This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tour in Photos to Salar Uyuni

Salar Uyuni
 I think that these past few blog posts I have complained enough about our terrible choice for a tour company to bring us into Salar Uyuni - the salt flats in Bolivia. However, I should not let their incredible suckiness get in the way of focusing on the positive. The positive being the incredible landscapes and the gifts given to us by mother nature. There are changing scenes of lakes surrounded by mountains, harsh deserts with no vegetation, hot springs, smoking volcanoes and the wide expanse that is the world's largest salt flats. The land is vast and the scenery never gets tiring. So for this post I am going to leave out most of the sordid details of the tour and focus on the images from start to finish.

Day 1
If you remember we started our tour in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. It is also possible (and maybe better and cheaper) to start a tour to the salt flats in Uyuni or Tupiza, Bolivia. Our tour starts with a bus trip to the Chilean passport control and then a half hour drive to a mud brick shack in the desert that serves as the Bolivian passport control. Here we are given hot drinks and sandwiches while we wait for our jeep to arrive.
A cheeky fox begging for some breakfast.
-These small canines should not be taken lightly
our driver tells us that one can take down a full-grown llama
photo courtesy of Hiro and Rena
Taking turns squeezing into
the back of the jeep
Our group consists of a woman from Wales, a German guy, a Japanese couple, us and our Bolivian driver. We hop in the jeep and are driven to the entrance of the national park where we sign in and pay our entrance fee - 150 Bolivianos (US $21.65). Back in the jeep to Laguna Blanca (White Lake). Here we see a large fox who quickly runs away and a small group of vicuña. Even though it is illegal to kill vicuña, they do not know that and scurry off as the humans approach. The white color of the lake is caused by borax - sodium borate.

Back in the jeep for a short drive and we get to the Laguna Verde (Green Lake). The green is caused by copper in the water. We are told that we are unlucky today because there is no wind. Wind blows causing the water to stir the minerals and create a shiny, bright green color. Today we only see one small spot of this effect. 
Unfortunately, not a green lake today
Back into the jeep to go to the hot springs. But we first stop to see Dali's Rocks - a cluster of large stones which are seemingly sprouting out of the sand. The rocks name is inspired by the artist's surreal paintings. The jeep actually does not bring us anywhere near close enough to get a good view of this sight.
That tiny spot in the bottom left third of the photo is
Mika trying to get a better view of Dali's rocks 
Next spot is the hot springs. They are not very hot, but comfortable. The mix of warm mineral water and altitude can induce light-headness. We stay in the pool for about a half hour. Today is not very cold so drying off and changing clothes outside is not so miserable.

After everyone dries off it is back in the jeep to stop at what appears to be inside the crater of an active volcano. Everywhere are natural small and large cauldrons of bubbling volcanic clay and steaming gas spewing from the ground. There is a slight smell of sulphur in the air. Walking around carefully not to step on any soft spots lest my shoes coated in hot volcanic mud I wish that I had a bottle to collect the mud which I am sure makes a great souvenir mud mask. This just might be my favorite place on the tour.

 Check out this "hot" video!

The last stop for the day is at our hotel. Lunch is very late, not very good and the drivers do not want to bring us anywhere else so we are stuck for the rest of the day. We were correctly warned that it will be very cold here at night. After dinner with the temperature approaching freezing we go out to look at stars and I see the Southern Cross for the first time. To sleep Mika and I decide to maximize warmth and share one small single bed. This ends up being a mistake because our six wool blankets actually make me too hot. Six wool blankets are also very heavy. It feels like a llama is laying on top of me all night. Plus me and many others wake up all through the night with headaches. This will happen when you try sleeping at around 4500 m (14.764 ft). 
Group dinner
photo courtesy of Hiro and Rena
Day 2
The next morning after breakfast we go to the Laguna Colorada (Red Lake) to see flamingos. The water's reddish color is caused by plankton that the flamingos like to chow on. There are very few birds here now because it is the wrong season. Most have flown to Argentina for the winter. The ones we see are too old to fly so far away and have to stick it out. I guess even for skinny, pink birds getting old sucks. In the summer months (Nov-Jan) this lake is teeming with flamingos (and tourists) and probably a great time to visit.
A flamingo retirement community
"Ugh! I should have stayed in Florida"
As we move along we pass more desert and more mountains stopping a couple times to take more photos. The next main point of interest is a group of stones that have been slowly eroded by water into odd shapes over time. The star of the place is the Tree Rock.
Tree Rock and Tourists
I never quite figure out why, but jumping photos
seems to be the thing to do
Good someone put this sign here to make sure
we are not peeing behind the wrong rock
Back into the jeep for more driving and more lakes. But first we go through a narrow, rocky pass to look for the vizcacha - which is something like a woolly rabbit with long whiskers closely related to the chinchilla. The driver honks his horn and two come out hoping for some treats. We do not oblige.
A vizcacha waiting for a treat
The next set of sites are the Highland lakes along with a stop for lunch. Here is also beautiful everyone is starting to get their fill of lakes (I am sure this includes you too just looking at the photos).

More lake and mountains
After lunch it is time to see an active volcano puffing away in the distance. This is the last stop of the day and we then still have to go a long way to get near the salt flats. As we drive and drive there are soon railroad tracks, our first sign of civilization. Our road passes along the edge of the salt flats and leads to our hotel made of salt blocks. We have a group dinner and everyone goes to bed early.
A smoking volcano
Salt block walls, table and stools 
Day 3
So far all of the stuff that we have been seeing for the past two days is nice, but really it is just to keep us busy. Today, our visit to Salar Uyuni - the salt flats is really why we are here and why we made such an effort to get to Bolivia. We leave the hotel after breakfast and take a short drive to the entrance of the salar.
First view of the salt flats covered in water
Now we have a bit of luck. During the rainy season the flats will be covered in water creating a giant reflective pool. Usually at this time of year the salt flats are completely dry and barren, but a few days ago it rained. So at the entrance to the flats we get to see the water effect which we thought we were going to miss. It is gorgeous so we stop to take some photos.

We continue on and the salty ground slowly goes from being covered in four inches (10cm) of water to being wet to finally completely dry. And this is where our tour ends because of the accident. So, instead of seeing some other sites, such as where they process the salt, we head straight to town driving for about an hour through the vast salt land that is Salar Uyuni.

To read about the Uyuni accident and its aftermath click here.

I did manage to squeeze in a few more photos. Salar Uyuni really is stunning and I have run out of superlatives to describe it, so I will just finish off with my last few photos of the tour.

All the ground is edible salt which we are now using for cooking

The International Rambler Interesting Tidbit:

Salar Uyuni holds 50% of the world's lithium deposits. Bolivia, Argentina and Chile have 85% of the world's supply. Insteaqd of just exporting the raw material Bolivia has recently broken ground on a factory that will so soon be manufacturing. So digital camera batteries Made in Bolivia might soon be at an electronics store near you.

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