4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the tag “Salar de Uyuni”

Salar + me + u = Jumping Photos – Day 4 (by Nathan)

4am – BEEP BEEP BEEP

We rush to get our stuff together, we grab our jackets, the tripod and the camera...today we are going to the salt flat.  Bolivia has the biggest dried salt lake in the world – the Salar de Uyuni.  The salt lake is so big that it contains more than 60% of the worlds lithium and covers about 4100 sq.mi. (the equivalent of 10 NYC’s).  Our jeep drives right onto the salt flat and in no time we are speeding along in the darkness with a destination that none of us can see.

Salt hotel made from salt blocks

We arrive at a hotel de sal which is a salt made building in the middle of the flat.  We had breakfast of bread jam and mate de coca while sitting on salt-carved tables and stools.

Sunrise over the salt flat

The sun slowly crept to the horizon and filled the sky with bright pinks and orange. Gradually the golden light crept to our feet revealing a flat expanse of solid white.  We had to convince our minds that it was in fact salt because the coldness and bleakness of the salar tricks the mind that it is snow.

Jeep silhouettes

Carmen and I practising our jump kicks

And then the jumping photos began… The reason for this?  When else will we be in an environment surrounded by flat white with the visual effects of high-flying kicks?

Fun with food

We also had quite a bit of fun playing with some beer cans and bottles.  We did our best to remember the Honey I Shrunk The Kids movie infused with a little imagination of our own.

It came down to a showdown between the couples: Carmen and I won!

One, two three! Ready, squat jump! were words repeated over and over again and with each leap a medley of laughter as each of us tried to time the best karate kick and jump into the air. Finally it came down to a competition between the couples.  Mark, Sally, Silvio and Mila had impressive jumps, Matteo and Gosia had the height, but could not synchronize after fifty or so jumps, but in the end it was Carmen and I that had the best leap (note: if any of you disagree, send me the photo and we’ll have a vote.)!

Jeep tour friends

Group jump shot

And there were group shots, many many group shots, leaving us all out of breath and our jumping legs throbbing.

Walking from a wine bottle

We attempted to walk out of wine bottles, or being blown from hair dryers, or even squished by a shoe.  All in all it was a morning filled with laughs and fun with our friends.

Salt cones in preparation for harvesting

Exhausted, we made our way from the salt flat.  On the outer edges the people harvest the salt into large cones for drying then refining.

Traditional woman and baby llama in Uyuni

In Uyuni we scheduled a bus for Potosí.  We were rushing to get to the bus when we were stopped in our tracks by the cutest baby llama.  The woman attempted to hold it down for me, but it was quite restless.

We clamber onto the bus and shove our packs between our legs.  Our bodies were exhausted form the repetitive jumping, and our minds overloaded and jaded from the amazing views.  The grandeur and magic of the scenery of the last 4 days was sensational.  There were carved surreal landscapes, painted lagoons, expansive canyons and colors, vibrant colors that I did not imagine were possible at a large natural scale.  Looking back on it, I have a hard time fathoming all the wondrous beauty that we saw.  A Salar de Uyuni trek should be on everyone’s South American itinerary!

Brilliant blue skies

Our bus bounced along the roadway, jiggling and rattling its way up the mountain dirt roads.  Only the main streets are paved.  The vibrations are quite soothing, but the bus continues to acquire more and more people.  Within the first hour our the entire aisle has also filled with people scrambling to hold on as the driver twists and turns the bus at each corner.  A woman next to us held a plump baby with a shawl wrapped around her back.  On her front, several other bags hung from her shoulders; her one free hand clawed at doorjamb for stability.  After a couple hours the baby became restless.  I offered for her to lean the baby on my backpack that was on my lap, instead she passed me the chubby baby. We giggled and made faces at each other for the next hour.  I attempting to entertain it with the few items that I had accessible, but my red water bottle did not have much success for long.  She was a cute little thing and I escaped with minor droolage.

I was asleep seconds after passing the baby back, my head swayed from side to side as we climbed into even higher mountains.  When awoken at my new destination, it was me that had been drooling.

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4 Wheelin’ El Parque – Day 3 (by Nathan)

Laguna Colorada

The next morning was cold…real cold, but it was expected when sleeping at 4500m (14,800ft).  We bundled into the jeep at sunrise and we were off to a whole new set of destinations and jaw-dropping sights.  The name of the park that we have been exploring for the last few days is called Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve.  The park is one of the most visited sights in Bolivia and it contains some of the most beautiful, color-rich and grand natural earth formations on the planet.  The laguna colorada was one of the most impressive thus far.  This small lake contains all sorts of minerals, mostly borax, but it is the red algae that really flourishes here.  The water was still and the air cold allowing for a hazy reflection of triangular mountains beyond.

Arbol de piedra

Carmen and I climbing on the rocks

Further along the drastic landscape was a bleak desert surrounded by colorful volcanic mountains.  We stopped at a rock forest with hundreds of angular and twisted formations that are remnants from the last eruption many thousands of years ago.  The most famous is the arbol de piedra, but we had great fun just climbing around all the enormous rocks.

