We crossed into Bolivia at Copacabana on Lake Titicaca. It was the same procedure as all the other border crossings except the police charged us this time to stamp the vehicle permit. Thomas and Antonella arrived at the border a few minutes after us. They demanded a receipt from the police which they couldnít produce and the cop just asked for a small tip instead which they didnít give. Upon hearing this I went back to the cop and demanded our money back, telling him the permit was free, but he acted like we had paid him nothing. It was only $3 but it was the principle of it. We were only in Bolivia a half hour and we already forming a bad opinion of Bolivian cops. We drove on into the town of Copacabana. We needed gas and water for the van. There was only one gas station and even though the listed price was about $0.40/liter, the attendant said we had to pay $1.10/liter because we were non-nationals of Bolivia. We were disgusted. I told the girl that we had worked and saved very hard to come and see her country and this was the welcome we were getting. She obviously didnít care. We texted the French family to see had the same happened to them. They text back and said it was only within 50km of the border that they charge the gringo extra. So we just got 10 liters to keep us going. Next we needed water and it turned out the water only runs in the morning time in the town so we would have to wait until the next day! We decided to stay and do a tour of Isla Del Sol the next day also and found parking on the beach by the lake. We had both been really looking forward to Bolivia and were a little disappointed so far with what we experienced. The people were not friendly or welcoming in any way and looked at us as if they hated and despised us for been there.
The next day we headed off on a half day tour of the island. Lake Titicaca is considered the most sacred lake of the Andes and Isla Del Sol is the most important religious sites of the Inca Empire as it is here that they believe the Inca creator, Viracocha, emerged. It was a pleasant hour and half boat ride out to the island. Because we only did a half day tour, we only had an hour on the island. They charged $1 to walk on the island which was not mentioned of course when we bought our tickets. We didnít have time to go see the Sacred Rock so instead we just walked uphill to the village to get a view of the island and lake. Along the way three local women were struggling to carry a plank of wood up the hill so I stepped in and carried it with them.They stopped for a break and I took out the camera to take a photo. One woman said I needed to pay a tip to take a photo of them. I asked her for a tip for helping them carry the plank and walked away annoyed. All they seem to be interested in is getting money from us. Jimmy went to use the toilet on the island and they even wanted to charge him for that so he peed on the side of the building instead. The views of the lake from the top were beautiful and worth the climb up. We headed back down to the boat and back to the mainland.
Copacabana is famous for its Sunday processions and blessings. The Virgin of Candelaria is one of the patron saints of Bolivia and is believed to have performed miracles in the Sanctuary of Copacabana. On Sunday a procession of people climb to the summit of Calvario, passing the 14 Stations of the Cross, and then buy miniature versions of the items they want to pray for e.g. Miniature cars, trucks, houses, cookers, wheelbarrows, suitcases of money! They place the items in front of the statue of the Virgin and pray for these things. For those who already have a car or truck, they can go directly to the cathedral in the plaza for a blessing. As we missed the Sunday procession, we found out we could still have the van blessed on Monday afternoon which is why we just did a half day tour of the Isla Del Sol. The plaza in front of the cathedral was full of stalls where women were selling flowers and all sorts of religious memorabilia to decorate the van with. We pulled up right in front of the cathedral and the women got busy decorating the van. Next the priest came out with incense, stood in front of the van and chanted some prayers while shaking the incense everywhere. He walked around the van and blessed it with holy water and finally blessed myself and Jimmy and Francie. He walked off then and never said another word to us. We heard that on Sundays they go all out and spray the cars with beer and champagne after the blessing. When we arrived the day before we thought there was a wedding and thatís why all the cars were covered in flowers. Apparently some people drive all the way from La Paz just to get their car blessed.
