Monday, December 10, 2012

Bolivia: Land of Contrasts

Contrasts are all around us as we travel through South America.  We see it in the cities where the well to do go about their daily lives and pass by beggars in dire need of help.  We see it in the brightly colored clothing worn by the rural Andean women and the dark business suits worn by the city professionals.  We even see it in the dogs within each community.  Some are well cared for, dressed in coats, and have distinct collars while others are thin and ragged as they search for food among discarded garbage.  We also see it as we travel in the various buses from one place to another.  Some are comfortable, with reclining seats, movies, and meals.  Others show no movies, and the ride is so rough it is more a teeth chattering four-wheel drive excursion without suspension or shocks.

One of our most vivid experiences dealing with contrasts has been the tour of the Uyuni Salt Flats and its surrounding environments.  Landscapes here are so vast and different, they are difficult to describe.  One day, we are looking at a highly eroded, overgrazed valley with llamas, vicunas and goats around every turn.  Another day, we are amazed at the multiple colors of the mineral rich mountains where alluvial fans spread like glaciers from the mouths of drainages.  An additional day brings utter fascination as we try to understand the Mars-like scenes before us with steaming volcanoes, vast hills of red and huge, bizarre rocks that are remnants of volcanic eruptions, some not so long ago.

The salt flats themselves are an endless sea of white, where the natural geometric patterns of sodium chloride produce a cloud like crystaline quilt across the ground.  Small, distant islands within the salt flats provide a stark contrast to the sea of white, as giant cactuses rise up from the depths perched on the thin, rocky, volcanic soil in the midst.  The contrast between earth and sky fades as the flats produce mirages.  The cactus islands appear to float and the horizon disappears in a shimmer of merged land and sky.

Throughout this journey, we see so much that is new to us, much of which is incomprehensible.  The people, their food and culture, and the landscape are contrasts to what we have known for most of our lives.  In all of these contrasts, we find growth and enrichment and occasionally confusion or pain. What we seek in this journey is much like the mirages as anticipation becomes reality and each day shimmers and disappears.

Posted from La Paz, Bolivia

1 comment:

  1. This is inspiring. I will haft to show my high school student what you are all learning.