BootsnAll Travel Network

Some Like It Slimey

December 9th, 2005

7 December 2005 (Wednesday) – Valparaiso, Chile

I headed out to Valparaíso late in the morning and walked down the entire length of the town. Skinny Chile is really so interesting. On the one hand, you can see the crashing Pacific ocean, and on the other hand, the land turns into little hills everywhere.

A main plaza in Valparaiso

Street stalls in the parks selling Christmas decorations and presents

I figured since I would be eating meat once I cross into Argentina, I should really take seafood today. I reached the huge ancient hall of the mercado (market) of Valparaiso and checked out the numerous marisquerias (seafood restaurants) on the second floor. Wow, everything looked great. I settled for one restaurant and as the lady explained the various orders to me, the raw seafood appealed to me most. Argh, yesterday I had already burnt US$15 for a damn taxi ride. I am so going down with the ship! US$6 for a bowl of raw seafood? Sounds great, hit me!

I had no idea which planets they came from, much less what they were. Just all orange, pink, purple, translucent, yellowish… I scooped all the slimey and slippery bastards down my throat. Hmmm… delicious. Although I admit that after about 3/4 of the bowl, I felt a little woozie and the remaining seafood looked a tad disgusting to me. But I was determined to finish up everything. Ha!

Slimey slippery and raw!

There were nice colourful old buildings built along the edge of the little hills along the length of Valparaiso. Several ascendores bring you to the top. I happened to jump into the ascendor for Cerro Concepcion and found nice and very expensive cafes with amazing views (which I did not enter, I do not wish to go down that fast with the ship) near there and a lovely mirador called Mirador Atkinsons. People do live in the beautiful houses along this mirador. What a view!

Take a furnicular to get to the top of the hills

View at the top

Valparaiso, a busy port-town

Meanwhile, buildings are tightly constructed against the hills

That evening at home, we celebrated Fabiola’s birthday with a cake and some once. Gosh, the Chilean accent! I might as well be in Hungary! I could hardly understand a word! I was fine in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia and suddenly, in Chile, I felt like I was a born-again Spanish-Lesson-1-student!

In La Serena, I know Claudio made a conscious effort to speak slowly for me. However, I could not understand a single word uttered by his brother. Claudio realised that as well, and translated everything (from his brother’s Spanish to his own Spanish) for me. But when I heard him talk with his housemate, I was stupefied. I could not follow a single word at all! Alejandra is a teacher in a German school, and she had been through diction classes. So, I understood everything she said. She was pitch-perfect. Jessica… well, I guess, I could make out 60-70% of what she says. But with the rest of the family together, bye-bye… I give up.

Yes, sure they have an accent, but not only do they drop all the ‘s’ and ‘z’ at the end of words, they have a tonne of invented words that are not used anywhere else, or at least, absolutely not known to me and they speak really really fast. Although I was with them, they still used these words. So, half the time, they were laughing at me, as I stared at them blankly. I so did not get it. By the time they explained, or chose a different word, well… joke’s over, haha.

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To Viña del Mar

December 7th, 2005

6 December 2005 (Tuesday) – La Serena to Viña del Mar, Chile

Claudio had again gone to town to try and wrestle his money back. Well, there is really nothing much to eat at home now. If the payment was delayed one more day, I guess he would have to go to his mother’s house for food. And that was something he rather not do, haha.

He said he would be back to take me to the bus terminal. But I waited til 12:25pm and as my bus was leaving at 1pm, I had no choice but to leave without saying goodbye. I left him a thank-you note, took a taxi, had a very quick lunch at the terminal and gosh, the bus really left exactly at 1pm. Right on the dot! This was truly a different world compared to Peru, Bolivia…

I am going to Viña del Mar now. The reason is that nearly 3 years ago, I had met a family from Viña del Mar when we were holidaying at Villarrica. They then invited me to stay with them. Now, 3 years later, it would be great to see them again. Yesterday, at the observatory, when I mentioned to someone that I was going to Viña, she had said it was not worth it. I guess, in the end, it is always who you know in the town. I think I would really enjoy Viña because of the family.

Unfortunately, my friend Jessica had night classes today and she could not go pick me up at the terminal. So, I took a taxi to their home. Big, big, big, huge, damn huge mistake!!!! Firstly, they do not really live in Viña del Mar, but on a hill in the suburbs. Secondly, rates for taxi rides in Viña are DOUBLE anywhere else. In La Serena, it was 100 Chilean pesos for 200 metres. Here, it was 200 Chilean pesos for 200 metres. Imagine, every 2 blocks, the meter jumps up about US$0.40. By the time we pulled up in front of their house, it was… get this, US$15!!! OUCH!!! I was horrified!!!!! I had never paid so much for taxi in my life, I think!! I could not believe it at all!

Anyway, Señora Adrienne (Jessica’s mother) was working at her grocery shop and she was the first one of the family I met. She hugged me happily. But poor dear, she had recently broken her arm! Gosh, how could she work? But she bustled around the kitchen to try and get some tea and bread ready for me. My dear dear dear Chilean mama.

When Jessica came home, she called my name out loud. But she called my Chinese name!! I could not believe that after all these years, she still recalled my Chinese name!!! We greeted each other happily!! As it turned out, they could not really pronounce ‘Trisha’, but they could pronounce my Chinese name ‘Wei Xin’ very accurately. And so, for the past 3 years, they had been referring to me by my Chinese name. Incredible!! I hardly use my Chinese name outside of my home, but my family here in Viña had been using it all these times.

Jessica took me for a quick spin around Reñaca, Viña del Mar and Valparaiso in her car, proudly showing me the developments in the city these last few years. I could recall a bit of these two lovely cities. The train system had changed. Some new hotels had sprouted up. Viña is the favourite beach resort of Chile, so it is posh, modern, expensive and really pretty. Valparaiso has more lovely old buildings up the many hills, has a more defined charming character. I like them both.

When we got home, the rest of the family was there. Jessica’s brother Enrique, his wife, Fabiola and their children Kathya and Sebastian. Wow, how the two children had grown. Kathya is now a lovely, beautiful 18-year-old lady. And Sebastian, whom I remembered as a chubby little 11-year-old, is now much thinner and fitter and a very handsome 14-year-old. A little shy, too. Oh so so so so so so nice to see everyone again!