From Copacabana, we decided to head north and off the beaten track, hoping that the people would get nicer. Just to leave the town of Copacabana a cop stopped us at a checkpoint and wouldnít let us through until we paid him $1.20. He was in Jimmyís face screaming at him for the money. Again, itís such a small amount itís not worth the fight but it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. We had just bought enough gas to get us 50km so we were in desperate need of a gas station. The first town we got to we went to the gas station but they wouldnít sell to us. They said they had no gas even though we just saw someone fill up and leave before us. The next town you would think we were looking for gold when we asked for gas! Nobody had a clue even though there were cars everywhere. Finally in the third town we got a gas station just before the van conked out and there wasnít a question about the price. We were stopped at another checkpoint. This time the cop asked Jimmy how much he paid for the other stamps on the permit and he said nothing, itís free. The cop eyed him up oddly and then said go ahead. We continued onto Sorata up through mountains and down into the valley, beautiful countryside. We passed lots of kids along the road and usually in other countries when we wave to them they wave back. Here one kid ran up to the van and hit it with a stick! The road got really bad closer to the town because of recent rain and landslides. By the time we arrived in Sorata everything including all the pots and pans had fallen out of the presses. The streets of the town were just as bad so when we made it as far as the plaza we decided to just park there for the night. Just as we pulled up we saw Miriam and Rick, the couple we had brought to Machu Picchu with us! The next day was St. Patrickís Day so we were glad to have met someone else Irish to celebrate with.
There really wasnít a whole lot to see or do in Sorata. Itís a small town and we stood out like a sore thumb parked up in the plaza. The people still werenít very friendly and didnít even seem to want our custom. Jimmy had to go to three shops to buy bread and milk because they just ignored him. Nevertheless it was St. Patrickís Day and we were going to celebrate it no matter where we were. We bought some green paper and green balloons. We made up a Happy Paddyís Day sign in Spanish and cut out a load of green shamrocks to decorate the van with. We tried to explain to the passer bys that it was our national day but they had no interest. So instead we met up with Miriam and Rick and went on a pub crawl around the plaza which only consisted of two pubs. We partied back in the van until all hours and it turned out to be not a bad day at all.
The following morning while we nursed our hangovers a lovely priest from New York come over to the van for a chat. He has been living and working in Bolivia for over 50 years. We asked why the people were been so awful to us. He explained that the indigenous people of Bolivia have been oppressed for hundreds of years and have suffered extreme poverty. Over half the population nowadays is still considered indigenous and is living a very low standard of living. Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the world. The government is completely corrupt and is doing nothing for the people. Even though the current president is indigenous he still doesnít care about the people. So he explained that when they see a gringo all they see is a money sign over our heads and they despise us for what we have and what they wish they had. The current government is extremely anti-American and has even introduced a law that any America wishing to travel in Bolivia must pay a $135 fee for a tourist visa. We were glad to have met him and for him to shed a light on the manners of the people. As we travelled through the rest of the country we saw the poverty he talked about and it was really heart wrenching. It was plain to see that these people really have nothing to smile about; they are just trying to survive from one day to the next. To them, we must look like millionaires driving by in our fancy van. And even though we smiled and waved as we drove by, we now understood why they werenít smiling back.
We couldnít go any further north than Sorata because of the condition of the roads so we decided to head for La Paz. We had heard about a good campground there at long last and were looking forward to some comforts. As we were navigating our way around the city we came to a speed bump. Just as we cleared it we heard a big bang. We looked in the side mirrors and there was our storage box sitting in the middle of the street! It had broken clean off. It had to have been wearing for awhile with all the bad roads we have been on. It couldnít have happened in a worse place. We were on a busy main street in La Paz close to a bend. In between the traffic we had to take everything out of the box and stuff it into the van. Then lift the box between us and try get that into the van. It just about fit. Poor Francie was crammed into the back wondering where the hell all this crap had come from and where his nice seat on the couch was gone. All the time people on the street watched and never offered to help. We found the campground and luckily found a welder close by who repaired it for a mere $7.
At the campground we met the two older German couples again we had met in Arequipa and of course Thomas and Antonella. Thomas and Antonella has just come back from cycling the ďWorldís Most Dangerous RoadĒ which is just outside La Paz. They were sore, cold, wet and wrecked. They said it was a great experience but pretty tough. 13 tourists have died cycling this road. We decided against doing it as we figured we have been on enough dangerous roads already and I just wouldnít trust myself on a bike. Knowing me I would be the 14th person to cycle over the cliff. We had a more important appointment anyway. We had to go see Ireland beat Wales in the 6 Nations and win the Grand Slam for the first time in 61 years!!! Antonella took care of Francie and me, Jimmy and Thomas got a taxi into the city. We found an Irish pub to watch the game. Apart from us three there was only one other Irish guy there. His name was Brendan Corrigan and it turned out he was a first cousin to Brian Dromey, Jimmyís best friend and neighbor from home. Small world! So the four of us took over the front seats to scream Ireland on while the other 50 English people and 2 Welsh people in the pub shouted for Wales. They all left pretty quickly after the game and we jumped around celebrating like lunatics. Brendan brought us to another Irish pub called the Wild Rover to continue the celebrations. It was packed with young backpackers out of their heads drunk and acting like idiots.It was a brilliant night but for the first time we felt old. It was great to be part of the backpacker circle for the day that was in it but we were glad to get back to our van and dog.
