The Red Planet Here on Earth

Published: March 14th 2014
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Red LagoonRed LagoonRed Lagoon

There was no touching up of this picture. The colors are just as the were, and just as beautiful.
Surprisingly I didn’t sleep too badly last night. I am not used to sleeping in a dorm, so wasn’t sure how it would go. No loud snoring, no late night wild parties, just a group of worn out travelers. Oh, and before I forget, it was mentioned that the beds were not in fact concrete, but salt. Duh. I don’t know why I didn’t put that together. Regardless, they were pretty darn comfortable. Breakfast was a quiet affair with instant coffee, bread, scrambled eggs, lunch meat, cheese (to build breakfast sandwiches) and fruit cocktail. Please don’t think less of me, but I ate 2 helpings of the stupid fruit cocktail. After not being able to eat for the first half of the week, I was starving.

We loaded our luggage on top of the Land Cruiser and set off for our next adventure. As we drove, we passed many fields of multicolored quinoa. What is sad is that now that quinoa is so popular throughout the world, the price has gone up to the point where it costs more than 4 times what rice costs; therefore, the locals can’t afford quinoa. As we drove through a barren desert, we came to a lone set of railroad tracks. Since we were out in the middle of nowhere, and had to get out of the car so the driver could cross the tracks with no real crossing available, we took some silly pictures on the tracks. It was nice to stretch our legs for a bit. Standing in this dusty flat desert called Chiguana, we were surrounded by volcanoes. Most of these are dormant, but one is still semi-active. After another long, dusty drive we stopped at a spot with better views of the semi-active volcano. The ground rose and fell in rocky waves with cracks and fissures running through the ground. There was this bright green plant that appeared to be covering a rock, but I am really not sure if it was, or if it was all plant. When I asked about it, I was told that it only grows approximately 1.5 centimeters a year and the name of it is Yareta. It was a most unusual looking plant with small, almost microscopic flowers on it. The sights of this place are incredible, especially noticing what can grow in such a desolate place. Usually while driving through areas I will see small huts or houses, but not here. It really appears that no one lives out in the high desert.

Not long after leaving the volcanic lookout place, we reached an Andean lagoon where a huge number of flamingos were standing and eating in the water. The lagoon seemed to have geysers behind them creating tornadoes of sulfur smelling steam. Honestly though, it was so windy that it could have been dirt picked up by the wind, but in my mind it was geysers. We were let out of the car up the hill so that the drivers and guide could prepare our lunch. The flamingos were all on the far side of the lagoon, but I was able to get some good pictures of them. It is amazing how skinny the legs are on a flamingo. I had pictured them standing on one leg, but for the most part they were all on both legs. Guess it must have been too windy for them to balance. Our lunch was once again delicious. We had breaded chicken, mashed potatoes and vegetables, including carrots, corn, peas, green beans and local corn which is much larger and much more white. I felt it resembled hominy, but it really is just corn. I loved it, so ate a good amount. After lunch several of us walked down alongside the lagoon where the flamingos were much closer to the shore. Seeing these birds was high on my list, so I was very satisfied with how many there were and how close we were able to get to them.

After leaving the flamingos, we started driving across the Siloli desert, the highest and driest desert in the world. As we drove, our guide would tell us our altitude. We finally peaked at 4,550 meters above sea level. The reason for the name of this blog is that the ground started becoming a red color. Dust was everywhere and even with the windows closed, I could feel it in my nose and taste the dust. The landscape was red, dusty, rocky and incredibly inhospitable. We were talking about how it looked as if we were crossing Mars. This reminded me of a short story we read in high school English class. It was by Ray Bradbury and was called Dark They Were, and Golden Eyed. It was a story of how people from Earth went to live on Mars, and slowly began resembling Martians I believe. To be sure that I am not simply making up the Red Planet connection, I will jump ahead to the next morning when I overheard some of the other group talking about how they felt they were on Mars. It was a very unusual landscape and came out well in some pictures. The roads were mere paths in the dirt, or rocky, rutted lanes going up the sides of hills. Our speed was very slow as we trucked onwards and upwards.

