Surreal People


This blog entry about the events of Thursday, January 15, 2004 was originally posted on January 19, 2004.

DAY 89: After breakfast, we loaded up all the jeeps and went one by one into the surreal combination of the Bolivian desert landscape and 80s pop music.  Each jeep was full of different characters which, over the course of the day, inevitably got secret nicknames from the characters of our jeep.

After a drive through a less impressive salt flat from the day before, we all stopped at a security checkpoint where we had to sign in with our passport numbers — Zoe and Sam left their documents in storage and improvised.  “It really doesn’t matter what we put,” Sam said.  “I should go back and tell them my real name is Cameron Diaz.”

Within the cast of characters of the five jeeps, there was a Caucasian guy with a Japanese girlfriend.  Of course we referred to them as “John and Yoko.” 

“Gilbert,” I asked the Dutchman when we saw him at the checkpoint.  “Did you find out the name of John and Yoko?”  (He was traveling in the same jeep as them.)

“Oh, I just call them John and Yoko,” he answered.

“To their face?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, when I take a group photo, I say I’ll get over here with John and Yoko,” he joked.

“SHHHH,” I shushed when I saw the Caucasian and the Asian walk near, although Lara thought I might have done it too obviously that they might have gotten suspicious.

PRIMO OUR DRIVER TOOK US through the Bolivian desert with the other jeeps.  The area was so vast and each jeep rode at a different speed, so most of the time we felt we were the only people around for miles.  As Sam described, it looked like we were riding through the Old West — that is, until Men at Work’s “Land Down Under” came on the 80s tape and it felt like we were riding through the Australian Outback.

We rode about an hour to the the base of Volcan Ollague for photo opps with the crazy volcanic rock formations.  We shot photos through holes in the rock, on top of rocks and inside rocks that looked like dinosaur heads.  John and Yoko walked by and Sam quietly starting singing “Imagine,” which made us snicker like school children.

Back in the jeep, we sang along — rather annoying loud and off-key — to Aha’s “Take On Me” as Primo held the steering wheel with one hand and his ear with the other.  The Toyota Land Cruiser got some serious 4x4 action on the road and I really appreciated an SUV being used for its rightful purpose.  The rough road led us along four flamingo-frequented lakes in a row:  Laguna Cañapa, Laguna Hedienda, Laguna Charota and Laguna Honda.  It was at one of these stops that we noticed the short Peruvian guy wearing a traditional cone-shaped hat — walking hand in hand with his girlfriend a foot and a half taller than him, he looked more like an Oompa Loopma (not that there’s anything wrong with it).  However, we couldn’t help but start singing the Oompa Loopma song amongst ourselves.  God, we were so immature.

After seeing one beautiful lake with flamingos, the subsequent ones sort of weren’t as exciting — “been there, done that.”  We kept ourselves happy with our 80s sing-along and a bag of Sour Skittles until the jeep stopped at some crazy rock formations where a colony of vizcachas — rodents related to the chinchilla — happily hopped about.  We stayed for a while for photos in this area, yet another one seemingly in the middle of the nowheres of Dali World (picture above), so Primo could stitch something under the jeep with some chicken wire. 

AFTER ANOTHER DRIVE THROUGH DALI’S DESERT, we arrived at the rock formations near the Arbol de Piedra, a familiar looking “tree of stone” — it looked like it came right out of a Dali painting… or was it the other way around?  I started thinking that Salvador Dali, the so-called master of surrealism, was sort of a fraud; his crazy surreal formations were merely still lifes of objects in the Bolivian desert.  We took some photos for a while, but the cold winds started picking up and so we hopped back into the warmth of the Land Cruiser for the final leg of the day — this time with a new tape that Primo had switched with another driver:  a disco mega-mix that probably made our singing more annoying in Primo’s ears. 

DESPITE ITS NAME, the Laguna Colorada wasn’t as colorful as we thought when we got there and its shelters across the road.  In fact it wasn’t very much a lake either — more like a big salty, smelly, gray mud puddle.  Despite the bitterly cold winds, Lara and I and a handful of others — including three guys I dubbed “The Mountain Men” because they were perpetually dressed like they were ready to scale a mountain at a moment’s notice — trekked from the shelters to the middle of the “lake”.  A hardened crust had formed on top of the mud for us to walk on, but some patches were too moist — we had to keep our shoes from sinking and sliding in.  At one point I stood in the muck for a while to shoot some slides of flamingos and I almost got stuck in my stance like I was in a patch of quick-dry cement.

