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      Where are we going? Who knows!

      So on Friday I met some lovely ladies (Sarah, Chineze, Maggie and Kylie) in the dorm room I was staying in and one of them happened to be having her 30th birthday. So Friday night was spent eating yummy food and dancing at a (pena) bar that played traditional folk music (from Peru, actually, I think) involving many men in tunics and llama hats with pan flutes and drums and bowls of coca leaves on the tables and Bolivians all over the place. We had a marvelous time!

      The Australian girl, Kylie, and I determined that we wanted to go trekking and decided to leave for Vencilla in the morning, where the Taquesi trek starts. She had the details of the hike and how to get there from one of the tour companies so we woke up early in the morning on Saturday and walked 7 blocks to where the little mini-buses gather. After a couple of hours, asking many people and following many, many different directions up many, many roads (walking through the coolest fruit and veg market ever) we realized that (after a lengthy conversation with a taxi driver) the buses to Vencilla do not run on the weekends. Nuts. We decided instead to go see the world’s highest forest, accompanied by the highest peak in Bolivia, both of which could be found in Sajama National Park (why not?). Fine. We took a taxi to the bus terminal and found a bus to Patacamaya, a town that was halfway to the park where we would have to change buses. Nice. We paid our two dollars and climbed aboard (three and a half hours after we left the hostel in the morning), and rode to Patacamaya.

      We were let out on the side of the road that apparently was the only road in Patacamaya, and asked for the mini bus to the town of Sajama that was supposed to be leaving at 1 (it was 12:30). We got directions down to the end of the road where there was a bus that clearly said “trans -Sajama” on the side of it. It was here that we realized that maybe these people, these Patacamayans, do not like us very much as it took the half hour we had left to convince these people that yes, this was the bus to Sajama, and yes, they would be taking us with them. I never knew I knew so much Spanish. I think they really wanted to leave us there on the side of the road. There was one nice, younger guy who we saw give us a little nod as the time approached 1:00 and the bus started, so we knew we were right and threw ourselves and our backpacks into the bus. Grrrrr.

      An hour and a half later we found ourselves being transferred onto a much more crowded (24 people!) and much nicer (people-wise) bus that we happened to pass on the side of the road that was going past the entrance to the park. We tied our backpacks on the roof (so precariously I thought for sure they would be on the road in seconds) and loaded in. Kylie ended up with one kid on her lap, one over her shoulder, and another two smashed between us up against the door. I was smushed between two hat ladies with snotty babies (thank god for those vaccinations) and the standing kids and the door. Another hour and a half and Kylie’s legs were like wood from the weight of the kid and I had to pee so bad I was seeing yellow. This bus dumped us unceremoniously on the side of the road at the entrance to the park. And there we were. In the middle of nowhere. 11 km still from the town of Sajama, surrounded by nothingness. It was amazing, but not so scary as we had food and water and shelter with us and enough sunlight left to walk to Sajama.

      Nothing but kylie. And a trash can behind her? Who empties it? And who puts trash in it?

      We sat down and ate some lunch and lo and behold another super crowded mini-bus over laden with hat ladies and kids and flour sacks full of who-knows-what tied on top drove past us. They looked full but apparently that word doesn’t exist, so we again tied our backpacks in a most insecure fashion to the top of the van, on top of everything else, and climbed in. This time kylie scored a seat with the hat ladies and I sat on a bag of corn on the floor between a hat lady and the wall of the van, with not really enough room for either me or my behind.

      I had another hour’s worth of writing on here and the computer has decided to delete it all, so maybe, when my wrists stop hurting from so much typing, I will try to write again. Nuts.

      (note, am still angry about losing this, but will put pics up. maybe later will write again. ) Ah, I will put in quick notes.

      The town/village/speck on a map of Sajama (home to the world’s highest forest and Bolivia’s highest peak) must contain about 80 people, all of whom live in mud brick houses. Apparently sometimes with blue doors.

