I was 19 when I grabbed my backpack and took a plane for South America.
I just started at the Elle Magazine at this time and during summer I had this idea of visiting South America for a month. Clearly in a month, you can only visit two countries, the continent is so huge.
I landed in Argentina before heading to Bolivia. But I’ll talk about the Argentinean chapter another day.
Summer for us in Europe is Winter for them on the other hemisphere. And Bolivian people are not kidding when it comes to winter. It’s freaaaaaaaaaakin’ cold. Like -40degrees. Yeah. And smart as I can be sometimes, I only putted in my backpack a cool pair of Nike Air, a cool leather jacket and just O.N.E big winter sweater. Smaaaaarty pants Sophie.
Bolivia is an amazing country that most of the people forget to visit. Okay, I guess La Paz isn’t the most wonderful capital in the world, but the rest of the country, trust me, is amaz’balls.
We drove like 10 hours in the Andes cordillera. Landscape was breathtaking. And the more we were driving, the more we were going high in altitude.
At some point we reached the 4,800m of altitude. It was so wonderful. Looked like we were there, alone, on another planet. And I suddenly realized it was getting harder and harder to breathe.
Was it because of landscape ? Was it because I just got hit by the beauty of Bolivia ?
A Bolivian woman, with who we were travelling with, came to me, and in a complicated Spanish to understand, gave me some coca leaves. I knew it was something normal to chew coca leaves at this altitude. I was just wondering if I’ll be super excited and running everywhere like if I had taken cocaïne.
At this point of the trip, it was necessary to chew some leaves. Well… not some… but your whole mouth is filled with coca leaves and a strange white powder which helps to face the horrible taste of the leaves (I see what you’re thinking about now, no it wasn’t cocaïne). I discovered later that this « strange white powder » was in fact just sugar. haha.
We drove hours and hours. Stopping from time to time to admire the landscape and meet the lovely lamas.
Before finally reaching the Salar de Uyuni, we stopped by the only « hostel » at this altitude. A place only made with salt
Yes. It is possible. Everything was made in salt. Tables. Chairs. Walls. And even beds. So you can imagine that at night, it gets really really cold. I was sleeping with all my clothes on. 4 shirts. 2 sweather. 6 pairs of socks. You can also imagine that it’s hard to find a hot shower around there. Just a shower isn’t easy. I kind of fell like Tarzan but in a winter-frozen way.
We woke up very early. It was still dark. Because we wanted to see the best light of the Salar. And before seing the beauty of Uyuni, we drove to the Cactus island. And old island lost in the middle of the salar, which has… hundreds, no thousands of cactus.
And we woke up like this :
It is an amazing feeling to have your first sip of the day with this view and this nature around you.
We finally discovered the real white-infinite Salar de Uyuni right after and spend some time taking real tourists pictures. Yes #sorrynotsorry. We had to. I mean we came aaaaaaaaall the way to Bolivia + the middle of nowhere, freezing, half of us lost toes and fingers (no i’m kidding but it sounds good for the story), it was a necessity to take tourists pic’.
I deeply and sincerely thank the woman who explained me all the stories about Bolivia, coca leaves, Bolivian soup, salt, the weather, the lamas and much more, I hope she is doing well and still has her long and wonderful black hair, and most of all, her joy for life.