Beginnings of Bolivia

I have a body that longs for heaven.

This is how I phrase it in order to accept it. My body is constantly sick, broken, covered in a rash, forming cysts, getting sprained, suffering some vitamin deficiency, or else finding new ways to scream at me “I am not ok here!” In the past year, I’ve had frostbite (yes, in Boston) and developed arthritis in my toe. Not kidding.

Nate says if my body is longing for heaven it’s doing a crappy job getting there, which I guess is right.

Anyway, this tendency of mine came out in full effect a few hours after we arrived in Bolivia, which was difficult enough just to cross into.


After waiting out the freezing hours before sunrise in the bus station at the rural Argentina border where our bus ride ended, we walked through the border crossing only to be told they wouldn’t accept our USD $120 fee in 20s (crisp and clean like we were advised!) – the guards were demanding a $100 in the mix. Thanks to our Spanish-speaking new friend, after wearing them down and assuring them there was actually nothing we could do to get a USD$100 while standing on the rural, dusty border of Argentina and Bolivia at sunrise, they finally let us in.


The market in Villazon, Bolivia

We had 6 hours to kill and wandered the small border town of Villazon, Bolivia with some new friends (from Switzerland and Italy). We were starving after an all night bus ride without dinner but found fresh squeezed juice, fresh fruit, and some interesting street vendors.




Buying coca leaves.

We bought coca leaves and have been enjoying them over the last few days. Yes, coca leaves are used to make cocaine. No, coca leaves aren’t harmful or narcotic when used like the locals. To “chew” coca (you don’t actually chew it, but that’s what it’s called), you take a small handful of dried leaves and put them inside your cheek. Add a bit of mint or lime or salt mixed with ash to activate the alkaloids and let the leaves turn into a gross spit ball in your mouth. They help with the altitude sickness, digestion, and give you a little buzz like coffee. They also make your mouth numb so by the time you spit them out you feel like you just came from the dentist. But you no longer feel like you’re hanging out dying a slow death at 12,000 feet. So that’s a plus.

We also visited some stalls with lots of different herbs and remedies and had an awesome time learning about the local uses and tasting bits and pieces (like stevia leaves and dried clay).


Here we noticed pretty suddenly that there were dead animals hanging all over the place (funny how things like that sneak up on you). Of course, we didn’t get the whole story but they are for some sort of celebration. As in, you give your friends? children? envelopes with money, confetti, and one of these dead things. Yay!



Hey little buddies.

So back to my heaven-longing body. One of these wonderful street food surprises that we consumed in our six hours in Villazon contained a little bug that had me that-kind-of-sick-you-never-want-to-be on our super bumpy 8 hour train ride to Uyuni where we planned to tour the salt flats (Salar de Uyuni). Nate was the most wonderful husband in the world and carried BOTH our packs from the train station to our hostel at midnight when we finally arrived as I scraped alongĀ at a snail’s pace behind him. Luckily we planned to be in Uyuni for three days and I was feeling better by our last day there so we didn’t have to miss out on THIS:

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Essentially, the Salar de Uyuni is a giant prehistoric lake that dried up a good long time ago and left this magic in it’s place. We took a tour and ended up with some Bolivian-born Americans, a mother and son: Elizabeth and Dennis. We had lots of time to chat and came to find out Elizabeth works as a housekeeper. For who? “Ms. Ginsburg”. As in the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Who they say is very nice and we believe them.



Hotel made of salt.


Train Cemetery at the beginning of the Salar. In the 1940s, the mining industry here collapsed, partly because of mineral depletion, and this cemetery of abandoned trains is what remains.


Lunch at Isla Incahuasi, a cactus covered hill, the remnant of an ancient volcano, in the middle of the Salt Flat.



Our tour group.

Back in Uyuni, Nate tasted some local flavors while I ate plain spaghetti and gatorade for three days in a row.


Nate eats a llama steak.

And now we’re finally back in the city and feeling healthy. We’re chilling out in La Paz for a few days, enjoying the long-forgotten privacy of an apartment, climbing all the hills, and begging our lungs to acclimate to the highest capital city in the world.


Our apartment in La Paz.