      A lovely Sajama street. With Volcan Sajama in the background.

      Our friend, greeter, guide and general Sajama representative.

      Crumbly Sajama church, next to which a lady had a store selling everything from bread (yes, the one you feel is fresh but the ones she will give you are probably a week old) to mittens to cigarettes.

      My favorite llama. Or was it an alpaca. One is bigger, but opinions change like the wind depending on whom you are taking to. We will call this a llama, as I like the way llama is spelled (when I bother spelling anything correctly).

      I am not sure why we are so excited to be in Sajama. I think we are just happy to be off the bus, with all of our mochilas.

      Our friend and greeter and guide had many friends. This is where we stayed. After we were greeted by the lady who runs the park she took us on a tour of the town, knocking on doors trying to find someone who would give us beds. This was the place of a hat lady who gave us hot water in mugs (was that boiled long enough? Kylie’s stomach says no. ), some beds, and a toilet next to a water pump (fill a bucket and dump it in the toilet to flush). Oh, and if you happen to need mountaineering boots or crampons she rents those, too ($3 a day, thank you).

      The next morning Kylie and I woke up and sat in the street (no danger of cars because no one owns one, sun warming our backs) and drank our coffee and planned our day. This involved walking to the forest then to the hot springs where we would sit in relative luxury. A good plan.

      We walked for an hour and a half, turning right at the sign that told us where the forest was. Now, I don’t know what you were expecting but we were expecting some trees. We got shrubs. Tiny, half grown shrubs. Here is us with the biggest one we could possibly fin (acceptable tree size, but don’t be fooled. I will now go look up the definition of forest, as I am just not buying this one.)

      We left the forest and came to a town which we dubbed Bedrock, due to its similarity to the residence of that favorite cartoon family. We probably spent two hours in this tiny, deserted place. Where are all the people? Why are they gone? And why is kylie carrying around a llama foot (from the canon bone down, covered in fur! oh god!) Is that a legal souvenir?

      Llama sacrifice? Mysterious alpaca graveyard? Why is the unknown so much more fun than the known? (And creepy, so much more creepy. I will never be Indiana Jones.)

      We did finally figure out that this was a kiln. After kylie pried the door open (we put it back).

      Tiny little deserted house. Door hanging off hinges, a hole in the thatched roof. And a tire?

      oh, ew.

      We left there and headed for Aguas Termales, running into more llamas/alpacas on the way. They make great photo subjects, they love to pose.

      And more vicuna (Who do not love to pose, by the way. Not at all)

      Vicuna and a Volcan; how Sajama-ian.

      And then the road ended. And we were forced to walk across this green bit (seen behind me in the picture) that just had a sign that said Aguas Termales 200m and an arrow. So we walked. And then the earth just swallowed my leg with no resistance whatsoever and I sunk up to my crotch in nasty, smelly, decaying, muddy, plant. At least I was close to the hot springs (I think we ran the rest of the way, afraid for our lives).

      If anyone makes any comments about my tan lines I will hurt them when I get home.

      We stayed in the water until our silver rings turned gold, our fingers were prunes, and we were thoroughly covered in green slime and brown muck (whoever said that thermal springs were clean?).

      We took a different was back to avoid the plant/mud traps so obviously set by the park officials to keep tourists away from the hot springs. It led us through many llamas/alpacas. Did I mention that I love them? (by now I was wearing my long underwear with my rain pants over that, muddy socks and one soaked, squishy boot)

      I am behind the bush to disguise the fact that I have my rain pants tucked into my wet socks (to keep my long undies form getting wet and muddy). My surprising similarity to MC hammer did not go unnoticed.

      Yes, I love them.

      scariest. eyes. ever.

      We went to bed pretty much when we got back as we’d been walking for over 8 hours and were exhausted. The next morning we, by chance, happened to catch a mini-bus to Patacamaya, then another bus to La Paz. Another 9 hour commute but much easier than the first.

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