I’ve always said: when travelling solo you are never really alone. Unless of course you head off the beaten track and away from anyone – traveler or otherwise. But my month long trip to Bolivia and Peru came with a certain amount of responsibility to stay out of trouble, or at least alive, for the sake of my concerned family.
That’s why on the very first stop of my trip, after a 24 hour bus trip to Chile’s Atacama desert, I alighted with bright eyes in the hope of finding a new friend ASAP. That person came in the form of a young, gay Dane with hair as white as a snow. Having arrived on the same bus with a relatively similar agenda, we sourced a cheap hostel and a Salt Flat tour to start the next day. Next stop – a three day jeep tour through Bolivia’s high altitude desert, complete with volcanoes, geysers, lakes of all colours and finally the star of the show- the Uyuni Salt Flats.
Cristian and I managed to share a jeep with two of the unfriendliest people to have walked this planet- French of course. The first two days and nights passed with relative ease; minimal effects from the high altitude, only one breakdown and constant wind.
Early on the first day we passed through border control (in the middle of nowhere) between Chile and Bolivia. It was here that I realised Christian was special and gifted. I winced as he whizzed through passport control and I struggled to interpret my next mission – ‘you must complete your border crossing and visa process in the next town.’ You see, Christian’s Danish passport is also his stress free ticket around the world. It must have been my fascination with his wizardous passport that got me looking at it…. and then feeling a whole lot better about things when I realised he came from Middlefart.
Christian and I were exceedingly eager for day three, the day we would reach the world’s largest salt flat and photograph the shit out of ourselves playing with perspective like thousands had done before us. In anticipation of being in front of the camera all day we had already decided what we’d wear . In an unfortunate turn of events, our cameras weren’t able charge that night.
We arrived at the salt flats at the crack of dawn with only a smattering of battery left on each of our cameras. I think Christian’s camera was completely broken if I remember correctly. Perhaps I was put off (and pissed off) by the battery situation, but I didn’t bring my A-game that day. I wasn’t able to come up with 100 fun and creative perspective photographs like I had imagined doing for so many months.
On a lighter note, there had been a group of Hot Danish guys doing the same tour in a separate jeep. The tour follows a specific route and the list of things to see is limited. Thus, it would happen that mine and Christian’s paths would often cross with theirs. Christian came in handy as my eavesdropping translator- who knew why or what I was so interested in hearing.
I am very thankful for having had Christian as my buddy over those three days. They were the first three days of my first solo journey in a very strange place. And he made the transition easy and fun. By the time we reached the town of Uyuni our adventure together was coming to an end. I had limited time which meant I had to crop a couple must-see’s from my itinerary.
But before the Great Dane was able to rid himself of me completely, he accompanied me to the building where I had been instructed to ‘complete the border crossing process’. To my absolute horror, the place was all locked up. It wasn’t even a weekend! Eventually someone pitched up, unlocked the doors and led us inside to a dingy room where he asked for three times the amount I knew I had to pay.
Luckily there isn’t much to do in the hell hole that is Uyuni. Its a pick up and drop off point for the tours so it see’s a lot of tourists – but believe me they’re only looking for the next ride out. So I guess there were worse things to do than sit in an internet cafe searching for proof of the amount I had to pay. Poor Christian was right alongside me doing the exact same.
Armed with our new ammunition, we went back to battle with the moron who was trying to rip me off. He wasn’t budging. I’d hardly made any cash teaching English in Chile for a year and I wasn’t about to pay it all to this opportunist. Then out of nowhere someone else showed up. He ruffled through some papers and found a list outlining the country categories and what their visa fees were. There was my South Africa, listed in group B. Not a country able to enter visa free but also not a country that pays an exorbitant price. FYI; Bolivia is one of the few places it doesn’t pay to travel on a US passport.
Thanks Christian- you’re the best! And I hope people have stopped pestering you on a daily basis about how you get your hair that way. Its natural people!