Laguna Honda

Flamingos at Laguna Hedionda

We romped through the mountains climbing an occasional mountain and blazing our way through the highland deserts.  The next stop was a series of five lagoons that the flamingos use a breeding sancuary.  I never realized that these birds enjoyed high altitudes.

Landcruser crossing a river

There were times that the terrain became pretty rough and it was nice to have a guide that had been driving these roads and trails for 15 years.

Montaña de siete colores

The landscape throughout the day was mesmerizing.  Everywhere we looked was an beautiful snow-capped volcano, a colorful mountain, bright blue skies, multiple lagoons and thousands of llamas.

Valle de rocas

Tailgate lunch at valle de rocas

Our jeep caravan included an amazing Bolivian woman that cooked for us.  While we played around at the valle de rocas she whipped together an delicious meal of chicken milanesa, noodles and salad.  Of course it was served with the only drink that South Americans seem to know: coca cola.

Friends at the cemetario de trenes

Evening approached quickly, but we did have time to explore the cemetario de trenes just outside of Uyuni.  There used to be reliable and functional train traffic in Bolivia.  In the 1940′ hundreds of train cars and engines were abandoned due to rapidly depleting mining resources.  Now it is just a heap of rusted metal, surrounded by fields of endless trash, nevertheless it made for a good photo opportunity with friends.

That night we prepped ourselves for what was going to be the saltiest day of our lives.

Tupiza & Salar de Uyuni 4×4 Adventure – Days 1&2 (by Carmen)

I didn’t really know what the 4 day Salar de Uyuni tour really entailed but I was looking forward to it nonetheless.  I had seen a picture of one of the tour sights – the salar (salt flats) that looks like you are sourrounded by endless snow but it is actually salt.  This was enough for me to build it into our itinerary.  Fortunately, Nathan trusted my gut on this one.

Quebrada de Palala outside of Tupiza

As we got closer to Bolivia we met more and more travellers who had positive experiences.  A range of superlatives were used to describe the scenery: “beautiful”, “spectacular”, “surreal”, “the best”.  So we hopped in a jeep with Mark and Sally, the English couple we had met in Cafayate, and were on our way.  An our outside of Tupiza and we already had our first breath-taking view.

Adorable llamas were everywhere

Onwards we climbed up to the altiplano (high plateau).  Our excellent driver, Idel, was happy to inform us about the flora and the fauna. The flora mainly consists of sturdy clumps of grass which were fed on by the llamas and the vicuñas. The llamas were adorable all dressed up with colourful ribbons in their ears.  This was how the owners identified their herds.

Wild vicuñas

The vicuñas, on the other hand, are smaller and wild.  They are a protected species so they don’t have ownsers. But once a year the local community rounds them up to shear their extremely valuable wool.  The $400 a pound profits are shared collectively.

Multi-purpose clothes line with llama jerky

Tiny settlements dot the mountain landscape.  They are hard to spot as the mud brick homes blend in with the earth. We stopped in one and saw how their clotheslines were multi-purpose.

Snowy mountain in view from the first nights lodging

The next town over we spend the night, surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery.  The stars were beatuficul but it was too cold to observe for long.  Instead we retreated to our own beds which had 3 heavy blankets on them.

Ruins of San Antonio and viscacha

The next morning we travelled a short distance to a set of Spanish ruins.  The Spanish had settled there in the 16th century because of a nearby silver mine.  They essentially enslaved thousands of indigenous people to work there.  The town had a reputation for having too much money, making people greedy and wasteful.  When an epidemic decimated the population, the town never recovered.  With the silver dried up and the buildings in decay, the last residents left 20 years ago.  Now, the crumbled homes are inhabited by cute, rabbit like animals called viscasha.

Creek with llama

The ruins were followed, of course, by more drastic scenery and more llamas!

Flamingo posing for us at Laguna Morejón

And then a new animal entered the scene – flamingos.  I had always thought of these pink and black birds balanced upon spindly legs as a Caribbean creature. But these flamingos like it rough, toughing out the cold and wind of the Bolivian highlands above 12,000ft.

Chalviri hotsprings

I don’t like it so rough.  At the next stop Nathan and I took a dip in the soothing natural thermal pool.  It was the perfect temperature and had perfect views to boot.

Yummy lunch outside the thermal pool

All warm and toasty from our bath we headed into a dining hall for a delicious beef stew lunch.  I haven’t mentioned yet but there was another jeep in our group.  That made 8 of us total.  It was quite an international crowd: 2 Americans (us), 2 Brits (Mark and Sally), 3 Italians (Matteo, M, S) and 1 Pole (Gossia). It made all our meals very convivial.

Jeeps, hills and new friends Mark and Sally

Dalí desert

But there was yet more to see.  We drove through the Dalí Desert named for the surrealist painter.  I’d say it was an apt reference, especially with the brushstroke clouds painted in the sky.

Us at the Laguna Verde

Then we hit the Laguna Verde, named for the green color produced by minerals such as arsenic.

Sol de Mañana Geysers

Finally, we made it to the geothermic area called Sol de Mañana.  Here the heat of the earth escaped through bubbling mud pools and steaming geysers.  One steam spout was so powerful it almost seemed to whistle like a kettle on the stove.  It was a long and happy couple of days, and the tour was only half over!

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