We stayed a few more days in La Paz but didnít do a whole lot except enjoy the hot showers and internet at the campground. We headed next for Sucre and then Potosi. We had picked out a route to avoid backtracking but when we got to the town of Huanuni the locals said the road to Sucre was closed for construction so we had to turn around and go back to the main road to Potosi. We bypassed Potosi on the way and went straight for Sucre. We had an interesting gas station stop on the way. We were low on cash and none of the gas stations took credit cards. We finally pulled into one and the attendant said no problem, they accept credit cards. We asked him twice to be sure and showed him the card and he said fine. Then when he filled the tank and we handed him the card he looked at us with a blank face and said he didnít take credit cards! The owner came over and there was a big hullaballoo. We told him to take the gas out but he couldnít get the hose in. Then we drove to the next town with him to a bank but they had no ATM. We went back to the gas station. He said we could pay on the way back from Sucre but he wanted us to leave the phone, Ipod or passport with him! That didnít happen. Finally they said they would take US dollars so we had enough between dollars and the few bolivianos we had. The $5 note was too dirty for them to take! I exploded at this stage because they were taking no responsibility at all that it was their fault. We told them take the dollars or take the gas out. Then they said it would take too much of their time to take the gas back out and they wanted $3 extra to take it out. After another heated argument they finally took the mixture of dollars and bolivianos as payment. Two hours later we pulled out of the gas station.
We went onto Sucre and stayed there a couple of days just parked up on one of the main streets. Itís a really nice city also known as the ďWhite CityĒ because they whitewash all the buildings downtown once a year. The people were lovely and really friendly and the cops even welcomed us to Bolivia! We met some indigenous people from the nearby village of Tarabuco which is famous for its weaving. Their costume is really unusual. The men wear a conquistador-style helmet with a long multi-colored poncho and leather sandals. We saw some of the women wearing the helmets too with ponchos and long skirts. It was like a scene from the last century. Itís hard to believe that these people still wear these costumes on a daily basis. We sat in the plaza in Sucre watching the people going by. All the university students looked pretty wealthy and dressed in modern, western clothes and then mingled among them are the indigenous people in their traditional costumes trying to sell their handicrafts to make ends meet. We saw their kids shabbily dressed with no shoes searching the ground for scraps. Two little girls were pulling the chewing gum off the park benches and eating them. Another two girls stood in front of us as we tried to eat some lunch until we felt so guilty we gave them some money. The more we travelled through the country the more we saw what the priest in Sorata told us about.
Our next stop was Potosi where we stayed a couple of days also. We found a parking lot near the center to stay and discovered the French family had stayed there also a few weeks earlier. While La Paz is the highest capital city in the world at 3,600m, Potosi is the highest city in the world at 3,977m. Itís another nice city with a lovely plaza and colonial buildings. They have an interesting tradition there called the tinku ritual fight which occurs once a year. Basically two communities meet up and beat the living daylights out of each other. Of course before the fight they drink lots of alcohol for courage. The fight begins with fists; each fighter wears rings of bronze adorned with claws. For protection they wear a leather helmet treated so that it is as hard as steel. The losers eventually retreat and are stoned as they leave. The winning community enjoys a year of dominance then until the next fight. The corpses are buried on the mountain Pachamama as an offering and to ensure a good harvest for that year. We were not there on time for the fight but Jimmy did manage to find one of the helmets that they wear, at a local market, so maybe next year!
