Sunday, December 24, 2006


you might as well be walking on the moon

Tucked away in the southwest corner of Bolivia is some of the strangest scenery you'll see...a huge salt flat where a sea used to be before the Andes rose up and dried it out, volcanos, geyers, mineral filled volcanic lakes that end up in all sorts of colors , deserts with crazy shaped rocks, 'islands' covered with cactus...all sorts of crazy stuff. If Hunter S Thompson thought Las Vegas was a bit strange on a carload of drugs, good thing he didnt bring his show this far south.
My trip started in Uyuni, I arrived at about 2am on a bus from Potosi, slept for a bit and then got up and booked a place in a Land Cruiser leaving that day. Uyuni used to be an important train stop for trainsfull of Bolivian minerals heading to Chile for export, but since the decline of the mining industy, tourism has taken over as its main economic lifeblood. And running 4x4s through the salt flats and across the deserts is the main attraction: sustainable? hardly, but there's no real alternative to see this crazy part of the world, somehow riding a bike across it doesnt appeal. The first day we drove through the salt flats to Isla Pescado, stopping for lunch and to take some silly perspective photos. Because there is nothing in the background its easy to manipulate the perpective and make it look like someone is standing on someone else's hand, being stepped on, or in my case, being smoked (i'm waiting for this photo to arrive via email still) making big stuff look small, or alternatley, small stuff look big (see below). We spent the night at a tiny community called Bellavista on a hill overlooking the Salar; at sunrise the next morning the town definatley lived up to its name.
The second day of the tour we pased a series of lakes, all full of minerals and funny colors and flamingos, eventually passing through the Siloli desert (and its 'petrified tree') to the Laguna Colorada, or red lake, which strangely enough, is bright red in the middle. The third day we got up really early to catch the sunrise over some geysers (not worth it) and then spent an hour or so in a natural thermal bath on the edge of another lake (worth it, although it was freezing getting out and dry afterwards, still about 6am). After that we passed through the Dali Dessert to the Laguna Verde (green lake) where the reflextion of the volcano in the lake was amazing. The volcano as it happened marks the border with Chile, and about 30 minutes on from the lake we reached the line in the sand (literally) where a small shack and a burned out bus marked the frontier. Borders are pretty silly in general, and this one seemed particularly so, especially because at one point a war was fought between Chile and Bolivia over this bit of land (and the coastline) that is pretty much desolate...Chile just needed a couple more beaches I imagine.

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salar uyuni: not the place for a game of i spy
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huge bolders or pebbles?
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Bellavista sunrise
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laguna colorada
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thermal bath
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laguna verde

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