What a difference a day makes!
Trip Start Jul 29, 2013
22Trip End Ongoing
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Mauricio and Jorge suggested we cruise around town with them, in Mauricio’s car, while he completed some work in connection with his chemical importation business. They took us to the outskirts of Oruro where Mauricio was overseeing the delivery, to a mineral extraction plant, of several containers of chemicals from China
A few months earlier, in Cochabamba, Mauricio’s father had met an Irish couple who were touring South America in a campervan. Pricking up our ears at this news, we asked if Mauricio knew which part of Ireland the couple were from.
"Northern Ireland," came the reply.
“Really,” we said, “do you remember their names?”
“Merv . . . ,” Mauricio started, when I shouted, “Merv and Sarah Colton! We know them; they are travelling in a Unimog!”
What a coincidence
Calling back at the hotel, later in the evening, to check out, we were thrown into despair to learn that the mechanic had phoned to say that he was having further trouble with the Disco, and it would definitely not be ready for the road that day. We had a quick conference with Mauricio and Jorge, who suggested it might now be time to give up on the mechanic in Oruro and move the Disco to Cochabamba, where we would find very experienced people and a ready supply of spare parts. They offered to accompany us back to the garage and, if we wished, to arrange to transport the Disco to Cochabamba. As darkness fell, they negotiated with a truck driver who was parked on the outskirts of the city, hoping to pick up a load for his return trip to Cochabamba. Then they discussed the situation with our mechanic, agreeing with him a price to compensate for the work he had done, while recognising that not only had he not fixed the Disco, he may well, by his incompetence, have created further problems.
The truck was a high-sided lorry, so it was then necessary to find a ramp in order to get the Disco up onto the lorry. We found an available ramp at a transport company, loaded up the Disco and headed back into town for a bite to eat. Later, as we made the four-hour journey to Cochabamba, Jorge phoned ahead and booked us into a hotel. Next morning, after only a few hours’ sleep, he was back at the hotel to arrange delivery of the Disco to a mechanic who specialises in Land Rovers.
Mauricio was keen to try to make up, in some way, for the two frustrating weeks we had spent in Oruro, and he suggested we might be able to use the days, while waiting for the Disco, to see some of the more beautiful parts of his country. Having heard many travellers talk about the Salar de Uyuni, we were delighted when Mauricio arranged a package that would take us, not only to the Salar, but right into the remotest parts of southwest Bolivia.
A day’s journey by bus and train took us to the small town of Uyuni and next morning we set off for the Salar with our own personal driver. The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world
Reluctantly leaving the salt flats behind, we continued south towards the desert. Passing huge fields of quinoa, we stopped for the night at a hotel, in San Pedro de Quemes. The hotel is one of four in the area owned by the community-run, sustainable tourism Tayka project. Constructed from local stone, and making use of cactus wood for doors and locally woven cloth for soft furnishings, the hotels all rely on solar power. The dry stone walls marking the boundaries of small fields in the surrounding area were evocative of the west of Ireland.
Next day we drove further into the desert
We had been looking forward to seeing the blood-red waters of the Laguna Colorado. Algae, living in the shallow waters of this lake, give it a peculiar red colour. The colour varies in intensity during the day, and sadly, it was barely pink when we saw it. By contrast, or perhaps to compensate for our disappointment, the Laguna Verde delivered a truly spectacular sight. On our arrival, the still waters of the lake perfectly reflected the Licancabur volcano which sits on the lake’s western shore. On the far shore we could see a thin sliver of the vivid green which gives the lake its name. The colour comes from the arsenic and other minerals that are suspended in the water of the lake. As a gentle wind blew up, the vivid green slowly spread across the surface of the water, until, after about 20 minutes, the whole lake was a vivid turquoise shade and the reflection of the volcano had completely disappeared
A long drive across the desert, on a route discernible only to the experienced driver, took us through a colourful terrain that varied according to minerals, sunlight and the action of the wind. Close to the town of Uyuni, the driver diverted from the main road, to allow a short visit to the Train Cemetery. Here, a large collection of rusting engines from the late 19th Century, provides a fascinating picture of an age when Bolivia’s vast mineral wealth was largely exploited by individuals and foreign powers.
Our five-day break away from Disco-worries left us refreshed and ready to explore and enjoy the delights of Cochabamba. What a beautiful city it is! The widest of wide tree-lined avenues; abundant green spaces; beautifully tended public gardens and spotlessly clean streets are such a total contrast to the dusty, dingy narrow streets of Oruro, that this might as well be a different country. And Cochabambinos tell us that Santa Cruz, a few hours further east, is even more lovely.
Mauricio and Jorge have continued to help us with visits to the mechanic and progress in that regard looks promising. Mauricio has taken time out from work each day to show us different parts of the city and to sort out an extension to our Bolivian visa
Sampling, once again, Cochabamba’s amazing ice cream, we sat and watched the Precarnavalera processions of dancers and bands on the main thoroughfare close to our hotel. With only two weeks to go to Carnaval, the action is really cranking up a gear, and previews of the elaborate costumes, that will be worn on the big day, are starting to appear.
The mechanic who is working on the Disco had a motorbike accident on Friday morning, sustaining a broken collarbone. His boss assures us that he will be fit to oversee the work again by Monday and that we should be able to leave town on Tuesday. However, our new friends have taken us so much to their hearts and extended to us such generous hospitality, these past two weeks, that it will be a wrench for us when the time comes to leave.
Ciao for now
Liam and Naomi