Bolivia Musings

Dear Gary,


Have spent the last two hours with Alfredo trying to figure out what your last email was about. Parts of it left us howling with laughter, but still don’t understand it all.  Oh well, nothing new.


Alfredo met me at the brand new airport in Cochabamba after 20 hours of airports & various planes.  We preceded [sic] to trade-in, his idea of a comfortable rental 4×4 (which was suitable only for General Tom Thumb) for one slightly more comodious [sic] and picked up two British gay guys for the trip to the Altiplano, Salar de Uyuni, sulfur mine, Carguaycollo and old rotten alge [sic] deposite [sic].  Blasted off for upstairs {viz, high altitude} that afternoon and spent the night in less than luxurious accomodation in Oruro. Wondered if I was going to die that night as usual, but was gratified, as the trip wore on, to discover that I was aclimating [sic] about as fast as always and actually got some sleap [sic] on the last night.

The pavement extended vastly farther than I ever remembered before and we cut of west north [?] of the Salar to Salinas and other arcadian paradises.  Stoped [sic] to see two meteor ? craters at Jryacota and finally pushed out onto the north end of the Salar at the foot of Mt. Tunupa. Lots of islands in this part of the salar.  We used Isla Compana [sic] (Bell Island) because of its shape as an initial navigational point and stopped here, and there, to look at some of islands; the smallest one of which was about the size of a tractor trailor [sic].  The salt was often trecherous [sic] near any land, islands included. We eventually concluded that these island were reminants [sic] of huge mudflows of volcanic ash which had carried so many boulders and various size rocks with them that they looked like conglomerates.  They, and the shore lines, were covered with stromatolie [sic] deposits which once worn away exposed the easily erodable ash to weathering which created many small caves some of which had their own stalactites of salt? and calcite/aragonite?. Some cactus, yareta and other plants grow on most of these.  Most islands show multiple beach lines usually containing wave worn rounded pebbles.


We continued south and Alfredo said he had some good news and some bad news.  The good news was that he had brought his GPS unit with him that would enable us to find the proper latitude and longitude of the correct exit off the lake, and the bad news was that he had forgotten to bring those numbers with him.  We did find our way off the salt finally at the correct place at the little village of ??? well, who the [?] cares anyway. It added a whole new dimension to the meaning of the word damned.


We continued winding up into the mountains toward the Chilean border finally stopping for the night at the little hot springs near the edge of the Salar de Ampexa.  The tourist operators stop here and put a wolven [sic] reed basket of eggs in it to cook for their clients. It would have been nice to have some. The wind was blowing and it was cold as hell.  Alfredo tried to jolly us along by telling us that we should have seen how cold it was the last time he was there. We of course gave him a raft of shit because we could have spent the night in comfort on the little motel on the island of Incahuasi (House of the Inca).  People had carved out various bathing facilities around the springs, the most sophisticated was actually in a small hut. The water from the springs was much too hot to bathe in and shallow trenches radiated out from the springs for some distance to cool the water before dropping it in tubs that had been chizzled [sic] out of the dense tufa that the springs had deposited in the area.  The trenches leading to the various tubs had also been calcified. We tried to rehabilitate some of them but were sucessful only in creating pools of still scalding water, one of which Simon was able to immerse himself in.


For one of the gay guys, who was a wine and food gourmet, it was his forst [sic] outdoor camping experience.  He managed to survive it in good spirits. As night was falling he said he thought he saw something moving through the bushes near the camp.  I then suggested that it must have been one of the giant Andean tarantulas and right on cue Alfredo said it might be the one that got five British tourists last month.  I slept in the car.


The next morning bright and early we drove the few remaining km to the sulfur mine on the edge of the Salar de Ampexa which welcomed us to El Desierto with the notation in Spanish below: “Ahead of you is the flag (of Chile) promising victory because there where glory exists, is the infintry¨ [sic]. We were in luck because the manager of the mine, the son-in-law of the real owner was in camp and Alfredo made with his usual polite bullshit and we were shortly shown a little store room with his private collection of sulfur specimens and given the run of the camp and invited to lunch which I thought was rather good but Mark, the gourmet, couldn’t choke down which provided us all with great amunition [sic] with which to rag him with for the rest of the afternoon.  On the walls of this most remote dining room were posters of buxom maidens dresed [sic] in very little. I told everyone that these blond young ladies were the Bolivian equivalent of unicorns.


The mine itself consisted in pits dug in the lower falanks [sic] of the mountain.  Frequently seams of sulfur opened up into pockets of equant and scalenohedral crystals. In places it appeared that they could be quite prolific.  I saw where many of our sulfur crystals had been mined from little shallow adits in some of the quarry walls. The reason they were short became quickly evident when sulfurus [sic] fumes quickly drove us out of them.  In one of thees [sic] short adits the sulfur vein extended floor to ceiling and gas was coming out of a crack in the floor and since the mining had stopped it has started to form sulfur crystals on the floor. Our clothes and mucas [sic] membraines [sic] were quickly saturated with the sulfur smell and I don’t think we spent more than two hours at the mine and left gladly after that time.  I can’t imagine spending two months there digging in such conditions. No wonder the new miner, who was infested with lice, found them dropping off him dead after the second day. Some of the miners wanted to know where the crazy gringo in the big vaquero hat, who jumped all around up over the sulfur vents on the ridge, was. So I had to tell them my friend was living in a place that is even weirder – San Francisco.  The gay British guys got a good laugh out of that one.


