Even a non-geologist like me could tell you that Bolivia’s south is full full and full of mineral deposits. Got lithium? Phone’s dead?
From Chile’s Atacama Desert, we crossed the border and drove into Bolivia’s southern barren Altiplano on a three day round trip with Ecotours Chile. San Pedro to Atacama to Uyuni and back. We paid a little extra for our own safety because I read SO MANY negative reviews about drunk driving tour guides at several tour operators, one of them being the one I initially chose. We were going to drive into a remote desert landscape for 3 days with no phone connection, who wanted to be stranded? Patagonia Driving was next and for a bunch of office non adrenaline junkie geeks on annual leave, we could NOT afford to waste time.
After we completed our border crossing formalities from San Pedro de Atacama, it took another 8 hours until our next destination, Valley De La Luna in Bolivia. Not to be confused with Chile’s. The Atacama Desert in Chile offers the same barren scenery, exotically colored lakes and geysers sans the BIGGEST SALT FLATS IN THE WORLD. So, off we drove into Bolivia’s freezing desert dryness with our driver and Sol, who was on fire (no pun intended) and spoke fluent English. Funny, cool and toothless, she brought life to the unfurnished desert. On a Toyota Land Cruiser, we entered a territory totally isolated from civilization! It felt like we were being transferred to another planet as we gradually went up high in altitude approximately 5,000 meters above sea level.
We derailed off the tourist laden route and did the inverse. Let me explain. While others were desert-trotting around Laguna Altiplanacas, Geyser Sol de Manana, Salar De Chiguana among other miraculous displays, en route to Uyuni Salt Flats on the first day, we drove by them on our last day back to Chile. Apart from the second day at the Salt Flats, we hardly saw other people except for a couple of 4x4s and occassional cyclists on a solo adventure across the harsh Bolivian Altiplanos. Way more challenging than Giro D’Italia, I think? Let’s put it this way:
- Roads: totally rugged and unpaved. Actually there were no roads, just trails we followed.
- Altitude: AT LEAST 4000meters, how’s that for a workout?
- Weather condition: strong headwind
- Shelter: next village was usually a hundred kilometers away
Soo Anywayyyy..we were very lucky to be in a 4×4 that came with survival supplies on a roof rack, a GPS Phone or whatever that could direct us back home, food and a groovy playlist which included a little bit of dance, rock, hip hop and Enrique’s Bailando ON REPEAT (at my request) and on-demand depressing 90s love songs by the high spirited SOL at times bitten by the melancholia bug.
Because I was so fascinated by these guys on a crazy desert tour de force, I google investigated and came across a couple of blogs, one of them http://www.elpedalero.com who travels on his bike and OH MY GOD he makes it look so cool. Also, this other guy, Tore Groenne from Denmark who went back to Bolivia’s far south west three times! So, I spent the rest of the next couple of days (in Chile) overusing infrequent wifi access to desperately indulge in the love cyclists have for exploring the world on their bikes. After ACTUALLY seeing it with my own eyes, I can’t hold it in any longer. RESPECT
Now that I’m over the obsession, here’s a bunch of pics from Day 1 (in order) from the moment we crossed the border Chilean/Bolivian border, the least sketchiest, at the foot of Volcan Juriques ,and arrived at the Salt Hotel at Salar de Uyuni. We ‘fearlessly’ fought high winds at beautiful view points that displayed the abundance of natural resources, took pictures in awe and rushed back into the car to continue our 12 hour journey. It took at least 10-12 hours to get from one place to another.
After we crossed the border and we didn’t get scammed (things were pretty much straight forward), we entered Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna Natural Reserve, a protected reserve rich with the good stuff (future posts). Although we thoroughly explored the reserve on the way back (Day 3), we drove through the park, quickly stopped by Salar Capina, rich in borax, and headed to Salvador Dali Desert which lies on its border. The desert was beautiful but I didn’t get the whole Dali thing. We soon entered into an entirely different landscape as the impressive Canyon de Villa Alota permeated the landscape as we headed towards Valle de La Rocas which housed a collection of rocks that looked like whatever your mind could think of. At one point I thought I saw Easter Island Moai statues. No, Sarah, it’s totally unrelated. We continued on to the town of San Cristobal where my friends took vain selfies with Alpacas while I watched two dogs follow a Llama around. I couldn’t help but impress myself with my knowledge of how I can tell the difference. After a lucky escape from overdosing on salty dried beans we munched on for the most part, we arrived at the train cemetery 3kms away from Uyuni and 20 kilometers away from our hotel. Sometime during its life, the trains built by the British were used to transport minerals from Uyuni to the ports in the Pacific. As a result of wars, greediness and bad economic decisions, the trains have been neglected, rusted, and continues to rust while turning into a major tourist attraction avant visiting Salar de Uyuni. Finally, we made it to our hotel made of salt, except for the tiles in the bathroom. By the time we reached, the sun sparkled on the horizon and the sky slowly turned dark exposing twinkly stars which took over the entire sky. The temperature dropped to below zero. While some livid guests kicked up a fuss about the water heater, I was grateful ours worked and we were able to cleanse all the dust away. Although we we were prepared to rough it out. YUH! IN A HOTEL.