Here we go again. After leaving the Bolivian Amazon Basin, we headed back UP to La Paz to re-acclimate to both the elevation and cold in preparation for our trek to the infamous Salar de Uyuni, the enormous dried up salt sea. Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/salar_de_Uyuni for the real scoop. The Salar sits at about 3500 meters and to get there we will cross passes up to 5000 meters. And to top it all off we are going to do it in the dead of winter. We’re really not very smart. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; first we need to get from La Paz to the town of Tupiza, the staging area for treks headed into the Salar.
To get there we took a long bus ride with an equally long train ride. Once there you hire a trekking company to supply you with an appropriate vehicle, a cook and driver/guide, and all the necessary gear. We had made a reservation at a Hostel near the train station knowing that we would arrive in the middle of the night. When we arrived at what we thought was our Hostel they told us they were all booked up. Now what? Well, walking around the dimly lit streets of an unknown town can be a bit intimidating, and maybe even dangerous, so we made Iain go first. After what seemed like hours we found a small Hostel with a couple of rooms available. We checked in as quickly as possible and were in our beds by 4:30AM. Our trek was scheduled to begin at 8AM the same morning. Nice beginning. As an aside none of the hostels/hotels in Bolivia, at least the ones we stayed at, had heat and it was really cold. We got our few hours of sleep, showered in ice cold water and headed for Tupiza Tours, the trekking company we had hired for our little adventure.
Inside the nice, warm Land Cruiser
The above picture shows our companions nestled comfortably in the Land Cruiser for the first time and meeting our co-trekker Andy, from the United States. From the above you’re probably wondering why. Good question; although tough and uncomfortable at times, this part of the world is one of the most amazing places we have ever seen, and Tupiza Tours did a Great job of keeping us as comfortable as possible. Take a look at the pictures that follow and we think you’ll agree.
After a few bumpy hours over some pretty tough terrain we stopped to stretch our legs. “Pat, what the heck are you looking at?” Carrie asks. Pat attempting to draw on all his geological expertise responds with: “Don’t know. Looks like some jaggy red rock formations to me. Maybe formed by years of erosion.” Carrie responds sarcastically with: “Ya think??? Let’s get a closer look.”
A closer look confirms Pat’s ‘expert’ opinion and he let’s Carrie know it too: “See, I told you so!”
OK, back in the land cruiser for a couple of more hours of tailbone through the cranium driving and it’s lunch time. Our bums are so sore we decide to eat standing up. And eat we did! The food the entire trip was excellent. Our chef, standing next to Carrie, did an outstanding job. From left to right we have: Aly Loonie, Andy our new friend and fellow trekker from the USA, our Driver, Iain Loonie, our head chef, and Carrie. Pat was somewhere. We decide that we are not getting back into the Land Cruiser without a little hike, so….
Yeah, that’s ice! Just minutes after starting our little hike we stumble upon this little creek. In case you didn’t notice how bundled up we were in the last photo, this should confirm how COLD it was. Fortunately it was sunny and that helped. Pat hadn’t even got cranky yet, although he was starting to complain about a sore bum.
They kind of look like Tribbles, don’t they (Star Trek fans know)? Anyhow the light shining on these hardy little plants looked pretty cool, so we got a picture. And these guys were everywhere. How the heck they survived in this environment is beyond us.
Rush Hour in the Andies. We stop at the bus stop, at least we think it was a bus stop, to see if the bus driver spots the Llama as he zips down the, ahhh, road (?).
“Hey, look you guys! Buttons is standing in the middle of the road drinking again. She’s going to get herself made into a rug this time!”
Well, not to worry, Buttons survived and the bus stopped to pick up the new fares. Now, look around, do you see any signs of civilization? What are these people doing out here? It really was amazing to see these isolated houses, in extremely desolate areas. Apparently, there was enough food/water to survive.
Day one continues as we head for our evening accomodations. We made a few stops as photo ops made themselves present. Speaking of isolated; How about this housing development?
A closer view. And it was still cold.
We’re almost home for the evening. This little village would be our lodging for the night. “Hey, where’s the Marriott?”
With evening approaching we entered the village and noticed these two kids playing in the street. I guess we didn’t have to tell them to be careful and watch for traffic. We saw few adults, which we found interesting. We think they were all indoors enjoying an evening imbibement in order to stay warm.
Surely not Notre Dame, but still a pretty cool building.
Ok, another isolated housing development. How do they pick these spots? We just had to throw in a black and white photo.
The view from just above our hotel. We were housed in the closest building in the picture. One thing about Bolivia; there is NO heat. None of the places we stayed at provided any form of heating; just bundle up and curl up!
Main Street is pretty quiet in this little village. Are they hiding from us or what? Only kids were interested enough to come out and visit with us.
Hey, I think they’re laughing at us. Do I have something under my nose or what?
Iain prays to the god of heat just prior to the start of the feast. In truth the food was hot and tasty.
Dinner is served! Here you see Aly dressed in her best evening dinner gown, while Iain scoops the goodies with his best dinner gloves.
