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Published: June 25th 2013
Volcano Licancabur (5950m) marking the border with Chile.
20th June and we set off from Tupiza at 8am on a 4 day adventure through the wilderness to finally end up at Uyuni. We were very lucky that Dan and Danielle from San Diego had already signed up to do the tour that we were looking to do, as you need a minimum of four people. Very lucky that they were such a lovely couple (comitting to 4 days in a jeep with strangers is a risk), we ended up having a blast.
The first day was driving through some amazing countryside, our Toyota Landcruiser was very comfortable and warm. Our driver David was wonderful and safe and the cook Irma had the most infectious laugh, we spent most of the time giggleing after her. The highest point we got to was at 4855m a view point for Laguna Morejon and Volcan Uturuncu (6008m). At every stopping point to admire the scenery the wind was howling and opening the doors was a struggle, there was no need to hurry us up, we were very efficient at appreciating and then getting back in the jeep before the seats got cold!
We spent the night in a small village (80
This was a real birthday treat.
people) at Quetena Chico in a single story brick building, no insulation, single glazing, corrigated iron roof, no heating, no electricity, and no fire. The night time temperature in this region is -25C, I have no idea what the temperature was inside but we could see our breath! I had socks, leggings, pyjamas, 3 layers on my top half, buff, wooly hat, sleeping bag, 3 blankets and I was still cold, also at 4100m it was hard to breathe, I didn't sleep a wink. We were all in bed by 8.30pm so it was a loooong night!
21st June (my birthday). We were woken up at 7am and it was a releif to get out of bed and have breakfast. Mark had requested a special breakfast for me which was a lovely surprise, we had pancakes with a fruit sauce which was wonderful and warming. The scenery this morning was beautiful, but it was so cold we sometimes stayed in the jeep and just took photos from the window. We saw Laguna Hedionda and Laguna Kolipa where they harvest minerals used in soap and export it to Chile. We passed Salar de Chalviri which isn't a salt flat but
is full of Borax which is also collected for export. Laguna Verde was the highlight of the morning, the colour of the lake was beautiful and the sky was so blue. Behind the lake is an extinct volcano Licancabur (5950m) which marks the frontier with Chile, the boundry splits the volcano in half.
The lunch stop was at Aguas Calientes with a chance to bath in some natural hot springs, this was a very welcome opportunity as it had been really hard to keep warm in the morning. After bathing in the lovely hot water (30 - 35C) for 20 minutes we all felt really good. Then after eating lunch we headed off again to Laguna Colorada, red because of the algae, usually filled with flamingoes but abandoned this time of year because of the freezing conditions. We saw some Tiwanaku rock paintings on the way to our second nights accomodation, amazing that the paint was still visible in such exposed conditions. Villa Mar was the village we stayed in with very similar accommodation provided although at 3800m it was a little better, also the beds were a bit bigger so we could share body heat! That nights dinner
was kicked off with a birthday cake surprise (I love eating pudding first) which was a wonderful extra surprise and a great way to end a birthday full of adventure. We were very impressed with the cook as the kitchen facilities were very basic (just a bottle of gas and two burners) and were not sure how she cooked the cake, but it was frying pan shaped!
22nd June, we set off at around 8am ish to Italia Perdida and Valle de las Rocas to see some interesting rock formations all created by natural errosion. The next stop was Laguna Negra, our favorite lake of the trip. We had a short walk to get there through a small canyon filled with rodents that looked a bit like large chinchillas/small wallabys. The lake was black and completly frozen, surrounded by red rock and green reeds, filled with water birds just pottering about on the surface. It was a beautiful scene and we were the only people there, very peaceful, the sun was shining and we were sheltered from the wind which added to our enjoyment immensley. Afterwards a short distance away we stopped at a cliff top to view a
snake like river, black and winding with white birds flying just above its surface. It was too scary for me to look over the edge, I had to lie down and even then wasn't too comfortable about it! Mark on the other hand was leaning over the edge taking photos, forcing me to close my eyes and freak out!
After a delicious picnic lunch in a valley full of llamas and frozen streams we headed off to see the highest geysers in the world (5000m). What an amazing sight, pools of bubbling grey liquid and sulphorous steam everywhere with mineral formations looking like feathers, a wierd and wonderful place. Next stop was the mummy necropolis at San Juan where the aymara people interned their dead in these natural rock formations like giant eggs, we had a guided tour and a small museum to see. Next stop was the salt hotel at Chuvica just outside the Salar de Uyuni. It was a similar altitude to the previous night but a lot warmer (relativley speaking) and had hot showers. Everything was made out of salt, the brick walls, floors, tables, chairs, beds etc, only the roof was metal. We had a
Incahuasi (fish island)
great last meal with Dan and Danielle and our guides gave us a bottle of wine. Our lovely and sensible guide David appeared to have also enjoyed a drink or two when he came to instruct us on the following days agenda. It was hard to tell if Irma had been drinking as she was always giggleing anyway!
23rd June, last day of the tour. Early start this morning, 5.30am to make sure that we got to Incahuasi (otherwise known as fish island which confused Mark) in time for sunrise. We got there just in time to climb to the top of the island to appreciate the sunrise. The walk to the top was no joke though, I was very out of breath struggling with the altitude, I think the early start and lack of breakfast didn't help. It was a beautiful place to sit and recover at the top though, and the stroll back down for a picnic breakfast (more cake) at the jeep was much easier. A stunning way to start the day and well worth any discomfort.
With breakfast finished we headed out into the salt flat to take some interesting photos (also known as
crazy photos by our guide David). You don't have to stand too far apart to get some very bizzare perspectives as you can see from our photos. Mark seemed to have found his calling and staged some really good photos. We stopped in the town of Colchani after seeing the salt collection, they basically just scrape it into mounds then shovel it onto trucks to be taken for processing. Lunch over our driver took us on to Uyuni and the end of the tour. A wonderful and unforgetable trip.
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