Saturday, July 05, 2008

Salar de Uyuni and South Lipez

After our improvised stay in Bolivia started, there was no way of stopping us. Salar de Uyuni sounded too tempting an excursion to forgo it, and thus we go over 500km south, bound for the Chilean border and the lunar views of the desert.

The excursion is organized into an almost standardized product by over 60 agencies in the city of Uyuni, that can be reserved from La Paz as well. The adventure starts before though, as reaching Uyuni is a rather tiring 12h drive by bus on unpaved roads, best that Bolivia has to offer, seemed to us. The better option is taking the train (that same train that Chile built for Bolivia to compensate for the stolen Pacific Ocean access that Bolivia lost during the Pacific war), but we did not want to wait an extra day for that. We did have our first transport problem though as the miners blocked the Oruru road on the first day we attempted to leave La Paz.

We finally managed to leave, and arrived cold and tired in the morning to the outpost of Uyuni, a surreal, freezing town, that makes one wish for the home sweet home. Taking our motivation with two hands, we found the Esmeralda agency, that prepared our classic 3 days, $80 per person tour on a jeep, with another 4 crazy tourists on board.

Our first stop before the Salar has been the depressing train cometary, where all the old Chilean trains have come to rest, just outside Uyuni. A melancholic and dirty place that resembles more a waste disposal, but around here anything is good to attract hungry tourists:

More inspiring, Salar de Uyuni is the biggest salt desert on Earth with over 10 000 square kilometers of pure white, shattered from time to time by lonely, cacti growing islands. That is over one third of the surface of such a country as Belgium. The salar resulted from a lake that evaporated around 40 000 years ago. Beneath over 64 thousand million estimates tons of salt, it hides some of the biggest lithium deposits that are not exploited yet.

The Salar being freely accessible to any people or vehicles, we even met a couple afterwards who cruised it on bike. Other than tourists, the vehicles like the one below, ride through the desert to collect salt (with a shovel). It is good salt, but it does not contain iodine, causing cretinism in the remote villages that rely only on this salt for their consumption.

The scenery changed drastically on the second day. The south Lipez region is also famous for its lagunas and...flamingos! Those are birds one is least likely to imagine roaming through the desert at 4000 meters by -30 degrees Celcium at night, but that´s whom we came there to take pictures of!

We also got some sightings of rocks, and used them to good avail:

We slept near the Laguna Colorada, or simply red lake. Algae in its water give it this incredible blood-red color, and make perfect food for flamingos.

After amazing lagunas on the second day, we started the third day at 5 am with nothing less than geysers shooting up at 4800 meters, the Mont Blanc in our hemisphere...If incautious tourist steps in the wrong hole, he gets burnt by 200 degree water shooting out of it, surreal!

The final stop, Laguna Verde, just a couple of kilometers from the Chilean frontier.

And here is Renaud meditating on the places to visit next on the Arbol de Piedra, nothing less:


Anna said...

hi, jak ja chytala ta zrozumila, ce ozero ne duzhe glyboke? v niomu majzhe nema vody? a flamingo chym tam harchujutsia?

uasunflower said...

ozer vsagali bagato, dejaki ne dyje gluboki, bo mayje povnistjy zamerzajut´, inshi troxu glubshi, ale vugliadajyt´vonu tak nibu vonu je v protsesi vuparovyvannia...Flamingoes jidat´malen´ki algaes y vodi, tipa mikrobiv.