With our bellies full and a good night sleep behind us, it’s time to get motivated and head on down the road, as the sun awakens behind the ole’ cruiser. Ahhh… go west young man, go west! It didn’t take much time to get ready, as we were fully dressed, parkas, hats and gloves on. Just role up the sleeping bags and shove off. “Hey, can we stop at a Circle K for some coffee? I’m dying here.” Pat complains. Oh no the cranky beast begins to awaken.
Sun is up and time for our first stop. No wonder it’s so damn cold, we’re at almost 5000 meters. Where’s the oxygen and still no sign of a Circle K?
There were so many places to take pictures, that it became hard to choose when to stop. We would ask to stop, thinking it can’t get any better than this, but around the next bend another great photo op! By the way, It was still cold!
We kind of like the black and white shots.
Vicuna running around doing who knows what. Looks like a water color painting doesn’t it.
Another ‘painting’, but this time in black and white. It may look like snow, and God knows it was certainly cold enough, however, this is salt and these guys are doing a little harvesting.
Well, this is one way to beat the cold; a huge hot spring. Getting out is a problem, however. We think these people had been in the tub for over a week. Are you wondering why there is only color in the water? We told you Bolivia was unique.
The view from inside the hot spring. Once warm color seemed to return to normal. These extreme elements can play tricks on the mind.
Talk about COLOR! How about this? I know you’re thinking the photos are ‘touched-up’, and they are a little, but this is pretty close to the way we really saw it. Impressive and desolate. Oh, and check out the road. This is as good as it got, and Pat’s bum was hurting, and he was letting us all know about it.
We got to the National Park entrance at rush hour and had to wait nearly zero minutes. We stopped to pay our entrance fees, take a potty break, stretch our legs and let Carrie…..
…..find the local mascot. It was love at first sight between Carrie and this lovable critter. “Just scratch my belly until I tell you to quit” meows the little fur ball. We had to wrestle the two apart in order to continue the journey.
We were oblivious to the wind as it whipped furiously around us, engrossed in the grandiour and colors exploding before us. Actually, it was more like; “Quick, take the d@#$ picture, I’m freezing!”
Ah, come on Carrie, just one pictiure of you. SMILE! She replies poetically with: “Hurry up moron, I’m freezing here.”
Well, if you didn’t like the color just a few miles back, just wait. Truly, there was something new to tingle the senses constantly.
WHAT, Flamingos!? Are we in Florida? Nope, apparently these long legged guys like to summer in the mountains. Somehow, this lonely guy and a few of his buddies must have missed the bus, because we saw very few. Put some socks on, man. Those long legs must be cold.
In case you didn’t believe us that there are flamingoes up here, this graphic from one of the park stations gives you the full scoop.
WOW! Doe this look like a Salvadore Dali painting or what? This area is aptly named the Dali Desert.
More from the Dali Desert. We could have spent days in this area just taking photos. As the light changed the entire scene would change. A must see.
Let’s get up close and personal in the Dali Desert. A little artistic (?) license added in an attempt to communicate the eeriness or Dali like quality of this vast and desolate moonscape.
All he is saying is give peace a chance! Our cook and travel companion posing in the Dali Desert with an important message. Are all you politicians listening? We found that throughout Latin America we were judged as individuals and not by the politics of our country. This seemed to apply to all nationalities that we came across. People just being people.
Time for lunch. While our cook and driver prepare an elaborate gourmet meal, we’re all off taking pictures. This was just another really cool area to hike around in and take photos. Here we have Carrie taking a picture of Pat taking a picture. What the heck is he looking at?
Ahh.. now we see what he was looking at; funny, furry, green stuff.
As we hiked up the hill from the Land Cruiser an active volcano came into view, with some more of the tribble like plants. The volcano cooperated and didn’t burp too badly. Unlike Pat after lunch.
We marched on after lunch continuing to climb ever so steady until cresting at, at…. well the altimeter tells the story. That’s 4900 meters!
Where there are volcanos there must be boiling mud flats. What was really cool was that there were not fences or roped off areas. We were free to walk directly down into the boling unmedicated goo to capture this interesting shot.
The day fades into evening and it’s time to find shelter for the evening. This little establishment boasted nice clean dorms, freezing cold showers, and most importantly; A wood burning stove. The first semblance of heat we had seen in days. On the subject of the showers; You have not properly showered until you try it with spring water at 16,000 feet. Believe me, you don’t linger.
Ahh.. the aforementioned wood burnig stove. Even Iain looks happy. Is that a bottle of rum on the outside of Iain’s pack. Ummm. we’re going to be warm inside and out.
There goes Carrie again, taking a picture of Pat taking a picture. Maybe it was unintentional because Pat was in the way all the time.
Let’s see what Pat was looking at. Wind, and lots of it, blowing salt across a salt flat. Fortunately, Pat had put on a few pound so the wind had little effect on him.