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Starry Starry Night

December 6th, 2005

5 December 2005 (Monday) – La Serena, Chile

I spent the day enjoying the centre of La Serena. Walking from Claudio’s house to the centre, based on the clean streets, the lovely houses, the flower gardens, the blue and sunny sky, it actually reminded me of some southern beach towns in Australia. Hard to believe that I was still in South America. Where are the adobe mud houses? Where are the rubbish?

But one thing still remained were the election campaigns. What a strange coincidence! Peru is having its Presidential election soon… next Jan, I think, Bolivia is having its on 18 December and Chile, 11 December.

In Peru, they painted the names of the President elects on the walls of the adobe mud houses of poor campesinos all over the countrysides. Only the names are shown, so I had no idea how the candidates look like. But it was not important to the campaigners, as they just wanted to use repetitions (by displaying the elects’ names everywhere) to ‘train’ the campesinos who to vote for.

In Bolivia, besides painting the walls of houses and rocks along the highways, they have quite a lot of posters and banners as well, shoving the faces of the candidates down our throat. Besides this, they provide very important ham sandwiches to the masses who gathered for the ‘rallies’.

In Chile, there were even more posters and banners – politicians trying on their most uncorrupt looks. There are few parks empty of these free-standing A-frame poster stands, few lamp-posts free of the posters, few walls free of the banners. Interestingly, quite a handful of them had been viciously destroyed, the faces cut out, the posters ripped to bits and scattered on the road.

Election posters ripped to bits

Another strange sight I started to notice was pregnant women. Pregnant women, now why do they look so unfamiliar? It slowly dawned on me that, gosh… for over a month now, while I had seen tonnes and tonnes of babies strapped to the backs of the Peruvian and Bolivian indigenous women, I had not really noticed any pregnant women there. Why?? Were they hidden from sight? Or were they already so fat that it was not obvious, or the protruded stomachs had lain hidden underneath the folds of their flouncy skirts? The things you notice as you travel…

What a small town La Serena is. I actually RAN into Claudio, ONE of the two persons I know here, on the streets. He had gone to try and get his pay from an employer. Claudio works as a freelance agronomist. This employer had owed him money since late October. And when Claudio said he had no money yesterday, he really meant he had NO MONEY, not on him, not in his bank account. Sheesh, poor dear. He got the cheque today, but there was no money in the bank account of his employer to draw from. He looked crestfallen, tomorrow he will try again. Hahaaa… we had talked about going to Coquimbo’s fish market for seafood lunch today. Nope, no such chance. We had to go home and rustled something up, like Maggi noodles, for lunch.

While it is really hot and sunny in the day, it gets really chilly at night. OK, it’s Chile after all. In the evening, I put on more layers and waited outside Claudio’s house for my pickup for a visit to Observatory Mamalluca, about 1 hour’s drive away from La Serena. This is an astronomical observatory centre open to the public.

We were given a presentation to learn some new starry terms like nebula, clusters, supernova, etc… I wish I could in turn tell you exactly what they are but in fact, I did not quite understand them myself.

Then, we were divided into groups and escorted first to the large telescope located at the top. There is a round roof and they opened a small gap and aimed the telescope at Venus. Wow, it sure feels like being in one of those science-fiction movies!

Seeing stars at Observatory Mamalluca

While Venus looks extremely bright, always hanging rather close to the moon, it was actually at a crescent shape now. We saw it shining all bright and white and sexily skinny through the telescope.

Then, Luis, the guide, aimed at the moon. As the moon is much closer and this telescope was really quite powerful, we could see the craters and valleys really clearly. A good thing was that the moon was a crescent now, so there are shadows and light, making it easier to see the craters. On a full moon here, no one works, everyone sleeps.

The crescent moon [by PC]

On closer inspection... [by PC]

We looked at Mars and several more clusters (4 or more stars together form a cluster, now I know).

Later, out on the field, Luis used this amazing light-pointer to show us the constellations. The light-pointer had a laser light that seemed to reach the stars and he could point out Taurus, Aries, Aquarius, Capricorn, Sagittarius to us. Naturally, there was Orion to marvel at, now that we are in summer here. We had to use a little of our imagination for the Rabbit, the Toucan, the River… but wow, fascinating!!

The Southern Cross (with 5 stars, like in the Australian flag) is unfortunately now below the horizon and we could only see it in a few hours. He explained that 4 and a half times the distance from the Southern Cross would lead us to the Southern Polaris (the southern version of the North Star) – the point that does not move, the point where all the stars rotate around, and the point that is, for sure, pointing – south. But meanwhile, there is the False Cross (with 4 stars) nearby. OK, now we know not to confuse the Southern Cross with the False Cross. Very important.

He pointed out the 2 brightest stars – Sirius and Canupos. Sirius, the brightest, is only 8.2 light years away, but Canupos is like 100 light years away. So, if they are both in the same distance, Canupos would blind you right out.

We observed more of Orion, whose alpha star (the brightest in the constellation) was glowing red. That was because it was very old, and very cold, ready to explode and die out. It is 300 light years away. Perhaps it had already exploded and died, we just did not know yet. Perhaps it had exploded and died exactly 300 years ago tonight and we would see it extinguished right now. Gosh, sad to think Orion without one of the ‘shoulders’.

OK, this is the part I am a little confused with. Anyway, this is what I thought was explained to me. I am stating now that I am absolutely NOT sure about this. Stars are born out of nebulas. But as the stars die out, they form nebulas again which then, new stars are born. OK, assuming what I just wrote is right, isn’t it beautiful? The cycle of life.

The bluest stars are the hottest. The red ones are the coldest. More than 50% of stars are in pairs. Less than 1% are solo-stars, an example is the Sun. The Sun, in comparison, is very small, had been born ‘yellow’, so it was actually not very hot, compared to the ‘blue’ stars. But, in about 5 billion years’ time, it would grow larger, become red and get ready to die. As it grows larger, Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars would be engulfed in the Sun.

Well, certainly not our problem.

This is my first time in an observatory. I know there was no way I could remember the stars’ or clusters’ name, which are usually named in some letters and numbers or remember the light-years or whatever other statistics… but oh, what an experience here today, taking time out to appreciate the things much much much larger than life itself – the universe. How insignificant we are. How even more insignificant those vicious, back-stabbing, stupid bosses we work for are.

