La Paz sits at 3, 650 meters elevation as the highest capital city in the world. Potosi is 4, 090 meters in the sky. Lake Titicaca is apparently the world’s highest lake at 3, 811, and if you climb the hill overlooking the lakeside town of Copacabana you’ll be gasping for breath a lot higher up than that. Most of Bolivia is basically in the clouds. It makes it all sound appealing and somewhat romantic and magical, but what they fail to mention is how hard it is to breathe up there.
This would have to be one of the only places on Earth where you can safely fall asleep at the wheel. It would probably be a couple of hours before you hit a bit of rough to wake you up before hitting the side of a mountain. The mountains are usually within view, but they’re so far away they never look like they’re getting closer.
The day got off to an auspicious start with some typically South American inefficiency which had so far been absent for much of my time in Chile. Finding a passage from San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile to Uyuni in south-west Bolivia had proved harder than expected, with buses only going twice a week and at extremely inconvenient hours, but with a bit of research I had found a company that would take me directly through the desert, four-wheel-drive, in one day. Perfect. But two hours after the intended departure time we were still in San Pedro at the immigration office with every other bus and truck in northern Chile trying to get through at once. And somehow my driver was still at the back of the line, chatting jovially to his colleagues, in no hurry at all.
South America is old as shit. I know European cities have been around longer and the North American countries are roughly the same age, but in these places they are constantly upgrading their buildings and infrastructure and sewerage system. In South America it looks like everything was built in 1650 and nobody has bothered to add a coat of paint since. And in this the 21st century you still can’t flush your fucking toilet paper.
This wasn’t fireworks or a cap gun. This was real dynamite, real rock-busting, mine-forming, rubble-clearing, lose-your-hands-and-blind-yourself dynamite. A solid white stick, wrapped in paper with a wire coming out the end, and chocked full of dynamite inside. It cost us 20 Bolivianos, about $3. Between two of us that’s $1.50 each.