“The desert is the environment of revelation, genetically and physiologically alien, sensorily austere, esthetically abstract, historically inimical....It's forms are bold and suggestive. The mind is beset by light and space, the kinesthetic novelty of aridity, high temperature, and wind. The desert sky is encircling, majestic, terrible. In other habitats, the rim of sky is broken or obscured...In an unobstructed sky the clouds seem more massive, sometimes grandly reflecting the earth's curvature on their concave undersides. The angularity of desert landforms imparts a monumental architecture to the clouds as well as the land....”
Man in the Landscape
A Historic View of the Esthetics of Nature
Day 1 Salar de Uyuni
Our group piled into our 4x4, our bags on the roof in a tarp. Excited for this adventure but boy was it cold! I thought desert, sun, hot...silly me. Good thing I bought gloves and some long wooly alpaca socks in town! In our group we had a newlywed young Japanese couple,Satoshi and Yumiko, a single Japanese girl Erina and a 26 year old Argentine boy from Cordoba named Carlos. Carlos and I became fast friends with our shared interest in house music, designers, and photography.
The first stop on the tour was an old rusted train in the Salar.
I would tell you about it but our guide looked about 15 years old and didn't speak a word of English and seemed mad at the world. The wind was whipping and cold.
See more photos in the gallery!
Back in the truck we went on to the salt flats which I have been looking forward to for months! Seeing the photos online is magnificent!. I was hoping to see them when it rained because it looks as if you're walking in the sky! (google photos of Uyuni). When we finally got there we were a bunch of happy kids eager to play, like in the first snowfall of the season. We climbed the little salt mountains and posed for fun photos playing with the distance.
We went to Isla Pescado, Fish Island which was covered with cactus, truly beautiful.
The Salar is vast. All you see for miles is clear blue sky and flat white salt with a hexagonal pattern throughout...I don't know why, our guide was just there to drive us apparantly.
We stopped at a spot with salt blocks. It went without saying between Karl and I that we would write DAN so that way he was with us in Bolivia as well. We placed his poker chip upon the blocks.
We didn't get tired of taking photos there.
We stayed until the sunset and playfully made shapes with the shadows.
When the sun set the temperature dropped drastically. The wind was fierce and biting. By that point we were ready to go...but where was our 4x4?
We got picked up and driven to our accommodation for the night. A hostel made of salt. The floor crunched as if walking on the icy snow. We sat atop pillars of salt and had our dinner at the salt table. Still not well I decided to just have a little rice and veggies. Now left to share a bathroom with 30 other people, it was going to be a looong night. In case you're wondering, walls made of salt don't retain heat very well. The temperature was below zero. We had electricity for an hour until 9:00 so we all scrambled to charge our cameras in the 4 power strips. I was actually looking forward to a forced nights sleep. In the salt desert, the middle of nowhere, under a blanket of stars...silence..
Alas..despite my sleeping bag, alpaca socks, base layers, and 25 blankets, it was still to cold to sleep. Maybe tomorrow...
Day 2 Lagunas Coloradas
I am getting used to waking up early on vacation and considering we went to bet at 9pm, 6am was a luxury. I couldn't sleep so I was counting the salt grains until it was time to get up. We ate our breakfast of pan con dulce de leche (bread with caramel)...not easy to eat with gloves by the way. Drank our coffee with powdered milk and set out for our next adventure.
There are no paved roads through the desert. It is really incredible to see nature just as it was put there, untouched by man. Incredible. It looks a bit like the surface of Mars. It takes the whole day to cross the desert. Our group was quiet, mostly tired. So we just took in the scenery.
Once again amazed by the lack of awareness or safety standards. The driver and his young wife had a small baby no more than 8 months old, crawling around the front seat while the jeep crossed the bumpy surface. The baby held onto the gear shift. I was waiting for us to go sliding into reverse. Good thing he wasn't strong enough. But it baffles me that it isn't common sense that maybe that would be dangerous, forget about carseats and seat belts...wouldn't it be reflexive to hold your child in a moving car? Or maybe that an aerosol spray can filled with toxins maybe isn't the best toy? Again maybe this is me in me Westerness...Coming from the land where the government decides what is safe for us and makes laws to protect us whether we like it or not. Maybe I'm wrong...the baby didn't fall out of the open car door when daddy left him on the front seat to go and do something else. I had the same reaction in SE Asia where they drive with babies on the front of motorbikes, no helmets. That said, I know we American's overdue the safety thing. Babies survived for centuries without all the childproof latches and knobs that are impossible for adults to even open.
