Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :-
Christmas on Earth, New Years on the Moon
Well back to that job offer. In clearly a moment of alcohol induced madness, Davie had asked me to run one of his hostels. It was quite a conflict for me, weighing up the lure of the open road against the opportunity to run my own hostel as I saw fit. I´m still deciding…
But the day after my near ET experience off the side of the cliff, I met Hannah, a friend of mine that has had the auspicious honour of being mentioned in three other countries already in this blog, Laos, Vietnam and Australia! It was great to see her and we laughed at how our initial idealistic plans of, ‘Hey, I´m going to be in South America for Christmas´, ‘Hey, so am I, we should meet up?´ had somehow come to fruition.
Oscar and Katie were other backpackers who brought a unique gift on their travels, a Karaoke machine! Now I am not a great lover of this form of musical expression although you wouldn´t have believed it to see me! We had another great night and this kicked on to New Years Eve aswell. It was great to be surrounded by so many friends on the night and in to the early morning.
But after the partying there was some exploring to do. I set off with Aileen and Owen on an overnight bus to Uyuni to see the Salt Flats. Gringos (us foreigners) inevitably pay more for these buses than the locals but it afforded us the front seats although that was not exactly comforting as we watched the driver turn off the road a few hours into the trip and onto a mud flat.
There were no signs, no previous tyre tracks, I swear this guy was following the stars as we weaved across the land. Only a local could have made this drive, a marathon 13 hour effort with the one driver who sat there and munched his coca leaves like his life depended on it. Ironically, it did but so did ours!
We set off to see the Salt Flats, a massive ‘lake’of salt, 10m deep at points with 2 girls a German and a Bolivian and a Uruguayan couple. We all took land rovers to cross the often difficult terrain. Now, its hard after travelling for some time to keep finding new ways and things to excite yourself but I have never been to a place like this before. As far as the eye could see was brilliant white, the horizon melted into the sky and the backdrops led to amazing and imaginative pictures.
Some people had hired 4×4´s of their own over the years and stories abounded of some that had died as they tried to find a way off, and others who had driven for two days solid without seeing another car. It was easy to get disorientated and end up going around in circles. It was a magnificent place and while Aileen was feeling a little under the weather, Owen and I took it upon ourselves to have a right laugh and disrupt any tranquility that others could have been having, this was a playground, a unique place, well for us it was at least!
That night we stayed in probably the most remote village I have ever stayed at, San Juan. We were hours from anywhere but there is always room for a guitar and an impromptu night of music as European and South American playing jousted for supremacy. It was another great night of spontaneity.
The next day was boring, no other word for it. Hours of bouncing along in our car (which I was now suspecting had the engine of a lawnmower) as we periodically stopped at places where it was not entirely evident what the attraction there was!
Again Owen and I had to lift our own spirits by cracking jokes and the German girl told us after that when she got out of the car she had to take a few ´private´ moments to gather herself after the onslaught of laughter she had heard for the previous few hours. It was a compliment of sorts, a kind of ´Irish compliment´ I guess!
We woke at 4am next morning to go see some geysers, sulphur geysers which reminded me of Rotorua in New Zealand, SMELLY!! Then we were taken to some hot thermal baths which was really nice, over 4000m above sea level. And then we saw the spectacular Green Lagoon where I tried to inhale a clowd!
But then we had the long drive back to Uyuni. No radio reception so we shared songs with each other, ´The Ratlin Bog´ being a favourite for its complete stupidity!
Having prior knowledge of the chaos of bus companies, we had to fight our corner to maintain our seats for the trip back to La Paz, with double and triple selling of the same seats common. So, back to the Wild Rover and to some bad news.
Ronan Lawlor, the young Irish backpacker who had been trekking around South America, had gone missing in early December. His body had been found in Torres Del Paine, a famous park in Southern Chile by some other travellers the day we came back. It made us all take stock and show even greater resolve to get us through our travels.
Ronan Lawlor, RIP.
Caddies, Loonies and Mummies