Friday, April 25, 2014

Bolivia - Parte Dos

While Ron had his Puma Punku, the highlight in Bolivia for me was the Salar de Uyuni.....

There are several ways to attack this region.  A circle tour, beginning and/or ending in Uyuni in the north or Tupiza in the south, or a 4 day shot heading one way in either direction.  We opted to head the furthest south we were prepared to go in Bolivia, and picked up a tour in Tupiza, most notorious for being the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid met their demise.  The geography of this place is reminiscent of the old west, with its painted rocks, and red sandstone formations.  By sunset (no photos, sorry) it practically throbbed with colour.  But other than that, and the 50,000 pizza joints around town, there wasn’t much reason to stay aside from starting our Salar trip.  Coming at the end of our two month South American odyssey, we gulped a bit when we heard the price, but the trip included a driver/guide, the transportation, all the meals cooked by the guide, and accommodations.  Not included was the national park entry fee. 

Day 1:
We covered the most miles at the start.  Make sure you choose your trip wisely (company, vehicles, guides, etc), and more importantly, check out your traveling companions.  We were in the SUV with one Austrian and one English girl, plus one French guy, and we all had a TON of good music.  Truly excellent traveling companions, we laughed together for days!  

The trip is truly a cross-country extravaganza, with NOT MUCH OF ANYTHING from one stop to another.  The views and topography, however, were pretty spectacular.  The best…..we didn’t have to drive!

Along the way, we had the opportunity to partake of our drivers’ stash of coca leaves.  We LOVED that he ate them the entire time…..made him hyper aware on some of the twisty-turny switchbacks and dicey driving conditions.  No coca, no good!

Lunch was spent in this thriving and bustling Bolivian town, of Cerrillos.  180 people make this place home – I think we saw 5 of them.  Ethnicity is Quechua, and both the native tongue and Castilian Spanish are spoken.  

Further along the way, we came to the ghost town of San Antonio de Lipez, a thriving mining area where gold, silver, copper and zinc were extracted.  Local lore has it that there is a curse on the area, due to a pact that the residents made with the devil.  But upon being rejected, the devil took his mining interests down to Chile, and the area “dried up”.  Looking around the area, I’d say that the curse was still in effect.

The place makes Nevada look like a veritable Garden of Eden.  It was high, dry, windy, and cold.

At our first stop for the night, a pretty basic dorm-style longhouse greeted us, along with 4 (yes, 4) alpaca blankets for each bed.  No electricity, no heat, no water…..I had to pull out the first bottle of wine I brought to take the edge off.  The local atmosphere makes for perfect conditions to create llama jerky (this batch hanging on the clothesline to dry was an interesting sight).

Day 2:
After a breakfast of a fried egg and a roll for each of us (trust me, the kitchen conditions made this a miracle unto itself), off we went to look at some rocks and lakes.

Along the way, the facilities were a bit rudimentary.  We weren’t EXACTLY sure where the WC was. 

Conditions out here are HARSH…..I was desperate for a ride and not many trucks were coming along!

Coloured lagoons, red, green white…….

Day 3:
We came across the Morning Sun Geyser Basin.  Bubbling mud, geysers, and fumeroles.  The steam, combined with the cold wind made for wacky ice sculptures, and the sound, standing next to the steam holes was like a locomotive – LOUD!

Lots of flamingos…

Backcountry Bolivia has interesting signs……

Still in the spirit of the trip, we needed to find a few dead people, naturally.  

We spent our last night in a hostel built entirely of salt….really, I tried it. 

 The tables and chairs were all made of salt….

The walls, salt….

The floors, crushed salt….

The platforms that our mattresses were on, they were salt too….

The signs were still strange……

We cracked my last bottle of wine at dinner, huddling around the candle to keep warm, in anticipation of The Salar, tomorrow.  

Day 4:
Pretty darn spectacular views.

Incahuasi Island, where the Inca would stop for water and ceremonial reasons, was located in the middle of the flats, and where we had breakfast.  That coffee cake came a long way, having been baked 4 days earlier.

After breakfast, we, of course, had to take the obligatory funny photos…

Goofing in the Train Cemetery outside of Uyuni.  

 And just like that, our 4 day trip was done.