We left Potosi and headed for Uyuni next. The road was brutal, gravel all the way and huge potholes but amazing scenery. It was pure wild and barren and only a couple of towns the entire way. We were doing an average of 15mph for the day. About 60km from Uyuni we saw a white guy on a motorbike broken down on the side of the road. We pulled over to see if he was OK. He was Australian, had shipped his bike to Chile and was just a couple of weeks travelling. He had a flat tire and needed a jack to lift up the wheel. We lent him our jack and waited while he removed the wheel. After half hour we found out he didnít know much about motorbikes, had never changed a flat and only had a spare tube for the front wheel. He was travelling with another fella and his girlfriend but they were gone ahead. He had been waiting two hours before we arrived. Jimmy helped as much as he could but the front tube was not going to fit in the back tire. Jimmy suggested he put the wheel back on and try get a passing truck to bring him to Uyuni. Just then his friend arrived back. We left them the jack and his friend seemed confident that he could repair it. That was about 5pm. They didnít arrive into Uyuni until 4pm the next day! They had to camp overnight on the side of the road with no food and then his friend had to drive into the town to get a new tube and go back out.And we were starting to think they had done a legger with our jack.
Thereís not a whole lot in Uyuni. Itís just a stopover point before going to the salt lake. After we got our jack back, we were able to stock up on food, water, blankets and spare gas and get ready to head off to the salt lake the next day. The rule of the van is whoever is awake and up first in the morning takes Francie out. The following morning I was up first and went for a walk with Francie down the street. After he did his business and I had bought some milk for breakfast we walked back towards the van. About 10ft from the van I spotted a boxer outside a shop with his owner. I didnít like the look of her and they way she was eyeballing Francie so I went to cross the road and go around. She came after me and I knew she was going to attack Francie. I shouted at the owner to get her back and he just smiled and said that she wouldnít bite. I tried my best to get Francie ahead of me and gave her a few kicks but she still managed to get a hold of his back leg and bit in hard. Francie went down squealing. All the time I was kicking the boxer as hard as I could and screaming at the owner. The bastard just stood there and didnít nothing to help me so then I started screaming for Jimmy. Jimmy came running out of the van and when the boxer saw him coming she finally let go of Francieís leg. Jimmy went for the dog and the owner threw a bucket of water at him!I got Francie back to the van. Jimmy was like a madman, grabbed the wheel brace and went out after the owner. Luckily the manís old mother got in the way and pleaded with Jimmy to calm down. We gave out fuck to her and asked her why the hell her son stood by and didnít help me.She said there was a vet across the street and she would pay the bill. We brought Francie over to the vet. He was bleeding alright but didnít need stitches, thank God. The vet cleaned him up and gave him an antibiotic shot. The woman stuck to her word and paid and apologized profusely. We didnít blame her or the boxer; the asshole owner should have helped me as soon as he saw her going for Francie. Poor Francie, he never tries to fight back because itís not him. Even though he is a huge dog, he doesnít have a threatening presence and the other dogs sense that.We have been so careful since his attack in Mexico but it just happens when you least expect it.
We left Uyuni eventually and headed out to the salt lake. The Salar de Uyuni is the highest and largest salt lake in the world at an altitude of 3,650m and covering roughly 12,000sq km, making it twice as big as the Great Salt Lake in the US. We inquired in a few tourist offices in Uyuni beforehand to find out if we could drive across it ourselves. Some seemed doubtful, saying we needed a 4WD, and others said we should take a guide but we decided to go out and have a look for ourselves first. We got to the edge of the lake and it was an incredible sight. For as far as the eye could see it was just one big blanket of whiteness. It was hard to think it was pure salt and not snow. We waited and watched a few cars go by and then a big bus and figured well if the bus can do it, so can we. We stopped a local in a pickup and asked him what he thought. He said no problem and we could follow him to the first point which was a salt hotel on the lake. We followed him and it was the most bizarre feeling ever to drive on the lake. It looked so much like snow that we were waiting for the van to start skidding all over the place. In fact, after all the crap gravel roads we had been on, it was a breeze to cruise across the lake. After about 15 minutes, the direction we were going didnít seem right according to our map. We caught up with the pick up and signaled him to stop. I had completely misunderstood what he had said. He was going to the opposite side of the lake from where we wanted to go. He told us to turn around, go directly back and we would pick up the tracks to the hotel. We did as he said and found the tracks no problem. We followed them to the salt hotel where lots of backpackers were having lunch. We talked to their guides and they said we would have no problem following the tracks to the next point which was an island about an hour away. They said they would look out for us along the way. We headed off again and it was one of the coolest experiences on the trip. We were cruising along at 50mph, the fastest speed we have done in months, with nothing but glaring white salt all around us. We got to Isla Del Pescado which is covered in cacti and apparently has the biggest cactus in the world. There were lots of backpackers there too waiting for their guides to bring them back to Uyuni or onto San Juan. We walked around the island for an hour and decided as it was 5pm we would just stay out on the lake for the night. We drove away from Isla Del Pescado and drove directly towards another island for the night. It was an incredible parking spot. We were on a salt lake, not a person in sight, an amazing sunset and then the quietest, starriest night. As soon as the sun went down it was freezing and the wind was howling all night but we were all wrapped up and nice and snug in the van.