After leaving the Martian landscape, we stopped at these giant wind carved rocks out in the desert. I can understand how the wind could carve rock, as it was windy as all get out, plus cold. We were able to climb on some of the rocks for pictures. The iconic Rock tree rock was off limits, but it was really too small to climb on anyhow. I climbed up one of the medium rocks, and though you can’t tell from the picture, I was standing on the very top feeling most proud of myself. I was also feeling very cold, so I quickly climbed down and headed back to the car. Our final stop for the day was at the Red Lagoon. The water is red, although there are so many different colors in play there. We were on a bluff overlooking the lagoon and once again buffeted by very cold winds. I can’t imagine living in a place so harsh. We didn’t spend much time at the Red Lagoon, soon heading up to 4,900 meters to a place called Sol de Marnana. This was an active geyser area with sulfur gasses billowing out of the ground. As I walked around, I could see mud bubbling through cracks in the ground. At this elevation it was very cold and snow was pelting us for a while. It was good to finally leave and head to our hostel for the night.

Often times I joke about Pamper Brendan, but this is a night where Rough-It Brendan had to come into play. The word I would use for the hostel would be bleak. It had no running water, no showers (obviously) and no regular electricity. They turned a generator on at 7:30 to power the one light in our dorm room. In spite of all of this, it was comfortable and warm. The bathroom situation was what one would expect in a place with no water, but it was something to accept and move on. Dinner was a wonderful soup followed by a nasty lasagna of onion and a really strong cheese. Some of the group liked it, but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around the pungent, almost blue cheese taste. But, once again, this is part of traveling. I never imagined that I would love everything I was served, nor did I complain about anything. If I wanted everything perfect, I could stay at home and do it for myself. After dinner we were able to go to a natural hot spring. I had looked forward to this for a long time, but the others in my group did not want to go. Honestly I had some reservations about walking over 100 meters in the cold, but I made up my mind that I wanted this and this was going to happpen. The cold wind had died down, so it was a bit warmer out than I had anticipated. I undressed and quickly slid into the heavenly warm water. This thermal bath is continually fed by hot springs, so was clean, clear and a perfect temperature. I discovered a hot zone where the sand on the bottom was actually hot. I can’t begin to describe how amazingly good it felt to dig my hands and feet in this hot sand and soak up the warmth. All the while, I was looking at a sky filled with stars like I have never seen. The Milky Way was brighter and more intense than I have ever seen. The moon was more like a spotlight than the moon I am used to. Being out in the pitch black desert, the stars were able to shine like they were meant to shine, and of course being in the Southern Hemisphere, many of the stars were different from what I see back home. Of all the experiences so far on this trip, this was probably my favorite. Getting out of the water, drying off and heading up to the hostel was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated. Did I sleep well after an hour hot soak? Oh heck yes I did. What a perfect end to an incredible day.

The next morning we had fruit cocktail, just 1 this time thank you very much, pancakes and coffee. As we were eating, we watched load after load of tourists pulling up to the hot springs. At one point I counted 11 cars of people. The tour I was on cost a bit more than some of the others, but the payoff was in better food and being able to soak in the hot spring under the stars. We drove through the Dali Desert with its multicolored hills to a Green Lagoon. The water was so calm that the mountains behind were perfectly reflected in the water. Once again, the pictures can tell the story much better than I can. After leaving the Green Lagoon, we piled back in the Land Cruiser and made a bee-line for Uyuni. It was a long, hot, dusty, bumpy ride through hours of desert. One of the other Cruisers had a flat tire, so we spent some time watching llamas enjoying a stream. Not long after that we stopped for lunch in a small town. Lunch was again very nice. They made a big platter of diced cucumber, tomato, mushrooms, olives and cheese. This was paired with rice and canned tuna. For lunches out in a desert setting, the cooks did a superior job and I was impressed.

After nearly 800 km, we were back in Uyuni. I walked the 4 blocks to my hotel and started to deal with my annual money crises. I had planned on getting some money out of an ATM the next day, but realized that I had never called my bank to let them know I was going to be out of the country. I notified my credit card company, but since my travel ATM card is always in the money clip I use for traveling, I didn’t have to pull it out of my wallet and it just slipped my mind. After trying many different ways to call the bank, I was able to successfully contact them and avert any issues. Ugh. I am not sure how I can continue to do these silly things. It was nice to have a hot shower to wash the dirt and grime off from being in the car for so long. And yes, I slept like the dead. It was just what I needed.

