10-19-2011

Part two of a three part series on Bolivia’s wild and wonderful Southwest Circuit.

Journal entry dated October nineteenth, twenty-eleven.  Location: 100km north of the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve boundary.

Possibilities, endless

Plumes of frigid breath float to the ceiling as we lay bundled in our cocoon of blankets and sleeping bags. The sun made her welcome presence known through the camper windows over an hour ago. Yet the temperature gauge stands firm at 15 degrees.

The low grumble of a hungry stomach kick starts the morning and motivates us into life. An attempt at goulash the previous evening, using ground beef bought in Uyuni’s central market, ended in disaster. The dusty town sits at 12,000’ and come to think of it, there wasn’t a single cow in sight. Two bites in, we found ourselves wondering exactly what we were ingesting, a third bite was deemed unnecessary.

Cold weather camping requires a hearty morning kickstart

The gentlest nudge of the thermostat and the heater is roaring. Seconds later, the flame is burning bright beneath the blue coffee percolator and all thoughts of hiding beneath the covers vanish. A hearty breakfast is in order, dark coffee, eggs, bacon, and toast.  The American way.

We are camped on the altiplano, 200 feet higher than the 48 states highest peak – Mt. Whitney. The landscape is harsh, but unlike Uyuni, we are enveloped in unbelievable beauty. Sharp, jagged, peaks dusted with snow neighbor modest hillsides which appear to be formed using a delicate mixture of honey, cream, and burnt sugar; dolloped expertly into the foreground, a visual feast.

Sugar Mountains

Breakfast and coffee consumed, our spirits have warmed considerably. But outside, it’s still freezing. The morning is calm and quiet, unique for the Bolivian altiplano where the whine and whistle of wind is almost constant.

Taking advantage of the calm weather, Logan sets about fastening the solar shower to the camper. The outside temperature is still below 50 degrees but at this altitude, the sun’s rays warm you to the core.

Miles away, a convoy of three fully loaded land cruisers ignite a dusty trail. Where they’ve been and where they’ll go is whipped up into the wind, the landscape leaves it’s mark as each vehicle turns a soft shade of dirt brown.

True Grit

The sun hasn’t had much time to warm our shower and the water prompts a sharp inhale of breath the second it hits the skin. There’s something spectacular about showering in the open wilderness of this beautiful country, bare as the day we were born, surrounded by snowy peaks and rolling hills.  No doubt, this is the best shower of our lives.

It may not warm the skin but it certainly warms the soul

To be sure, we are clean and totally awake by now. We pack it up and move south toward the Eduardo Avaroa National Park in Bolivia’s southwest corner. Several times the road turns violently rocky, 4WD low is engaged to pull us up through the canyon. The terrain is schizophrenic, a few minutes after the rocks we pass a snow field, and minutes later we’re struggling through fine sand.

Things get technical

Lost vaquero

It’s at about this point in the day we start congratulating ourselves for getting so far out there. And we are, there’s not a soul in sight, there’s not even a road. We’re literally making our own tracks. This is what it’s all about.  Then in the distance, a speck on the horizon halts the conversation. What is that? The speck turns out to be a lone bicyclist with loaded saddlebags, huffing his way through the barely maneuverable sand that is our latest terrain.

Cheesehead on the loose

This is Matt from Wisconsin, a self proclaimed cheesehead who left home 18 months ago. He plans to circle the South American continent before returning home. Guys like Matt remind us that bad ass adventures can always be one upped in the awesome department. We tip our nomadic hats to you sir.

Another six inches and we would have been in deep without a snorkel

Back in the air conditioned cab we relish the easy comforts of The Beast. We are members of a tribe where driving the PanAm is cool for your honeymoon but doesn’t exactly guarantee you a seat at the round table. This sets off our daily conversation on future exploits and soon the blood red Laguna Colorada comes into view.

Eerie doesn't begin to describe it

At the entrance to the park we fork over the 150 Boliviano (US$20) fee per person. This is more than the average Bolivian earns in one week.  The park ranger has few words for us, offering only warnings on what we cannot do and where we cannot camp. This seems oddly familiar.

Going in for a closer view of the flamingos

One of many flamingo sightings while on the circuit

We find a campsite with a view, taking in two angles of the lake we seem to be totally surrounded by bright pink flamingos. It’s windy as hell and in no time we have the camper popped up, coca tea brewing, and soup at a boil.

Reading hour turns to cocktail hour

Tourists jam packed into land cruisers with balding tires continue pulling up throughout the afternoon. We’re warm and content inside the camper, reading away the last few hours of sunlight. Just waiting until we have the red lake completely to ourselves.

The sun sets. The Havana Club is poured. The deck of cards shuffled.

Just another day in the life. Overlanders, over and out.

Soaking up the hot springs at our next camp