Toxic lakes, smoking volcanoes and flamingos!

Trip Start Sep 20, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hey hey!

So... i´ve already been on the internet 2 hours and I´m only just starting to write this so its not going to get finished! But at least I can put a spot on my little map :o)

I'm in Uyuni after a fabulous 4 days exploring southwest Bolivia in a jeep :o) we saw so much cool stuff I hardly know where to begin! I was in a group with 3 others, Debra the aussie woman who I went riding with, plus Lu and Krigga who also went riding. We had a really good laugh, which is just as well as we spent a very long time sitting in the jeep! Our driver was called Marco and our cook was his sister Sonia, who were both really nice :o)

The first day was the least interesting as we had to drive soo long to get to the cool stuff later. But we saw the Valle de Luna (valley of the moon) which was a stream of dry lava, and we saw lots of Llamas, Vicuñas and some Vischacas which are kind of like a cross between a rabbit and a chinchilla. Also saw a dust tornado, really close! It wasn't very big but iv never seen one before so it was cool :o)

(FYI I´m now in Cochabamba and its 24 hours later, and I have loads of time to kill so get ready for a mega entry :oP and some photos!)

The second day was much much more fun than the first, we actually got some breaks from the hours of driving in the jeep! The place we stayed on the first night was pretty basic, just a room with beds in, and an outside toilet! We got up early at 5am as we had a long day ahead. Unfortunately Debra wasn't feeling so great - as she had come straight from Argentina so was not used to the altitude. She hadn't really slept and couldn't eat any breakfast, textbook symptoms! Anyway we set off and firstly went through an old gold mining village - huge for the area (about 5000 people) but not totally desolate and falling down, creepily like a ghost town. Not long after we saw our first mini-salar (salt flat), a shining white patch that looks like snow and glistens in the light! Pretty cool :o) Also saw the first of many lagunas. The lagunas are fascinating because each one contains a different mix of chemicals and minerals, even if they are very close together, so they look very different. Our guide didnt know the reason for the disparity...

The first uber-cool moment of the day was slightly unexpected! Not long before lunch we are driving through a small village and see a woman hacking chunks of a dead llama by the side of the road, so our cook shouts for us to stop, and goes over for a look. Being curious me and Krigga followed :o) The llama had been killed by slitting its throat and they had collected all the blood in a bowl. When we arrived they were very neatly butchering in, first removing the intestines (another bowl), and then dissecting it. It looked pretty tasty actually! So Sonia (cook) bought a large rack of ribs :o) and a bag of intestine .oS luckily only the former was for us!

We also saw our first flamingoes! They were at a reasonable distance, but they´re so cool! Can´t remember which lake they were in, more on flamigoes later .o)

Our lunch stop was awesome - at the aguas thermales (hot springs)!! When we arrived there was no one else there, and we changed into swimming cossies and got in - it was like taking a bath! We lounged around with the mountains and a beautiful laguna in the background, and would quite happily have stayed there all day :o) unfortunately after 20 minutes first one more jeep arrived, then about another 10 so our peace was disturbed :o( but at least we got our relaxing time, once they all got in they were fighting for space! So we made a swift exit and went to grab some lunch (and very good it was). Also just before lunch Debra was sick - a combination of altitude sickness and being in a jeep all morning. So unfortunately she had to sleep throughout the whole lunch and swimming break. luckily our driver Marco had some magic pills, and that sorted her out pretty well :o)

After lunch we drove to the Laguna Blanca and the Laguna Verde, two of the most stunning lakes. I'll put up some photos! the drive there was across a huge flat gravel desert, with the most amazing mountains surrounding it. one was deep red but with a large white patch on the summit - not snow but sulphur! Another was called the mountain of severn colours for obvious reasons.... The laguna verde contains lead and arsenic, among other things, which gives it the amazing colour. its highly toxic (unsuprisingly) and due to all the chemicals can stay liquid at temperatures as low as -20 degrees, brrr! There is also a strong wind that blows across it which causes amazing white crested waves, so pretty!

