We leave San Pedro crack of dawn, arriving at the Chilean/Bolivian border crossing to be bundled out of our minibus onto a vast expanse of mountain-lined scrubland, punctuated only by a lone Bolivian flag, twenty or so jeeps, and a small hut marked with ‘Bolivian Immigration’.
After we sub our Japanese friends the bolivianos needed to enter Bolivia (they just don’t let you in if you don’t already have some of their currency), our jeep sets off into the Bolivian terrain. I was previously unaware as to the beauty of Bolivia – this has to be one of the most stunning, and extremely varied, journeys I’ve ever experienced. After the dusty, rocky expanse shortly following the border, the landscape soon morphs into rolling fields of red, yellow and green quinoa, jagged rocks and mossy banks giving way to crystal blue streams and more llamas than I actually thought existed.
And a word really must be given to these llamas – having been spat on by an ungrateful alpaca when I was trying to feed it aged 6, I was certain I was going to have little sympathy for their close relatives. I have now been converted to think that these creatures exude elegance and I am sorry I ever doubted them. I think this also might be to do with the colourful tassels they have tied to their ears and tails, which are just too endearing for words.
Plus (as I have recently learnt), alpacas are farmed most commonly for their fur, whereas llamas are respected as herd animals, to fend off enemies and are even kept as pets. They are banging animals. They also taste really good.
This is quinoa – the national plant of Bolivia which also serves nicely to provide the colours for its flag. There are two types; yellow and red (yellow more for soups, red more for cakes), although nearly 80% of the crop is exported to provide people like Gwyneth Paltrow with something to talk about, so unfortunately it is rather trickier to source here than I had imagined. Nevertheless, it carpets the countryside beautifully.
I couldn’t get quite close enough to the llamas to take a good pic…the tassels though. (They’re to distinguish them to their farmers. Love. Them.)