. . . AROUND THE WORLD 2001/02
Africa 1999
Around-the-World 2001/02

The Team

Jeff Willner
1. Start: Recipe for Adventure
2. Zimbabwe: Hyperinflation
3. Namibia: Southern Circuit
4. South Africa: Circuit 2
5. Zambia/Malawi: Sketches
7. Kenya: Bandit Country
8. Ethiopia: Diary
9. Ethiopia: Border Run
10. Sudan: Across the Sahara
11. Egypt: Cape to Cairo
12. Jordan/Syria: Sept. 11th
13. Turkey: Hospitality
14. Bulgaria/Romania/ Hungary
15. Slovakia/Austria/Poland
16. The Baltics & Russia
17. Scandinavia
18. Western Europe
19. Brazil: Clearning Customs
20. Argentina: Revolution
21. Argentina: To Ushuaia
22. Patagonia Disaster
23. Buenos Aires Beautiful
24. Uruguay: Beaches
25. Chile: Expedition Life
26. Bolivia: Atacama
27. Peru: Transit
28. Galapagos: Gorgeous
29. Ecuador: Jungle Run
30. Knifepoint
31. Dubai: Lay over
32. Singapore/Malaysia
33. Thailand: Hospitality
34. Cambodia: Ankor Wat
35. Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong
36. Laos: Back to Basics
37. China: Beijing Tour
38. China: Shanxi
39. China: Western Province
40. China: Tibet
41: Nepal: Mountains
42. India: Driving Struggle
43. Pakistan: Dodging War
44. Iran: Overcharging
45. End: One Last Laugh

Sally DeFina
1. Cape Town: Robben Island
2. Zanzibar: Mike & I
3. Kenya: African Driving School
4. Sudan: Mud Crossing
5. Patagonia: Goodbye Max
6. Malaysia: Mike Update
7. Thailand: Ko Phangan
8. Cambodia: Phnom Penh
9. Vietnam: By Train
10. Laos: Vang Vieng
11. China: Meet Mr. Chen

Jody Finver
1. Start: Surreal Solipse
2. Great Zimbabwe
3. Brokedown in Kenyan Desert
4. Egypt: So Should I Hyphenate
5. Poland: Home is Where the Truck Is

Gulin Akoz
1. Start: Bits and Pieces
2. Zambia: Diaries
3. Egypt: Africa Memories
4. Turkey: For Your Information
5. The Team and The Bean
6. Somebody Else's Child
7. On My Own
8. Long Lost Memories of Childhood
9. The Tree and the Boy
10. Jealous
11. The Aftermath


Panamerican 2003
Various Trips
Planning an Expedition


Kensington Tours can help you plan your own expedition anywhere in the world.




#26- Bolivia
Jeff Willner - 30 January, 2002

(La Paz, BOLIVIA) Bolivia has a reputation for being inexpensive yet beautiful but nobody bothers to mention how high it is - or maybe I wasn't paying attention. I got smart real fast as we left the border of Chile and started climbing inexorably up. We started at 2700m in Chile, by the time we reached the Bolivian border post a dozen kilometers away we were at 4300m. In Africa, it took several days of climbing Kilimanjaro to reach that altitude. Here we had driven up in a couple minutes. Jody had never been at altitude before and was confused. Why did she feel so dizzy, out of breath, with a pounding headache? It's the details that get you. We had signed up for a three-day, 4x4 tour through the Atacama desert in southern Bolivia, but we didn't bother to check the altitude. It turned out that we would be around 4500m for three days.

Jody ended up missing the entire tour. She went straight to Uyuni, the endpoint, and was barely able to get around for a couple of days. Sally and I were less affected, but still relied on cocoa leaves and Advil to get us through. Our lungs had been at sea-level for six months and it was hard to appreciate the beauty in the rare air. After the Atacama tour we dodged bus strikes to go north to Potosi and La Paz, the two highest cities in the world. It is pretty inconvenient not having the Land Rover and the comfort level of the busses dropped a huge notch from Chile. But roads are terrifying in Bolivia. Almost all are narrow dirt lanes through mountains, traffic squeezes past with inches to spare, and the sides drop off thousands of feet. I would probably have lost several years off the end of my life in sheer stress having to drive those roads. We stopped looking out the windows after awhile - better not to know. Still, Bolivia's reputation is deserved. There are sights like the Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Lake) and Potosi mines that are totally unique. Just keep the oxygen handy.

