3 days trip in the highest deserts of the world

Trip Start Jan 05, 2009
Trip End Jun 30, 2009

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, February 20, 2009

--Written by our French guest star (sorry for the spelling mistakes)--

We left lake Titicaca to LaPaz with a nice 3 hours bus journey. The trip included the crossing of the lake Titicaca with a barge. 2 barges indeed, one for the bus and one for the passengers. It was the 3rd boat trip on the lake for us but this time happily much faster. The stop-over in LaPaz was very short as we decided to embarque directly for a night bus trip to south of Bolivia to Uyuni. Our knowledge of the LaPaz city got limited at this stage to the Bus terminal (full of 1/3 tourists + 1/3 thiefs + 1/3 policemen) and the highway running above the valley of LaPaz... all slopes of the moutnains are built.. not a single piece of land is left over regardless of the difficulties to build or the risk of natural catastrophes.
Leaving at 9pm the night bus consisted in an 11h trip half on concrete road and half on stones and sand... The challenge of those trip is to try to remain asleep while keeping your belongings safe, ignoring bus technical breakdown and adapting to wild temperature changes and other bumps on the roads...
In a very good shape at destination, as you can imagine, we discover a small city lost in the middle of the desert. We enjoy a nice breakfast with pasta and pizza to rebuilt forces and then join a 3 car days tour with 1 Australian and 2 Japaneses (quite brave to be here by the way)... We will discover later that our driver is very young and unexperienced... His 21 years will cause couple of problems on the way.
We start the trip by the most impressive landscape we have seen in our life... The Uyuni Salar, the largest (12ī000 km2) and highest (3ī650m) salt reserve in the world. The salar landscape is unforgatteable... a flat white surface made of salt running to the horizon... Melanie packed her pockets of salts for the rest of the trip "as salt was for free"
On the way we discovered houses built of salt whithout knowing that our roof for the night will have the same construction material.
First surprise of the trip, our car engine stops in the middle of the desert. Our driver diagnostic an oil leak. Hopefully there is one network bar left on the mobile phone of the driver. We have to wait for a replacement car. Not sure how they could find us in the middle of this white desert but we will see. In the meantime we have to lunch/picnic sitted on the salt. Difficult to find intimacy to go the toilettes in such a place... After a while we had a second look to the motor... We came quickly to the conclusion that the car breakdown was not an oil issue but a water issue... We have an hard time to convince the driver of his wrong diagnostic but we finally manage to restart the car and reach our next destination- the Pescado island-
This island of couple of km2 covered on a sinlge variety of cactus emerging above the salt immensity.. We decided to walk around the island when other tourists decided to make funny pictures taking advantages of the white background and shadows.
We take the road again to reach our housing for the night... a lovely house made of salt with shared toilette and bathroom (available for 5 Bolivianos). The bed are made of salt with a mattless dropped on top.. The place finally occured to be confortable and warm
The next day starts with an other surprise of our driver. Only few minutes after departure, our driver stops in front of an Bolivian army barracks to check the engines...
Jean Guilhem our camera japanese taking pictures conitnuously tries to take a picture of the barracks but the soldier in fraction opposed. The soldiers start calling our guide for asking him to watch out his tourist group. Our guide ignores soldiers orders and try to get us back in the car and escape. For one second, we are all in the car, the engine on and 5 soldiers around the car blocking the departure.. One soldier jumped on our guide/driver/cook and took him out of the car. He is arrested and brought into the barraks for interrogation. On our side we start talking to the soldiers. They don't make any troubles and donīt even check our passports... They almost appologize and inform us that our driver should be realease after an hour and encourage us to visit the village next by in the meantime.
After an hour, our driver comes back with a big smile and a proud face "Vamos" exactly if nothing happened without any apologize... Our driver just had such an hard head that he didnīt play it low profile with the army which could have saved us an hour. We restart and pass by an active smoking volcano and several beatufiul lagunas. Small no deep water areas full of pink flamenco. All those lagunas are above 4000 m and reveal beautiful colors from white to red. The last Laguna called colarada is where we sleep. Despite the strong wind making the place very cold doesnīt prevent us enjoying the unique beatuy of the place. Our habitation for the night is spartiate with 5 people in the room, no shower and toilett that encourage you to go outside in the nature... The place is very cold and our attempts to burn local furnitures into the stove didnīt help... We freeze all night with a room temperature around 10 degrees.
Our awful night fighting against the cold is interrrupted by the departure signal at 4am. We all get ready in 30 min without breakfast and get in the car... At our surprise our driver goes at 10 km/h only... Other cars keep overtaking us... Our driver tries to take the fog on the wind shlied from the outside before we explain him that it works better from the inside with hot air... Another great skill of our driver...
We passed by a Geiser by night but we cannot see anything, the dark is too deep... we continue and discover a beautiful  hot spring source surrounded by pink flamenco. We jumped him and get warm finally.. we enjoy a beautiful sunrise and breakfast...
We keep progressing towards the Chilean border. We see the Salvatore Dali desert (named as one of his paintings) and keep stoppingf to fix the car... We reach a beautiful blue lagon below a volcano and drive to the Chilean border lost in middle of nowhere where we drop our Australian travel mate. We see snow and start our way back to Uyuni... 8 hours car trip. We stopped on the way to see incredible natural gaz sources, stones deserts, etc... we even do an emergency stop from Massimo to release back side pressure and  feed him with couple of bananas...
On the long way back our driver falls asleep and keep eating coca leafs.. We have to keep an eye on him... We arrive late at Uyuni after several car fixing and jump almost right away in a night bus to Lapaz.. Charming to line up 8 hours desert car drive with 12h night bus. The bus is driving fast on the non-asphalt roads and got 2 flat tires as a consequence... Inside the bus, we are schaked like in Orangina drink advertising...
We arrive safe but tired.
In the last 2 days we discovered the charming city of Lapaz... The city is like a large market organized by themes (vegetable, fish, meat, dvds, textile, shoes, electronics...). They all sale the same and we cannot understand how they differentiate one street seelling shop to another. Women wear those typical Borsalino hat in which they invest a lot as it reprensent their social status. Melanie refuses caetgorically to wear one of those and remain without social status... Shoe polisher in the street wear masks to avoid being reconginzed as they are ashamed of their work...We visit the luna valley and the rich and poor part of the city. Average salary in Bolivia is around 100 CHF-month about 50 times less than in Switzerland. This doesnīt prevent all locals to spend a lot in preparing the carnaval this week end... 
....More next time 
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