Wednesday, February 3, 2010

We interrupt this program for the following message...

Picture me on a dusty road, a road going straight through a very small town in western Bolivia. My bus has just driven away. I have my big backpack on my back, my daypack on my front, turtle-style. Before me, across the road, I can see Lake Titicaca in the near distance, so blue, with hills and mountains surrounding it. Behind me is a small, dark, tienda, or store, with a plot of productive land beside it. Behind the road sign on my left is a large pig, rooting through the grass. Scattered over the rolling land surrounding me are more plots of land, planted with some produce that is all in bloom now, so there are blue, purple, and golden flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze as far as I can see. Mountains rear up behind me into the achingly deep blue sky. I feel like I am in a Maxfield Parrish painting. When the sun is shining, it's quite warm, and my slightly-sun burned cheeks flare up, but as soon as the sun goes behind one of the many cumulus clouds, I'm glad I have on my fleece, and look forward to when the sun re-emerges. It smells like the country.

I feel pretty alone, despite the kid turning tight circles on his bike down the road to my right.

I am waiting for a mini-bus (van) to speed by, with the letters 'SORATA' up in the windshield. I have no idea when it might be coming. After a few minutes, I head towards the store. A very old man emerges from the dark doorway, with so many wrinkles and sun-darkened skin. I ask about buses to Sorata, but he has so many coca leaves in his mouth that he is mumbling around that his reply is fairly unintelligible. He is nodding, though, and gestures toward the road I was waiting on, so I feel fairly confident that I am in the right place, at least, if not the right time. I look hopefully at every vehicle that speeds by. I can see them coming from far away. But reading their destinations in their front window in time to flag them down before they pass me by is a little bit more of a challenge. 20 minutes slowly pass as I wonder if I am going to have to resort to hitchhiking. Finally a van heads my way with the right destination, and I successfully flag it down. My pack is thrown on top, as I am wedged into the full vehicle. I am lucky, I've got the last possible seat, without which the driver would not have stopped for me. I don't know if there would be any more vans that day.

There are 3 small children chattering in Spanish behind me, beside their mother and someone else. My bench is a fellow traveler to the left, a native of South America, though I don't know where. And a bent old woman in traditional dress to my right. She has a bunch of bananas in her colorfully-striped bolsa. 3 men in front of me. 3 men in front of them. And 2 men in addition to the driver in front.

We drive over relatively-flat land. By relatively-flat I mean rolling. Breathtaking mountains plunge upwards into the sky, peaks covered in snow. They may be the tallest mountains I've ever seen. Some of them tower so high, they re-emerge from above the clouds that are shrouding their sisters. Soon we are driving through clouds. That's how high our altitude is-- we are not driving up steep inclines here, we are driving at relatively one altitude, and we are driving through CLOUDS.

We stop in a town, our van surrounded by vendors shouting 'Empanadas!' 'Platanos Platanos Platanos!' Someone has a bucket full of bags of amber-colored liquid with straws poking out. There's something large floating at the bottom. This is the most popular purchase in my van. Somehow 2 more men and one more bent old woman are packed into the van. I think I am witnessing a spacial miracle as these people are standing where the door slides shut, bent over the heads of other passengers. They only ride with us for 20 minutes or so.

The van starts to climb and we round a mountain into the most beautiful place I think I've ever been. I know I am risking hyperbole here, but I genuinely think I've reached a new height of beauty. This valley is what my imagination has most wildly visualized when looking forward to the Andes. It is a part of the Cordillera Real in Bolivia. Words cannot do this valley justice. There are clouds, mist, plummeting depths rivaled by soaring, snowcapped peaks. Vibrant greens, patchworked slopes of farms, that same produce, in bloom here as well. I have never seen such mountains with my own eyes. I can't believe what's before me. The van is careening around the corners of a zigzag road, inches away from sheer, deadly drops into the valley below. For the first time on my journey I imagine the van tipping over the edge, sailing through the air for endless seconds before crashing into pieces at the bottom. The kids behind me are a chorus of 'whoooooas' as everyone in the van is heaved against one side and then, quickly, the other. The children are vocalizing what everyone else in the van is thinking, though without the doubt of fear that would be included in my voice.

I don't want this trip to end.

But, eventually, we roll into the small mountain town of Sorata. Now, as you may have noticed, I am a sucker for a small mountain town. This is no exception. I pay my $2 for a 3 hour journey, and enquire about Altai Oasis, the hostel my Rough Guide overwhelmingly recommends. I am assured I should take a taxi, so I hop in. After 10 minutes of steep, muddy roads, I am glad I opted for a vehicle to get to my hostel.

This may be my favorite hostel so far. I have experienced quite a few, but this hostel is gorgeous. It has several different buildings or cabins sprinkled throughout a valley, beside a rushing, noisy river. It's also a farm, and includes many animals (cows, llamas, rabbits, cats, dogs, macaws, etc.) Simon greets me, an American-tinged-with-Spanish-accent. When asked for the cheapest bed available, instead of a dorm bed he gives me a private room for the same price. I am in the 'penthouse', overlooking the rest of the valley. The bed is the most comfortable I've felt for months. There is a pool, hammocks, camp ground, friendly dogs and kittens, delicious restaurant, bar, acres of land to be explored, forest, river, a hot shower. Breakfast is included for my $6-a-night, and when enjoying my bread, homemade preserves, coffee, and freshly-squeezed orange juice this morning, I looked up to see the truly impressive peak of the 2nd tallest mountain in South America above me.

The Spanish explorers claimed they'd found Eden in this valley. I would have to agree.

Regular programming will now resume.


Eva said...

I wanna go theeeerrrreeee!!! Ah, I can't believe I'm not traveling anymore and being there with you... I was about to say: make some great pictures for me. But actualy, don't. I rather read your beatiful stories and imagine what it would be like until I get there myself. Thank you for these dream creating stories:)

Anonymous said...

That particular "spacial miracle" is routine all over Africa, and, I would guess, anywhere vans are used for public transportation and relatively little law enforcement. I've done it myself, and apologized the entire ride.

Rebecca said...

That sounds AMAZING. I doubt my imagination is doing it justice.