Into the sticks...

Trip Start Feb 12, 2010
Trip End May 05, 2010

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, March 8, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

The South America team continues to be dong great in Bolivia!   Andrew updates us on their adventures on the jeep safari in south western Bolivia here....................

Saludos a todos!

Andrew here again, with another episode of adventure from our ongoing Youth International South American journey. Everyone in the gang says hola!

 To pick up where we left off....

Following over a week of challenging manual labor at the high school in Mallcorancho, the gang was ready for some much deserved rest and relaxation. It came one day earlier than expected, however, when we learned of an anticipated 48 hour nation-wide transportation strike to take place the same day we were to leave. (Side note: When upset with government policy, Bolivians are quite active and willing to display their discontent – often in the form of large public marches and other blockades which disrupt traffic and commerce for hours or days at a time. Though a shock to wandering gringos, these protests occur quite frequently and are surprisingly effective in achieving their goals through non-violent means.)

So, we ended up departing the country side one day earlier in order to reach the town of Oruro, the starting point of our extended train journey south. (The train fortunately was unaffected by the pan-Bolivian strike.) Following a scenic train ride and subsequent red-eye arrival at our hostel in Uyuni at 2 a.m. we were back up and departing the dusty outpost town the next morning.

In hand-me-down Toyota Landcruiser we set off on bumpy dirt roads and into the vast high desert of the Bolivian southwest. Rolling scenery ranged from lifeless brown expanses of terrain to towering red rock volcanoes, turquoise lagunas and Dali-esque serpentine sand dunes slumbering over 500 miles from civilization. We'd make periodic stops to stretch our legs and photograph the picturesque landscapes, and see just how close we could get to the numerous llama and alpaca that munched on the sparse vegetation (very few made it within petting distance, try as they may.) Though deemed a desert due to the arid climate, we actually spent the duration of the tour at over 12,000 feet (3,800m) and on day 2 climbed to over 15,000 feet (4,700m) to observe sulfur-spewing geysers in the heights of an otherworldly Mars-like landscape (NASA has actually tested Mars rovers in the same location due to the similarity of terrain.) Much of our time was spent traversing the wild countryside, though we all shared a collective sight of relief when given the chance to soak our bones in a natural hot springs near the remote laguna verde.

            Though wildlife was scarce, we were treated to views of fluorescent pink flamingoes feeding on high-altitude lagoons, tiny lizards scurrying across the hot desert sand and occasional graceful vicunas, an Andean cousin of the mule deer. When not staring into the endless horizon, we had plenty of time to socialize with team members on the road and regal one another with stories and riddles. The journey was reminiscent of family road trips from our youth, only in one of the most remote and untouched corners of South America.

            On our fourth and final day of the tour we arrived at the infamous Salar de Uyuni, a vast expanse of white salt over 60,000 square kilometers and the only remnants of a giant prehistoric lake that covered the land 100 million years ago. While blinding white in the dry season, we had arrived just at the tail end of the rainy months and thus witnessed a different scene altogether. Incessant annual rains had once again flooded the salt flats in all directions, leaving a shallow and crystal clear pool of water on the upper surface. The result was a reflective mirror that stretched endlessly into the horizon, blurring any visual distinction between earth and sky. Driving across the aqua blue expanse felt similar to a pan-Atlantic plane ride, with clouds above and beneath the Toyota’s tires. We enjoyed a barefoot break in the middle of the journey to take photos and observe locals working tirelessly to harvest white salts for commerce, and many stood silently in awe of the scene unlike any we’d ever witnessed. The Salar was a photographer’s paradise and certainly a highlight of the trip thus far.

            Upon the tour’s end we enjoyed a massive pizza feast at our home-base hostel in Uyuni, compliments of Chris, the restaurant owner and originally a Boston local (he knows his pies.) We have since returned to the capital city of La Paz via a long overnight bus ride and have been spending time in the numerous street markets, ethnic restaurants and museums dotting the metropolis. Tomorrow we board a plane bound for Rurrenabaque, a small jungle town in the vast Amazon river basin. Things are sure to heat up from here, so keep following the blogs and enjoy the vicarious ride!

Hasta luego,

 Andrew and the YI 2010 team

Note that I (Brad) heard from the leaders yesterday (Wednesday, March 10) after their arrival in the Amazon Basin outpost town of Rurrenabaque.  All was well, and the team headed up the river early this morning (Thursday).  They will not have any direct access to communication for the next few days.  However, after Saturday they will have easy communication access for the following two and a half weeks.  And, as always, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at any time if there are ever any questions or concerns.  --  This Sunday the team will fly back out of the Amazon basin and begin to make their way toward Peru.  The next blog update should be out soon after their arrival in Puno, Peru where they will be having their next home stay and volunteer project.  More soon!    Brad

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