The following morning we enjoyed the view over breakfast and then messed around taking trick photos on the salt. We knew we had to go back to Isla Del Pescado and then go right to get off the lake and onto San Juan.We followed our tracks but the direction didnít seem right. We both had a sense that the island was the other way so we turned around. We drove to the island we thought was Pescado but when we got there it wasnít. We drove to a few more and none of them were Pescado. We turned around and drove back half way and stopped. We still had the island we had stayed at in sight but everything else looked the same. There were about 40 other islands, some huge and some like pebbles in the snow, but we had no idea which was Pescado. The whiteness makes everything look tiny and your perception of distance is messed up too. We knew we had only driven about half hour away from Pescado so we couldnít be that far from it. Jimmy figured out from where the sun set and the fact that we had driven into the sun the evening before, the general direction of the island. I got the camera out and went through the pictures we took the day before. From the photos we could make out the shape of Pescado. We had the camcorder out also to try and zoom in on the islands. Between everything we figured that it had to be this one island that we could see. It looked tiny but it was the only one that fitted in with the sunset and photos. After been lost for three hours we decided to go for it and if it wasnít we would go back to our island and wait for someone to hopefully pass. We got to the island and it was Pescado. We couldnít believe how tiny it had looked from the other island. We were so preoccupied the evening before enjoying the drive; we never thought to keep Pescado in our sight for the return drive. Although we hadnít really panicked it was a pretty scary experience. We had a half tank of gas that would dwindle very quick driving around in circles. It was a great experience to drive across the lake but getting lost on the lake was another thing. A local told us later that when the sun is shining on the lake there is only 15 miles visibility so even though we only drove a half hour away, Isla del Pescado was nearly out of our sight completely. Once we got to Pescado we picked up the tracks heading south to San Juan and followed them all the way until we were off the lake.
Once we got off the lake the road was brutal again. Down in this section of Bolivia I wouldnít even call them roads; itís more a network of dirt tracks. They lead to a few small towns and then onto the Chilean border. The biggest attractions in this corner of Bolivia are two lakes. Laguna Colorada which is blood red in color due to the effect of the wind and sun on the micro-organisms that live in it. The pink algae provide food for the rare James flamingos (the population here is the biggest in the world), Chilean and Andean flamingos and also gives them their pink color. The second lake is called Laguna Verde and is bright green due to the minerals in it. All the backpacker tours from Uyuni go to the salt lake and then onto the lakes but they are been comfortably driven in 4WD jeeps designed for these roads. We wanted to drive to the lakes ourselves. We decided if we could get as far as the town of San Juan we would talk to some of the locals on the best route to take. Once we were off the lake it was supposed to be 40km to San Juan. The road was that bad we were only doing 5mph and the van was taking a serious beating with all the bumping and shaking. The good thing about these situations is that we have time to enjoy the landscape and the worst roads are usually the ones that go through the most beautiful parts of the country. We ploughed ahead trying to figure out the road to San Juan. Every five minutes we would come to a fork in the tracks and there wasnít a single sign. It was completely barren landscape also so there wasnít anybody to ask either. We pulled in to take a break and eat some lunch. We also needed to give Francie another antibiotic shot for his bite. The vet had given us the syringe with the antibiotic in it instead of a pill. In the process of trying to give Francie the injection, Jimmy stabbed himself in the finger and Francie accidently head butted me and busted open my lip. Both of us sat on the couch, Jimmy trying to stop his finger from bleeding and me trying to stop my lip bleeding, while Francie sat between us and the full syringe sat on the counter. All we could do was laugh. The third time Jimmy finally gave Francie the injection and there were no more injuries.
