‘It was a success given the circumstances’, says my husband. What does Geo mean by that? He has traveled a great deal. Lived in slums among drug abusers and visited homeless on garbage dumps. He has voluntary lived in misery with Bimbo bread and cheap Poloni sausages. Geo walked through the Zimbabwean savanna with a 2 euro compass. He has been lost and found. He has cycled through the dryness of Paraguay until he got a poisoning. He also roamed in Romanian villages a lot. In short, he did things.
Our constant failure in finding decent camp-spots might be caused by the fact that we want to express our goodwill to each other. But we sleep almost every night between bags of cement. We sleep in other person’s newly built shacks, always on guard. We slept in cemeteries, abandoned houses and now, in Atocha, in a bed 50 centimeter too short for Geo’s tall posture.
‘A perfect alojamiento. Cheap and has all we need,’ is my opinion when I check Juan his ‘hotel’. It’s € 2.60 per night, a price I truly appreciate. The beds are shaped like a banana hammock, the floor is wobbly and has a particular smell. Geo might have called it a stench.
Juan is 71 years old and runs his alojamiento mainly for mining people, who can do without extravaganza. There are about 7 mines nearby, and since president Evo came to power, they now all belong to Bolivia. Juan has a habit we both like but could do without: a beat-box on top of its volume blast away the shivers of paint with music from my favorite era. The eighties. What a place! What a town!
We meet with Eduardo who has worked for 10 years in Europe and that shows in his restaurant. We enjoy real, expensive coffees and double meager breakfasts. The good things that make up for our failures. Besides not having much pleasure at our camp spots, we seem not to be able to get our packing quickly done. We seem not to be too organized, our gear is changing position daily and getting all the bags back on the motorbike takes ages.
We camp irregular. We cook irregular. We eat irregular.
With two people its double as difficult to have quiet contemplation time, let alone to have time for each other. We’re simply to busy with simple things and resting. Gasping for air at an altitude of 4000 meters, since we have reached Atocha we are now steadily on the Altiplano.
Where I have a tent for a breeze-free sunny day in California, Geo has running gloves and a flimsy helmet where the visor becomes a vague plaque when it’s raining. The cold penetrates his clothes and the 150 cc engine has a hard time pulling us up the mountains.
Geo and I drink coca tea and I try chewing it. It’s not too bad once I have the technique down.
I am able to start a walk in Tupiza, shorter than anticipated since the trail is blocked by rock fall and continuing in a serious upwards mode instead of a moderate ramp-alike grade. Nevertheless, I do have a walk.
I enjoy the short walk a lot, while Geo enjoys a pizza in town, able to escape the mercado central.
Geo ponders about the real South America. The continent as it has been built-up in his mind, by photos, documentaries and thoughts. He longs for green, lushness, a damp Amazon. Not for bare naked Altiplano grayness.
Tupiza is nice. There is not much going on in town, except for a tranquil atmosphere.
We found out that lama meat is not kosher.
The people in Bolivia are predominantly friendly, sort of helpful and kind. The mountain people can appear moody or not so much in for frivolousness, they certainly are not fond of photographs. They run far out of where I am aiming at with my camera. I am not even going to ask them to pose.
Except for this fellow, who managed to unsharpen the already blunt machete even further. Geo now uses it as a multi tool/peg.
Geo and I wonder about all the dogs out and about. Most have a ribbon around their neck but since they seem not taken care for, yet often scribble against a closed door, we asked Eduardo. He helps us out, being an indigenous himself: ‘We believe that when we die we need to bury a dog with us. This dog will guide us to the other realm. Preferable a dog which was our life companion, otherwise, any dog will do.’
Another mystery will soon be solved. Namely, how thick is the salt surface on Uyuni? Covered in crappy mud, stinky as rotten vegetation on the bottom of lakes without oxygen. The salt surface in Uyuni is not very thick at some patches.
In trying to find a camp spot on the Uyuni salt lake, we again fail. There is either too much water on the flats or the crust is too sharp or very uneven. When we try our best at the shores of Tahua, we find out how thick the salt crust really is.
