Friday, 10 February 2012

A salty end to Bolivia and - hello Malvinas!

Uyuni. A small town from which you take a tour to the famous salt flats: isolated, windy, dusty, boiling hot and freezing cold. Full of tourist agencies and, yes, tourists. Tourists hanging out on the streets in big groups like they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Suffice to say, I didn’t like Uyuni: a victim of its own salty success. Of course, the locals can’t stand the sight of the tourists, either. I got into a pickle with a man working in an internet cafĂ© where everyone was paying to watch pages load. He followed on my heels as I walked out, silently threatening to hit me. That was when I realised what machism really is. I’ve seen how women sometimes barely look at you, how their man speaks for them, how the man who speaks louder gets served first. But to see a man in his forties threaten me so publicly was frightening. I couldn’t imagine what he’d be capable of behind closed doors. Sometimes I like to think I’m such a modern woman that I can break through gender barriers, that there are moments when I’m genderless, but in that incident I was reminded very clearly that I was a female, and that, in Bolivia at least, there is a marked difference between ‘her’ and ‘him’.

With the tour came other-worldly landscapes that made you feel you'd stepped off Earth, and the world's largest salt flats:

 the red, white, and coloured lagoons, the stone tree, Dali's desert, and various breeds of pink flamingo:

geysers (huge stinky holes that smell of rotten egg where sulphur is bubbling away), and a locomotive cemetry.    
     Our driver, Javier, was lovely. He drove us in a jeep for 3 days, prepared lunch at mid-day and cooked dinner as soon as we arrived at our resting place for the night. On the third day he told us about a bus accident he was in on his way home for Christmas - the brakes failed and the bus flew through the barrier and 200 metres down the mountain. Javier lost his memory, ability to speak French and English and had to have several operations. I knew buses were dangerous around these parts: I have blessed myself on more than one occasion, and we had our own scare when a chunk of the engine fell off our bus in Peru and I woke up to shouting and whistling.
     After the tour, being offered a shower by a little girl in the street and a night bus, I was on the bridge, officially in no-man’s land, waiting to get into Argentina. Standing in the queue under the scorching sun, I watched a pig eat a dead puppy. She got every bit of meat off that corpse, I can tell you.
     Stepping onto Argentian soil, after getting through with no search or questions (not everyone got through so easily), I was welcomed by a huge sign: “ The Faulklands are Argentinian”.