By 7pm I´d carted my big rucksack up the steep hill to the bus terminal in La Paz, making periodic stops to gasp and ask for directions since I never seem to be able to follow more than the first sentence of instructions in Spanish…
By 8pm I´d found my seat on the bus down south to Uyuni and was wondering why it came with a blanket.
By 11pm I felt numb with cold, shaken into a kind of daze by the buck and bolt of the bus. Looking out the window made me feel sick as I saw the ground fall away from the narrow beam of lights. My flesh seemed to resonate with the road and I imagined my skin shaking loose, coming off in shivers and sheaths.
By 1am ice flowers started to blosson beautiful on the inside of the glass and the bus clouded to a dream with breaths caught in the chill air inside. I slept in drifts, wanting to escape but almost frightened that I might not wake up.
By 3am my muscles were clamping and clenching in angry resistance to the ache of cold seeping through my many layers of clothes and the thick fuzz of the rough blanket. I may never again in my life be so grateful to be the owner of a ridiculous pair of wooly llama print socks, mittens and a hat that makes me look like a yak herder…
By 4am it was hard to remember any life that came before the road. I was no longer quite certain which blink held the dream and each moment seemed to stretch and strain against the tension of its own temporality. I had no idea being cold could turn me into an existentialist. I muttered ´this too shall pass´under each cloud curl of breath but wasn´t totally sure that I believed it.
By 5am I found myself looking at the other passengers wondering whether they were sleeping or dead. I thought of Inca mummies and wondered whether there was any chance they´d just caught the wrong ride ill prepared…
By 6am the first brightening of darkness swept across the void outside the window. I pushed my hand up against the chill glass to warm a little hole to see hope through.
At 6.30am I saw the sun come up as if I had never seen it before, as if it was a God I hadn´t known I ought to pray to. The world was made again and I hoped darkness was no longer part of the program.
At 7am the bus jolted to a holt in a dusty street that wouldn´t have looked amiss cluttered with clusters of tumble weed and the cowboys corpses. In that moment it looked like heaven.
Now I can laugh. But I will never again fail to take a sleeping bag on a night bus in Bolivia…
I might not have liked it but that bus ride was the perfect preparation for three days high up in the moon scapes of Andes, that saw the temparature drop to minus fifteen. I have just emerged icy, filthy and wide eyed with wonder.
I am not sure I have ever seen such beauty.
I now also know that minus fifteen feels really bloody cold without heating or electrictity and that washing really is optional at a certain level of cold.
Of course, I am just a backpacker, a wanderer.
This is not my life.