4 incredible days in a jeep

Trip Start Feb 21, 2006
Trip End Sep 11, 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, April 23, 2006

The south west circuit is a very popular tour in Bolivia, so much so that there is vicious competition between agencies, resulting in horrifying cost cutting - after hearing nightmare stories about jeeps breaking down in the middle of the desert, drivers falling asleep at the wheel, missing luggage and inedible food we decided to go with one of the more reputable (and expensive) agencies - a good decision as we had a fantastic 4 days with no disasters.

My words (and even the photos) canīt really do justice to the mind blowing scenery we saw. The first day was one of the least exciting, but even so we saw stunning valleys with colourful rocks eroded into cigar shapes, llamas grazing on desolate tussock-covered hills and snow capped mountains, and we spent the night in a dusty, rustic wee village at the foot of Mt Lipez. At 4,200m above sea level we were starting to feel the effects of the altitude - it sure makes you feel unfit when even unpacking leaves you gasping for breath!

The second day was a long one - it started with breakfast at 5.30am which was a bit of a shock! The first stop was a ghost village close to the mountain, complete with llamas wandering around the ruins. We saw some incredible lagoons, coloured white, green and blue from the various minerals in them; drove through the Desierto Dalí (named as such because it feels like youīre in the middle of a surrealist painting); played football with some local kids in a little village until we nearly collapsed from the exertion; wallowed in a thermal pool for a while; and stopped at some geysers which were furiously steaming away at (almost) 5,000m above sea level. We stayed the night at some purpose-built accomodation near a lagoon - not exactly luxurious with no hot water, no heating, no electricity after about 11pm and no running water at all in the morning - the joys of being on tour!

Day 3 saw us stopping at Laguna Colorado early in the morning to watch thousands of flamingoes wallowing in the red water. We drove through another desert with psychadelic rocks and stopped at a wierd lava flow at the foot of a steaming volcano. We were very excited to arrive at our rooms for the night at the Hospedaje de Sal - everything from the floor to the tables to the beds were made of salt!

The 4th day was probably the most exciting, and definitely the strangest. We got up super early to watch the sun rise over the Salar de Uyuni - 12,000 sq kms of salt flat that was formed when an inland sea that had been pushed several kilometres upwards in a massive earthquake slowly evaporated, leaving behind a layer of salt around 65cms deep. In winter the whole Salar is covered with a layer of water but at this time of year there is only water around the edges which in the stillness of the morning perfectly reflects the sky so that you canīt see where the land ends and the sky begins. We jumped out of the jeep on the dry part of the Salar and took some crazy photos (see the photo album) then climbed to the top of Isla de Pescado, an island of coral and sand, covered in ancient catctuses, in the middle of a sea of salt - it felt very surreal to be sitting on the top of it.

After a visit to the Cemetery of Trains the tour finshed up in Uyuni where we spend the night - a complete dump, only redeemed by a fantastic pizza restaurant run by an American - I canīt tell you how excited we were to find sun dried tomatoes and feta cheese on a Bolivian menu!
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