The last blog was a long one, so i will keep this one brief, and beef it up with photo's...
We are granted a sleep in until 6.30 on day 3, but it is still bitterly cold when we leave the homestay. Shortly after leaving we arrive at the Arbol de Piedra, the petrified forest. It is not a petrified forest, but a cluster of large volcanic rocks in the middle of the desert that had been spewed out by a volcano millions of years ago.
Soon after we reach Laguna Hondas and find that is completely frozen over, even though it is 100's of metres wide. There are still some brave (or stupid) flamingos walking on the ice hoping that it will melt and provide them with a feed. Next is another lagoon, Laguna Negra, and it is quite something to behold. It is black. The bottom of the lagoon is covered in black volcanic rocks, and there is black weed that grows in it. And of course there are black ducks in the lagoon.
Next stop is for lunch with views over the semi active volcano Ollague, which has a small eruption of steam/gas rising from
near the peak. It is too dangerous to get anywhere near close, so it it hard to determine how big the eruption actually is.
Back on the road again we travel through Chiguana, a small salt flat, before we finally reach the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, and our hotel for the night. The hotel is completely made out of salt, with salt bricks, salt floor, salt tables and salt chairs. It is here that we can have our first shower (and a hot one at that) for the princely sum of 10 Boliviano's. Raul has made sure we are the first group to arrive at the hotel to ensure we beat the masses that arrive an hour or so later, as there is only one shower for 50 odd people. Even though we had been in the thermals the day before, it was nice to clean out the dust again and wash properly, as we had been living in the same clothes for 3 days.
There was a bar, so a few beers, vino's and singani's were had. Singani is a spirit made from grape skins, and primarily drunk on the altiplano. It's nice, kind of
Arbol de Piedra
like grappa. We were just below 4000m now, but we still have to be careful of a hangover that is worsened by altitude. After some more star gazing, it was off to bed as we had a 5.30 start the next day to see the sunrise.
The sunrise was beautiful, but frightfully cold, it was the coldest morning yet, close to -10. It makes it very hard to take photo's with frozen fingers. After the sunrise it was off to Isla Incahuasi to have breakfast. This Isla, is one of many 'islands' in the Salar, but is unique in that is covered in enormous cactuses, some 9m high and over 1000 years old. It is comprised of an old coral reef, and it is still possible to see the limestone corpses. The view from the top of the island lets you really appreciate the vastness of the Salar, at over 10000 square km, and 120m deep it is enormous, and blindingly white.
After breakfast, Raul hunts down a spot where we can find salt crystals that have formed in pools of mineral water under the salt. The salt attaches itself to the various minerals and creates beautiful large
crystals that can be squarish or like a snowflake. Not long after we are posing for the standard funny picture shots you get with the crazy depth of perception that the salt flats provide. It is good fun, but hard work, especially for Raul who has to lie on the concrete like salt for an hour and a half. Despite layering zinc on every hour we still get fried, as the sun smashes you from above, and from below with the reflection of the Salar.
It is now that the tour wraps up and we are taken to Uyuni, where we will luckily only stay one night, as the place is a dump, literally, as there is rubbish everywhere. It is a shame to see such a mess so close to one of the most spectacular landscapes on earth.
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