45° Celsius makes the air in Paraguay boil. We drive past humble villages, through overbearing towns, heading for the next border to cross. We return for a moment to northern Argentina, time to discover its new face of fires and palm trees, and then cross into the long-awaited coolness of Bolivia. The vegetation thickens, and the warm and calm plain is behind us.
The Cordillera challenges us and we are ready to face it and start going up. Small amber earth houses and banana trees. Free grasslands and women with typical braids wear colourful fabrics and tall bowler hats. The features are from another era, hard and worn like the mountains that stand out under the blue sky. We are at 3,000 metres. The long and winding road dips into the canyons, then climb up to the plateau. We reach 4000 metres. We chew coca leaves to get used to the altitude. The peaks rise to all heights, filling the eyes with a thousand colours.
A beauty that fears, humbles and dominates
How to describe the beauty of this place, the cradle of ancient stories that the present has swallowed up? A beauty that fears, humbles and dominates. The Mountains envelop us in a giant embrace, their touch hurts, their silence commands respect, and vertigo that used to terrify, us now attracts us. (Cit.)
The urge is to lose oneself in this supreme beauty, but the new destination requires us to pass through it quickly, and then immediately protect it in a memory. In heavy rain, chased away at times by a blazing sun, we approach the city.
The night on the horizon turns a dirty red, and slowly we discover an upside-down sky where millions of stars touch the ground. La Paz seems to sleep nestled in the immense valley, illuminated by the myriad of little yellow lights. The look is lost trying to contain it. We walk its uphill streets, and its steep descents, and as we arrive at its heart we discover its true soul. Its incestuous traffic, pungent smells and deafening noises. The Cordillera hides beneath its terrifying vastness.
A stage like any other on the surface, until the border with Peru is snatched from under our noses by a whisker.