Our shelters for the night were across the road from Laguna Colorada and the hike back was a struggle with the winds blowing against us, pushing us back.  We were rewarded at the mess hall with hot beverages, which we drank over tea time conversation and journal note taking.  Gulliver and Mr. Lilliput (aka Oompa Loompa) — who we found out was called “Rumplestiltskin” by Pascal, Esther and Suzanne — was sitting nearby.  We couldn’t help but rotate our heads in unison as we watched him walk across the room — I think his 6-ft. girlfriend might have been suspicious to our immature snickering.  Then again, anyone would have snickered when Mr. Lilliput/Oompa Loompa/Rumplestiltskin started braiding one of The Mountain Men’s long greasy hair with colored yarn.

WHILE THE OTHERS IN THE SHELTER either slept or worked on their journals, Lara and I decided to go out for a walk in hopes of catching the sunset.  We were joined by Axel the Frenchman (whom I met in the Amazon) — he had the same idea.  We left the shelter and its pet baby llama and trekked towards the lake.  I suggested we go to this single house we could see off in the distance.  The winds blew with us as we walked and talked across the desert plain along the lakeshore — Lara impressed Axel with this one French sentence she had memorized from her job on the Guernsey/France ferry when she was sixteen.  The pink and orange hues of the sky reflected in the laguna and finally made it worthy of its colorful name. 

We crossed a stream of stepping stones worthy of a survival game show and climbed up a hill to the house.  It was empty and closed, but we were glad we made it to some sort of destination.  We shot some pictures of the lake before heading back over the stones and across the plain — this time against the fierce winds.

“Whose idea was this?” they asked, looking at me.

“You’ll thank me later,” I answered, wind blasting in my face.  In the end, Lara was glad we went; after sitting in a jeep all day, she appreciated the exercise — plus she finally saw the “colorada” in Laguna Colorada.

The three of us went back to the mess hall just as the others were finishing dinner.  We took what was left of the soup and pasta before finishing the night off with coffee, tea and hot chocolates.  We turned into our rooms early to rise early the next morning, chatting away in our beds, working on our journals — except for Zoe who was feeling sick and wasn’t in a writing mood.  “I don’t want to do my journal, I want to live,” we heard her from across the room.

There was no light switch in the room; all the lights for the complex seemed to be controlled by one external switch.  Eventually someone flipped it, declaring bedtime for all of us — including Mr. Brighton, Mr. Lilliput and Gulliver, and The Mountain Men.  As I lay in the dark, I wondered just what sort of cruel nicknames the others had for us — I’m sure it had something to do with our annoying off-key singing of cheesy 80s songs.

Next entry: Goodbye, Mary Poppins

Previous entry: Now Entering Dali World

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Comments for “Surreal People”

  • first…haha…screw it…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:39 PM

  • more great pics…keep em coming…

    john and yoko…imagine…i’m snickering…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  06:44 PM

  • yeh I agree, great pics! ...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  07:08 PM

  • MARKYT:  haha… “Imagine” just came on in the computer lab just now… hee hee…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  07:18 PM

  • wow. desktop-worthy pics! thanks.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  08:39 PM

  • LP:  Which do you have up?  My iBook has the pic o’ the day of Now Entering Dali World…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  08:57 PM

  • I am switchin between “After another drive through Dali’s desert” and “Arbol de Piedra”. They’re both awesome!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  09:00 PM

  • awww, that baby llama was so cute!!!! i hope you got more pictures of it. =)

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  09:01 PM

  • LP i agree on those pics for wallpaper!...

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/19  at  09:23 PM

  • I also concur.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/20  at  01:40 AM

  • that tree of stone formation was SO VERY DALI! Llama baby was a cutie. I wonder if he was the product of a 3-way?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/23  at  07:57 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Goodbye, Mary Poppins

Previous entry:
Now Entering Dali World


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