The Laguna Verde lies in the far southeast corner of the country. At 4300m, it is a desolate, treeless landscape. Oddly though, the flamingos thrive in the mineral rich waters that run off the surrounding volcanoes. I always thought of flamingos as wimpy birds, but I had to respect them when I was popping the sixth Advil for the altitude headaches. The temperature drops to -20C (-4F) at night. Beautiful country, but you have to be willing to suffer a bit to see it. 
In the middle of the high altitude desolation we came across some beautiful hot springs. I dangled my toes but Sally jumped right in. Crazy Australians. Our guide proved to be a true jack of all trades on the three day trip. Between driving and pointing out sights, he cooked great meals and fixed the truck when it broke down. So we weren't too hard on him when he slept in on the last morning. We all woke up at 3:45am to see sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Lake). The lake is a mineral sludge covered by a crust of salt (very dangerous in some sections).   

Sunrise over Uyuni Salt Lake was the highlight of three day excursion. It felt as through we were driving across ice in the pre-dawn cold. And even more weird was "docking" at an island in the middle of the lake. We drove off the salt crust onto the shore and had breakfast.

Tourism is taking off in southern Bolivia. Formerly a very rugged prospect, nowadays there are dozens of 4x4s criss-crossing the Atacama. We were lucky to get to Fish Island so early. We had it to ourselves for several hours. Hundreds of cactus glowed in the morning sun and the vast lake gleamed white into the far distance. It was an almost spiritual experience. 

After three days of sand and sun we arrived in the little town of Uyuni. A somewhat acclimated Jody was waiting for us at one of the nicer hotels in town. Hot showers, restaurant food, and a nap in a bed with sheets. Ohhh, sweet luxury. There was a bus strike in town but we managed to get tickets for the next day's bus to Potosi. We were crammed in the back for seven hours with a dozen gentlemen whose idea of hygiene must be 'a shower a week whether I need it or not'.  But we were lucky. Some friends who had gone one day earlier endured thirteen hours instead of seven because of striker roadblocks. Evidently strikes are quote common. Sounds very French to me.  


Potosi is renowned for its silver. The mines in the Cerro Rico mountains were were the world's most prolific, funding the Spanish economy and its monarch's extravagance for more than two centuries. It is estimated that as many as eight million conscripted Indians and African slaves died working the mines during colonial times. During a tour of the colonial mint we saw footprints worn into the board floors from slaves who pounded out the silver coins in the same place for decades. Most African slaves only lived six months. Done in by the elevation and cold. Potosi is a striking town to visit for its many beautiful churches and buildings - and the sombre shadow of the mines that funded it all.
By the last bit of Bolivia I was into my black zone, a bit of depression that seems to hit me every month. Jody and Sally went off alone to visit the silver mines in Potosi, and the rather unique prison tour in La Paz (done by the prisoners themselves). Sometimes it can be tough to keep going. Sure the sights are life-changing, amazing, never to be repeated - but so what, I just want a decent pizza and paved roads. These moods pass, I've figured out in my old age that I need extra sugar and more rest in the down times. So oxygen-starved sleep and empanadas that gave me stomach bugs were not what the doctor ordered. Doubled over on the hostel bed with cramps for four hours put me in a sour frame of mind. 
"I don't want to go back to La Paz", Sally said to us when we were planning our bus tickets. "I spent six days there, and that was too much." She came along anyway (what a trooper) but after spending a day walking around I can see her point. The city is waaaaay up there. Bolivia is the Tibet of the Americas and La Paz is the capitol. Situated in a long deep canyon, there is virtually no level ground. Everywhere is a steep uphill climb (you don't remember the downhill ones). Though we sampled some fine cuisine in one of the posh neighbourhoods and enjoyed an excellent modern art museum, most of the city reflects the poverty of the country - dirty and shabby. 
With the silver gone, very little infrastructure, and almost no industry, modern-day Bolivia is struggling to find a way back to its opulent past. It was with a bit of relief that I left La Paz toward Lake Titicaca and Peru - I've been there before and can't wait to chill out in Arequipa. Still, I'm glad I visited Bolivia. I will definitely remember the 'high' life. There is something to be said for visiting the hard spots - you know that the Indian women didn't put the hats on just for the tourists, that's the way it really is. And there is a certain reward you feel inside for enduring the crap to be there.


Copyright January 1999-2011
All rights reserved - Jeff Willner
Contact: jeffwillner@yahoo.com