure if the police are after us”.
And that’s the salt flats. Highest salt flat IN THE WORLD. Biggest salt flat IN THE WORLD. Ten billion tons of salt. Now is time for me to think of what to do with 96% alcohol and a box of fireworks. Then bus back to La Paz tonight.