[photo credits PC – Pepe and Cris, thanks!  See their blog (written in Catalan)]

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Lazy Sunday

December 5th, 2005

4 December 2005 (Sunday) – La Serena, Chile

At 8am, I tried calling Claudio. No reply. I had breakfast and tried again at 9am. No reply. I headed to the toilet and cleaned myself up a little and tried again at 9:30am. Phew, this time, he picked up the phone. It turned out he had not read my email from last night, so that was why he did not pay attention to his phone. But when he heard I was already in La Serena, he said he would be at the terminal in 20 minutes’ time. Heee… my hero.

Claudio came with his little nephew Gustavo to pick me up and he drove me to his house first. He lives with several housemates but there was an extra room available in the courtyard. Excellent. I had a shower and he drove us to his parents’ house in Coquimbo (a nearby town) for Sunday lunch. I am so damn lucky. Free home-cooked food!

After meeting his parents for a while, Claudio took me for a spin around the fish market and the port. Wow, the weather here in La Serena was absolutely gorgeous. The sky was pristine blue with little clouds. But he told me I was lucky, because it was rather cloudy yesterday.

The fish market was really nice and fishy. I really wanted to try one of the cups of raw seafood in lime juice, called ‘mariscal’. Yes, finally, I am able to eat seafood here! How I missed seafood!! Yum yum! Enough of greasy chicken and fatty pork!! I treated myself to a ‘mariscal’. Superb!

Back at home, I played with Gustavo a little and we proceeded for lunch – more fish and vegetables. After chatting with his mother for a while about the education system in Singapore (she works for the education system of Chile), we decided to head to the beach.

Claudio and his family, Claudio is the 2nd from right

It was so damn windy here!!! We even had difficulty walking along the beach, against the wind. We found a spot and lay down. Gosh, sand was flying everywhere. I realised that lying down, it was not that cold, so I stripped into my bikini to bask under the sun. Yes, having not seen the beach for a LONG time, I was really determined to enjoy it. But what a sight it must be, for Claudio remained enclosed inside his wind protection jacket, shivering in the cold.

Soon, we realised we were just eating sand. Sand got into every single thing – hair, mouth, clothes, towel, eyes, nose. We finally gave up this foolish stunt and returned to the car.

We did not understand why we were both already hungry when it appeared we had just had lunch. Guess, we were just spending a very lazy Sunday now. So, off we went to the supermarket to buy some bread and stuff for once (pronounced On-Say). Here in Chile, they do not normally have a heavy dinner during summer. They just have some bread and tea, called once.

As we drove back from Coquimbo to La Serena along the Av. del Mar, I wondered why everyone was driving so slowly, and nobody seemed to be fed up with one another. This was because people who took this avenue, take it to enjoy the view of the beach and the crashing waves. If you are in a hurry, there is the Pan-American highway just a short distance off. Indeed, the beach was long and lovely, and the apartments along this avenue looked modern and posh. I could not believe that just 2 days ago, I was at 4,800m above sea level. Now, I am flat out here at the beach, with finally, no more gassy rumblings in my tummy. Yes, I so belong to sea level.

Beach of La Serena

Wow… When I entered the supermarket, I was stunned! I was looking around with a wide wide grin and a twinkling gleam in my eyes, like a child released into a toy store, absolutely thrilled. Why? Because I had not stepped into a supermarket like this for a damn long time! Sure, there had been some small supermarkets in Bolivia, but gosh, the variety of goods here were infinite. I was browsing at the shelves and freezers in delight. I had been craving for Lay’s potota chips for the longest time and these did not exist in Bolivia. But yes, they so exist now in Chile. Gracias!!

As Claudio had absolutely no money on him, I was happy to pay for the ham, gherkins, bread and chips we bought. We had a nice evening chatting about lots of things as we munched away.

Later, Alejandra who only managed to read my email today and realised I was now staying with Claudio, came to look for us. The Hospitality Club community here in La Serena seemed to know one another. We headed over to her house late at night and had tea, chatting about the strange vocabularies of the Chileans. She showed me her display table and happened to comment that these little stones were given to her by her Lithuanian guests. I had received a Lithuanian couple in my house before I left for this trip and they had also given me little stones. We checked and realised it was the same couple! Unbelievable, what a coincidence! Haha… Gosh, really great to be in touch with these Hospitality Club members and get the chance meet these genuinely nice, interesting, intelligent and fantastically friendly people! La Serena became so alive for me!

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So High It Touches The Sky

December 4th, 2005

3 December 2005 (Saturday) – San Pedro de Atacama to La Serena, Chile

San Pedro is too touristy and too expensive for my taste. Well, I did enjoy my shower, finally washing off all the sand and salt on my body and a good time existing on the hammock yesterday. I had truly enjoyed myself chatting with Mark who had also arrived from Bolivia on the same day (he had the same curious question – why did he need to pee so much on our second day of the Salar de Uyuni tour?) and Monica whom I had felt some kinship with. So, I certainly could stay another day existing on the hammock.

But, no… I had to get out. I had contacted a friend from Hospitality Club. He lives in Calama but was at the moment in Caldera and promised to write to me if he would be in Calama by this weekend. Having heard nothing from him by nightfall last night, I bought a ticket to Calama.

My original plan was to visit the largest copper mine in the world, near Calama. But it does not open over the weekend. As I also recently received news that my return flight to Singapore is now on 1st January, not mid-January, I decided to travel faster through Chile. So, I guess… forget about the copper mine.

When I arrived in Calama in the morning, I stored my luggage at the Left Luggage (ka-ching!), used the toilet (ka-ching!) and hunted for an internet place (ka-ching but half-price than in San Pedro). Rats, he was still in Caldera. But he invited me to go to Caldera instead. I searched for bus timings and stuff. Nah, the timings were horrid.

I decided to buy a ticket to La Serena directly instead (KA-CHING!!!!!!! It was SO EXPENSIVE!!). Everything is so sky-high expensive! Argh! Oh well, forget it… just spend on the essentials and stop bitching, stop comparing with Bolivia!

I hurriedly wrote to Alejandra from Hospitality Club who had agreed to host me but who had NOT given me her telephone number and to Claudio who had also agreed to host me, and whom I had said, thanks but I would be staying with Alejandra, but who HAD given me his telephone number to warn them of my earlier-than-expected arrival. I hope they read their emails tonight.

Lots of deserts along northern Chile

The very expensive bus-ride did not even have good bus service – no leg-rest, horrid dinner. Argh, compared to Peru, for its price and service, this was pure robbery. But as travel routes in Chile is just straight – north to south or south to north, the ride was at least comfortably straight with no winding roads. So, I could sleep rather well.


