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Published: July 23rd 2006
Esther by Laguna Verde
The salt lake at the foot of Licancabur
Finally our high desert tour of South Western Bolivia... lakes, volcanoes, hot springs, GEEZERS and much more! Even got to see two ancient cemetaries with personal driver and cook to boot!
(Sean guest-writing)... While most tours of the Southwest start from Uyuni, circumstances found us in Tupiza, to the south, and it turned out that you could start the tour from there too - works better, because it is a little less popular and there is less of a danger of anti-climax, because you end up at the Salar salt lake last.
Basically you´re travelling in a 4X4 jeep for four days to see the entire Salar region... We booked for Sunday through the Valle Mermoso hostel, but the little matter of the Bolivian elections delayed us a day, and on Monday we were due to leave from our hostel at 9am, but ended up waiting a lot longer for various people to arrive in town, who had been stuck without transport because of the election.
We saw other jeeps leaving town as we waited around, our guys trying to keep us happy by saying they were just going to the local market even as they obviously sped out of town...
It worked better in the end, since it turned out there would only be the four of us: me and Esther plus Charles and Rhianna from the Bay Area, along with our cook Marta and driver Felix. He was not quite the fount of information we had been promised in advance, we had to struggle to get a word out of him at times, but a very good driver, a bit older than those of the other two jeeps we were travelling along with, and tended to do less crazy things... At the last minute we had one other passenger, a young schoolboy getting a lift to see his sick mother in the Altiplano. We eventually dropped him off in literally the middle of nowhere, no habitation in sight, but he seemed fine with it. Maybe his family live underground?
We crossed a dry river bed out of Tupìza then ascended a very American West looking mountain region called the Saddle - rocks and cacti abounded. We rose up into the Altiplano, the only vegetation being moss and the occasional bush. Stopped for lunch and were followed about by some sweet but hungry dogs and some hungrier fast-on-their-feet chickens... The
landscape grew bleaker as we carried on, finally making it to our first night´s stay, meeting some New Zealanders from the other jeep. Nothing at all going on in the village we stopped in, cold wind blowing, stars incredibly bright though!
The next day we stopped at a ghost village to see in the dawn (what´s the name of this village we asked our driver - the ghost village, he replied, ever full of info...) reputedly infested by spirits, then carried on, one of the other jeeps having to stop to repair a hole in its fuel tank - with soap! The other jeep stopped - with six tourists, plus driver, a cook and the cook´s daughter - only for one of the tourists to immediately fall down on the ground and be violently sick. Probably the altitude - that must have been a fun drive that day!
We crossed on into the Salar National Park (a line formed for the non-functional bathroom) then headed on to the first of many eerie white salt lakes and volcanic mountain background, then having a soak in a hot spring, which partially made up for the general lack of showers. Then further through
Our driver Felix
starts to show his stuff
a Martian landscape of red sand and boulder fields, to see Laguna Verde, and some bubbling geysers at 5000 m altitude (Esther terrfied of getting too close!) before the sun set. That second night we spent in some extremely basic accomodation, cold and windy on the edge of a dry salt lake, wrapped up together in all the blankets we could get. What made it worse is the other jeep´s driver gave the guys next to us a gas heater for the night to make sure they were comfortable...
Next morning we headed off - after a slight delay to fix a flat tire that appeared overnight - to see a heck of a lot of migrating flamingos in salt lakes along with ´icebergs´ of borax, some spectacular rock formations, including a famous ´rock tree´ that looks like it can´t last much longer, and a weird choppy lava landscape that served as a lookout on the slopes of active volcano Ollagüe. Incredible, desolate views - almost overwhelming. Bright, cold, dusty and dry... At lunchtime, we saw plenty of jeeps coming the other route from Uyuni, Andean foxes heading
Next we were scheduled to see the Cemetery of the Chullpas, whatever
Lone desert dog
high in the bleak Altiplano: came to get scraps from us, but had to compete with greedy chickens!
that was, but when we asked our driver he said that was a mistake it was even on the list, he had never even been there, and anyway it was hours away up a mountain. More or less as he said it, we saw the sign for it right beside us, and insisted we stop and take a look-see. It is an eerie stop with pre-Incan tribal skeletons from around 500AD left within rock formations like blooms of flowers (possibly coral?). Felix then told us they had all died in a flash-flood, which I think highly unlikely in the Bolivian altiplano, and went on to tell how his brother was in charge of the site... But he might have been trying to impress.
We headed on as the Sun descended, seeing the glimmer of the mighty Salar salt flat on the horizon, and approaching Puerto Chibica on the salt lake´s edge. They call it a port because apparently the salt lake does get liquid during the rainy season.
There we spent the next night, not a hotel of salt, but two of the beds in our room were made of salt... Didn´t fancy them though, went for a real one.
Ludicrously bleak village
We just stopped here for a bathroom break, but the bathroom was locked. High winds blowing the whole time...
Up at dawn the final day to see dawn over the Salar... to be continued!
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