Daybreak on the Salar
I was the only person up in time to catch this amazing dawn break over the salt plains. Cool.
Time for a bit of a catch up folks. Sory for the wait.....
---------------------------------------------- Day Two
Having slept for almost 12 hours solid, I was the first person to wake up on the second day of our salt plains trip and the most amazing dawn awaited me. I stood on the porch of the salt hostel and watched as the sun broke over the endless horizon and illuminated the sky in burnished shades of red and orange. It was really lovely and so peaceful too.
Both Glynn and I felt a lot better for our marathon sleep but still couldn't face any food so skipped breakfast. By 8am, and an hour behind schedule, the whole group was packed up and back in the jeep ready for another day's adventures. We sped across the desert floor away from the salt lake and into the beginnings of the Atacama Desert. Vast expanses of open dustiness were broken up by dusky mountain ridges and sleeping volcanoes.Where yesterday we were almost constantly accompanied by jeeps from other agencies heading in the same direction as us, today we were virtually alone. This was a welcome change - until the jeep broke
Chile or Bust
It´s a long, cold route but if you follow these train tracks long enough, yuo´ll find yourself in Chile.
down, that is!
When we had approached a section of railroad with a view to driving across the quite high metal supports, I wasn't the only one who thought it was a bad idea. As Hiradio nudged the jeep's front wheels over the first iron bar, we heard an almighty thrump that could only have meant trouble for the now stalled car. He managed to get the engine started again and gently coaxed the beast over the rest of the track before coming to a complete stop, jumping out and sliding himself underneath to inspect the damage. None of our group understood enough Spanish to exactly ascertain what the problem was but the words 'no functiona' are pretty self-explanatory. Worryingly, we were far from anywhere with people and hadn't seen another car for some time. Then our guide suddenly ran down the rails waving a red jumper in the air trying to attract the attention of a very distant pasing jeep but to no avail. We took this as a very bad sign indeed, especially when our guide started asking us if anyone had the agency phone number with them. How could he not have had that, let alone
Glynn puts on his best mechanic´s face as he inspects the damage caused by crossing the high rail tracks. Note that the dents in the side of the car were caused by our driver crashing into another car last night while we were sleeping. Doesn´t instill you with much confidence, does it?
a mobile phone?! Eventually, we managed to figure out that the thrump had affected the gearbox and Hiradio seemed adamant that we wouldn't be going anywhere without help. Not good.
Just as we were all thinking we were in big, big trouble (Katie's story about a friend who had once been stranded in the Salar for 5 days not instilling much confidence in us), our guide simply started the car and suggested it would be ok to drive as long as we went slowly. So, not quite as broken as he had led us to believe then. Phew! We trundled bravely on though at one point all of us had to climb out to enable the car to make it up a particularly rocky and steep hill. Relieved that the car was moving, we still couldn't help noticing just how many other jeeps we passed later on that had the bonnet up and anxious looking drivers flagging us down for help - at least we weren't alone in that respect.
Our first non-breakdown related stop of the day was at a beautiful clear lake that was full of pink flamingos. A far cry from the tropical image these
In the Pink
Pink flamingoes scoop happily away at the reddish algae in this freezing cold lake. Not quite the tropical scenes you associate with these pink birds!
birds are usually associated with, the lake was icy cold with a smooth, calm surface that perfectly mirrored the surrounding dune-like mountains. As we approached the waterfront, thin sheets of ice crunched underfoot reminding us just how cold it is in these remote parts. Normally you would assocaite deserts with intense heat and dryness but this lunaresque landscape was in a catagory of its own and it was just beautiful.
We stopped at a couple of other similarly spectacularly scenic lakes as we continued on, taking time out for a warm lunch at one. We tucked ourselves into a nook away from the chilling breeze and marvelled as a couple of wild desert foxes trotted over to the jeep to check for food scraps. Hiradio threw a bit of pasta out for them which they gratefully woolfed down but when I tried to quietly sneak a little closer for a better look, I inadvertently scared the pair of them away. They didn't head too far and could be seen crouched behind some tufts of grass, waiting for the coast to be clear again.
After lunch, we headed to a cluster of giant windcarved rocks that seemed to have
The scenery on the way to the Atacama Desert is just beautiful.
no business being in this great wilderness. Glynn and I were feeling a bit more energetic at this point, having finally found enough of an appetite to join Katrina, Stephanie, Dougal and Katie for food for a change. The rocks were awesome but we weren't alone there as a big group of Israelis had arrived first and managed to hog all the best photo opportunities.
The fact that Glynn and I were feeling a bit more perky was wasted as we spent the remainder of the afternoon holed up in the jeep and just driving. Around 5pm we arrived at our lodgings for the second night and our guide looked incredibly relieved when he came out and said there was room for us. We settled in to the very cold hostel, only to be joined by the inconsiderate Israelis a short time later. Many other jeeps turned up over the next couple of hours, some in the pitch darkness, although only a couple of those groups were lucky enough to find room at the inn. Dinner was served at around 8pm but it was so chilly that the spaghetti went cold in a matter of minutes and no-one fancied
A pair of desert foxes came by the car at lunchtime in search of leftovers.
eating cold food in sub-zero temperatures. It was so cold already in fact that everyone mutually agreed to turn in for an early night so that they could wrap up in their sleeping bags and blankets as soon as possible.
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