My travel doctor had warned me about altitude sickness in La Paz, as I mentioned in my post Wanderings Again.. The only other time I’d experienced altitude sickness was in Sikkim, high up over Natha La Pass the other side of which is Tibet, the roof of the world. I was fine when I reached the hotel, breathing well, speaking full sentences. I walked around looking for dinner, found a cheap Chinese restaurant, had a tasteless rice dish, went back to the hotel. My flight to Uyuni was at 6am the next morning and I had booked a taxi for 4am. I felt nauseous through the night. I thought it was the rice. Well, it was the rice. Churning in my stomach because the bloody altitude was hitting me and although my respiration was fine I was inhaling rarefied air. So I threw up. Then I threw up again. I still did not connect it to the altitude. I thought it was a migraine because that is the only ‘condition’ I suffer from and that is the only time I vomit. Inside my oxygen starved brain I was chiding myself…you travel you suffer you get headaches that is so typical onward and upward serves you right. Throw up once more. That went on through the night. Chunks of undigested rice. I had to re-arrange my backpack in the morning, which, anyone who has travelled with one will tell you, is part of the daily routine. How To Distribute The Weight Evenly-An Ongoing Exercise. And it was cold. Bloody cold.
I slept through the one hour trip to Uyuni (yes I vomited at the airport).
Uyuni is a remote town straight out of a Hollywood Western. I took a taxi into town. This was the only part of the trip I had not organised. I was going to wing it. The main drag was empty. Not a soul on the street. Not even a drunk straggling home. Before I could get out of the taxi a fast talking local woman with a loud voice opened the door for me and sold me a day trip to the salt flats. Her office was warm and I could hang out until she assembled a group. Adventure on! I was dehydrated and cold. I stretched out on her office couch and was fast asleep in a second. Here is the point when a traveller should be alert to potential theft, assault etc. Not once did I feel I was in danger. I will reiterate this through my travel stories in Bolivia. Not once, never through my time in Bolivia did I feel scared.
So it was a day of touristy Uyuni train graveyard and salt flat viewing. The group was full of Asians. Two Koreans, four Japanese, one Indian and the Bolivian guide who turned out be quite a keen photographer. He wanted us to pose and pretend for the camera. As if it was part of the service, for us to take these memories with us this way. At least I think this is what he wanted us to remember.
I was meant to be in Sucre the next day and the plan was to take the overnight bus but was the only part of the trip I had not booked. The tour business lady told me there were many buses going to Sucre and that I will get a ticket easily. I actually got the second last ticket. If you have travelled through rural India (or in my case rural Maharasthtra, which is my state) then such experiences are deja vu. You go into an office full of people, children, bags, sacks, lots of chatter, comings and goings. A seat number is written down on a receipt voucher, money exchanged and you turn up at least 30 minutes before the bus departs. You don’t know if the seat number actually means anything or fellow travellers will ‘catch’ the seat for someone else, whether there will be any place for your bag, whether there will be a ‘pee’ stop and whether you can safely empty the bladder in a female friendly space.
There were two buses departing at the same time, both to Sucre. Mine was a seater not a sleeper. It was unclear initially which was which. I waited to the locals to get in. Then I climbed in. There was a large Bolivian woman in my seat. Now these are formidable women you don’t mess with. She sat stoic. It was her seat! I ran back to the office and hey, the girl who wrote my ticket nonchalantly changed the number. Sorry. As if that was routine. Not for me. Whew and geez! Thus I took my overnight bus from Uyuni to Sucre. Safe as a single female backpacker in a foreign land, in a bus mostly full of locals.