From Laguna Verde it was another couple of hours drive to the next stop. By this time we were really glad that it was just 4 of us in the back of the jeep (2 on the middle row, 2 on the back), we paid a bit more for the priviledge, but sometimes there will be 6 or even 7 in the back, yikes! Must be soo uncomfortable! I think thats $35 (extra) well spent :o)

The final place we stopped on the second day was amazing - geysers! Just in the middle of the desert a big area of molten mud pools, steaming and bubbling away, full of sulphur and other lovelies - smelled great! Imagine all the lava under the surface too - wicked! It was also really high there, just after leaving the geysers we got to 5000m - higher than Mont Blanc!
We finally made it to our accomodation at 5.30pm having been on the go for nearly 12 hours - long day! We also got a glimpse of laguna colorada - something to look forward to for tomorrow!
Unfortunately the scond nights rest wasn't as great as the first. We were at 4300m, 100m higher than the previous night and firstly it was really really cold. We had dinner and then went straight to bed to warm up! I was wearing my thermals plus trousers and two fleeces, inside my sleeping bag with two extra blankets and was still shivering. Too add to the fun, I then got altitude sickness - nooo! After nearly 4 weeks at altitude, 4300m was just too high and my body didn't like it :o( About half an hour after going to sleep I woke up feeling horribly ill, was very sick, and then I woke up about every hour and a half throughout the night, again being very sick adn then going back to sleep. It was horrible. I was also shivering uncontrolably, even with an extra blanket, until I slept and then woke up really hot :o( At least i did get some sleep between times, but once the morning came I felt so weak. Tried to eat breakfast, had two spoons of yogurt which came straight back up (sorry this is prob too much detail!), and then managed to keep down a mug of mint tea and half a bread roll. I got one of Marcos magic Soroche pills and that helped so at least i made it through the day without being sick again, but I felt dizzy everytime I stood up and sick everytime I walked more than 3 paces.
We set off about 8am, and our first stop was Laguna Colorada. It was so stunning that I could appreciate it even in my weakened state! Its a big lake full of algae and plankton that give it a deep rust colour, and its full of flamingos! The contrast of colours in the early morning light was amazing - yellow grasses, red lake, pink flamingoes and purple mountains. The photos dont really do it justice but I will put some up so you can at least get some idea! The other incredible thing was watching the flamingos fly, firstly you can see all their colours (bright red and pink with patches of white and black wing tips) and secondly they have the most amazing shape! They remind me of the broomsticks in Harry Potter! Really long and thin, with a slight bend in the middle and then wings sticking out. I sat and just watched them for about 15mins, really cool.
We drove through the desert for a long time and eventually saw in the distance some strange rocks in a large group. As we got closer they got bigger and bigger until we could see they were in the most amazing formations. Its called the Desierto de Siloli, and the rocks have eroded in really weird ways (I guess due to changing winds...) to make amazing sculptures. Unfortunately as I was still feeling pretty rough i have very few photos, and they're not very good :o( I'll try and steal some from the other girls on the trip! We had lunch and I managed to eat some rice and carrots - a big improvement!
After lunch was a series of 5 lakes in close succession, more flamingos (close up!), more cool mountains, and a smoking volcano! They were all amazing but I cant write any more description without totally boring you to tears...
We got to our final "hostel" - and it had a shower! Whoop! Ooh we also had the llama ribs for dinner that we bought the day before, baked in the oven and really tasty! Its kind of like lamb but more beefy. Yum! We ripped all the meat off with our teeth and ate like animals :oD
I woke up the next moring and felt so much better - thank god! I could walk again and be normal! The final day was the big one - the Salar de Uyuni! Our hostel was really close so it was only 20 mins drive and we were on the salt flats. And... its immense. Its so huge, and white, and flat, i've never seen anything like it! Apparently the salt flat covers 12,000 sq km, which is the size of Belguim. The salt is 12m deep in places! As we drove across it gradually we could see nothing we had left behind, only salt and distant mountains. In the middle of the salar is a small island called Isla de Pescado (Fish island), for some unknown reason as there are no fish! It is however totally covered in giant cacti! It was amazing, a lump of rock stuck in the middle of a salt desert, covered in these enormous cacti, the tallest of which is over 12m high. Yet another one for the photo album!
After exploring the island we went right out into the middle of the Salar to play around taking cool photos! Because it is all white and flat there is no perspective so you can make some crazy illusions. I'm not sure ours are amazing examples but you can get the idea! Then finally we went to the salt hotel - which as the name implies is a hotel on the salar, with the bricks made from salt. Its very much tourist hype and not that exciting but we had to buy a postcard to be allowed in!
And then finally we had only to visit a few crafty shops (yet more alpaca hats), eat lunch, and head back to Uyuni. A long 4 days!
Uyuni wasnt very exciting so I wont tell you about it! But saying bye to the girls was sad as we all went our seperate ways - just me again! I hope u havent fallen asleep reading, and theres plenty of pics to look at!
Lots of love, miss you all! xxx
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