Touch-Down in San Pedro de Atacama

December 4th, 2005

2 December 2005 (Friday) – Laguna Colorado, Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

We got up even earlier today – at the ungodly hour of 3:30am to head off at 4am. What is the hurry, really? Well, our guide explained that we had to get to the border at 10am in order to meet a van which would transport us to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. OOOOOOOK…

Freezing cold at this altitude and at this hour!! Brrrrr… We wrapped ourselves in layers and sleepily climbed onboard. After 2 hours of more deserts and distant dry mountains, we came upon the geysers, just waking up as well. The geysers were spouting some really warm vapours. Nice to put our hands above them. Some of the holes had grey bubbling mud. I peered into one, the mud were trashing around noisily at the bottom. At the far end, out from a gigantic hole, spurts of mud were thrown out. It was as if someone was in there, like an alien, making disgusting gurgling sounds and throwing mud out of the hole in jest. It was magic! Just as last evening near Laguna Colorado when we felt as if we were walking in Mars or on the moon, this scenery again felt terribly out-of-this-world.

Geysers waking up

Coloured and bubbly pools everywhere

Little Jaillo, our adorable companion, came out to look at the flying mud with his father, our driver-guide. He just stood there, with his impish grin, giggling away in surprise. Everyone around him just fell in love with him. I could not resist and had already gone up a few times to pinch his full cheeks, repeating, “¡Como te quiero… como te quiero!” (How I love you… how I love you!), to which, he just giggled back in delight. Ah…

Mud pools with mud that pop right out

This section was around 4,800m above sea level. The highest for the journey before we started to descend down the plateau.

We went on to Agua Termales where we stopped for our breakfast. Some guys from the other jeeps stripped to their boxers and climbed into the tiny thermal baths. The water was really nice and warm, some areas were so clear and bubbly. Lovely. But without a towel at hand, forget about jumping in for us.

The guide, the cook and their son

Our final viewing spot was Laguna Verde, a lake famed for its greenness. Unfortunately, the greenness, according to my guide, was created by wind that blows and agitates the water, thereby bringing up the green minerals. Well, now, there was absolutely no wind at all. In fact, as I gazed at the lake, which actually looked really lovely as well with its crystal-clear reflection, I kept very silent and heard the ringing sound of silence. Absolutely no wind. Absolutely no sound. Incredible!

The tranquil Laguna Verde

We reached the Bolivian border, tipped our very nice driver and his wife a lot of money and a lot of remaining boliviano change and took the van to San Pedro. We had to fill out the immigration and customs form. On the customs form, we had to declare ‘Sí’ if we carried any form of food, plant or animal products. I was SO carrying coca tea-bags. In order to draw their attention a-w-a-y from them, heheh… I declared ‘Sí’.

At the Chilean border, famed for opening up every piece of luggage and searching through the items, I showed them my declared bottle of soya sauce, bag of pepper, cooking oil (my goodness, I had been carrying them since Olinda, Brazil!) and wooden chopsticks from Thailand (souvenirs for my Hospitality Club hosts) and they glanced at everything with disinterest and waved me away. Great!!

Gosh, descending suddenly from 4,800m into San Pedro de Atacama, Chile at around 2,800m, is not only a shock to the body system – it was now terribly hot in comparison… it was also a shock to our pockets!!

I paid for my hostel, had lunch at a local restaurant (not even a tourist one!) and then relaxed at the hammock, chatting with Monica from Poland and Mark from Wales. The hostel guys had earlier come to persuade us to join in for the hostel’s barbecue. It cost about the same price as or even lower than those ripped-off gringo restaurants around town, oh well, so we agreed. By around 6, 7pm, I did a mental sum – gosh, by just existing today, I had already spent more than US$20 today! US$8 for the hostel, US$3 for lunch, US$6 for the promised barbecue, US$2 for yummy ice-cream and US$2 for internet. Ouch!

San Pedro is pure GRINGO town (capital G-R-I-N-G-O!). In fact, I was to learn later that it is the most expensive town in Chile and Chile is the most expensive country in South America! Like Uyuni, the town existed for tourism. But unlike Bolivia, the prices here are so so so high. Argh, it was a pain to spend money on anything. For the essentials like toilet paper, blah… what can I do? I saw the same souvenirs for sale here in the Mercado Artesania. The same rubbish I saw in Bolivia was priced at US$2 there, but here, it was US$6. My alpaca sweater, bought in La Paz, costs US$6… gosh, the same thing was US$20 here.

Well, another country now, time to get used to it.

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December 3rd, 2005

1 December 2005 (Thursday) – Salar de Uyuni to Laguna Colorado, Bolivia

Today, we woke up early, 5+am, to get ready for the long drive to Laguna Colorado, almost 10 – 12 hours’ away.

This time, we were driving through pure desert, with red mountains on either side. The scenery did change occasionally, as we also came suddenly upon an area where there were huge, crooked, crazily eroded rocks on either side of the road. The rocks did not appear to be eroded by wind. And they seemed to have fallen out of the sky and landed all over this area suddenly. Our guide explained that this used to be a lake with a lot of rocks underwater. So, these rocks were eroded by water! Now, of course, everything is dry.

Lots of curious-looking free-standing rocks that used to be underwater

When I say ‘road’, there is actually no road, just tracks from past jeeps. Sometimes, there are several tracks going in different directions, and even the jeeps on this same tour would take different tracks. I guess, as this place is so wide and flat, many of the tracks would lead to the same place. The jeeps use another track to avoid being behind another jeep and get a lot of dust on their faces.

Yes, little Jaillo took to the driving seat for some parts

Some of the tracks were up mountains full of rocks and boulders. This, we really had to be on 4-wheel drive as the jeep bobbed and bobbed around in agony. We got off at one point to walk to make the jeep lighter. At other tracks, we passed through small patchs of salt pan. Now, this was a breeze… nice and smooth as the jeep sped through.

Salt pans were easier for driving

Railway to the Pacific Ocean

Breathtaking surreal scenery all around us

We came upon our first little lagoon – Laguna Canapa. Wow, it really felt surreal here. The lake, the mountains all around, the green spongy moss we were stepping on, and the hundreds and thousands of flamingoes nonchalantly drinking in the lake. It was such a peaceful gorgeous sight, so quiet, so picture-perfect. I felt as if this place is just figment of my imagination. We could only smile at each other, dumb-founded.

