|We left San Pedro at around 8am to cross the Bolivian border, located in the Atacama desert. Luckily, the customs officer was in a jolly mood and did not charge us the usual crossing fee. Upon clearing customs, we were met by three 4x4s which were our mode of transportation for the three day voyage. Crossing the desert in style was, of course, very important. I therefore made a beeline for the coolest looking car, a black Toyota Land Cruiser. I was joined in the car by Grace, Jonny, Brian, Scott, a cook and our driver. We were all feeling quite smug that we had landed the best car and accordingly came up with a group name, The Black Wagon Cruisers and a group song Hilltop Hoods that we blasted out of the window everytime we set off or came to a stop. Very cool. Imagine our dismay when we drove off for the first time and realised that our car was by the far the slowest of all the 4x4s, the sound system was the quietest and the car was not even black, it was green. Everybody laughed at us.
Nevertheless, I had a fantastic time driving through the desert. There were many beautiful features in the landscape - coloured lakes, active volcanoes, geysers, salt flats (miles of nothing but blinding white salt) and hot springs. The latter were easily my favourite, the water was boiling and provided a lovely contrast to the freezing weather at 4900m altitude.
Despite the beautiful scenery, conditions in the desert were tough. The worst part of the crossing was the absence of toilets and toilet substitutes (trees, bushes, holes etc). I shall save you from the details but if anybody is curious as to how we managed to overcome this problem, I shall be more than happy to explain. Conditions did not improve upon reaching our compounds at night. Sleeping quarters were basic, no flushing toilets, no showers (none of us washed for 3 days) and no heaters. The nights were freezing cold (-20). In fact, it was so cold that we all slept in our day clothes (including coat and hat) to avoid exposing bare skin to the elements. All of this was made worse by the majority of us suffering from altitude sickness. Symptoms included headaches, stomach cramps and the left part of your body seizing up due to lack of oxygen. I was quite lucky and only suffered from it on the first night.
We ended our crossing in the small town of Uyani. We were all looking forward to hot showers, flushing toilets, warm rooms and nice food. However, we soon realised that in Bolivia, such luxuries simply do not exist. When we arrived, there was a power cut across the whole town and we had to do everything by candle light and torch. Nevertheless, a cold shower later and we were all ready to go out for dinner. It ended up being such a random night, although thoroughly exciting. It consisted of an appropriately named Extremely Fun Pub, an hour playing on a 50ft slide, teaching locals the Okey Kokey in a Bolivian bar and getting locked out of our hotel and having to climb in via the balcony. Good times.