Salt Flat Tour (MW)
Trip Start May 14, 2011
69Trip End May 14, 2012
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The tour lasts for 4 days but we chose to add one more day and climb a volcano on the edge of the lake (seemed like a good idea at the time). We hooked up with a German girl and a French couple who were keen to do the same trip and set off with a cool little Bolivian guide and his wife for 5 days in some eerie and isolated areas.
When you're at this height the land seems to go forever - a mountain that looks like a 10 minute drive takes 45 minutes to reach
After being amazed for three days by snow capped peaks in the sand desert, active volcanos, and thermal mud geizers we reached Laguna Colorado. The minerals and micro-organisms in the lake turn the water red. Flamingos walk in ankle deep water and have turned pink from filtering the water as they eat. This was a scene I had been waiting to see for three days and I think Iona has been waiting since we decided to head to Bolivia. The lake sits below some large mountains covered in snow and is in the middle of a desert. There are of course a few tourist jeeps like ours around, but it feels like you’re in one of the really special places in the world that has to be seen to be believed.
An advantage of being at this altitude in the desert with no pollution is the sky at night. The stars from here had everyone outside in temperatures that would freeze important parts off a brass monkey.
I think the Salar de Uyuni is pretty well known
The volcano was meant to be a reasonably easy climb to 5600 meters. Easy apart from the fact that at this height breathing was really difficult. We didn’t have enough time to acclimatise but didn’t think the affects would be too bad. Things went south when the road was closed by the farmers so we had to walk to the volcano instead of drive (a 10 km walk from 4000 meters) up a steady climb to the foot of the hill. By the time we reached the foot we were stuffed, I couldn’t breathe, had eaten all the chocolate and energy foods and was wondering why it looked so steep.
Our guide then let slip the next vital piece of information - he had never taken this route before but we had to keep going because the easy route was at the back of the volcano where we should have driven to
Eventually light (or lack of it) won the day and we had to stop 200 meters from the summit. 200 meters sounds like nothing, but with the gradient of the mountain it would have taken around an hour or more to make the last little piece. We guessed we were at 5400 meters and stopped for 10 minutes on the ridge of the volcano with steep sides to look out over 220 kms of the salt lake from 1.5 kms above it. This time there were no other tourists, just our little group (dressed in hiking gear and carrying packs of water and food while our Bolivian guide did it with a bottle of water in his hand, $20 sneakers and never once puffed).
The salt lakes were a serious highlight. In 10 months when we are cutting around in China or somewhere similar I know we will still be talking about this trip.