Bolivia it, we´re not at all Chile.

Our last days in Cusco were great.  Tim was getting better and we started going on slow walks around the Plaza de Armas, I went for a great solo day hike to the ruins of Huacay Qosco outside of a little town of Pisac, and our friend Mercedes saw us off with hugs and hot chocolate.  We broke up our bus ride to La Paz, Bolivia by staying the night in both Puno and in Copa-Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. 

Copacabana was a funny town, though it did resemble the Everglades in 2000 during the three day Phish show I went to. So. Many. Hippies.  The lake was really something though, all sparkly and cold and blue, we went sailing for the afternoon we were there on this homemade wooden boat with a huge sail on a gaff rig.  The weather helm was soooo strong, my arms got tired less than a half hour into it, but the wind was good if shifty and the scenery great.  We stopped by an Incan ruin, the mouth of the something, but were enjoying the boat too much to actually get off.  And, through all this activity, Tim was smiling which I took as a sure sign of his continued recovery from Typhoid.  That and that he really likes sailing.  And, now we´ve sailed on the highest navigable lake in the world, naturally we´ll have to sail on the lowest, the Dead Sea.  I´m proud to say now I´ve swum in both.

I went for a hike up to the top of a hill next to town, right on the water, intending to stay for sunset, but the scene was too weird up there, and only got weirder as I came down. The walk up was great, next to the lake and among these big white rocks and blue flowers.  But once close to the top, there were all these shrines and trash and drunk old Bolivian men.  At the very top were stalls to sell beer and, oddly, little plastic cars and buses.  On my way down the hill on the other side, I realized that this was a path for the 12 stations of the cross.  Around cross seven there were two different couples obviously getting some nature of blessing from two of these old drunk men, complete with incense and bottles of beer shook up and sprayed.  The religious art on the way down was fab, and Alisa, if I had any way at all of getting it home in one piece you definitely would´ve got some.  Little plastic palm trees, buses, and pots all dressed up in aluminum foil and mounted on a starfish.  I realized later that Copacabana is *the* place in Bolivia to get stuff blessed, you just have to buy a symbol of whatever it is that you want, and take it to the church.  Thus all the little buses, cars and wads of fake money.  Fake American bills, oddly enough.

The ride into La Paz was easy enough, though just driving through I got sick of the city.  It´s seemingly a fine city, but we´ve just had to much city recently. We met up with Bill, he´d already been there a week, and took off the next day for Potosi.

Potosi was more my speed.  It´s a cool place for a couple of reasons, it has all the history of it´s silver mine, exploited by the Spaniards to fund the Inquisition.  It has the House of Money where the Spanish would bring the silver to be melted and taxed by the crown. It´s a smaller town with little streets and lots of kids running around. That same mountain is still giving lead, tin, copper and to some extent, silver.  The trick is, they haven´t updated the mining methods since the Spaniards left.  Now they have electric head lamps instead of gas or candles.  They pump compressed air into the tunnels in an effort to increase ventilation.  That´s about it.  The mines are full of foul smells, mud, sketchy looking support beams (that have been there since the Spaniards), and miners that all chew big wads of coca leaves.  Same leaf cocaine is extracted from.  We spent some time with Tio, the god of the underworld with some miners that worked on their coca leaf cheek bulges.  Really interesting though to see the miners working hard in intense conditions, pushing and pulling a ton and a half of rock through these tunnels.  Some miner´s came huffing by and asked for some help pushing their cart of ore up an incline so slight I didn´t see it.  Tim and I thought that being fresh gringos after a good night´s sleep, a hearty breakfast, and reasonably fit would could give them a hand.  These were miners that were just finishing a ten hour shift.  I thought my lungs were going to explode, the killer is I still didn´t see the incline, just felt what a difference it made on the velocity of a ton of ore.  The miners took over.

All in all, it was the perfect place to spend thanksgiving.  Since we didn´t have any cranberry sauce, stuffing or turkey, we tried our best to oppress Indians and steal land from them.  I have some silver ore now as testament to that effort.  That it was given to me by the nice refinery manager is secondary.  Finally though, we had enough of the city and we set out again, this time to Uyuni, Bolivia to see the famed Salar de Uyuni, the great salt flat.

The ride to Uyuni was long, uncomfortable and bumpy over a dirt road for six hours, to the soundtrack of every 80s song you wish you´d forgotten.  That Elvis song ´uhhu, I´m all shook up´ keep playing in my head.  The town of Uyuni itself is kinda cool, it´s really sunny, with fluffy clouds and the perfect breeze, hot in the sun, chilly in the shade with these broken down one-story buildings and wide streets with no cars.  Everything closes for lunch.  Like if you wanted to mess with someone, plunk them down in this town and they´ll wake up convinced the apocalypse has come and gone.

Our actual four day trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile via the Salar de Uyuni was great.  The Salar itself is the highest, biggest salt flat in the world, we thought of it as a poor man´s answer to seeing Antarctica.  So blindingly white, dried and cracked into irregular hexagonal patters and it stretches to the horizon.  Two Irish guys, a French guy and myself went to the lip of a volcano the second day, we kept telling ourselves it was okay if we didn´t make it, knowing we didn´t really have a choice once we started out.  It was really high, sunny, warm and windy, and the view to the salar looks like the edge of the ocean, you know, except that it´s white.  Later the second day we left the Salar and headed into some of the most inhospitable desert I´ve ever seen.  Moon and Martian-scapes presented themselves over and over, with nothing living visible anywhere, or geysers shooting up under bubbling mud or water, or arsenic-borax-cobalt oxide-salt filled (and colored) lakes filled with flamingos.  Weirdest thing.  And we were so high that it was chilly to cold, despite the intense sun and obvious heat waves in the distance.  Maybe the oxygen deprivation added to my appreciation of all the colors out there. 

When we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, it´s a seemingly European town in the middle of the desert, with the attendant prices.  Actual nice restaurants, hot water that comes out of the hot water handle, a bathtub, tidy houses and neat gardens.  After almost a year of sailing and budget hostels in third world countries, all of these are surprising. Obviously we can´t afford all this.  :-) We going for a (nice, cheap) walk today to check out some Incan ruins.

We´re leaving later today for Peru, hoping to meet up with our friend Bill and meet his Peruvian fiancee, and maybe ride some horses, before we head back to Florida for the holidays. 

Still more pictures from Bolivia...

The Salar de Uyuni, so so white...

Fish Island, in the middle of the Salar

Us standing lookout over Fish Island

Our driver wanted to hang out on the island, and invited usto walk to that landmass behind Tim, along the ´road´.

Those cool hexagonal cracking patterns

We enjoyed the sunset from the Salar

Tim, holding me up, at sunset

Me at the lip of the volcano I climbed

Some of the *thousands* of flamingos.

All the folks we shared a jeep with for four days across the desert, at Laguna Verde.

Tim, sailing the highest navigable lake.