Day 9: Bolivia Bound

Gasolina por favor

Bolivia's that way....I think

Our cell for the night

I sit on the ground with my back against the Transalp, laptop in my lap as I write this blog. We’re not in a hotel with wifi but a kilometre into Bolivia, out in the open surrounded by Llamas. The ride up from Putre had been beautiful and the border crossing had been a bit tedious but we’d made it through, and what a worthwhile inconvenience it had been. Dominik originally wanted to paint Parinacota volcano by Lake Chungara, on the Chilian side. It was impressive in size and girth and the sulphur lakes that lay at its feet were rather interesting, but it was overcast and I was a little concerned about the border crossing. Of all the crossings we’d figured Bolivia was going to be the trickiest and I suggested perhaps we should tackle that and get it out of the way, then Dominik could paint on the other side. That’s what we ended up doing, and our we ever glad we did.

Words cannot describe our present setting. Less than two kilometres into Bolivia the road stretched out in front of another snow capped volcano, Nevada Sajama, and Dominik slowed and stopped by the side of the road. We turned around and made our way down a gravel track and parked the bikes a half kilometre in. He’d decided this was a good spot to paint. We had a quick lunch of tuna sandwiches then went about our business. Dominik set up to paint and I pulled out the big camera to get some footage. There was a fairly brisk warm wind blowing from our back, the Chilian side, and before long the clouds that had dampened the volcano by Lake Chungara began to scatter, illuminating Sajama before us in glorious light. It lies about five kilometres in front of us and at 6,542 metres above sea level is Bolivia’s highest peak. Sajama sports an almost perfect cone and on this particular day snow cascaded down its sides before thinning out and disappearing altogether leaving a brown rugged skirt at its base. It is flanked by a group of motley lumps of varying heights that peter out at the beginning of the plain we sit on.  The plain is carpeted with clumps of hardy grass, each about a foot in diameter at their bases. They are a greenish brown in colour and glow as the sun hits them. To my eye they look like a huge random gathering of brussel sprouts. They give the plain a soft and welcoming feeling and balance out the jagged edges of the volcano. I still have a hard time processing the fact that we are here in Bolivia. All those conversations and planning that took up the weeks prior to our departure are a distant memory. We have reached our destination and what a welcome mat Bolivia has thrown out. We saw some Alpaca crossing the road on the way up from Putre but the Llamas here outnumbered them ten to one. There were three herds, not sure if herd is the correct terminology here, but there were three herds when we parked the bikes. Two were quite distant but the third was fairly close. What happened next was a gift I’ll never forget. Perhaps we were on their game trail, perhaps we were just in their way, but instead of detouring around us, they continued right at us and then split around us. I have never in my life witnessed such a thing. With motorcycle engines doused it appeared we no longer represented a threat and some of them approached quite close, perhaps 80 feet, and these were wild Llamas. It turns out they were just as curious of us as we were of them. They never stopped eating during the exchange. They would find a clump of grass that satisfied and tuck in for a minute or two, then they would stop, heads would rise and they would look directly at us, perhaps they were wondering why we weren’t eating too! They wore many different coats. Some were black, some white, some brown, but most offered up unique blends that set them apart from their brethren. It was a magnificent sight, and not a cage or wall or zookeeper in sight. If anything we were on their turf and they regarded us as the peculiar ones.