We headed off again in search of San Juan. After an hour of hoping we were going the right way we saw a man cycling towards us. We stopped and asked directions and discovered we were going the wrong way. He cycled off and Jimmy went to turn the van. Now we were basically driving through a dried up lake but the ground off the road looked just as solid as the tracks we were driving on. But when he started to turn the van the back wheels got completely bogged down in the not so solid ground but bloody wet ground. We couldnít believe it. We were in the arsehole of Bolivia stuck and not a person or car in sight. This day was going from bad to worse. All we had was a few blocks of wood that we use for balancing the van. We didnít even have a shovel so we had to us a gravy spoon and a machete to try dig the dirt up. After a few goes the van wasnít moving. There was too much weight on the back. So we dismantled the storage box and lifted it off. Tried again and it still wouldnít move. After about an hour and a half a backpacker tour passed by. We asked their driver if he could send help back from San Juan but he didnít seem too bothered about helping. An army guy passed by in a pick up but said he couldnít help and kept going. That was it, nobody else passed by. Our last resort was to let air out of the tires. After another hour of digging, letting air out, pushing and shoving, we finally got the van up on the blocks and back onto the tracks. Then we had to pump the tires back up. We had a 12 volt compressor that ran off the solar battery. We got both tires about three quarters way up before smoke started bellowing out of the compressor and it conked. We should have bought the more expensive one before the trip. Then we put the storage box back on and everything back in again. The tires were still low but we had no choice but to keep going. Three hours later we were back driving the right way. We followed the tracks but again there were forks and turns everywhere and no signs. We ended up near a small village called Santiago and the people directed us back the right way to San Juan. Another two hours of wrong turns we finally rolled into San Juan. Kids came running from everywhere and jumped onto the side and back of the van, hanging on as we drove through. We stopped outside a small shop to find out where we could get air for the tires. Our luck changed at long last. There was a truck parked there also with a compressor and the driver happily pumped up our tires. That night we parked in the soccer field and had a few well deserved beers. What a day; lost on the salt lake, busted lip and finger, stuck for three hours and lost again for two hours. And to top it all off, when we pulled in we discovered the tap in the shower had been partly on, had half filled the tub and completely soaked the guitar and bodhran right through! You might find it strange but we actually enjoyed it. It was an adventure and a half. This was the travelling we loved, never knowing what was going to happen next.
The next morning we spotted some backpacker tours getting ready to head off to the lakes. We went over to talk to the drivers and one really nice guy spoke English and was very helpful. He said there was no way our van would make the road the tours take. They install a sophisticated suspension system in their jeeps to handle all the bumping and shaking. So he suggested we go west to try pick up a road a bit better and then go south but it would take two days and a lot of climbing through mountains. Otherwise we could go directly to the Chile border, drive down the Chilean side on better roads and then come back into Bolivia nearer to the lakes. We opted for option one to see how it would go. We needed to top our gas first. There was no gas station in San Juan but one shop owner had a barrel of gas at the back of her house. She sucked the hose and filled us up for double the price of course. We headed off again with a vague brochure map the guide gave us. For the first twenty miles we sailed across another salt lake and then hit another crap road, worst than the day before. It went from extremely rocky to sandy and we thought we were going to get bogged down again. The poor van was getting a shocking shaking about and overheating as well. It took us four hours to do about 30 miles. We got to the decent road the guide told us about. It was gravel but still really bad. We battled on for another bit and pulled in to reassess the situation. This was nuts. If we kept going for another two or possibly three days on this road, thereís a good chance we would do serious damage to the van. We hadnít had a paved road since Potosi and it was really tough going on the van. We could still drive back to the Chilean border and go the other way to the lakes. Neither of us wanted to turn around as we were enjoying the challenge of getting there. After debating it for awhile we reluctantly decided the more sensible and safer option was to go to Chile. It was a bummer but we knew it was the right thing to do.
