Aidan and I arrived in Bolivia with a sort of nervous trepidation. You see, neither of us had heard a single good thing about the country*. This started with our good old friend Baldy O’Ryan (refer back to our post about our long drive from Argentina to Chile) who warned us that both the people and the country were “feo”. Subsequent encounters with Chileans yielded more of the same comments; the land is ugly and littered with garbage, the people are rude and hateful, white people are seen only as walking cash… This hostility apparently dates back to a war a few hundred years ago between Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. According to the Chileans, Peru and Bolivia teamed up against Chile, then lost the war, and Chile took (or won, as we’ve heard it said one night over a bottle of Pisco) a sizeable chunk of land from both Peru and Bolivia, effectively turning Bolivia into a land locked country. It would seem that Chile has taken on he role of the gloating winner ever since. As a side note, Argentina was causing trouble for the Chileans at the same time, so Chile ended up giving most of their Patagonian territory as a “gift” to their easterly neighbour (pretty sure this is a word to dress up the fact that they lost a quite a lot of land – once again, all our info comes from Chile).
Our first few days in Bolivia did little to remedy the country’s bad reputation. We arrived in Uyuni after a three-day expedition through the Atacama desert (a story for another time, involving hot springs, pink lakes, too many volcanoes to count, head splitting altitude, and an inconceivable amount of salt), while the town was in the midst of an insane wind storm. Sand pelted our faces and garbage flew at high speeds down the dirt streets. We stumbled into the first bus kiosk we found and booked a ride to get as far away as possible. Our night on the bus proved to be a sleepless one – climate control has yet to be discovered in Bolivia, and temperatures drop precipitously at these high altitudes. On the plus side, we got a great view of the brilliant stars shining over the desert. I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to star gaze in a while, seeing as I had been falling asleep before sunset ever since reaching Bolivia (just surviving at 4000m above sea level is exhausting!).
We arrived in La Paz before sunrise, hours before we would be allowed to check into our Airbnb. I fetched us a nutritious breakfast (coffee and cookies) and then we turned the open air terminal into our temporary home. We unpacked our sleeping bags and set up the iPad with a previously downloaded show on Netflix. The sleeping bags proved to be a much better insulator than our thin alpaca printed rugs from the bus, and soon enough blood was rushing back to my extremities.
After binging the hell out of “13 Reasons Why”**, Aidan and I made our way to the Airbnb for some much needed rest. We proceeded to sleep for the next three days. I should have realized our bodies needed a break. Apparently even the soccer (sorry, “futball”) greats need to run off the field for oxygen when they come to Bolivia, yet Aidan and I had plunged into this country without even a supply of coca leaves.
I had begun to feel extremely travel weary. Making even the most simple decision was exhausting, and I had started going out of my way to avoid conversations with strangers. Both Aidan and I kept reminiscing about the peace and beauty of Patagonia. Nature and no people – that’s what we were craving. Then Aidan found out there was an incredibly secluded town hidden away in the mountains a fair distance down South. Quime was situated in the exact opposite direction of our chosen route – travelling there would mean another 14 hours in a bus. But nature and adventure was calling, so by pure force of will I packed up my bag and headed to the terminal once again. Our bus broke down, making me really rethink our decision. We flagged down another one and got dropped off at an intermediary town, and then hopped on a colectivo to Quime. That’s when the trip took a turn for the freaking unbelievable.
We drove past little pueblos, where men and women in traditional dress were working hard in their fields while children ran amok (an impressive feat since we were still struggling with the lack of O2 on the altiplano). We drove up and down terrifying switchbacks at breakneck speeds, passing by endless green pastures with too many llamas to count. Soon enough giant trees were replacing the scrawny shrubs from before. Lakes, rivers, and waterfalls were everywhere , and the world became a vibrant landscape of blues and greens, rather than an endless expanse of dull yellow and brown. I had never seen a place like this before, yet I felt like I was coming home.
Quime means “the place to rest” in the Aymaran language. Aidan and I did the opposite. We spent our first full day on a never ending road of switchbacks, trekking up hundreds of meters while the little town grew smaller and smaller below us. Later, while recovering in the most comfortable hammock, Aidan spotted some incredible triangular cliffs that looked like pyramids on the side of the mountains. We named them “the triángulos” and decided to trek to them the next day. We got there in what can only be described as a lord of the rings inspired journey – the part when Frodo and Sam leave the shire and have no clue what kind of adventure they’d signed up for. We crossed meadows and vegetable patches, forded streams and hopped stone fences. We followed paths, both llama or man-made, and when those ran out we made our own. We came home well after sunset with revitalized spirits, although I did feel bad about scaring our hostel host (no doubt he had visions of us having tragically died in the mountains – did I mention how steep those cliffs were?).
Our time in Quime was brief, but incredible. Without this experience I would have definitely agreed with all the Bolivia haters out there, but I am thrilled to have proved them wrong (and so happy I didn’t have to agree with Baldy, the racist truck driver)! All it took was getting out of the desert. Seriously, why would anyone choose to live in such a dusty and a barren land? To each there own I guess…
* Actually, a friend from back home said she loved it, but that’s most likely due to her love for cocaine…
** Could I date this post any better? All right, at this point of time, Trump also said he was sending an armada towards North Korea. Making me think that Bolivia might not be the worst place to wait out a World War 3. But I digress…