Written by Neon
As things sometimes go, I got sick shortly after Fidgit was feeling better. We believe it was with the same illness, because the symptoms were the same. We were still in Uyuni as I was getting sick, but decided to try and move anyway because Uyuni is an expensive (by Bolivian standards) tourist town. We ‘slack-packed’ as far out of Uyuni as we could with day packs, and then rode a bus to the next large town, Oruro. I was so grateful to have a more than competent hiking partner during that time, because I was basically useless. I just shuffled along behind her, blowing my nose, coughing and wheezing.
It was very interesting to walk along the Salar de Uyuni and get to see it from a different angle than many of the tourists. It was also quite flat and cold, so we mostly moved along with our heads into the wind. As we walked past the Salar, the land began to slowly rise and we went between some stone upheavals. I don’t think they were large enough to be considered mountains, but they mounded around next to and above us for about a day of walking.
The ground leveled out once more, and we found ourselves in another basin, this one a few hundred feet higher than the previous one. Oddly, the wind wasn’t gusting as much and the temperatures seemed to be higher – perhaps from the wind not gusting as much. We walked through multiple small towns along this stretch, many of them contained roofless clay buildings and seemed to be somewhat abandoned. Talking with some of the people in the campo, it sounded like many of them are moving into the cities for better job prospects. Looking out at the vast, barren landscape, I could only imagine what their prospects were in the campo versus in a city.
We were able to follow the railroads for much of the way into Oruro, walking and walking for what felt like forever to the edge of a grand lake. Across this lake, we could see the rise that Oruro sat nestled at the base of. Surprisingly(to me), the train tracks did not skirt around this shallow body of water, instead it cut through the lake directly towards the city. Walking that section was a welcome repreive from the massive expanse of altiplano that we walked to get there.
North of Oruro, the altiplano resumed and we walked as fast as we could. Another bout with illness impeded our attempts at walking 30+ kilometer days, but we were able to rest and come back with a vengeance. A day north of Oruro, we caught our first glimpse of the mountains. Our physical eyes had finally gotten to see what our mental eyes had been seeing since at least northern Argentina a month or so ago. Spirits lifted, we still had to walk there. As we neared La Paz, the ground began to rise and fall again – hills! I thought I missed being in the mountains, but these hills were also a welcome reprieve from the monotony.
The other change as we neared La Paz was the number of people we would see. In the towns we passed through, people were out and about. They were mostly stand-offish, but we had learned that is just the Bolivian way – similar to perception of east coasters in the US, minus the passive aggression. Everyone we interacted with was kind and helpful. As we continued north, many of the community members were curious and then didn’t believe when we told them what we were doing. Though I think our beat up shoes and sunglasses tans told the truth for us.
Nearing the outskirts of the city of El Alto (ok, so we didn’t actually walk into downtown La Paz), we were met with more stares, and also more people keeping to themselves. I expected this from a big city, though it is nice you can still get a response from someone when you say “Buen dia”- they will nearly always respond in kind. Walking into the bustling city, we were concerned at first because cities are stressful. However, it was surprisingly easy to find our way around. We made it to our rented apartment with no problems and flopped onto the couches, ready for a much-deserved rest and some tasty city food.