A few of my friends and I have an obsession with the number seven. There isn’t any remarkable numerological reason, but when 07/07/07 rolled around, we were determined to make it special.
Obsessed with travel, we decided that there couldn’t be any better way to commemorate then to actually have that very auspicious date stamped in our passports. (It’s also no coincidence that this is being published on July 7).
On this special day, my friend Andrea and I found ourselves in Northern Chile, and since we were just across the border, we decided to go to Bolivia to celebrate. Several hours into our trip, however, it occurred to us that 07/07/07 was a date that we didn’t want stamped on our graves.
First off, let me point out that July is winter in South America. Perhaps it didn’t occur to you that going to Bolivia in the summer would be cold. Ironically, even though we were there, that didn’t seem to occur to us either.
The day before our Bolivian trip, we’d been in the Chilean desert on a sandboarding adventure. Climbing up and down the giant sand dune was hot. So hot that we stripped to our tank tops and forgot that it was still winter.
In a momentary lapse of judgment we awoke very very early the next morning, dressed like we were going to a spring picnic and piled in a van towards the Bolivian border. Perhaps the fact that we’d been told to pack our bathing suits for the hot springs contributed to this mistake. Luckily I’d grabbed my fluffy red jacket to use as a pillow in case the day was long. Little did I know.
The nice warm van drove us along a well-paved Chilean highway towards the mountains where we made a left turn towards Bolivia. It was amazing how quickly civilization turned into desolation. Up a dirt road, tucked into the mountain pass, two small cement houses stood in a snow bank with a Bolivian flag blowing in the winter wind.
We got our beautiful passport stamps and we stood inside a very cold building with a broken window and snow on the ground inside. Huddled around a card table drinking tea from thermoses with other travelers, we quickly realized it was going to be a cold day. Before we knew it, our warm Chilean van turned around at the border, and abandoned us to some vintage Bolivian Toyota Landcruisers.
The trip we took was into the Eduardo Avaroa Andean National Reserve and north toward Uyuni to see a red lake and a green lake and some amazing hot springs and flamingo colonies, and other stuff that was supposed to be phenomenally photographic. I vaguely remember the the amazing red lake with the mountains behind. I’m sure it was gorgeous, but mostly I just remember how cold it was.
While old cars that break down tend to be the norm for travelling through developing countries, most of my experiences of flat tires and blown axels had occurred in warm countries where an extended breakdown was inconvenient, but not deadly.
Not only did our vehicle lack heat, it also lacked insulation. With my window rolled up, cold wind and snow blew in through the cracks despite my attempts to use bandanas and napkins to patch the airy window leaks. We were slowly becoming popsicles.
Other than the snow inside of the car, and being dressed for a spring day, there were a few other challenges. Including these top seven:
1. The car kept breaking down
2. The weather was getting worse and the snow was drifting into the narrow roads.
3. We didn’t have any food.
4. We didn’t know if we’d make it back before the border closed
5. The driver only spoke Spanish and mostly we didn’t.
6. The driver kept telling the only Spanish speaker we weren’t going to make it.
7. If we didn’t make it out we were going to freeze to death.
Since I’ve lived to tell this story, we obviously didn’t reach unlucky #7 on this list. Rather we eventually made it to the border, defeated hypothermia, and lived to get show off our 070707 Chilean passport stamps.
We celebrated that night by breaking four corkscrews trying to open a bottle of Chilean wine to toast not freezing to death and the auspicious day of 7’s.
And what did we learn? Not checking the weather should be on the list of 7 travel sins. Sure, even the most seasoned travelers forget – just don’t be one of them.