Salt Flats, Strikes and Miss Bolivia

21.7.2015

I don’t know if you want to read this, if it matters. But I’m writing anyway. I don’t know if I’ll send this. Maybe. One day. A bunch of letters all bundled up in the post, lost at sea. Something like that.

So.

I was on Bolivian national news today.

I’ve got two policemen following me as bodyguards for the Congress.

I’ve had the craziest week past.

I cycled 40km at an altitude of 2000m through the Valle de la Luna – Moon Valley – giant sand dunes, gale force winds and breathtaking vistas of rocks so red they were bleeding snow.

I’ve gotten lost in a river by an oasis and been shouting for help, help, is anyone out here, he-llooooo, I’m lost one afternoon and been rescued.

I’ve ripped both Goretex jacket pockets, gloves, my thickest pair of pants, lost a charger, destroyed my only pair of shoes, gotten everything I own covered in dust, showered in cold water and been confused out of my mind talking in 4 languages in one day.

I’ve taken coca over the border from Chile to Bolivia.

I’ve had to smash all my travel plans because of a violent civil strike in silver mining town of Potosi.

I’ve nearly broken down in tears and been saved by friends of friends in a nearby town, with a house like a five-star hotel.

I’ve walked in ice-covered Laguna Blanca white lake till I heard it crack, chased rabbit-like biscachas through a canyon, sung to four species of flaminco, walked through 150-200 degree geysers at 5000m, done bridges at Laguna Verde (green lake), bathed in thermal hot pools at 4000m, slept in -20 degrees C refuge, and thrown up for the first time in 10 years.

I’ve handstanded on wind-swept rock-forests, seen volcanoes, and driven into a herd of llamas.

I’ve slept in a hotel made completely of salt – beds, chairs, tables, walls, everything – moonwalked at sunrise over the largest salt flat in the world, and nearly slipped and cracked my head open on bathroom floors covered with ice.

I have breakfasted at an island full of giant cacti over 20m tall.

I have visited the most horrific public toilets of my life at an artisanal indigenous market, seen a train cemetery, and had my head explode to the stars because of soroche or altitude sickness by a red lake, Laguna Colorada.

I’ve caught a one of the most dangerous and shittiest night buses in Bolivia, and blundered through foreign train stations at 4am in the morning with beggars sleeping on the floor.

I’ve made an Indian feast for a Palestinian-Spanish family of the military.

I’ve climbed to the highest statue in Latin America in Oruro, the town of carnivals, sung in a cathedral leading to the mines, and drunk a near-pure maca smoothie.

I’ve been recognized in a bus by a conference-goer who had seen my work online.

I’ve been warned by a fellow Global Shaper and World Economic Forum invitee about women’s rights (or lack thereof) in Bolivia.

I’ve slept in the best night bus of my life, with flash 180 deg ‘bed’ seats.

I’ve been in a car crash.

And the people. Always, the people.

I’ve stayed with a philosopher-artist-of-nude-woman-outdoor-gym-cycle-lover-vegetarian-turned-hostal-worker with dreams to study philosophy and psychology one day in Europe, been helped more than I could imagine by a mother of two in a dusty town, I’ve brought out a smile from the telephone lady just by asking how she was that day. I’ve bantered with electronic ship whizzes and old men waiting in line for ENTEL, had my money refused by a Casa de Cambio moneychangers, chatted to a little brown boy selling entrance to public toilets for 20 cents, an engineering student living in the salt flats for three weeks, a Spaniard cycling the world for years and two Chilean tourists with smiles as big as the moon.

I’ve wrestled with a wild dog, been told off by an indigenous old lady in a pitch black bus, been helped by an internet cafe lady and shopkeeper with a smartphone.

I’ve loved to bits two brothers who created a biodigestor for a farm, won Model United Nations Awards, dropped me off right to the seat of my next bus and have a heart of gold, a twelve year old sister with a beautiful smile, and a mum entrepreneur selling Tupperware with 70 employees and a husband who dances Zumba, used to be a gymnast, horse-rider, militant at the highest level and who couldn’t help but spend one whole afternoon giving me advice to live in the Amazon, and whose whole extended family lives in the same apartment building.

I’ve played the piano in a vegetarian-dog-lover-communications girl’s home without asking.

I’ve stayed at the home of the director of one of the biggest herbal tea companies in the continent.

I’ve found it hard to listen to music without crying.

I’ve messed my back up bigtime and stopped caring.

I haven’t spoken to my family in ten days.

I’m in a hotel for the first time and I hate it. It’s dark and I’m lonely and I didn’t choose this.

I’ve come home shattered, tired, lonely, happy, grateful, distant, confused, wondering what the hell I’m doing here at once as there is nothing better I could be doing here on Planet Earth.

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