Vicuna running away from a formidable dust devil. What the heck are they doing up here? What do they eat? There doesn’t appear to be anything here to eat.
We gave you a peek earlier (see the lunch time photos) at the active volcano in the area, but this shot shows smoke spewing from the top left side of the volcano.
Day three comes to an end and it is time to curl up on our salt beds. Yep, you guessed it. The beds and the floor were made of salt. That must mean we’re close to the Salar de Uyuni. Not sure what Iain is doing making the ‘L’ symbol above his head. Hey, wait he’s insinuating that Carrie and Aly are losers. Boy, not nice Iain. And yes, it was still cold as evidenced by our sleepwear. The plan was to get to sleep early and get moving about an hour before dawn in order to see the sun rise over the Salar. Hearts pounding in anticipation, we put down our books and, exhuasted after a full day, tumble into a deep sleep. Actually the electricity went out so we said goodnight.
Grudgingly, without any caffeine, we got out of bed and jumped into the cruiser and headed for the Salar. We stopped just prior to sunrise to capture this shot. Note the patterns in the salt. You’ll see plenty of this in the photos that follow. This is a dried up sea bed.
And the sunrise over the Salar. WOW!! The light glimmering on the top of the salt ridges was amazing. We were told that it is even more amazing during the rainy season. Really hard to believe. I guess we’ll have to go back.
As we push forward to our rendevous with breakfast, an island in the middle of the Salar, we spot some fellow trekkers in a bright red cruiser with the same idea. Nice wheels!
We round the ‘island’ where breakfast awaits. We had never walked around an island before. This should be fun.
In case you doubted us, it really is an island: Isla Incahuasi in fact. And, yes, still at a high elevation.
Ummm… caffeine. Breakfast was set up while we meandered aimlessly about the island. Aly had her priorities in order, however, and prepared her cup for the coming java. In the background you can see part of the park ranger station located on the island.
The view from near the top of the island, with the ranger station in the foreground, and the freeway leading out to the egde of the Salar. Do we take the left turn or straight? Hopefully our driver knows.
Look carefully for a small speck near the center of the picture and you’ll see Andy, our fellow trekker, hiking to, to nowhere.
This place is huge and magnificant. How are these patterns formed? Somebody google it and leave the answer in the comment section for us. Thanks!
Cactus, cactus, and the road to somewhere. The place really made you feel small.
Although the island appears large, we were able to circumnavigate by foot in under an hour.
Bellies full from another outstanding breakfast and the cruiser fully loaded, it is time to move on. What’s next? How do you top the last few hours? Reluctantly, we load ourselves up.
Our always happy crew pose for yet another picture. “Ok, you guys, now get into the cruiser or I’m leaving your sorry gringo butts here in the middle of nowhere” Naw, they really didn’t say that. As a matter of fact we should give these guys a plug because they were awesome. They worked for a trekking company called Tupiza Tours.
We’re nearing the end of 4 unbelievable, albeit, difficult days, so it’s time for the group photo.
Biker gangs in the Salar? Well, not exactly, these guys were part of an organized tour starting in Peru and were from all over the world. What a way to travel! The building in the background is totally made of salt. Let’s hope Iain doesn’t knock one of the bikes over.
The salt was harvested and used for many purposes, from bulding materials, art, and yes, even table use. We actually bought a few candlestick holders made totally of salt.
And this is the processing factory. Most everything was done by hand.
Could this be our transportation back to Tupiza? Naw, we just thought it looked pretty cool. Not sure how you get to the front door.
The dining room for our last luncheon together was made entirely of salt and we mean entirely. Table, chairs, walls all salt. Ok, the curtains, cup, and blankets weren’t salt, but almost everything.
We enjoyed a nice cool beer at lunch and you know what happens to beer. Peeking her head around a crack in the door Carrie calls out: “Hey, how do you use one of these toilets?” Believe it or not this was a pay toilet. When in need any price will be paid.
Is this our transportation back to Tupiza? Naw, just a train graveyard. We visited the yard after lunch which concluded Tupiza Tours obligation to us. Note the classified ad on the side of the train: An experienced mechanic needed. We think this train is past the need for a mechanic. Hey. do you think this train was robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?
These trains were just too cool! Well, time to go. Tupiza Tours final duty was to see the five of us safely into the small town of Uyuni, where we were to say our final goodbyes. Andy was heading off to unknown destinations, while the Loonies (Iain and Aly) were going to head back to their boat in Lima, Peru. Andy, if you’re out there let us know what you’re up to these days. As for us, we were in need of some serious R&R, so we decided to get to lower elevation as quickly as possible and find a warm comfortable village to hang out in for awhile. But that’s the subject of the next update which includes Southern Bolivia, Northern Argentina, a revisit with Roxi in Bariloche, and our incredible Marriott stay in Santiago, Chile. Ahh…. life is good!
“Hope you Gringos enjoyed your visit to my beautiful country, and don’t be strangers, come again. Hey, and don’t forget to tell your friends about us.” I think we just did young man, I think we just did.