A Travellerspoint blog

Salar de Uyuni and Southwest Bolivia

Every Mile a Memory

When I last left you I was in La Paz, Bolivia. I said goodbye to my friends Rob & Naomi as they traveled down to Argentina. Fortunately I met up with some friends I made traveling from Cusco to Puno, Kim and Karen. They are also from England. I seem to be making tons of new friends from England lately, weird.

The three of us traveled down to Oruro and the next day grabbed a train to Uyuni. Train riding seems glamorous but not quite the same in Bolivia. Slow going! Uyuni also contains a train graveyard. Lots of old trains piled up on the edge of town rusting away in the dry, desert air. Just to clarify this was not the train we were on!
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In Uyuni we booked a four day private tour of the Salar and Southwest Bolivia. It would just be the three of us as passengers in a land cruiser. A typical tour might have six or seven passengers in the same vehicle along with a driver and a cook. It was a little more money but worth every penny after we saw other vehicles packed with people especially when we were traveling four days. Our guide was named Luis, who also drove the Land Cruiser. He brought along a cook named Margarita who made us three good meals a day. Margarita brought along her four year old daughter named Darling who doesn´t like to stay home without her mother.
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The first day we visited the Salar which is a huge salt lake. The salt is 2 meters thick at the edge of the lake and up to 40 meters thick in the center. It is such a big lake that it is visible from space.
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Near the edge of the lake local families pile up salt into mounds to dry. They then sell the salt.
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Luis then drove us to Isla del Pescado (Fish Island). It was about an hour drive going about 70 miles an hour across the salt flats. Amazing feeling pulling up towards the island, felt like you were in a boat as it neared an island in the water.
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The island contains some animals and a bunch of cactus. We had lunch on the island while Luis changed the first of our flat tires. Here I am with Flat Stanley.
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The small dot is a person walking on the salt.
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Couple of jeeps heading away.
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Karen, Luis and Kim leaning against our ride for the next four days.
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Mountains in the distance
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The complete whiteness distorts your sense of perspective. Here is a picture of Flat Stanley and it looks like he is holding me in his hand. No trick photography, just me standing about 100 yards away.
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Here is one of Karen standing on Kim´s shoulder whispering in his ear.
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One of myself and Karen standing in a pair of hiking boots.
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Afterwards we drove another hour south to the southern edge of the salar.
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We visited Galaxia Caverns which were only discovered five years ago. Some pretty neat formations and lots of people buried everywhere. A civilization used the caverns as a cemetary over 2,000 years ago. No pictures to upload of the inside of the caverns, sorry.
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Luis than drove us to our hostel for the night, which was made entirely of salt. Tables, chairs, walls, the floor, beds (which luckily had a regular matteress on top). The roof was made of reed. Unique place, although it was very, very cold at night.
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The next morning we drove off the Salar and headed up into the hills on rough, 4x4 roads. The salt was amazingly smooth, something we would all miss over the next three days. This morning we had our second flat of the trip.
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We visited an overlook for Volcano Ollague. The volcano is venting steam and small amounts of ash. It is on the border of Bolivia and Chile.
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After some more driving we arrived at Laguna Canapa.
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Yes, those are flamingos at 12,000ft+ elevation. They fly from the coast to eat in shallow lakes. The white surface in the photos looks like snow but it is actually borax deposits in the lake. Very cool huh!

The second night we stayed near Laguna Colorado, Red Lake in english. The name seems appropriate after you look at the picture.
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A corner of the lake was fed by a hot water spring. The flamingos would feed near the spring to stay warm.
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The night near Laguna Colorado was far and away the coldest night of the trip, probably the coldest night of my entire South America journey. We stayed in a hostel at 4,400meters with no insulation and barely had running water. We rose at 5am to start our day and stood around shivering waiting for Luis. Finally we had found him still asleep in bed at 5:45. He rallied fast and got us to the geyser field just as the sun rose. There were geysers, mud pots, boiling water and steam vents just like Yellowstone park but on a smaller scale. The interesting thing was that you could walk anywhere you wished among the geysers, boiling water, etc just a little bit dangerous.
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Did I mention how cold it was....
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Later that morning we drove through another beautiful desert named, Salvador Dali Desert. It was one of my favorite places on the trip and the pictures just don´t do it justice.
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Here is a photo of Laguna Kollpa which was so still that it perfectly reflected the surrounding mountains of Chile.
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We saw tons of llamas along the route this day. They all had colorful braids tied to their ears and fur. Luis told us this was done in respect to ¨Pachamama¨or mother universe.
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We visited a ghost town named San Antonio de Lipez. This town was abandoned by the inhabitants just 5-15 years ago. Everyone moved to a new town a few miles away because they felt that evil spirits inhabited the area. It was a very spooky place. Fittingly we had another flat tire in this ghost town. That´s flat tire #3 of the trip if you are keeping score.

We stayed the last night in the new town of San Antonio de Lipez. It was my best night of sleep on the whole Salar trip so I wasn´t bothered by any evil spirits although I did forget (lose) my mp3 player in the hostel so maybe a spirit wanted to listen to some good music from Texas :)
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The next morning we stopped at San Vincente, Bolivia. There are some famous americanos buried in this cemetary. Can you guess who??
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Here is a clue from the line in a movie about them....¨Kid, the next time I saw let´s go someplace like Bolivia, let´s go someplace like Bolivia.

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Did you guess Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. If you did you would be correct.

We made our way through some stunning landscape that reminded me of the American Southwest towards Tupiza, Bolivia near the border of Argentina.
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We finally arrived in Tupiza, Bolivia and checked into our hotel. Nice to have a hot shower after four, dusty days in a Land Cruiser.

The following day we rented some horses for a ride through the desert canyons. I hadn´t been on a horse in probably 20+ years. Here we all are The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I´ll let you figure out who is who.
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Kim and Karen moved on to Potosi, Bolivia to continue their trip. I will move on to Argentina in a few days. I´m staying in Tupiza to hike around the canyons and enjoy being warm again for a few more days!!

The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends......

Posted by timtheis 12:55

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