Where trains come to die.. – The train Cemetery

The Salt flats of Uyuni would have been an incredible location to watch the sunset in Bolivia. The reflective whites of the salt flats would have displayed a spectrum of colours from the suns rays beautifully. Colours of fiery reds, orange, and soft yellows that would have been highlighted by the fluorescent outlines of the dry salt cracks, a pattern that detailed the land.

So it was with much surprise and disappointment that I discovered we were going instead to the antique train cemetery for the sunset.

The train graveyard was a dump, I mean, a ‘well rusted playground’ decoratively littered with many pretty plastic bags which had fused with the native arid shrubbery. The word ‘FUN’ could be thrown into the description.. as long as you’ve had your tetanus shot.

Imagination is easily utilised in a place like this, with plenty of landscape inspired scenes to role play.

Scene 1 – Role play hungry homeless person looking through empty antique rusty cans for food.

Scene 2 – Stand around an empty tin drum an imagine there’s fire burning in it while you make-believe warming your hands against the cold, singing ‘Cause if there’s one thing she don’t need it’s another hungry mouth to feed, in the ghetto…’ (Elvis classic)

Scene 3 – Lay down on the tracks and wait for the pretend train to come.

Scene 4 – Give up, accept you’re in a rustic dump, in the cold, in the fierce wind, and go wait in the car for what felt like the longest sunset in the world. Also try to ignore the pain coming from overloaded bladder.

I did all 4 scenes and the god-damn sun still hadn’t set.

20 minutes later, the sun started its slow descent. Yes, it was pretty, but lacking compared to some amazing sunsets I’ve witnessed.

Lauren – ‘Come on Tiara, you might as well take one picture’

T, reluctantly gets out of the car and hands the camera to Andy – ‘ ok, Andy, do you mind taking the photo for us?’ then stands in front of sunset with Bec and Lauren

Lauren – ‘How should we pose?’

T, after a long afternoon of hobo posing suggests without hesitation – ‘Like we’ve just won lotto!’.

Tiny dancer – Salar de Uyuni

Turmoil was bubbling as the Bolivian president threatened to increase the price of petrol by 70%(!) Some streets in Lapaz were already blocked off and we were informed that protests could get real ugly – so we got out of Lapaz quick smart and headed for the Salt Flats of Uyuni – the largest salt flats in the world at 10,582 square kilometers.

The salt flats were amazing an ran for as far as the eye could see, providing an excellent background for some creative photography that manipulated objects from tiny to large and visa versa. I got to get down with the Lonely Planet South America guide-book, kick a giant Fanta bottle, and have a teeny tiny Amanda do dancers pose on the palm of my hand!! Every little girls dream turned adult fantasy! (adult fantasy, not porn.)

You were given the creative freedom to design a scene with whatever props available, and even though these pictures could have been easily produced on the computer back home, it was the manual 4 hour effort to make the positioning just right that made the experience fun and memorable.

Unfortunately, creating an image of a tiny me swallowing a giant imodium pill, an image that represented an important part of my time in South America so far, proved to be too difficult an illusion to create in the salt flats of Uyuni.

I will need to pay tribute to my traveling ‘life jacket’ in some other way…

Christmas in Lapaz – What to do, where to go?

Arriving in Lapaz for Christmas means one thing for a tourist – A whole lot of drinking.

Where to start? Oliver’s
Which is actually an English pub always filled with travellers of all sorts and atmosphere.

Gemma and T, entering Oliver’s Christmas evening, sober, observing the spectacle around them. Out was social etiquette. In was a whole lot of different people making out, grinding on each other, eating feet, breaking glass picture frames, flashing, and someone having had a mullet haircut done on the balcony.

T, completely sober – ‘Its like entering the twilight zone!’

Gemma, quietly, eyes twinkling – ‘We’re going to have so much to gossip about tomorrow!’

To be fair, it was Christmas..

Where to next? The Blue room.
It may have been due to the silly season, but it’s never a good thing when your crowd is larger than the party. We were the only patrons in the joint. Bonus is that you are always guaranteed to be served first at the bar.

Next stop – Mongoes.
I love Mongoes! Mongoes is a house to bar conversion located in what seems to be a quiet residential area, complete with fire-place, large entertainment room converted into bar dj dance area, dining room for drinking parties who want to chat over candlelit tables, and sanded wooden floors throughout. This place was always packed with tourist from around the world but mainly Brazil and Argentina.(on the couple of nights I visited)

Possible downside? Mongoes does suffer from ‘too many dicks on the dance floor’ syndrome.

Hetal to T at 3am in the morning – ‘Lets go somewhere else’

T, bewildered – ‘Why?!’

Hetal, logically – ‘The ratio of men to women is 10 to 1’

T – ‘Fair enough’

To the final stop – Route 36.
You hear the whispers of a bar in Bolivia where they offer you a line of coke with your beer… well this was it! Anything goes in this bar. What you would normally see someone being kicked out of a venue and charged for was totally acceptable, even expected in this club. Only in Bolivia… and most underground scenes in the world. The club moves around every 12 hours and is never in the same location twice.

We stepped out of the club like vampires into the daylight.

Conclusion – Christmas in South America was like the usual Saturday night out in Sydney, only much less expensive.

Death Road, the most dangerous road in the world – Gone in 60 seconds!

When I was 7, I was cycling around my suburban neighborhood, in Hornsby through to Wahroonga, in Sydney, Australia, with my brother and school-friend charlotte.

As I was cycling down a hilly road, my tyre rode between where the bitchumen met the grass path, which instantly gave me a case of the death wobbles. I crashed, and my bike and I scraped down the rest of the steep road on the right side of my face.

I remember lying there, like road kill, as the cars swerved to avoid me without stopping to check out if this kid lying on the side of the road with blood running down her face, arms and leg was ok – arseholes.

A horrible day with the only plus side being that I was excused from having to participate in the mandatory school swimming carnival (swimming meet) that night. A bike accident was the lessor of 2 evils as far as I was concerned..

Now, I’m not a ‘get right back on the bicycle’ person. In fact, I heartlessly threw away my bicycle after this incident.

Back to the Present.
22 years later, it was stupidly ambitious of me to think that the first time I ‘get back on the bicycle’ would be to cycle down the worlds most dangerous road in La paz Bolivia, called Death Road.

Death road is 72kms of dangerously high mountainous gravel, crumbling dirt road that has waterfalls going through some parts, starts out in freezing cold, blinding fog, and eventually turns into tropics. It’s estimated that 200 to 300 travelers die on this road yearly.

Before even reaching Death Road, there was a couple of Kms of new road that we were able to warm up on.

Within 60 seconds of this new windy road, highly strung and acutely aware of any traffic, I got the death wobbles purely out of being shit-scared and having no confidence. And when your first reaction before a crash is to lift your feet off the peddles and shut your eyes, you know you’re in trouble.

I knew if I continued, I would end up killing myself – The first time I ride a bike after a traumatic experience, and 22 years, should be in a fenced park with a nice flat, smooth bike path, cycling next to 2 year olds on their tricycles. WHAT WAS I THINKING! So before even making it to Death Road, I quit! And opted instead for the embarrassing support van ride down the most dangerous road in the world, reserved for losers, which turned out to be just as scary.

Lesson – Sometimes its best NOT to hop back on the bicycle. And when you’re in a position of shame surrounded by fit hiking types, the answer is always vodka.