We did a three-day overland trip from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia. We were told in the pre trip info that we’d need boots. Don discovered online that there is a street in Santiago where there are twenty second-hand shops. We went there and found a very serviceable pair of boots for each of us for $15 a pair. Can’t beat that. Don also found a great pair of jeans and me a pair of black pants.
After trekking all over the Uyuni salt flats, including through the watery parts, the boots were covered in salt and had served their purpose. We were happy to leave them behind in the hotel room in Uyuni.
The flight from Uyuni to La Paz. Okay. I’ve said before I don’t like flying. We’re told that all luggage will go on a later flight as there is bad weather in La Paz and the plane needs to be as light as possible. Well this sets the mood for me. We convince them to load Don’s and my bag since if they come on the later flight we’ll miss our connection by bus to Copacabana. Our bags are stuffed somewhere into the nose of the plane. Then we get on the turbo-prop plane: a twenty-seater tin can tube. No overhead luggage storage. I’m only 5’2” and I can barely stand in the centre between the row of single seats on either side of me. I watch the men bending double to get down the aisle. There’s no door between the passenger cabin and the cockpit. There are no flight attendants.
It’s a one-hour flight and I spent the entire time crying. Not from fear, but from grief. What arose was a deeper realization and recognition than I’ve ever had before that this body, this life-stream, this being Alison will end one day, maybe even today, and that there is nothing I can do about it. It always was impermanent, ephemeral, but we hide that from ourselves for various probably very good reasons, but I finally really got it. It’s going to end. I grieved the end of this life. Ironically it turned out to be a relatively smooth flight with a good landing. I’ve never understood why passengers clap the pilot after landing but I sure got it this time. We all clapped and hollered with appreciation and relief.
On arrival in Copacabana we discovered our hotel-room was a vaguely stylish freezing hellhole. That night neither of us slept much because we couldn’t get warm even with extra clothes on, huddled under, I promise you, the heaviest blankets ever made that simply would not tuck in around my body so every time I moved it was to a different freezing part of the bed. Oh joy. I threw a hissy fit in the middle of the night because I couldn’t get comfortable, and I couldn’t get warm, and I couldn’t get to sleep.
In the morning I discovered I’d left my very expensive orthotics in the boots in the hotel room in Uyuni.
There is no hot water tap at the bathroom sink so Don has no hot water to shave.
The hotel people are wonderful and bring a jug of hot water for Don, and an electric heater for the room. We plug in our international power plug, then our surge-protector power bar into which we plugged the heater, among other things. Slowly, very slowly, the room starts to warm up. We go out hoping that we’ll come back to a warm cozy room. We find the local market and some good-enough felt insoles for my shoes to replace the lost orthotics. We return home several hours later only to discover that the international plug we’d used was a little loose and had slipped a bit and there had been no power to the heater. We have a different plug that’s a tighter fit and get the heater going again.
We go out again and come back an hour or so later only to discover the entire hotel has no power. I wish I could say I burst out laughing at this point, but not quite yet.
I’ve lost track of days. It’s Christmas Eve. We go find a Wi-Fi café so we can recharge our computers and Skype the family in Australia. By the time we finish talking to everyone it’s about 10pm and we’re ready to head home. There’s still no power at the hotel. We are incredibly grateful to have warm clothing and very good head-lights. We’re given a propane heater for our room, but of course cannot have it burning overnight. Still it really blasts some heat into the room, and by this time we’ve sorted out the bedding so we can both be comfortable, and we get a reasonable night’s sleep.
We’re told that the hotel generator will be on from 7 to 8 the next morning to work the pump so we’ll have water for our bathroom.
At breakfast the next morning, that is, this morning, I look at Don across the table and burst out laughing. Merry Christmas honey. We both laugh.
But it’s not over yet. Don has a wide-mouth water bottle that he uses to mix greens powder with water that he drinks every morning. When he’s finished he can’t wash it out because there’s no water in our room (no generator to pump it) so he gives it to the man in the kitchen: apparently there is water there. Earlier we’d seen the hotel generator being loaded onto a truck – not a good sign. Don had told the man to use hot water to clean his bottle and then went back to our room. The man asks me whether to use boiling water or not. I’m kind of brain dead and say that’s okay. He fills it with hot water and the whole thing melts like a candle.
On top of all of this we both still have mild altitude sickness: runny snuffly noses, mild headaches, mild nausea, shortness of breath. It’s much better than it was, for both of us, but we’re hoping for better as we’ve still a few weeks to go at fairly high altitudes.
It’s Christmas Day. We’re in Copacabana, Bolivia on the shores of Lake Titicaca. After breakfast we wandered to the market, the town square, and the church. People everywhere. Decorated cars being blessed. Firecrackers exploding. The sun is shining. It’s a party. A surreal scene of joy, colour, beer-drinking, children having fun with new toys. The band is playing, of all things, Sounds of Silence. Our mood is buoyed by it all.
Then I go to upload the photos I took this morning and discover that my computer has almost no space on it. When I look at how it’s filled up there’s a long yellow bar, 168 gigs, almost half the space of the computer, taken up with some unknown thing simply labeled “other”. I’d never seen anything like it. Before that I’d taken everything in stride pretty much (except for throwing a hissy fit in the middle of the first night) but seeing that yellow bar on my computer, and no space left, and how could it get like that? And what could it mean? And how can we fix it? And there’s something wrong with my precious. Well that threw me into a complete funk. Briefly.
I’d forgotten to empty the trash. Oops.
And then for a while, until I discovered I wasn’t looking in the right place, I thought I’d deleted all the morning’s photos. Sigh.
The take home message? The same as always – let go let go let go.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Photo of the day: Christmas day in Copacabana, Bolivia
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted.
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.