|Dry Dusty towns|
We left the vast sparkly whiteness of the salt flats, destined for Oruro, a dusty brown mining town of 250 000 at 3700 m above sea level. En route, we passed through several small towns, invariably ramshackle affairs with dirt roads and earth-coloured adobe buildings in various states of decrepitude, some with a small brown town plaza but few other signs of public life and little movement or colour. Everything was the same dull grey-brown as everything else and the towns seemed almost deserted, melting into the desert that surrounded them.
We noted with surprise that the first town we passed through had a basketball court in the centre - an odd addition to a town that lacked any other discernbile services. As we drove on, town after town each presented us with a shiny new basketball court, pristine and, as far as we could tell, unused. I later pointed to one of the courts and asked a local if basketball was popular in Bolivia - it seemed odd for a nation of people who would be dwarfed by the average Australian 12 year old - he shook his head, "no", he said, "everyone plays soccer"...
|Camping above the basketball court|
We hit Oruro in the afternoon and it was bedlam - colourful, busy, bedlam. Pimped out minibuses with bling hanging from the mirrors trundled through, horns bleeping, while women with long black braids wearing bowler hats perched atop their heads sold all manner of items from brightly coloured blankets by the side of the road. We wound our way through the bustling town to the climbing area near the mine and ended up camping on a small exposed platform directly behind the inevitable basketball court.
We were adopted by three sisters who lived, with their ninos and their two brothers, across the road from the basketball court. They were so sweet and generous, inviting us back to their small living room afternoon after morning after afternoon, plying us with Bolivian treats and enthusiastically accepting our clumsy manglings of their native tongue - they were something special...amigas para siempre.
In fact, the entire under-18 population of the town embraced us, with an ever-increasing number of kids gathering around the smelly gringoes in the big red truck. Each afternoon, kids would drift up to the truck, the braver ones trying out their English and venturing to the doorway of the truck, while the timid types stood apart, jostled each other and giggled. The friendship was solidified with an intense high-altitude soccer match where a bunch of panting gringoes were trounched by a gaggle of 4 foot tall youngsters. The game was played, naturally, on the basketball court.