Kat, Lainey and I parted ways in Peru, all off to go on our own adventures. It was a decision that came naturally and was executed smoothly at the right time. We had been together for five months 24/7, come rain or shine, that for awhile it did feel like I had phantom limbs –I would instinctively turn to tell them whenever something funny or exciting happened and realised they weren’t there. But it was a thrilling prospect to travel solo, especially at that stage when I was so comfortable and intoxicated with the #backpackinglyf. As it turns out, you’re rarely ever actually “alone” even when you’re travelling alone. All through Bolivia and Brazil I bumped into (purposefully and coincidentally) people from all walks of my life. I caught up with a friend from Indonesia in Copacobana; friends from Melbourne passing through Uyuni; housemates from Montreal in Cuiaba; and of course, constantly collided with fellow backpackers I had met previously on the gringo-trail. Scarcely a day would go by when I didn’t see at least one familiar face.
I spent my first night in Copacobana, put up in a seedy hotel by the bus company that gave me a good deal. It was the first (and only) time I had a room to myself in 8 months, so I didn’t even care that I appeared to have the dark, dingy fifth floor all to myself. I had just spent the day on Lake Titicaca, visiting islands woven together with reeds, constantly repadded with a fresh supply in order to keep afloat. Bravely -or alarmingly- the Uros people cooked on open flames, which with a strong gust of wind in the right direction, could easily burn their whole lives to the extremely flammable ground.
My first foot forward in La Paz was an uncertain one. The bus driver was kicking us (a busload of locals and myself) out onto the streets nowhere near the bus station as he wanted to avoid paying entrance fees. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, and with no cafes or restaurants in sight, had to beg the receptionist of a hotel to share the wifi with me. La Paz was a giant fishbowl, and my first time there, I was trapped in the same little bubble consisting of the Wild Rover and The Writer’s Coffee. I was much more productive the second time around, spinning through the Witches Market, where you can find love potions and llama foetuses side by side, and the infamously corrupt San Pedro prison where Marching Powder is set. I got sprayed by coke (Coca-Cola) at a Cholita wrestling match, the crowd screaming for blood at the middle-aged women dragging each other across the floor by their pigtails.
Sucre is a charming town, in a way that big cities rarely are. I arrived on the 3am bus and had forewarned the hostel beforehand who just clearly forgot, so had to sleep outside in the freezing courtyard till they opened. Luckily, the Beehive was such an awesome hostel and community centre who fed me such delicious breakfast that they were easy to forgive. A lovely little crew there would go museum hopping, gather to watch the sunset from the mirador, and then go cook some fanciful combination of paella/risotto enough to feed a dozen and drink wine as we stirred. There, I learned about Geocaching, and rued all the lost days of my past without it. We hunted for one man’s grave among thousands in Sucre’s beautiful general cemetery, and scribbled our names along with the dozens of others that came before us on a slip of paper tucked in a tree trunk.
The 3 day salt flats tour was the most wondrous changes in scenery you can encounter in such a short period of time. We opened on an old train graveyard, roaming through the metal skeletons of rusty locomotives. We then drove for miles and miles, quite literally crossing an ocean of salt (albeit one that had evaporated), observing islands made of petrified coral, mammoth cacti hundreds of years old, and hotels and sculptures carved entirely from salt. We took the iconic, cheesy-as-hell perspective pictures with dinosaurs, a house of cards, Oreos and polarbears as props. We stayed for sunset, letting a warm glow saturate the brilliant white, endless expanse laid out at our feet and rolling on and on. We walked blindly through steam blowholes on a volcano; waved delightedly at the dusty pink flamingos dipping into the frozen lake; climbed precariously the rocks of a thousand faces; and wandered through Salvador Dali’s dream, feeling like we were lost in one of his paintings ourselves.