Happy Easter everybody!
It’s now 10 days since my legs were horrifically savaged by mutants in the jungle, and they’re only just beginning to settle down. Just out of interest, I had a passing blind man run his hand over my scab riddled calves, and he read in Braille “Don’t mess with us, Rock. The Mosquitoes.” Very clever insects over here.
Bolivia seems to have a passion for the Chris de Burgh song, “Lady In Red”. Obviously those of you who worked on Operation Nissan will remember that “this is a classic ‘r kid”. It’s been giving me terrible flashbacks of being locked in a windowless room for weeks at a time…….
Anyway, when I last wrote I told you I was going for three days in the Atacama Desert. I was of course wrong. I never have any idea where I’m being taken. Only Charlotte knows. She knows everything. What we actually did was a three day 4 wheel drive tour of the Bolivian Salt Flats and surrounding mountains. Sticking to routine, once again I have been to the most amazing part of the world! How does this keep happening????!
So, 22 of us plus drivers and guides in 4 Toyota Land Cruisers. This could have been subtitled “Charlotte and Paul travel with 20 of the world’s richest and poshest kids, plus coca leaf-fuelled drivers across incredible landscapes”! We were of course the oldest by a long long way! One of my favourite comments was to Charlotte – “You really remind me of my friend’s mum”! Class! Not sure if it was meant as a chat up line or not! Two of the kids were from the Methley family. I learnt that the village of Methley near Leeds was named after them, after the country house there had been given to John de Methley in 1312!!! Their father was head of Jardine Insurance. To give you a taste of their trip compared to ours, they had stayed in Rio for the carnival at the house of one of their father’s friends. The family of the house had gone away for the week, but had left them the use of the chauffeur and the cook!!!! I don’t recall that having happened to us at all!! Very nice people though. I particularly liked it on the second night when Charlotte made the girl serve dinner to the whole table. I’m pretty sure she had only ever had dinner served TO her before!
One of the girls in our jeep was called Amy. She should have been called Amy Winehouse. No. Amy Wine. No. Amy Whine. Or just plain simple “Whining incessantly spoilt little rich girl who has no idea of real life whatsoever”. Although that would be quite a mouthful. She failed to recognise my infamous “if you don’t shut up now I’m going to batter you to death with a rusty iron bar” look. It was like looking after a small child. I have to take my hat off to Charlotte’s tolerance and patience as she mothered her through the trip. But despite that, they were a great bunch of people and generally very good company! (I’m hoping she doesn’t discover this blog….)
The tour started at a train graveyard! Loads of old steam trains laid to rest in the desert! Spectacular! We then spent the rest of the first day on the salt flats, which are just amazing. Awesome even!!! Incredible expanses of flatness yet always surrounded by mountains. Bizarre. It was at this time that I got naked…… One of the children wanted to recreate the Evolution of Man poster, and I volunteered my services, much to Charlotte’s despair! (Soon after, Charlotte re-read the rules to me…). You can see the results below!!! I know no shame! (Our friend Brett has already likened me to James Corden!!! Outrageous!!)
The first night we slept in a hostel in the middle of nowhere, made of salt! Everything was made of salt – the beds, chairs, tables! We were lucky enough to have a room to ourselves whereas as all the others were sharing. Dinner was provided, and I kept the little old Bolivian lady in charge of the beer gainfully employed all night! Brilliant!
Another early start saw us heading off into the desert areas. Quite superbly our driver Johnny got us stuck in the salt flats, sunk up to the axles. The ensuing comedy to rescue us was fantastic. It involved three more 4WDs, a length of rusty cable, lots of hungover Bolivians chewing as much coca leaf as possible and a lot of head scratching. Actually took a lot of doing, but was all part of the adventure! A lot of driving followed, through dramatic scenery before stopping for lunch at a lake full of wild pink flamingos! We also saw our first active volcano with a plume of steam permanently spewing out.
Most of this trip took place at over 4000m, so breathing was sometimes difficult. We topped out at 4910m before dropping into our hostel at 4,500m in the most beautiful setting you could imagine – on a lake surrounded by mountains, and with hot springs for bathing in. The water was at 40 degrees, so we spent great time in the spring with a full moon and millions of stars overhead. A real highlight. There was only our group there so it was a very special moment.
What wasn’t a special moment was our first (and almost certainly last) night in a dorm. Only five of us, but me and Cha had to share a single bed due to a shortage of beds! Not a good night at all for anyone, especially as the altitude made sleeping difficult for everyone. The hostel was very very basic, with no electricity after the generator was switched off at half 9 and no running water. Great fun though, and still a supply of beer and wine to purchase! The drivers and guides spent as much free time as possible getting as stoned off their heads as they could, with whatever they could! Very entertaining!
Up at 5am after about 6 minutes sleep, to below zero temperatures but in time to see the sun rise over the mountains. Awesome again!!!! We drove into the Salvador Dali desert surrounded by snow topped volcanoes for more indescribable scenery, before the seven of us who weren’t returning to the start point were taken to the Bolivian/Chile border. Our border crossing was like something out of a spy film where we felt like we were being exchanged for hostages! A small hut in the middle of absolutely nowhere where we had to pay our way out (a huge £1.50 each) before being herded onto another bus. I was expecting the British Security Services to appear at any point to welcome us! After 3 days of driving on sand, salt, rocks and mud it was a pleasure to arrive at a tarmac’d road! Entering Chile from Bolivia was like leaving Dewsbury and arriving in Kensington! Civilisation! Running water! Toilets! Electricity!
We’ve since descended to 2,600m into the village of San Pedro de Atacama where we can breath deeply again! It’s going to be great when we hit sea level later this week! I’m looking forward to running again, I imagine I’ll be like a rocket, pumped full of red blood cells! Natural EPO!!!
It’s a very pleasant 29 degrees here, a cloudless sky, and the valley is still surrounded by snow topped mountains. We’re loving being hot again and wandering around in shorts and t shirts. I might even give the Havaianas a run out later…..
And then tonight we’re meeting up with our Danish daughters again, Laura and Anna! So there may be a beer or too, and they’ve found a restaurant serving three course meals for £9!
Lots of photos below, sorry to bore you, but it was a stunning place!
Happy Easter everybody!