Wedged into the back of a Toyota land cruiser with two American girls, Paddy, a guide and a cook, we’re underway, beginning a four day journey that will culminate in the stunningly mesmerising Salar De Uyuni. Between Tupiza and the worlds largest Salt Flat, we will see vast volcanic landscapes, geysers, hot springs, lagoons, indigenous villages, ruins, flamingo’s, ostriches, wild donkeys, and Llamas. I’m only going for the Llamas.
We’re in convoy with the same group of girls we met yesterday, along with new companions Erin and Jess who join the party. In actual fact there is a very large amount of vehicles criss-crossing the dusty roads, all heading to the same destination. As you would expect with this kind of trip, there are numerous tour operators, all vying for the dollars once again. Once again you get what you pay for, as we pass a broken down jeep not five minutes from the off. I’m relieved to note that our vehicle appears to be made of sterner stuff, and David our driver and guide seems to know his stuff. Do your research and ensure you’re not getting into a car with it’s exhaust falling off.
I’m sure I’ll say this a number of times over the course of the next 72 hours, but the scenery outside the window is like another planet. It’s a spikey cactus filled view, with red rocks and dirt roads stretching as far as the eye can see. I’m snapping as much as time will allow, especially humorous penis cactus shots and silly Llama heads. Much craic is had as we rumble on to lunch.
I’m doing my usual scan of the company as we settle down for our first meal together, and once again, no disrespect intended, I find myself missing a certain German. We’ve done pretty well with the companions on our treks, as there is always a danger that you won’t get on well with someone you’re stuck with in a van for four days. Paddy has mentioned that if we’d been with that American coke fiend we met on the death road, there would have been a murder. I’m inclined to agree. Yet there nearly was during dinner as we freeze into our first digs for the night.
Apparently I’m not Scottish, I’m English, as I’m being told by one of the English girls. This is news to me, as for 32 years I believed my bloodline to be Caledonian. I was bullied in high school for being Scottish, and I deal with a lot of banter north of the border for being English. Evidently I can’t win. With a Scottish mother and a father who was ‘a Scot with his head kicked in’, I was born and raised in England because mum ‘couldn’t get me up North fast enough’. I know my sister is proud of her Scottish heritage, as am I, genuinely enjoying the best of both worlds. I can wear, and proudly wear the kilt, and I’ll be following the English national team in the upcoming European championships, as would have my dad. I sing all the words to Flower of Scotland with heart and gusto, and tease Scottish friends with Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Some might think it a crisis of identity, I see it as a blessing in having roots in two passionate countries. God’s county Yorkshire was my home growing up, and Glasgow, the best city in the UK, is my home now. At the end of the day it’s where you feel you belong. I don’t need anyone to tell me that.
We’re treated to a sing session from a number of local boys, who look like they’re doing a roaring trade with the passing tourists. It’s a lonely but strangely beautiful spot, nestled between distant snowy peaks and cold foreboding waste land. I have no idea how the people survive out here. Especially without an X-Box and a WiFi connection. You have to admire the resliance against such a harsh landscape and existence. Admire it I do, as I shiver fully clothed under three blankets, hoping that sleep will overcome my shuddering frame.