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Scouting Fun on the Altiplano
There are some big problems in Bolivia. We had been following a 500km stretch of brutal roads that skirt the southern boundary of the Salar – a 350km wide salt pan, a vast iodized landscape. There are no real roads once you enter the area – mainly you just navigate by compass. When we asked for directions, we received various renditions of, “from here, you just following the rail line, then head north”. The trail along the rail tracks turned out to be decent; corrugated at times, sometimes braided, but there were no turns to the north. We were worried about crossing the flats before dark! Then we ran into pits of “chusca”, knee deep dust that blanketed the underlying rocks and potholes. The railway was now off in the distance but we managed to over-take the silhouette of a lumbering freight on the horizon. Each time we plunged into a depression, the chusca erupted, temporarily blocking out the sun. The truck bottomed out several times. Once again the road turned up and over the tracks. WHAM! Dead stop. The engine was instantly louder. I put it in reverse, the wheels spinning. I put it first gear, the wheels spinning. I looked to the horizon to see the headlight of the approaching freight train, superimposed beside the red, setting sun. We were completely T-boned on the tracks, all four wheels in the air. And the train kept coming. We weighted the back end, pulled up on the front bumper and managed to get a bit of traction in reverse. Wham! Dead stop. The headlight was getting closer, like some bad Hollywood movie. Finally, we got the truck off just in time but I burnt my hand in the process. I had to get the exhaust welded back together in the next town, Uyuni. No real damage and a cheap fix. We made it to La Paz, which is a fabulous city and continued on to Peru, back on schedule. More problems! The border was closed and there were tons of people protesting and throwing rocks at any vehicle travelling to the border town of Desaguadero. It seems to be a volatile area – last week a bunch of locals broke into a jail in a village near Copacabana and burned 11 prisoners alive. We made a big U-turn and headed back to Arica, Chile and crossed into Peru from there.
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