Caught in a lightning and hail storm at 3 miles above sea level, Wilber expertly steered us across treacherous mountains and knee-deep rivers.
All four passengers held our collective breath as the jeep wiggled its way through a foot of mud like a worm escaping a child’s chase.
It was our first day in the Bolivian desert and the beginning of an adventure I will never forget.
The journey begins
Our adventure started in Tupiza, Bolivia, with cloudy skies and a caravan of four 4×4 Jeeps.
Upon reaching the nearby mountains, we marveled at a never-ending vista of rolling green hills, deep valleys, jagged red rocks, ominous skies… and llamas.
Stuck in the mud
Our first glimpse of trouble came during the lunch stop.
Wilber maneuvered our jeep through a deep mud patch; but, another 4×4 became completely stuck.
Jumping to task, we ripped branches off nearby plants and placed them under the tires to create traction.
Meanwhile, a group of people braced themselves behind the jeep and pushed.
Up, up, up into the Bolivian mountains
After lunch, our color pallet faded into a mix of cactus green, yellow, white and gray.
The air turned cold; and photo opportunities now included majestic snow-capped peaks, ancient valleys and a small mountain village.
The sky above was stirring…
By the afternoon, the sun had hidden itself behind an ominous wall of storm clouds.
As fierce thunder and lightning crackled in the distance, we knew an epic storm was not far behind.
Throughout the lightning and hail storm, Wilber expertly maneuvered through mud, rivers, landslides and strong winds.
When other drivers got stuck, he braved the elements to help them out: a favor that would not be returned later that evening
Eventually, our caravan passed through the storm and we were treated to a beautiful sunset and pleasant drive through the blue hour.
Broken Down in the Middle of Nowhere
By the time we arrived at Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina National Park, the stars were out and our caravan was down to two.
Both cars unloaded at the guardhouse and we purchased our entry tickets by flashlight: as there was no electricity.
Once finished, our companion jeep drove off towards our lodging for the evening.
Meanwhile, our car would not start.
No matter how many times Wilber turned the key and pumped the gas, it just wouldn’t turn over.
He flashed his headlights in a desperate attempt to stop the other jeep.
But, the only brake lights we saw were getting smaller by the second.
Then, they were gone.
A Horror Movie in-the-Making
After nearly an hour of tinkering and waiting for the other jeep to return for us, we spotted another car driving up towards the guardhouse.
“Hurrah! Someone is here to save us,” we cheered.
Since Wilber was standing outside, we assumed he would flag down the car and ask for help.
Imagine our shock as he just stood there and let the car drive by without a wave or shout.
When asked about it later, Wilber simply said,
“It was not a tour jeep. It was a private car.”
At this point, I began to point my camera towards the stars to save my sanity.
Wilber’s new plan
With nary-a-car in sight, Wilber convinced the gatekeeper to give him a ride on his motorcycle.
They promised to return with help; and began to drive off into the dark horizon.
Deja vu crept in, as we once again watched a set of lights fade into nothingness.
Then came the realization that we were completely alone in the middle of nowhere.
Many references to horror movies were made; especially when Marc left the car by himself.
Later, we saw a swinging light a few dozen feet away.
It went back and forth; back and forth.
Then it disappeared.
We never saw the light again.
So, there we sat – me, Carrie, Dana and Marc – trying to stay warm and cracking as many jokes as possible to alleviate the tension.
At one point, we even developed a snuggle-system to keep warm if we had to sleep in the car.
Nearly an hour later, Wilber and the gatekeeper returned with news that the other jeep was not far behind.
Lucky for us, its driver was a mechanic; and, minutes after arriving, he had our engine up-and-running.
In total, we spent two and a half hours stranded in our jeep.
By the time we made it to the guesthouse, 14 hours had passed since we left Topiza.
We were achy, tired and ready for bed.
After all, we had another long (and amazing) day ahead of us.