Alfredo showed us the building in which he spent a night during his preveous [sic] visit when a violent wind storm lifted the boulder weighted corrugated roof up and slammed it down showering him with pieces of adobe bricks.  When we suggested to the manager that he might consider using black powder to reduce damage to the sulfur specimens, he told us that they used dinamite [sic] because it didn’t set fire to the mine as often. Agustin told Alfredo that some children were playing with matches while he was mining and set fire to the part of the mine they were working and they had to do a Chinese fire drill before they got it put out.  We did get a few good specimens.


We visited the sulfur mill where they used yareta wood to heat a boiler that produced steam to heat up big iron autoclaves that contained sulfur ore and salt water to render out the sulfur which they would discharge out the bottoms to run out on a cement floor to cool before breaking up and shipping to the sugar refinery.  Just before the sulfur was released from the autoclaves they released the pressure from all three of the ones they were using which made one hell of a noise.


Alfredo and Eagle 


About noon we headed back and were soon again on that great sea of salt and bummed around various islands.  On the island called Incahuasi which had the small motel and was by far the most interesting of all the islands we visited, we went for a hike over the rough stromatolite boulders and the cactus.  On the island was an eagle that had taken a liking to humans because when he came to the island he was nearly dead and the daughter of the motel owner nursed him back to health. While hiking on the high part of the island he took a likeing [sic] to Alfredo and me.  I should have some great photos of him sitting on Alfredo’s hat and my shoulder nibbling on my ear and hair. He would even alow [sic] me to reach up and scratch and pet him gently.


On the way off the salt to Uyuni we stoped at the salt hotel.  This was now two rather large establishments on each side of the main track to Uyuni.  Each had many bedrooms, dining rooms and pools of brine in which guests could pickel [sic] themselves.  We should have stayed there but instead pushed on to Uyuni, experiencing a underflated [sic] tire which got hot and destructed.  Our spare tire turned out to be grosly [sic] underinflated which made for a tense trip for the balance of the distance into Uyuni.  We didn’t get going north till noon of the next day because we had to get our now completely flat spair [sic] tire fixed and locate a spare.  The hotel was from Hell. Wood plank floors smelling of diesel fuel and one of your favorite tempermental {viz, shower} death switchs [sic] which would despense [sic] nasty little shocks.  Guess you still remember that one in Llallagua in the metal shack that spit all those sparks when you turned on the lights? From all the ruckus Alfredo and I figured you were dead. Well this place was about as bad.


On the way north we encountered two months ahead of schedule a real ripper of a hail storm that left the surrounding country white.  There was so much lightning, some of it very close that we turned around and back tracked to a low spot and waited the storm out. We were very glad for the 4×4 which got us thourh [sic] some huge mud puddles with hail floating on top. It was real spookey[sic].  We spent the night in the second floor loft with eight beds lit by a candle in the little village of Sevaruyo. As we slept pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary with flaming hearts and Bolivian unicorns gazed down on us. Alfredo said most of the patrons of this, for the village, upscale establishemnt [sic] were the drivers of carivans [sic] of cars being smuggled in from Chile.  Fortunately no caravan of smuggled cars came through with drivers seeking shelter from the storm.


The next day we backtracked about a half an hour to the little dirt track that lead to the mine of Carguaycollo.  We had to talk our way past two road barriers (trancas) but arrived at the best of all possible times. There was in progress a general meeting of the cooperative that was running the mine.  The head of the cooperative came out and Alfredo explained that we had come to buy teallite for which the mine is noted. The cooperative head returned to the meeting but soon returned and asked us to the meeting to put forth our proposal to the cooperative.  We were ushered into a court yard with about 70 miners and Alfredo explained that we wanted to buy a ton of teallite at three times the price that they sold it to the refineries. He did his usual number about if they should find crystals of the stuff which they all knew about (little black books) that we could pay them much more.  Some of the miners asked fairly intelligent questions about how the profits from such a sale would be handled. Finally the miners were given permission to return to their houses and bring us such tealite [sic] as they had and soon we were beseaged [sic] with miners, some of which had wonderful vein sections of pure shiny lath-like tealite.  We used a kg scale to weigh it up and paid them in Bolivianos and then, when we ran out of those, with dollars, which they seemed to prefer. We found no crystal specimens of note but left, after about two hours, well satisfied that we had cleaned out the camp of whatever usable specimen material there was. Some of the vein sections were as much as three inches thick.  Some were almost a foot across and one weighed seven kgs. The cost of the specimens was – well lets just say, reasonable.


Finally we visited the cretaceous [sic] stromatolite deposite [sic] a few km west of Sevaruyo which is the source of all the lapidary stromatolite that Bolivia produces.  It was a vein about a meter wide that was congruent with what appeared a vein of earthy greem [sic] (glauconite) colored material that ran up a hill and over its crest for about two km.  It had been dug out over that distance to the depth of about a meter deep. There should be a lot of good material left.


Finally home to Cochabamba in a reccord [sic] 5.5 hours.  The begging dogs on the winding mountain road over the mountains to Cochabamba seem to have prospered and multiplyed [sic] greatly since my last visit.  Now on to Brazil …


                                                            YOB – Rock