¨Bolivian Snow¨ and Real Snow in Colorado

Trip Start Mar 17, 2005
Trip End Mar 13, 2006

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Monday, January 23, 2006

We split up for different journeys for only the second time this whole year. I (Amy) was a bridesmaid in one of my best friends wedding in the Winter Park area of Colorado. Matt headed off to Bolivia to the Salt Flats that we missed a few months back because of road blocks. I had some serious weather and culture shock quickly reintegrating into the US lifestyle over my quick 4 day visit home. My parents gave me miles to come back to the wedding, the only way to have made this trip possible....thanks again mom and dad!! I left Rio sweating at 95 degrees and a day later landed into Denver airport to a temperature of 26 degrees. The following day we headed up to Devils Thumb Ranch and could not believe our car thermometer when it said negative 18 degrees!!! Talk about a shock to the system. We cross country skied, sat by the fire in our log cabin and had many hours of girl talk time over the weekend. The wedding was pretty much perfect and I was so glad to have been able to be there to celebrate with my closest friends. Congratulations Jennie and Chad!

On the other side of the equator Matt was trekking around the Salt Flats in his own landscape that looks just like snow.


While Amy was jet-setting back to the States, I (Matt) was preparing myself for quite a bit of travel to a place we could not visit when we were in Bolivia previously because of the student protests country-wide (refer to our La Paz, Bolivia entries back in December). The Salar de Uyuni is famed to be one of the most crazy landscapes imaginable and I was very excited to try to get to see it by entering Bolivia from Chile.

After my flight from Rio to Santiago I spent one night and then caught a flight the next day up to Calama, Chile followed by a bus to San Pedro de Atacama. You might have heard of the Atacama desert, officially the driest place on earth. Aptly named, San Pedro is right in the middle of it. So, you can imagine my amazement when after showing up on a perfectly normal day in the middle of summer it was raining! Regardless, I was able to find a hostel (which was NOT easy--it`s now high season here) and bunked down in a 5 bed dorm room which included 2 gay boyfriends and a couple other guys that loved to drink and smoke in the room ITSELF about 30 minutes before I was planning to go to sleep. NOT exactly what I had in mind. The next day I started my 4 day tour and was very excited.

DAY 1: Entering Bolivia, Altitude, and amazing Lakes and Thermals

I met my group of people I would be travelling with and they were all extremely nice. We consisted of a caravan of 3 Toyota Landcruisers each with 5 to 6 passengers, not counting the guide. My car included 4 recent university grads from Australia and we got along really well, even talking to some of them about some really neat things we all had done. One of them sponsor`s a World Vision child, and one of them made a documentary in India about a leprosy colony. This all provided for some very interesting conversations along the way. Our guide`s name was Juan, and we also had a cook as well named Joksana. I was the best one of the group at spanish, so I became the official translator. I actually really enjoyed trying to understand what Juan was saying, and surprisingly to myself, was able to translate quite a bit (probably with some egregious errors). Within an hour of crossing into Bolivia we were seeing amazing sights. Laguna Blanco and (a clear lake) and Laguna Verde (green lake apparently due to arsenic) quickly became our first sights. This was officially the first time I had seen flamingoes in the wild, and they were everywhere. They didn`t like humans to get to close, so it was hard to get good pictures of them, but they were huge and bright pink, and it was amazing to watch them fly around the lakes in small groups. The other amazing lake we came to was Laguna Colorado, which according to my interpretation was due to some type of algae in the water. This lake was especially beautiful and expansive, with white salt in the middle at places.

After these lakes we started climbing elevation. I mean seriously. We started in San Pedro at around 2500 meters, which itself is fairly high, but all of a sudden we were above 4900 meters. THAT, by the way, is 300 meters above my highest camp below the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and of course we did that on DAY 1!! Needless to say our whole group had SPLITTING HEADACHES later in the evening. Our next stop was to some geysers that were steaming like crazy in weather that was well below freezing. It was hard to even get out of the car because of the cold, but the bubbling, fuming, spraying geysers were worth it. Next came some natural thermal baths which were about 100 degrees and felt so good. At night we slept in a VERY basic place with toilets that you had to physically dump water in the back, then reach down into the water to open the plug to flush them (oh yeah--luxury baby!). All this (besides our accommodation) was on day one and left us greatly anticipating the rest of the trip!

DAY 2: Desert-scape

This day was mostly desert type terrain with a lot of wild llamas. Along the way we saw some amazing formations of rock (see pictures) out in the middle of sand with nothing else around. Some of them were said to inspire Salvador Dali`s futuristic painting style. These formations were definitely the highlight of this day, but slyly encouraging Juan to hit HUGE mud-puddles at FULL speed in the Landcruiser proved every bit as fun!! This night we slept in an amazing hotel that was built completely out of salt. I actually had my own room, and we feasted on soup, barbecued chicken, rice and fries.

Day 3: The AMAZING Salar de Uyuni

Now we have seen a lot of amazing places on this trip, and this may become cliche at this point, but seriously the Salar de Uyuni was one of the most unbelievable landscapes I`ve ever seen. It is what is left of a very old salt pan that covered 12,000 square kilometers at one time, and today is still huge. It is an expansive plain of nothing but salt and some isolated ¨islands¨ along the way that provide for some surreal scenes. In Bolivia`s dry season it is blindingly pure white everywhere, but this was the rainy season and the whole thing was filled with 4 inches to one foot of water. What resulted was a place as surreal as I`ve ever been. It was literally impossible to tell the difference between the water and the sky, and the islands literally looked as if they were floating. The salt water was so salty that it instantly caked on you when it dried. We really enjoyed ourselves as we played with our cameras and just ran around the Salar having fun in a place we never could imagine existed. The pictures tell a lot, but it is still so difficult to do the Salar justice with a camera.

Day 4: Back to Chile

This last day was basically just a long drive back to San Pedro to a place where I could clean up, and get ready to meet Amy again down in Santiago.
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