We turned around and got to the border at Ollague in about two hours. We passed through the Bolivian side no problem and drove to the Chilean side. We knew Chile was really strict about bringing any fresh foods of animal and plant origin into the country so we had stopped for lunch on the Bolivian side and used everything up. We had also got a heads up from Lorraine (Dog on a Mission author travelling with her two dogs) that we needed extra paperwork for Francie. Before we left Uyuni we went to a vet and he gave Francie two more vaccinations and gave us the appropriate paperwork. So when we got to the border we thought we had everything in order. But we didnít. The SAG officer at the border looked at the paperwork and said it wasnít enough. The dog has more paperwork than we do and they still wouldnít accept it. The girl was pretty anal about her job but left and said she would see what she could do. There were two other officers who were right wankers. One of them said we could go back to Bolivia, all the way to La Paz for the paperwork, or we could go onto Chile, leave Francie with them and they would shoot him! This was all in Spanish and I thought I heard him wrong, but when he repeated it, I felt like shooting him. We kept our cool though until the girl returned. It was roasting hot in the van and he wouldnít even let us take Francie out of the van. After a few phone calls she said she would let us through with a compromise. We had to go to a vet clinic in the next town, have Francie treated for parasites and then go to the SAG office with a new health certificate. She was also a vet so she needed to examine him first before letting us go. Jimmy brought Francie in on his leash instead of his harness to get it done as quickly as possible. Because Francie had been sitting in the van for two hours, he was going mad to get off the leash and when he does that he nearly chokes himself on the leash so he starts coughing. She immediately said that he had bronchitis and was very sick. She grabbed him by the throat until he coughed really hard to prove it. We didnít think it was much of a test, if you grabbed anyone by the throat and squeezed hard, they would cough. We tried to explain that when he thugs on his leash he coughs like that and put his harness on instead to show her the difference but she was having none of it. So more phone calls were made and she said we would have to get him treated for bronchitis at the clinic also. We couldnít argue, it was better than going back the bad roads in Bolivia. They then inspected the van from top to bottom. There was one ingredient in Francieís dog food that was prohibited in Chile so they took the whole bag. Seeds were also forbidden but they didnít seem bothered by the bag of sesame seed bars we had. Anyway after four hours we eventually left the border and were into Chile.
So that was the end of Bolivia for us. We hadnít intended it to be the end but with the hassle of Francieís paperwork, it wasnít worth trying to cross back into Bolivia and back to Chile again. And we never got to see the red and green lakes. We were disappointed but we drove as far as we could and it just wasnít meant to be. As soon as we left Bolivia, we missed it. We didnít like it much at the beginning but by the end we really loved the country. Once we understood the people and their plight it was hard to be mad at them. We actually feel so sorry for them. Colombia, Ecuador, Peru are all doing pretty well financially and are getting there. But poor Bolivia just seems to be left behind and nobody cares. For us, itís been the heart of South America so far. It was a challenge to travel through and we loved every minute of it.
We are in Chile now and we might as well be in Europe or America. The roads are perfectly paved and actual road signs everywhere. We arrived in Calama and we were amazed at the shopping malls, proper big supermarkets, designer clothes shops, gas stations who take credit cards, McDonalds, pizza delivery etc. All the things we thought we missed in Bolivia but that we didnít really. The simple, rugged travelling was far more enjoyable. There is no adventure in going to a supermarket and buying everything freshly packed in fancy wrappers. We missed the indigenous woman sitting on the ground selling her basket full of loaves or fruit and haggling over the price. We got some strange looks as we drove into town. Everyone else was well dressed, well groomed and clean. We, on the other hand, were filthy. Our clothes were covered in dried in salt from the lake and dust and dirt from the bad roads. We hadnít been able to wash in a few days so Iím sure we smelled. The van was a mess too; it was hard to even see what color it was. We must have looked like right knackers altogether. Iíve never felt so out of place and we were in a westernized country. It made us think how in hell we are going to adjust back to life in America and reality. I remember how nervous we were coming into Mexico and Latin America and all we wanted to do was go back to the USA where we felt safe and secure. Now, we are the opposite. We love the rugged, rough and tumble ways of Central and South America. It feels the further south we go the closer we are getting to Ushuaia and then it will be homeward bound from there. We are going to try make it last as long as we can though and keep enjoying life on the road. We will be a full year travelling in a couple of days! Itís hard to believe that itís only been a year and we have seen and experienced so much. It truly is a trip of a lifetime and has been just incredible. Until next timeÖÖ