Many firsts in Bolivia: Being cheered on while p’ing in the wild and doing an Oscar-worthy performance in Bolivia

Even if I love traveling so much, I have my boundaries. I do not like sharing my room with more than 1 person, I need my clean private bathroom. And I do not go to places (or return to them) when they are known to be dirty and filthy (hence my country blacklist).

These boundaries are crossed over time and time again during my 3 day trip to Uyuni in Bolivia. You see, usually it takes me one picture to decide where to go. In Bolivia, it took this:

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So I started inquiring. I learned that I will see a slightly different view. Since February is rainy season, I would see reflections from the water. Cool!

Apparently, there is no tour which does not rough it if you want to have a tour beyond one day. I was assured that even if I will be sharing a room, the bathroom and showers would be clean, and all meals will be provided with quality. And it also helped that the last stop was so close to the Chilean border, San Pedro de Atacama, where my next stop is. So rather than flying in from Santiago to San Pedro, I would just cross by land from Bolivia. Convenient! (Or that’s what I thought!)

I was promised with spectacular sights beyond my imagination, and I was told that the tour will be reasonably comfortable.

“Reasonably” is an arbitrary word, and here’s why:

1. First time to eat meat as hard as a rock

I didn’t even take photos of the food because it’s just too sad. But I was in the  middle of nowhere with no other choice. Beggars can’t be choosers!

2. First time to stay in dirty hostels filled with noisy, haven’t-taken-a-bath backpackers

It’s good that my fellow travel mates were okay, but the rest of the people staying in the hostels are not. Given that the bathrooms are shared, it’s as disgusting as it gets. And one hostel we stayed at didn’t even have a shower. Even with cold weather, I just could not bear not showering for a day. And they are noisy. Good thing I have my noise cancelling earphones with me!

3. First time to p in the wild – with cheering squad!

We would go for hours and hours of traveling and there are no toilets. Mind you, even when I was crossing the border to Chile, you would expect there is one, but no! Apparently, building a toilet is rocket science. So what did I do, do what the Romans did – did my business in the wild, in the middle of open space!!! It’s a first – and hopefully not to be repeated. My most embarrassing moment, while doing my business, was when a car filled with young guys suddenly zoomed by and started cheering! Oh well, I will never see any of you anyway!!!

4. First time to deliver an Oscar-winning performance

Bolivia is sadly South America’s poorest country. And it is easy to realize that the minute you land. And baggage comes with people who live in very poor countries. They are slow, inefficient, and for those who have just a bit of power over you, they would try to take advantage of it.

When I was checking in on my flight from La Paz to Uyuni, the staff insisted I have to show the credit card I used to make the booking. I told them I lost the card, and would willingly call Citibank to verify and talk to them. They refused. I asked if there is anything else I could do instead, the answer is no. They just wouldn’t let me fly unless they are shown the card.

What can I single Asian girl who does not speak Spanish do in such situations (with the flight 1 hour away)? Cry. Yes, cry to the top of my lungs even if I didn’t feel like it. I knew it would be resolved, but I am so tired with a 10+hour flight from Brazil. And it was 4,500m above sea level. I need my boarding pass fast. So I managed to shed tears, break down, and pretend I couldn’t breathe as I am not used to the altitude (which later turns real!). I was ignored by the staff, so the drama went on for another couple of minutes.

Then a kind-hearted Western couple argued with them, saying they were unreasonable, and there should be another way. Lo and behold, I was handed a form I just need to fill in.

Boarding pass issued. Too bad there is no Oscar trophy 🙂

I later apologized to the couple, as well as the Americal girl beside me, about the drama. The couple did not mind at all. The American girl even laughed, “Oh – you had to, dear! If you didn’t do that, they wouldn’t have given it to you.”

5. Second (sorry this is not a first) time for my breath to be taken away – literally! (First time in Peru!)

I knew this coming in. Flying into a place 4,500 meters above sea level will leave you breathless. I realized you will only feel this around 4-6 hours after you land. So I was fine in La Paz, but altitude sickness hit me in Uyuni, and hit me hard. I was lucky I traveled with a really kind-hearted family – who helped me carry my things all the way.

So was Bolivia a total disaster. Ironically, not so. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime amazing experience I will never forget. I experienced so many FIRSTS:

1. First time to be stretched way beyond my travel boundaries

Breaking my boundaries, physically and emotionally, made me realize how much I can do. I am not saying I will be signing up for the next camping trip. But this made me realize how much I can endure. Sounds funny, but it is really true.

2. First time to be “adopted” to the most amazing family

Each tour group consists of seven people – the group I was with was a French family (and their friends) and they knew each other before joining the trip. They welcomed me with open arms from the minute they saw me, and treated me like family. My friends know that I do not like sharing space with strangers that much, and this showed me that perhaps, I should start trying. They did, and they made my trip really fun!

My wonderful family for 3 days!

My wonderful family for 3 days!

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My French family at the hot springs. It was too cold for me to jump in!

My French family at the hot springs. It was too cold for me to jump in!

3. First-time jaw dropping sights

This is why I joined the tour in the first place – to see the salt flats. That is amazing in itself, but the sights are out of this world. Absolutely no civilization, and pure beautiful nature. Flamingoes flying around a red lake, green lake with a beautiful mountain backdrop, the list goes on. Here are some highlights.

Uyuni salt flats

Uyuni salt flats

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Typical scenery on my way to the Chilean border

Typical scenery on my way to the Chilean border

Geysers at sunrise

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This was worth the strong winds and long walk

This was worth the strong winds and long walk

As close as I could get

As close as I could get

Green lake. Laguna Verde to be more precise 😛

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More llamas

More llamas

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I had to pose anyhow!

I was breathless here!

I was breathless here!

Yes, you have a cute butt!

Yes, you have a cute butt!

Run, llamas, run!!!!

Run, llamas, run!!!!

Salt mounds

Salt mounds

Would I go back again – to this area, no. To Bolivia, not in the top of my list. But was I glad I did it, YEAH!

Explore posts in the same categories: Bolivia, Uncategorized, Uyuni

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