In helping Geo back on his wheels, I get presented with a nice coating. Stinking like a sewerage, face colored as a pink salmon, stomach bloated, intestines sputtering, lips rough like sandpaper, nose crusty from the inside with some bleeding, skin dry, painful fingers, heels full of gaps and very soon diarrhea. Yippee: the beautifying properties of altitude.
We opt for an alojamiento in Tahua instead. I longed for camping but the soft, stinky shore of Tahua is not that great. Besides, there’s no wood either. I am not happy in alojamientos, I can not make my own chai, coffee or tea. Yet, the motorbike and ourselves are very dirty and I surely need a wash, drenched in mud as I am.
Still, we are somehow removed from what I love: to live outside. Living outside is not the same as being outside. We’re too busy. We have no rest. Taking too long to pack, leaving too late. See our heap of stuff!?
Making a fire is hardly working out. We’re not able to bake our own bread. We eat irregular. We are both very tired at the end of the day. We don’t fall into each other’s arms, but into a deep, dreamy sleep. The altitude deforms our lips to petrified worms. We can hardly open them further than the width of a flattened piece of soft bread. And if we do, they crack open, a drip of blood gushing out.
I feel I have been thrown back to a part of the backpackers-lifestyle. It has to change. I carry a backpack, all right. But there it needs to end. ‘We will find out soon, that we suddenly got into a groove we both like,’ I comfort both Geo and myself.
We are searching. Just as the order of our bags, duffel bag, canisters and numerous plastic bags.
Maybe, to find a constant balance, ever changing. To do what one likes and to keep doing just that is maybe not a balance anymore. Mere habit.
Geo is impressed with Salar de Uyuni (as my dad was too), not with the dreadful town, many tiresome locals nor with where we camp. Neither am I. The town has to be avoided at all costs, if possible. Though it is an excellent base to stock up, and I buy ready-made lunches in order to have a former warm meal at preferable exactly 2 o’clock.
At times I realize how difficult I am. How a complicated person. Sort of a river, washed out, eroded. Gnawed in a particular shape. Worn away in a fitting shape. Specific. I need to eat around 2 o’clock. Things have to go on time, without using a watch I simply need order. Sometimes spontaneous, usually not.
I realize I make a lot of photos, trying to gather as much as would I cycle, attempting to fasten what my eyes see. And we see much since we travel faster on a motorbike.
The village Tahua wants to go forward. All mud-brick houses are renewed. Indeed, the president in exile, Evo Morales, took care for the Bolivian folks living in an old fashioned way. And I think only the well-off, the people who are born in luxury can appreciate a mud brick house without a shower.
The fields are still enclosed by stones and if anything is fenced by wires, it is crops protected against wandering animals.
Camping in Bolivia is wondrous. There is absolute freedom. Though with a motorbike it is less easy to find camp spots and to get off the road. But being with a motorbike on tracks I preferred to be with a bicycle, is still being on the right path. I realize I am fully in nature.
‘It’s different’, says Phillipe from Lyon when Geo asks him whether it is harder on a bicycle. The Frenchman’s opening line was ‘shall we exchange transport?’ and with a lukewarm ‘sure’, I not much later check out his bicycle.
Seeing his bicycle made me realize I do not want to be on one anymore. A soothing, and suiting, thought. I don’t navigate myself anymore and I am not physical active either. The latter I miss, to be satisfied with where I came on own power. Sometimes I think ‘am I idealizing cycling too much?’ and ‘Do I make it too rosy?’ I think I do, and I don’t. The roads Geo and I now take would make me very weak and I could not go on for very long with the load I carried. The distances are too long. I was often cursing and wanting to stop… yet, I do miss the physical exercise.
But I do feel too that we are almost falling in place, my husband and me with where we are and how we travel!
And thanks to Heike, she made me aware of using resin to make fires go easier.
November 2019. Tupiza, Atocha, Uyuni, Tahua