Flamingoes drinking in the lake

Lake Canapa

We hopped back on and continued to the next lake for our lunch. Not long later, we saw an oncoming jeep, one that started its journey from San Pedro de Atacama. Our guide slowed down on the sandy path and we were travelling slightly lop-sided for a while as he wanted to make way in the track for the other jeep. To our horror, the jeep was speeding towards us, and it looked like it was out-of-control on the sand and was about to crash into us!!!

And just then, it swerved away but not quite in time, as our two sides hit one another just as it pulled away. We were stunned!! Our driver stopped his jeep and hopped out. We expected the other driver to do the same, as in fact, we did have a crash, although it was not a head-long, serious crash. But we turned around to see the jeep still driving at the devil speed, kicking up tonnes of sand, and disappearing from our sight!! What the?? Why didn’t he stop??

Our exasperated driver reversed the jeep and gave chase. Woah, what was going on?? It was quite difficult and dangerous speeding through sand. I was afraid we might overturn if we hit some rocks. I guess, since we had just left Laguna Canapa, and the other jeep might also be obliged to stop there for his tourists, our guide took the chance to give chase as only if the evil jeep stopped, would we have a chance to catch up.

We spotted a trail of flying sand in the distance and when we neared the lake, true enough, the jeep stopped. Our driver drove right up to it and soon, got into an argument with the other driver. We checked the damage. A huge dent and broken tail-light. The same for the other truck. We asked the tourists on the other jeep, why didn’t their driver stop? And why didn’t they make their driver stop?? They told us their driver was blaming our driver. What?? Come on, we slowed down and were driving perched lop-sided to give space. But their driver sped right through, despite knowing there was another jeep nearby and even lost control, crashed into us and swerved all over the sand!

The other driver was a young chap. One look at him, I know he was full of shit. The argument ensued for quite a while and our driver angrily took down his license plate, saying that he knows this guy, he was always drunk in Uyuni. We departed, no fist fight, thank goodness. But gosh, here we were on the largest expanse of flat land in the entire world and another jeep crashed into us! No one would believe us!

We arrived at the next lake, Laguna Redonda. Our driver still gently told us something about it, keeping his temper down. We appreciated him for it. There were more flamingoes here, and the lake had some green minerals or algae, giving it a greenish look. After lunch, again, the Norwegian girls and I hunted for a place for toilet. This was our third time needing to pee and we did not drink any water during the ride, just whatever for breakfast. We were perplexed at our bladders’ inability to hold.

More flamingoes at Laguna Redonda

Mountains of all colours!

During the drive since morning, we had asked for some pee-breaks. Nowhere to hide. Just squat behind the jeep and pray no others come. We also had some breaks to take photos. At those places, as the other jeeps were there, we had to walk a little further to the bushes and er… shamelessly relieved ourselves. It was not just us, every other person from the other jeeps was also jumping off his or her jeep and hurrying off in various directions desperately.

A smoking Volcano Ollague

We stopped by two other scenic spots – one where we could see the active Volcan Ollague. Yes, it was sinisterly smoking away. The surrounding areas here had really beautiful red rocky outcrops with lots of holes. Enchanting. And yes, the Norwegians and I giggled as we tried to find suitable spots, away from everyone’s eyes. No such luck, there were jeeps everywhere. We could only hope those guys in the distance looked another way.

Another scenic viewpoint of Volcan Ollague

Up close...

The other photo spot was a huge red boulder (a smaller and less impressive verson of the Ayers Rock in Australia) that was just there out of nowhere. Our guide said we could see vizcachas here. I spotted one and beckoned everyone to come over to look. This is an animal that has long ears, looks like a rabbit and has a long tail. People around me asked me what it was. Vizcacha, I told them. But Simon kept insisting it was a rabbit. Gosh, I was a little pissed. Just because he had not heard of vizcachas before, and it is obviously not an English name, he refused to learn it and simply concluded it was a rabbit. I later found a spot and asked Simon to take a picture of me. When I got there to pose, I realised I was standing amongst toilet paper and even, a used sanitary napkin. Gross!

Huge red boulder standing in the middle of nowhere

Finally, the last stop of today before our hostel – Piedra de Arbol (Stone of Tree). We drove through more moonscape to come upon white rocky formations eroded by wind. As one of them looked like a tree – it had a wide top and a narrow base, like a tree trunk, this place was named as such. More photos and more peeing. Throughout this time, we were amazed that Josie had NOT gone once.

Piedra de Arbol (Stone of Tree)

More stunning rock formations

We reached Laguna Colorado at around 4pm after nearly 10 hours’ of driving. Wow, this was a massive lake, with red algae, giving it a very red colour in the far distance. Absolutely beautiful beautiful beautiful. We settled down in our very basic hostel. There was no running water. We had to use a scoop-thingie to take water from a huge bucket to flush down the toilet or wash up. Josie took a long, long, long time before deciding she would go ahead and use the toilet. Ah, finally!

We were now at 4,278m above sea level. Wow, this is once again a new record for me – the highest place I have ever stayed overnight at. As the wind was crazy, I put on my fleece and jacket, scarf, hat and gloves, and walked with Simon and Josie to the mirador to view the lake. I could not believe it. I was in 3 layers and still freezing cold, but Josie later took off her fleece and started walking in her spaghetti-straped top!!

Very difficult to climb at this altitude but we made it. While today had been a very long and at times boring day of driving, interspersed by scenic and peeing spots, this was truly the most fantastic view of today. The red colour glistened all around the massive lake, there were thousands and thousands of flamingoes everywhere, and huge glacier-like mounds of salt on the opposite side of the lake and lovely distant mountains, some perfectly conical like volcanoes.

We finally reached the viewing point

... and were astounded by the stunning view

... of the red Laguna Colorado

When we went down, we met the 3 Arctic explorers lumbering towards us, bundled up in the best technology Norway has to offer in protection from the cold. They too gasped at the sight of Josie who had just casually decided to put her thin flappy fleece jacket back on. We persuaded them it was really worth it to climb to the mirador and so, somewhat reluctantly, brrrr… they plodded on. People from cold countries seemed to be the ones who complain the most about the cold.

The English siblings and I decided to be brave and walk out to the red lake. Some of the ground was dry and hard. But some were soft mud. Tourists before us had left deep footprints as they struggled with the mud, but when we came upon this same mud, it was now nice and hard. At other times, we thought this was okay mud, but our boots sank right it. Very deceptive indeed. On the mud were also millions of flamingo footprints. There were round depressions all over, surrounded by white and yellow colours, remnants of different minerals. We considered and experimented and finally reached the lake and were able to observe the red ripples caused by the strong wind up close. When we left, we struggled some more through the horrid mud. We were walking like flamingoes at times, as we tried to quicken our footsteps before each step sank deeper into the soft mud. Yep, now we know exactly why the flamingoes walk like that.