A taxi picked me up in the morning to take me to the airport. It is such a small airport that there are two airline counters, one arrival gate and one departure gate. The plane was a small prop plane that probably held 20 passengers or so. There was no flight attendant, no preflight spiel pointing out doors and telling us how to buckle our seat belt, and most surprisingly, no door to the cockpit. I was in the first seat, so had a wonderful view of the pilot and copilot doing their preflight checks and eventually taking us down the runway and up into the air. It was a hoot to sit and watch the two of them fly the plane. All too soon we landed in La Paz and it was back to the busy city life.

Additional photos below
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14th March 2014

I know what I am getting you for your bday
A flamingo!! The things I learn about you while you are traveling!! AWESOME blog!!! Well done. LOVED LOVED LOVED the description about the stars and the hot springs. How you could NOT come all the way down there and take advantage of that!!!! Hope the trip continues to get even better! Love you! I will also help remind you before you leave again with your ATM... glad you are not perfect. LOL!
14th March 2014

like a painting
Ok, seriously, when I saw the first picture of the Red Lagoon, I honestly thought it was a painting! Pictures are super cool, glad you're enjoying the trip! :)
14th March 2014

Green light for Red Planet blog
Great description and unique perspectives. You gave us just a glimpse of the self-confident Chef Brendan in your comment on the meal: \"If I wanted everything perfect, I could stay at home and do it myself.\" Well said. That\'s what some of my guests have probably thought. But they can\'t fault my effort.
14th March 2014
Red Lagoon

Great photo!
Love how the clouds are coating the mountains like another layer. Beautiful colors . . . and, sidenote, 3 fruit cocktails total? Brendan, I never . . . :)
15th March 2014
Red Lagoon

Thank you Michelle
The layers and colors in this are some of my favorites of the trip. And what can I say? Fruit cocktail takes me back to my childhood.
14th March 2014
Llamas by the Springs in the Morning

Salt, steam & stars
Your pictures are delightful, your enthusiasm palpable. Sounds like no better place for a natural hot tub under the stars...heavenly no doubt.
15th March 2014
Llamas by the Springs in the Morning

Thank you so much
I find that writing just flows when I am caught up remembering a wonderful moment. And that was truly a wonderful one.
14th March 2014

You always always make us laugh
Two helpings of fruit cocktail....oh please tell me it was homemade and not out of a can. Oh well, if it tasted good...go for it. As you were talking about the flamingos being on two legs instead of balancing on one due to the wind I kept picturing cow tipping in Ohio. Strange where the mind wanders. So glad you went to the hot springs. We did that in Iceland and were so happy we did. We won't discuss the ATM. Ah, back to the city life.
15th March 2014

*Shaking my head sadly*
I wish I could say it was homemade, or even a good quality, but unfortunately, neither were true. I am glad you had some laughs over the blog. Cow tipping never came to my mind, but I can see where that could pop in. Thanks for writing.
15th March 2014

Very interesting
Hi Brendon, thought I'd check to see if you'd started your travels yet, so shall catch up on your blogs! What incredible scenery, your photos capture that vast alien landscape beautifully. The food sounds yummybut can't understand why Quinoa is so popular, I think it tastes fairly nasty and reminds me of frogspawn.
20th March 2014

another amazing post
The landscape really is Mars-like. I think my favourite part is you describing your soak in the hot springs and looking up at a sky full of stars. That would be a moment i would treasure forever.
21st March 2014

It is out there waiting for you
I think you would love it. I know I will always remember it.
8th May 2014

Like they were meant to
"....the stars were able to shine like they were meant to shine." I love how you've worded this. Reminds me of when I was on Pitt Island (NZ), the stars were so bright and seemed so close as though I could almost have just reached out and touched them. Would have made a perfect ceiling for a hot spring!
9th May 2014

Thank you so much Jo. Living in a big city, I forget how stars shine when there is not so much light around. It was a very special feeling to really be able to enjoy them. I am so glad you have been able to appreciate them in their full brightness as well.

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