Day 1 – 1 Dec 2016
Today we were picked up from our hostel in Atacama between 7:45-8:45 in the morning. First we went to the Chilean border in San Pedro and gave our PDI paper that we had when we entered and in return got our exit stamps. Then we drove to the Bolivian border. The intersection with the sign showing the direction of Bolivia didn’t have a paved road and we drove on sand from then on. The border crossing is close to the bottom of the Volcan Likancabur and our entrance was very smooth and in addition, we didn’t need to pay anything to enter. At the border, we had breakfast and our Chilean driver passed us to our Bolivian driver, Wilder. We loaded the bags and our 6lt water bottles on top of the 4×4 car. We drove to the entrance of Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avarda and paid 150 bolivianos each to enter the park.
We could see our first stop even from the entrance. Laguna Blanca has crystal water on which flamingos can live. The reflection of the mountains around the lake on the water was great. There was no wind and water is shallow so there was almost perfect reflection!
Right next to it was the Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon). It’s water has copper and arsenic, so it’s not drinkable and birds don’t prefer to visit this lake. But of course these give it the green color and with luck we had some sun and wind so we could see it’s nice green turquoise color. And right behind it again stood the volcano Licancabur. Apparently there is another lake on the top of the volcano that has even more green color but it’s hard to climb the mountain of course!
Our next stop was in the middle of the desert. There were some stones that were called Rocas de Dali. We again stopped by to take some pictures of the desert and these rocks.
In the meantime, our driver offered us some coca leaves and asuga (a type of natural sugar, because coca taste is bad) to keep in our mouth to cope with the high altitude. We also got to taste the coca candy and coca tea and we all were sharing everything we have to cope with altitude.
Then we stopped at Polques which has hot water whose temperature is about 35-38 Celsius. We realized that we forgot our swimming suits in the big backpack and we were supposed to take everything beforehand. Our driver told us that we can take the bags down if we wanted but he wouldn’t do it for us because at the beginning he told us to take all we need from the bags. Murat went on top the car and got our stuff :) Then we paid 6 bolivianos for the thermal and went into the pool that stood in front of a salt flat (salar)! It was again very very nice, but it was too much after 15 minutes we went out and changed back. That’s when we realized our car was not where we left it. Looking around, we found rest of the people in the car, 3 French and 1 Slovenian, in the cafe next to the bathrooms having beers and we joined them. The driver came back and found us in the cafe after a while. In the meantime we were joking that we hoped he had some sleep because his eyes were almost closing while he was driving! The driver took us to a high point looking over to this salar and there we had our lunch.
After lunch, we took off to see the geysers that are called Fumarolas de Sol de Mañana. According to our driver, if we understood right from his Spanish, these are volcanic geysers whose temperatures can go to 140 Celsius. One of them had a lot of smoke coming out of it. Others had boiling mud with different colors: brown, gray, and most impressive, orange! We think it is either the minerals or the microorganisms living there that make the color different.
Our last stop stop of the day was he most magnificent: Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon). As we were coming down the hill, we saw the different colors of the laguna changing from white to blue to green and to pinkish red! It just looked beautiful! The red color comes again from the microorganisms which are eaten by the flamingos. This place was crowded with flamingos – not even comparable to ones we saw back in Chile! The change of colors becomes even more visible when the sun comes out of the clouds every now and then. After taking tons of photos we also just stood there and watched the lake with all different shades of its colors and flamingos. We were the last ones to get back to the jeep.
Then we started driving towards our hostel. We passed by a salt flat and we think there was a mine there. After a while we came down to a valley, with a green stream passing in it. It was quite interesting to see a green wetland in the middle of the desert. Following this green stream, we have reached Villamar Mallcu where our hotel was. We first had tea and after a while the dinner. In the meantime we chatted with the guys in our jeep. They turned out to be very fun! After dinner, we were too tired because of the altitude, as it was hard to move and breath, so we went to bed.
Day 2 – 2 Dec 2016
Last night was warm and nice. After hearing about the horror stories of cold nights, we were prepared with our liner and many layers of clothes, but we had two blankets and it was warm in the room, and during the night, we even took off the extra layers. There were two options for Day 2 of this trip and we picked the option of the valley instead of the lagunas because this side has lower altitude and is easier to handle. M specially appreciated picking up this option as he found it hard to breathe.
Today our first stop was the Valle des Rocas. It is a range of rock formations that is 130km long. We first made a stop to make pictures of a tall rock and we climbed some other rocks to see the view better. In the distance we could see another laguna that is called Luna Vinto. We saw some funny shaped rocks that looked like a camel. Then we have another stop where we could climb another tall rock. This one required some rock climb skills. As we were climbing we saw a viscacha this time really up close. This is an animal that looks like a mix between a rabbit and a squirrel, but is bigger than both. We had seen some before, from the bus back in Atacama, but this time it was right in front of us!
After this fun encounter and looking at the rocks and the view again, we drove down to the lake Luna vinto. Here we saw the Bayata birds and flamingos, and our driver told us that this will be the last time we see flamingos in this trip.
We kept driving and we again came to a wetland with many many llamas. Our driver walked with us through this wetland and rocks and we have reached Laguna Negra (Black Lake). Here some totora plants (cattails) grow and apparenty these also grow a lot in Lake Titicaca. Between these plants socaquernura, a black bird that looks like a chicken, lives. There were some more llamas behind this lake and the scenery was very beautiful.