Closer inspection of Laguna Colorado

Flamingo footprints on the soft coloured mud

That evening, as we played cards and considered our border-crossing tomorrow to Chile, I warned them not to bring any fruits. Then, Cathrine said she heard that even tea-bags were not allowed. Whoops. I had bought coca tea-bags. I know coca leaves, for sure, are not allowed. But I was hoping I could bring the coca tea-bags home. Now, if even tea-bags were not allowed, (much less coca tea-bags!) I would have to discard them before I leave tomorrow. Sheesh, I do not want to do that. I know I can buy coca tea-bags in San Pedro de Atacama as I had seen them there 3 years ago. But I did not want to throw these away and then, buy them in Chile at 3 times the price. For a challenge, I decided to smuggle them. I put them inside my sleeping bag. Hopefully tomorrow, I can keep a straight face and there are no dogs to sniff for the presence of coca tea-bags.

Wow, tonight, although there was no wind at all, I felt rather cold and put on my alpaca sweater (yes, it finally proved useful!) before going to sleep. However, the high altitude was not agreeing with me. Lots of rumbling in my tummy. Argh, this is NOT a good place to visit the toilet frequently.


Salar de Uyuni

December 3rd, 2005

30 November 2005 (Wednesday) – Uyuni to Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

There had been 3 other tourists on my tour when I signed up for the Salar de Uyuni trip, but none of them were there at the tourist office at the agreed time. I waited more than half an hour. I thought for a moment there had been some mix-up and I had been left out from the jeep. But, I was soon picked up by a jeep and driven to another tour agency and in packed 3 Norwegian girls and a English brother-and-sister team. I was the only one signed up from another travel agency. Hmmm… I figured all or most of the agencies got together at the end of yesterday and kinda reshuffled everyone around to form groups of 6 or 7.

The Norwegians were Cathrine, Martha and Ingunn, the siblings Simon and Josie. We were driven to the Cementerio de Trenes (Cemetery of Trains) and there, I ran into several other tourists whom I had shared the bus here to Uyuni. I guess we would keep running into one another for the next few days all the way to San Pedro de Atacama.

Cemetery of Trains

Cemetery of Trains

After this, our driver went to pick up his wife who would be our cook, and along with her, came her little 3-year-old son, whom we would adore to death. Little Jaillo (I am guessing the spelling) is the most smiley and adorable little boy we had seen in a long while. He was always turning around and giving us very mischievous little giggles. Absolutely adorable.

Cochani was our next stop where we took the chance to use the toilet and browse the salt souvenirs before heading onto the largest salt flat in the world – Salar de Uyuni. The salt was so white, and at this altitude of 3,600m above sea level, one really needs sunglasses in order not to be blinded by the reflection from the noon sun. We were fascinated by the huge expanse of pure white, it was absolutely incredible. In fact, there seemed a lot of optical illusions in the far distance where objects seemed to be floating in the air, or seemed to cast a reflection of its shape against the white mirror ground. With nothing else to be used as perspective, it was very difficult to judge distances. Truly, one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen!

Mining salt

Salar de Uyuni, so white it hurts the eyes!

Little Jaillo

Clockwise - Simon, Josie, Cathrine, Martha, Ingunn, Jaillo and I

We were to stop at Isla del Pescado (Fish Island) for lunch. This is an ‘island’ of volcanic rock right smack in the middle of Salar de Uyuni. When we were very far off, I had already seen a dark shape that looks like a fish. Hence, the name. As we neared it, the surreal ‘island’ became bigger and bigger. When we parked right under it, I could not believe my eyes. Spotted all over the ‘island’ were gigantic cacti, thousands of them. How did they get grown here, when this ‘island’ was surrounded by miles and miles of salt? As Señora had to prepare lunch, the guide told us to take a little walk around the island to the top where we could see both sides. Gosh, the view was truly breathtaking! We really felt like being on an island in the middle of a lake of white.

Isla del Pescado, right smack in the middle of the 'salar'

Look how TALL the cactus is!

There were distant jeeps and people walking on the salt pans. Everything looked miniscule. I was thorougly fascinated with the cacti, many of which were flowering now, some of them, a little dead, exposing its beautiful ‘carcass’.

Distant jeep and miniscule people on the salt pans

We had our lunch of tuna and salad and headed off again. The guide kept telling us we had a lot to see today, but by around 3pm, we had already left the salt flat and had reached our Salt Hotel Atulcha. All of us were given a nice little room, entirely made of salt. The hotel, the beds, the bed-side table, the dining table and chairs outside… all salt. Yes, I licked the wall, just to check.

The hotel entirely made from salt

I took a little walk around the hotel, climbing up a little hill in the distance. At the top, I was surprised to find someone had constructed walls of rocks, and for the entrance, a tiny little door. Not sure what this was. But the view was quite enchanting with the distant ‘islands’ on the salt pan, reflecting its shape on the white.

Reflection of islands against the salt pans

Curious donkeys checking me out as I explored near their territories

The shower cost extra but the hotel warned us that our next stop had no shower, so we were obliged to pay to wash off all the salt and sand that had gotten into every orifices on the ride here. No, dear, of course, the showers and toilets are NOT made of salt.

We had delicious llama meat for dinner, got chatting to know one another. The Viking blondes had been working in volunteer jobs in Sucre for 3 months. They were pleasant, friendly but frequently kept to themselves, chatting in their own language. Simon and Josie were rather nice as well, Simon is quite chatty and enthusiastic about what he had done so far in his trip, Josie kept an unsmiling face most of the time as if she did not enjoy the scenery all around, but yet, she would suddenly comment on how beautiful the mountains look, so she had indeed been enjoying the views. Overall, I was okay with them, although I did not feel I could really connect with them. Soon, we retired to our very comfortable rooms. I had bought my alpaca sweater in La Paz, expecting extremely cold temperature but I did not need it at all. It was warm and cozy in the room.

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Ocean of Bolivia

November 30th, 2005

29 November 2005 (Tuesday) – Potosi to Uyuni, Bolivia

Once again, I was surprised at the number of sacks of goods at the bus office for the bus going to Uyuni. Can we really pack all these on top of the bus? When the bus finally pulled up, the tourists’ backpacks were heaved up there first, followed by the campesinos’ goods. Yes, somehow, by crook or by crook (yes…), everything made it up there, behind or along the aisle.