But I digress...Where was I, oh yes. Loooooong quiet car ride through the desert with nothing but my thoughts. We reached the first laguna. It was so picturesque with hundreds of Flamingos (or flamencos). Carlos and I had a little competition who could get the best flying flamenco photo. Not so easy! It was quite cold and windy so we were happy to get back in the warm jeep. Though putting on and taking off layers just for a few photos gets old fast. More lagunas, more flamencos, more desert. We saw the Arbol de Pierdas (tree of stone) and then finally made it to Laguna Colorada where we would be spending the night. We dumped our bags and hiked though the wind or a view of the lagoon. The red color is due to some microorganisms that inhabit the lagoon. The altitude is nearly 5000 meters, 15,000 feet. The air was thin and bitter cold. We returned to the hostal. The hostal was a refuge, even more basic than the first hostel. This one makes the ones at Machu Picchu look like 4 star hotels. We shared a room this time with our whole group. My bed was a paper thin mattress resting atop a slab of concrete. Karl kept saying that he is now prepared for post Apocalyptic life. The bathroom was by far the grossest I've seen. Not sure if it was mud or excrement on the floor, didn't care to find our either. You had to fill a bucket of water from a filthy barrel to flush. I was praying that I didn't need to go.
Determined to have fun and survive the night we got a few bottles of red wine, plugged the ipod into a mini speaker and had a semi nice dinner of spaghetti with a gummy consistency. He huddled around the wood burning stove and made the most of the night. We took a moment to look at the stars. I have never seen so many in my life. Would be great to sleep under the stars, just not in Bolivia.
Another poor nights sleep. Colder than the first I slept with a hat, gloves and coat too. Not the year of summer I had planned on...
Day 3 Lagunas Verdes
4:30 am wake time.... ugh. We decided to have breakfast later and just roll out into the jeep. Nobody said a word for about an hour. We arrived at the geysers which was really cool to see. The landscape is truly amazing in Bolivia. Freezing we piled back in and went to the Aguas Calientes (hot springs). Karl was eager to jump right in. I couldn't bear the thought of removing 25 layers getting nice and relaxed and then freezing getting out, like when Peixe, and I went skiing in Vermont and ran from the snow to the hot tub. Getting in is great! Getting out, not so much. I opted to put my feet in which was really nice.
We finished at :Laguna Verde. The incredible green color is due to sulfur and copper in the water. When the wind blows the lagoon goes white.
That my friends ends our tour. On to San Pedro de Atacama Chile.
But wait, do you really think we made it out of Bolivia that easily? Half of our group leaves to head back to Uyuni. Our driver drops us off at the frontier to wait for a bus. No other information. We congregate with the rest of the confused gringos as the locals chuckle at us. They call for a group of four so Karl and I and the Japanese couple volunteer thinking we're free early.
Wrong. We go to the other bus which appears full until they pull down a row of seats from the center aisle. We joked that they would make a second level above our heads to fit more people. All seats full but one, we sit, we wait, we exhange tales of drunken tour drivers, and broken down jeeps...wondering when we'll move. We watch a jeep run the border from Chile. Nothing happens. Shocking.
Chaos, confusion, disorganization. Bolivia. There is so much potential for tourism and bringing up the economy there but it seems they want to keep the tourists away. For all the splendor that the Bolivian landscape offers, not one of us is in a rush to recommend it to our friends.
We crossed into Chile and everyone clapped. Not far into Chile we reached a paved road that even had a yellow line down the middle and a guard rail. We were so excited. We began to descend and the sun grew brighter, the air warmer, our smiles bigger,
The town of San Pedro is very cute but not very interesting. It is a hippie tourist town, Market, cafe, tourism shop, repeat. It would have been fun to rent bikes and explore the desert near the volcano. But we needed to get to Calama so Karl could make his flight in the morning.
We got on the bus as the sun was setting. Looking out the window of the bus was the most beautiful scene...the volcan draped in pink clouds. Subtle color changes in the sky and the mountains. Breathtaking.
Wish I had more time here. It is my last day here with Karl, tomorrow I am on my own, with no set schedule. Strange feeling not knowing where I will go ...back to San Pedro to explore the desert or on to la playa en Vina del Mar...
Choose your own adventure...