As we drove around we passed by quinoa fields. They are planted in September and harvested in April, so all we could see was just sand at the moment.
We climbed a bit and reached the top of a Valley. We again stopped here and the view from above with the tall rocks and the small river creating an area of green around it was incredible!
Then we went down by car and the Valley ends with an open space so the river creates a wetland.
We made three more stops. We first came to Alota for lunch. This is a small village with one main street and houses made of clay bricks and grass roofs. We also saw some houses with aluminum sheet roofs where large stones are positioned to keep the roof in place. Then we stopped at San Augustin to taste the beer of coca and quinoa. They had different taste than the regular beer. Then we came to Julaca, where there is a train station. These trains were taking the mines to Chile. We saw at the stop sign: Rio Grande – Chiguana. Here the French guys and the Slovenian found some Bolivian kids to play football. In every little village that we have visited there was always a football field :)
Finally we came to Salar de Chuvica. Here we saw for the first time a mirage in person. The bottom of the mountains seemed to be cut off from the rest of the land and they looked like islands. The horizon seemed to melt and there was a reflection of the sky instead.
We we learned that there are car races done in this salar which they called Dakar. Then we saw some signs saying: the lithium capital, which confirms what we lave learned about this place back in Atacama.
As we were driving, we could see Volcan Tulupa in the distance. With this, we have reached Porto Chuvica where we stayed at a salt hotel, where almost everything was made of salt, even our bed!
We were there just in time to watch the sunset on this salar and make friends with some more llamas. They had hot showers, costs 10 bolivianos, in this hotel and B was waiting for this moment. While waiting for the shower, B played some football in the corridor with hotels owners little son. It was a fun experience to be a kid again running after the ball and shouting, like a kid, with the kid :) After shower, having tea and dinner at the terrace with the beautiful view of the sunset on the salar, we have gone to bed, because we were going to wake up at 4:00 tomorrow morning to see the sunrise at Salar de Uyuni, which is the ultimate destination of this trip!
Day 3 – 3 Dec 2016
Salar de Uyuni is the biggest salar, salt flat, in the world. It is 3700 m high in altitude. It is also the biggest Lithium reserve. There are also minerals such as magnesium borium and others. The salt forms the hexagons shapes. The salt flat is 40 cm deep and there were some holes in which we could see some water underneath. And it is spanning 2000 km2 area. There is volcanic activity and water evaporating slowly playing a factor in the formation of this salt flat. There are also fossils of animals found here.
In the morning we came first to Isla Incahuasi which has a lot of tall cactuses. It is 30 Bolivian pesos to enter and it is definitely worth it to see the sunrise on top of this island. Our driver told us that there is a cactus of 9m. It grows 10cm per year so that one should be 900 years old. We watched the sunrise here and it was amazing how Salar de Uyuni showed itself behind these giant cactuses! We just saw there watching the sun, the salt desert, the mountains in the distance turning into islands as the light was playing tricks with our eyes again, and let the view sink in.
Then we had breakfast at the bottom of this “island” and Wilder, our driver, told us to keep walking and he would pick us up in the distance. It was beautiful to walk on these hexagons of salt extending into infinity and look in the distance and not even see the horizon!
Our next stop was for fun! We were in the middle of the salt flat with nothing else to give a perspective, so we made a lot fun funny photos where the object close to the camera took very big while the person far away looks tiny. We also enjoyed the beautiful views of Salar de Uyuni some more!
Then we stopped by the Hotel de Sal, the only salt hotel in the middle of Salar de Uyuni which is turned into a museum to avoid contamination. There were a lot of flags in front of the hotel and there was not a flag of France, Slovenia or Turkey. Luckily the French guys were traveling with their flag so they went ahead and put it up :) There was also a nice statue of the salar, made of salt, of course!
Then we stopped at Colchani to have lunch and visit the artisan market. After lunch we passed by Uyuni and stopped at the center where there is a clock tower so that people can change or withdraw money.
Finally, we made it to our last stop of the cemetery of trains. The first train from Chile to Bolivia was in 1889 and at the beginning they were all cargo trains. Uyuni is a key location as it is close to the intersection of Chile Argentina and Bolivia. Later on there were also some passenger trains, but here there were mainly British trains with steam engines, which carried minerals.
Then we made it back to Uyuni around 13:00-13:30. Wilder came with us to the bus station and helped us buy tickets to Potosí for 15:00, 30 bolivianos and the other guys to La Paz, 150 bolivianos, for later. We read somewhere online that there was only one bus to Potosi. But it was in correct, you can catch a bus almost every hour until 19:30. Then we went to the one main street that Uyuni has as Wilder has suggested us and we wanted to grab one last beer all together and eat something before we hit the road. We also saw this street that runs from the train station to the clock tower we had seen earlier to the cathedral to the bus station. We took our bus at 15:00 and left Uyuni heading to Potosi.
On the bus, we passed by the deserted part of Bolivia. There is a lot of wind and we could see sand blowing or forming small tornadoes. We stopped by many many small villages taking and dropping passengers. There was a lot of kids on the bus that chatted freely. On one stop a woman selling jelatinos (jelly sweets) and when she entered saying “jelatinos jelatinos” all the kids created a choir and started crying “jelatinos jelatinos” :) Overall the bus ride was a fun and nice experience! Although the two cities seem close on the map, it takes around 4 hours, because there are a lot of mountains in this region, so it was around 19:00 when we reached Potosí.