Bolivia began with a bogus border experience, bubbling bowel troubles, and bouncing on the backs of horses. On our 4th day in Tupiza (small town 2 hours north of the border with Argentina), we linked up with a crew of 6 fellow backpackers and signed up to do the long version of the Salares Tour – taking us through the national park to end at the Bolivian Salt Flats. This crew would soon become known as Team Mongrel, and this trip would become the highlight thus far of our 5 weeks in South America.
We left at 7:30 in the morning on Thursday, packed all of our stuff into 2 Toyota Land Cruisers and embarked on a 10 hour day of incredibly skilled off-road driving by our hilarious (and only spanish speaking) guides, Alan and Jesus. We stopped at multiple view points, climbed up to 5000 meters, chased llamas, explored the ruins of San Pedro, and listened to priceless Bolivian music, including our favorite, ‘Me Gustas Tu.’ We watched Selma lose her breakfast on the side of the road, invented ‘Wee Views,’ played ‘throw small rocks at bigger rocks’ with cute Bolivian kids, and purchased Pedro the ostrich egg, who rapidly became our beloved mascot. We camped in a tiny village located at 4,800 meters, experienced the most incredible stars after stuffing our faces with a delicious meal of steak and mashed potatoes, and listened to a priceless (well, we tipped 40 Bolivianos) concert from two very bored looking and rather rhythmless kids playing the pan flute and a small drum. Amazing. We spent the night tossing and turning as we struggled to breathe in enough of the thin air while shivering in our sleeping bags in the -10 degrees Celsius air (14 F), but woke up ready to rock.