We were travelling at a very high altitude now. The scenery all over were undulating mountains as far as the eyes could see. There were green mountains, deserts spotted with patches of absolute green or bursts of highland licho grass. At some places, the moutains turned all rocky, with HUGE boulders, split and eroded nearly to the end, hanging precariously above. Ah, so this is how the Bolivians protesters do the bloqueos. Just shove one of these down the mountain road and all access is cut off.

Peggy, whom I met a couple of days ago in Tarabuco, had told me about 10, 12 days ago, when she was in La Paz, there had been a bloqueo between La Paz and Oruro and she was stuck there for 2 days. Wow, I had left La Paz merely 5 days before that. Thank goodness, I was lucky. Now, as I read from the borrowed newspaper from the guy next to me, I learnt that there was a short bloqueo in Sucre just yesterday and yet another renewed bloqueo between La Paz and Oruro. Again, I heaved a sigh of relief. I was now heading towards Uyuni, my last stop in Bolivia and onwards to Salar de Uyuni. I doubt anyone would be able to block the largest salt pan in the world, so I should be able to leave Bolivia on time, before my 30-days run out.

I continued to admire the scenery from point to point as I glanced up from reading my book. I soon stared in awe at the distant horizon. Yes, we were so high and so far from the mountains that I could actually see the horizon now. I was just thinking, wow, this feels like being out in the ocean, a very high ocean… when I turned slightly to my right and spotted Salar de Uyuni, a immense white plain, glistening in the afternoon sun. Now, this IS truly the ‘high ocean’ of Bolivia. Incredible!!

Uyuni is not really a town to stay to er… appreciate the food or admire the architecture. It really felt like a deserted frontier town, basking under the fierce sun. There was hardly any trees, any greenery at all. There were hardly any cheap places for food either. Everything here existed for the sole purpose of serving tourists. So, there are loads of travel agencies, hotels and gringo restaurants serving food at twice or triple the price of everywhere.

Tourists just come to Uyuni, find a tour and get out, pronto.

I tried to search for the market for some cheap local food, but no luck. Anyway, I also figured perhaps, I should not risk my stomach at this point, especially since I would be leaving for the salt pan for 3 days tomorrow. Pizza will do.

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Looking For A Silver Lining

November 29th, 2005

28 November 2005 (Monday) – Potosi, Bolivia

It turned out being cold was the least of my problem. I spent the whole night unable to sleep due to the combination of 2 problems.

First, creaky squeaky wooden floorboards. I never really felt they were a nuisance in other hotels, but gosh, the wooden floorboards along the corridor of this hotel were terrible, and I swear, the portion right outside my door made the worst creaky squeaky sounds! Plus the hollow thumping sound of footsteps on wood, impossible to sleep! Usually, perhaps, it would not be a problem for right around midnight or so, if most guests had gone to bed and did not visit the toilet often, it could be rather quiet in the hotel.

But no… the second problem at hand, melodramatic teenagers. At around 9pm or so last night, a teenage girl had burst out from her room, sobbing away, accompanied by her friend, shushing her. About an hour or so later, I found her still crying away in the toilet, with attempts from more friends to console her, some she tried to push away. She even ran to puke into the toilet bowl. Right. Throughout the night, doors got slammed, people were walking or running along the corridor, up and down, down and up, calling out for this or that person. I heard dramatic tearful phrases, obviously copied from the telenovelas (TV soap operas) watched and adored by these teenagers… “¡Quiero gritar!!… sob sob…” (I want to shout!), “Déjame en paz, déjame… sob sob…” (Leave me in peace, leave me…) I checked the time. 2:30am. Please, can tear ducts really last from 9pm til now?? Gimme a break!!

Later, someone shouted at them, “¡Callate!” (Shut up!”) followed by some long speech and after one final door slam, peace and quiet reigned for… hmm… 40 minutes or so, before the same door-slamming, hurried footsteps, moanful sobs, squeaky floorboards continued their renewed saga.

I packed up and left early next morning to another hostel just 20 steps away. I checked this time. No wooden floor boards. No teenagers. Perfect.

At 9am, I was picked up for my silver mine tour. In our van were Nina from Germany, Nicki and Rem from The Netherlands. All 3 were very, very tall. I had read that in these silver mine tours, sometimes, the tourists had to crawl along holes merely 1 metre high, in absolutely horrendous conditions. But Oswaldo, our guide, assured us that for the silver mine tours from this company, he had selected a mine that had the best safety records, not only for its tourists, but for its employers as well. He said the miners are humans, not animals, they need to be respected as well. While there are still some mines functioning in awful, ancient conditions, all for profit, with no considerations for the safety and health of the miners, the mine we were going had proper working shifts, better equipment for drilling holes, etc…

We put on rubber boots, wore protective clothings and were crowned with a helmet with a lamp each. At the miners’ market, we pooled together some money and bought coca leaves, bottles of gassy drinks, gloves, a pack of cigarette, toilet paper – gifts for the miners. Then, we headed to Cerro Rico, the mountain discovered 460 years ago to contain tonnes and tonnes of silver, making Potosí so rich, as to be one of the richest cities in the world at that time. Imagine! Unfortunately, the good silver lodes ran out and Potosi was left a ghost town. Later, other metals like tin, zinc, etc… were mined, rescuing Potosi from a certain death.

Getting ready to enter the silver mine

Today, mainly zinc and silver are mined due to the good prices. Tin, not so much.

Lines of minerals along the wall of the tunnel

Oswaldo informed us that the workers here earned different salaries based on the different types of work they do. They choose their own profession. No one is forced to do any job that they do not want to. Those with the lowest salaries work on separating the rocks from the minerals. Those somewhat in the middle pay-scale, work at collecting the rocks from the mines, pushing them out in wagons. Well, the wagons, on their own, weigh 500kg each. With the rocks, they weigh 1500kg. Some work! The highest-paid guy is of course the one with the toughest work and with the most health risk. He is the guy who drills the holes into the rock walls, inserts the dynamites, lights them up and walks away whistling. For him, he works perhaps just 4 hours a day. But really tough, carrying the 65kg air-compressor drill, breathing in all the dust kicked up by the drilling and the toxic fumes.

