Our Tupiza Tours expedition rolled out at the crack of 9:30am, took dirt roads and dry riverbeds, and climbed up to over 4000 meters into an open, uncovered eroding land. Trees and plants and organic matter, I think, dress the earth, and where those things are missing – the earth gets naked.
I thought this while I traveled across the exposed stretch of southern Bolivia. It was exposed, but not unadorned. The earth let it all hang out - stratigraphy and folds of time; it’s gray geyser juices, and its sulfur breath. The mountain peaks had not gone bald – no trees had ever lived there.
Peaks melted like piled Neapolitan with rose and cream, chocolate and mocha chip layers. We crossed by land rover – for four days. Here you could be mostly alone if you forgot to bring some company. You could freeze at night, sunburn, and windburn and dry out by daytime. Few people live here and those that do tend llamas and wear so many layers they look big and thick, but small again against the landscape. It’s too high to grow anything – even potatoes.
This land is good to go into – wide open for thinking, but not humane enough to stay. This is not the tender place that makes you imagine a gentile mother earth that provides for her creatures. The earth would let the wind rip you away from her surface.
If you were this naked earth you wouldn’t be alone - or ashamed. You would have the company of skinny legs needling into your pitted skin: flamingos and the rare vicuña.
Grass clumps, that occasioned your surface, would grow as resolute as the oak, blades with the integrity of cactus spines. Proudly you’d display your ores and minerals from within – rust and lavender, green and yellow, and sometimes pure white. The heat that builds in you could vent and spew.
The earth doesn’t have resentment; it has volcanoes.