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Published: December 29th 2012
Our 4 day, 3 night offroad tour was so epic it deserves two blogs. This is the first installment, covering days 1 and 2.
The adventure started in Tupiza at 8am, where we met the other two travellers who would be sharing our vehicle for the next 4 days. It turned out they were a nice irish couple who were also on their honeymoon. The vehicle was a toyota landcruiser, and we later found out that every single tour agency all use landcruisers. They call them Jeeps though, so I will too.
Our driver Mario spoke little english but he spoke very slow and simple Spanish that we were all able to understand. We were glad we saved the $20 each for the english speaking guide option. With the introductions made, we threw our big bags on the roof and piled into the Jeep.
There were two other Jeeps going with Tupiza Tours (the tour company we used), and we caravanned most of the way.
Day 1 was mostly scenic mountains. There were some pretty cool rock formations early on, kind of reminded me of southern Utah.
We kept going through the mountains, stopping to see some llamas. We ate lunch by some ruins that might have only been a few years old - it is hard to tell since the architecture is just piled up rocks and thatched roofs.
After lunch the dirt road wove down into a valley, and things started to get sketchy. It was a clear day but it had been raining in the days prior, so there was a lot of mud. We did ok until we got to a large wash, where we saw a Jeep from another tour company was stuck. Mario decided to lead us around a different way. We made it through ok, but the 2nd Jeep in our caravan got stuck... bad.
The 3rd Jeep made it through, and all of us (12 tourists, 3 drivers, 2 cooks) got out to help. Helping meant taking turns digging with a shovel while the rest of us collecting rocks, sticks and brush to stick under the tires. The drivers then decided to use a propane tank as a brace for the jack. At this point we all stepped a ways back, especially the guy smoking a cigarrette.
Somehow we didn't all die in a fiery explosion, and after about 2 hours in total we were moving again.
I asked the guides why they didn't have tow straps or something to pull each other out, and they said they didn't normally get stuck this early in the rainy season. Somehow I doubt they have the equipment at all, after some stories we heard later about tourists getting stuck for 3 days in the foggy salt flats.
Anyway, back to more mountain scenery as we headed to our first town for the night. By this time, we really are in the middle of nowhere, save for power lines heading to the town. We passed a herd of emu-like birds (forgot what they are called) on the way.
When we got to the town, nobody was there. Mario honked his horn and drove around, but apparently the people that normally rent out the rooms were nowhere to be found. After some head scratching the guides decided we should head another two hours down the road to the next town. We were all ok with it, since it meant we didn't have to wake at 5am the next morning.
The road climbed quite a bit at this point as we headed up near a large volcano. We passed some ruins dating sometime before the Spaniards arrived. They of course destroyed the town and built a church, although that is now in ruins too.
It started to get dark, and then it started snowing. We topped out at almost 5000 meters (16400 feet) before finally descending.
We got to the new spot well after dark. Luckily there were people around, and beds for us. They even had electricity! No warm water though. The cook prepared a feast. Ask for Janet if you go with Tupiza Tours, she is awesome.
After dinner we went out for a little bit to check out the stars. With the high elevation, no moon and no light pollution it really was pretty amazing. It was also friggin freezing out so we headed back in quick.
Day 2 was jam packed with epicness, one stop after the next. Looking back at the pictures it's hard to believe it all came from the same day.
We started out in a lush valley with streams running through canyons, with snow capped peaks surrounding us.
We stopped at a llama pen to get a closer look. Here's one of about 40 equally adorable pictures that Steph took.
She can't understand how I can eat llama but somehow the cuteness factor doesn't bug me. There's some good llama stew to be had, especially in NW Argentina.
We climbed out of the valley to a sort of high desert, where we visited a pair of lagoons. Here we got our first glimps of wild flamingos (by the end of the trip we kind of OD'd on flamingos, but at this point it was still pretty exciting).
After driving through some more high desert for an hour or so, we arrived at another lagoon full of flamingos, with a natural hot springs. Probably one of the best hot springs we've ever been in.
We then visited Dali Desert, which resembles some of Dali's paintings. Not sure if he got inspiration from it or not. It is a big sandy area with random boulders poking out. After that was Green Lagoon, which I guess used to be green but now is brownish grey. Super windy. For some reason it is a popular spot to make rock piles.
On the road again, there was a herd of vicuñas blocking the road. Mario stopped and honked until the ran away, and we all got some pretty good close-ups.
Our heads were already reeling from the variety of scenery we'd seen that day, but it just kept a comin'. The road climbed to just over 5000 meters, and we arrived at a geyser area. We both agreed this was a place man was not supposed to be. Cold wind whipped us, big mud pits belched sulphur bubbles, steam rising everywhere, and a weird sort of martian landscape with strange colors in the soil. I got obsessed taking pictures of popping mud bubbles. Here's a very small sample from our pictures:
There was still one more attraction to visit in day 2, and it might have taken the cake. The Red Lagoon.
The red color comes from a microoganism, which the flamingos LOVE. I think it might be where they get their pink color. It was hard to find a flamingo without its head in the water feeding, they just couldn't get enough. With the thousands of flamingos, red water and mountains in the background, it's hard to find words.
That night we slept at 4300 meters, which is just under the height of the tallest mountain in California (Mt. Whitney is 4421m). Luckily we had adjusted to the altitude by then or it would have been a rough night.
...and that's only half the trip! More to come in the next blog.
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