the border we drove to Laguna Blanca where we had
breakfast in a lone building set aside a lagoon stretching
out before us like a giant mirror. The mountainous
backdrop was perfectly reflected in the water. Pink
flamingos dotted the shoreline. The morning air was
crisp and pleasant. There was no sun, and the clouds
hovered just above the snow-capped mountains. It wasn't
really that cold though.
perched myself by the lake and surveyed the rocky
landscape stretching out before me. It seemed quite
barren and lifeless. However looks can be deceiving.
This part of South America is littered with volcanoes,
both active and extinct. This area was alive with
geysers and hot springs. It was going to be an interesting
seemed that all the tour groups followed the same
path and stopped at the same places. Our group was
split into two jeep loads. My half contained Stefan,
a German couple called Martina and Oliver, and a French
girl called Pascale. Our guide was Vicente, a short,
thin, grubby-looking man. He was dressed in a greasy
blue jumper and dark jeans, and sported a thick mop
of wild, spiky black hair. Permanently squinting eyes
sat on a roundish dark, weather-beaten face with high
cheekbones that seemed to be there to accommodate
his huge grin. That grin would become a familiar sight
over the next few days. We also had our very own personal
cook. Veronica was a short, dumpy fifteen-year old
girl, who was doing this job in-between her studies.
It seemed that the people in this part of the world
are definitely vertically challenged - for want of
a more politically correct turn of phrase.
pulled up in a beat-up silver jeep. The other groups
had got into equally beat-up jeeps; our other half
having had to jump start theirs because the starter
motor was broken. We loaded our backpacks and all
supplies on the roof, which Vicente covered with
an old piece of tarpaulin, then clambered aboard.
For the next three days Colque would be providing
all our food. All we'd needed to bring was our own
to be sure we had all brought five litres each. Each
of us then waited, fingers crossed, as Vicente started
the car, and were relieved to find that it started
first time. It looked as though we had got the better
end of the deal. Vicente turned and grinned us a confident
of the women who had made us breakfast came to see
us off. She was dressed in a large gypsy-style skirt,
with many undergarments making it puff out like a
lampshade, and a plain green jumper. She looked like
she had once been tall, but had fallen into her arse.
However I suspected that underneath all those layers
she wasn't as dumpy as she appeared.
Draped around her neck and hanging loosely from her
body was an old apron, and perched right on the tip
of her head was a black bowler hat. She happily posed
for a photo and waved us off as we started our way
along the bumpy gravel road.