PHOTOGRAPHIC TOUR OF THE BOLIVIAN ALTIPLANO. DAY 1
As soon as we crossed into Bolivia, I met her again: the height. The same thing always happens to me: I climb more than 4000 meters and I get close. No matter how many times I have been in height, it always affects me. The first feeling I have is like when I sleep on an upper bed: my body feels too far from the floor. Being in the Altiplano is a strange sensation: everything seems to happen in another plane, in a different dimension, in a world that is closer to the sky and very far from the sea.
Day 1: the comparisons are odious
On the border between Chile and Bolivia there is no snow, not at this time of year, not like the last time I was here. The soil is pure brown. The 4 × 4 are all colors, but they are already brownish with dust. In the distance there is an abandoned collective (it is still here, I saw it five years ago and it is still here), also brown of the earth and rust. The drivers will prepare the 4 × 4 to start the tour: it is almost impossible to make the crossing through the Salar de Uyuni and its surroundings independently (unless you have a car, I suppose). Almost no vehicles pass other than those of the tours. The routes are dirt and are not marked. You have to know the area to be encouraged to enter. At first glance I feel that there is much more tourism than five years ago, when I was in Uyuni for the last time. This is my third visit and I still have not got bored of its landscapes.
As soon as we arrived at the first lagoon (about fifteen minutes after crossing the border) I remember: the landscapes of Bolivia are unique in the world. It is a country that has everything but sea (because it had and lost it), and in that "everything" fit more landscapes than one imagines.
Bolivia has, above all, colors.
Much of the tour of Uyuni consists of being in the 4 × 4. You have to like the movement, the progress along the route, the arrival in new places. One has to like to look out the window. On this trip we are seven: Flora and "Jorge" (a Dutch couple), Maurizio (a Brazilian / Italian / Chilean living in London), Mike (a New Zealand ecologist who is traveling more than a year ago), Alberto (our driver and guide), Damián and me. There is very good vibes, which is important since we are going to spend the next three days (completitos, that is, the next 72 hours) together. We are taking turns to sit forward: we all feel a little pointed, and ahead is where you better travel.
I look out the window. In the distance I see the first vicuña of the day. Alberto tells us that they always walk in a herd and that they tend to be more females than males (he says there is only one male per herd). If you see a vicuña alone, it is probably a male that was thrown out of the group.
In the distance we see, also, a couple that goes by bicycle. What you win, we think. How hard it must be to cross the Altiplano by bicycle, with all the heat and the wind it makes. They almost can not pedal. We greet them but they do not respond.
In the distance, again, the colors: those colors so Andean, so typical here above. And those clouds -which do not appear today- are so altiplánically spongy.
It is time for the immersion bath in the hot springs. Outside it's cold, the water should be about 30 degrees. Once you get involved, you do not want to leave. Nice combination of having a warm body and feeling the cold wind in the face. Weird.
The red lagoon is our first approach to the flamingos of the Altiplano. One does not imagine that these birds can be found here, but they love to live in this area. We sit for a while to look at them and they pass it by sinking their necks in the water, seeing what they can get out of rich. These are pink because the minerals in the water dye their plumage. The water is red for the same: minerals.
A landscape that, seen in this photo, seems to be half black and white. Even in black and white Bolivia is painted.
Pity the wind. Throughout our journey: the wind.
After several hours we arrive at the inn where we will spend the first night. The comparisons are odious, I know, but the other time I did this tour, five years ago, everything was more rustic, it seemed more reserved for a few adventurers. Today our inn is full of people who speak English. The other time we slept in a place that had almost no electricity and was in the middle of nowhere (more in the middle of nowhere). In the 4 × 4 we were less: Vicky (my friend, with whom I was traveling), a Swiss couple, "la cuky" (the cholita that cooked us during the whole trip), the driver and me. Today these trips are no longer done with a cook, Alberto tells me. Today there is no more rusticity. But the comparisons are odious, I know.
In the inn lives Doña Elvira, who spends her time talking on the radio with someone who seems to be the Darth Vader of the Altiplano. The voice comes out distorted, at times serious, at times acute, it stretches and contracts. I do not know what they're going to talk about, maybe they're chirping the news, because the lady laughs. Maurizio pulls out his Polaroid (what a good idea for a trip, what a good idea to rethink the photos, what a good idea not to shoot as if everything were set to be photographed) and take a picture of Dona Elvira. At first she does not want to, but he shows her that her camera takes out "the old way". When the photo is revealed, he gives it to her. We laughed for a long time: the picture shows the skirt but not the legs, and the angle makes the legs of the chair -finiteitas- look like his legs. Flaquitas like that of a flamenco. And we laughed again, Dona Elvira included.