We followed Oswaldo into the tunnel. This company had spent the extra money to make the tunnel tall enough for a walking human. In some other mines, there are up to 1,500 mines in this mountain, the holes are small, just for crawling, because the company did not want to waste resources to make them any bigger than ‘necessary’.

At one spot, we climbed up 4 ladders to find 2 miners who had just finished with drilling holes to put dynamites. The guys were covered in wet mud. This was because they used air-compressor drills that came with water spray to settle the dust. In some archaic mines, they still used air-compressor drills without water spray, exposing the miners to more health risk.

The area up was a little scary, small, dark and claustrophobic. Nicki abandoned the climb halfway as she said she felt really awful. This is just one level. After they have blasted a certain distance and collected the rocks, they would have to blast upwards to create another level – another 4 ladders to climb. Imagine, if the air-compressor drill did not work and the guy had to get it changed, he had to lug this 65kg drill on his shoulder and balance himself down the ladders to bring it out of the mine.

Oswaldo led us to a section where we found another maestro (teacher). A maestro is the guy who is in charge of drilling the holes. He earns 1,800 to 2,000 bolivianos (about US$225 – US$250) a month. An average salary for the Bolivians, Oswaldo told us, is about 500 bolivianos (US$63). So, this is really good salary for the number of hours he puts in a day, up to 4 hours.

Drilling, the toughest and hence, highest-paid job in the silver mine

We stuck toilet paper into our ears to protect our hearing as the maestro drills between 9 to 15 holes around the wall. The holes are made centre, high up and low down, and the maestro had to support this heavy drill throughout the process. As he aims for a new hole, with nothing to support at first, his assistant needs to hold the drill at the drilling end with his hands for a short moment. Scary!

As I had said, for the maestro, his job is to drill, put the dynamite and light them. His job is thus done, and he does not care about the aftermath of the blast. The air-compressor drill is about 1.2m long. So, each day, after blasting a hole 1.2m deep, he leaves and returns anew to a new wall and blast another 1.2m.

But they do not call him a maestro for nothing. No point blasting holes just to collect the rocks, hello… He has to sniff around for the minerals. Sometimes, when they are searching for new lodes, they need to blast anywhere just based on hopes and guesses. If they blast 10m and still find nothing, then all the investment had been wasted. Other times, the maestro is blasting by following the lodes of the minerals.

Also, when they reach a certain point of security, and even if there are still more lodes to be exploited, they cannot proceed further, as any more blasting, might risk the collapse of the mine.

I cannot believe that they had been exploring the same hill for 460 years since the Spanish conquistadores discovered silver here. There are 1,500 mines here, with 10,000 miners working. Yet, they are blasting down kilometres of tunnels in any direction whatsoever. And there is a huge competition amongst the miners to get to the lodes.

It reminds me of the Egyptian pharoahs who had their tombs built in Valley of the Kings for years and years, without a clue what was the labyrinth of past tombs and tunnels like. Sometimes, the men making the tunnels would break a wall and discover the corridor of another tomb from 200 years earlier. Whoopsee. So, they had to sweep the dust up, patch the wall back and er… make a right-angled turn, to say, the left and continue chipping away with their chisels. The same might happen here as well, albeit with slightly better technology.

We paid a visit to El Tio (The Uncle), the god for the miners. It is a red devil-looking creature with horns, a mouth with protruding lower lips where cigarettes are laid, and a huge, huge, erect penis. Miners put coca leaves and cigarettes to ask for a successul day of finding minerals and no accident. Or perhaps, to have a penis like El Tio’s. As I had learnt from the Coca Museum in La Paz, coca leaves were used since the Spanish colonial days to help the miners last longer, through the tough conditions, the hunger, the heat or the cold, of working in the mines.

A visit to El Tio

Once a year, they celebrate their own Carnaval. It is a day where the miners really do not work, and they put decorations all over El Tio and get absolutely pissed-drunk. Oh, here, they drink 96% alcohol because it is cheaper and because they are macho men.

At one point, Oswaldo asked us, as he switched off our lights, what was the most important equipment in the mine. The helmet? The boots? Nah… light, of course. With no light, one is totally left in the darkness, pure pitch-black darkness. Hence, the miners all work in pairs, just in case, one of their lights fail.

We found more miners shovelling up the rocks into the wagons. These guys were perspiring fiercely in this hot condition and due to the hard work. Yet, when they push these wagons out of the mine, at 4,000+m above sea level, it can get pretty cold outside, especially at night. So, these hot and cold spurts, what do they do to their nerves?

Pushing the wagon of minerals and rocks out to be sorted

OK, back to the maestro. He was now inserting the dynamites into the deep end of the holes, leaving the tails hanging out. His assistant used a vacuum machine to suck up ammonium nitrate, mixed with diesel, and this mixture was blasted into the holes with the dynamites. This chemical is used to make the blasts more potent.

Dynamites, about to be lit

Meanwhile, the foreman, whom they called El Presidente and who had a wad of coca leaves permanently stuck to the insides of his mouth, was making final checks, to make sure the rest of the miners were out of the mine. The maestro proceeded to cut the tails of the dynamites into different lengths, the shortest in the centre, the area around the centre, a little bit longer and the top, bottom and extreme sides, the longest. The idea is to blast the centre portion first, and the surrounding areas next.

“¡Fuego!” (Fire!), the maestro asked from Oswaldo and he proceeded to light the dynamites’ tails one by one. We were so ready to leave the tunnel now. Oswaldo led us towards the exit, but paused at one point. We stared at him, wondering W-H-Y? and “BBBBOOOOOMMMM!!!!!!!” Nina screamed. Nicki cursed. I smiled secretly. Gosh!! The blasts had gone off when the miners and us were still in here. My goodness, you could almost see the sound waves move through the tunnel as each of the blasts exploded. Our protective clothes vibrated with the sound waves. I stared in absolutely delight all around, despite being deaf now. Incredible! Oswaldo gave us a laugh and truly led us out this time. Ah, finally… Sunlight!!! Fresh air!!!!

Out in the open, sorters are going through the minerals and the rocks

Cerro Rico (Rich Hill)

Life in the mine is really tough. We really respected the miners. For the maestro, soon, he would die from a poisoned lung disease. He is well aware of this. But while he is still alive, he is earning good salary for himself and his family.

I guess I would never look at silver, or for that matter, any sort of minerals in the same way now. I will really treasure my earrings which I bought from Santa Cruz. I showered, but I could not get rid of the faint smell of minerals.

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