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Monday, June 29, 2009

"(...) La Charla con los amigos me confirmó una vez más que uno es de onde mejor se siente.(...)"

Luís Sepulveda,in Patagonia Express, read during the energy recovery days spent in beautiful and relaxing Sucre

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Salar de Uyuni tour

3 days through mountains, deserts, altiplanic lagoons and salars. Three days of cold, extreme heat, bumpy roads, dust, no confort at all. Three days of astonishing landscapes, beautiful lagoons, gorgeous flamincos, and of creepy and funny salars. Three days that end in the biggest salar in the world, above 3000 m. The salt flats of Uyuni are just so white and big that all sunlight is reflected which causes the loss of horizon and causes mirages, like mountains floating or the feeling of being surrounded by water.

Three fantastic days. Great company, the 12 people distributed by 2 jeeps had a great time. This also made this hard journey easier. You never know what to expect when you enter a tour like this. It's not a tour for the normal tourist. Sleeping at 4800m in a unheated shelter, is not easy. Breathing is not easy at such altitude. The cold at night is extreme. Running, or exercising just forget it (although we managed to play some football in the salt flats, but it took me at least 30 min to recover my breath!). But I can tell you that I don't regret at all of having taken this trip. And I'm happy I did it from Chile and not the other way around, because like this the last thing in the trip is the salt flats, and that's the main attraction of the 3 days tour (it's 4 days if you want to go back to the starting point).

So in summary, the tour starts with a bus trip from San Pedro to the Bolivian border, where one meets our travel mates. 2 Brazilians, 1 french, 1 dutch, 1 american, 2 british guys and 2 couples, one german and one british were the 12 adventurers. At the Bolivian border we have breakfast and stamp our passport. A picture of Evo Morales, the populist Bolivian leader welcomes us in Bolivia. And then hop we go in our 4 WDs up the mountains. The first stop is at the Laguna Blanca, so called because of the Borax minerals that give it a white colour. The lagoon turns green and becomes Laguna Verde a few km ahead due to the accumulation of sulfates. We continued to the hot springs. This was a fantastic moment. The water was really really warm (much better than in the geisers del Tatio) and it felt great to enter the water and just relax 20 min before continuing the bumpy road. The geisers sol de mañana followed. I couldn't see a single geiser, just fumaroles, so this was kind of a disappointment. The Dali desert, so called because of a Dali painting that looks exactly the same, awaits everyone who passes, quietly without producing a single sound. It's a beautiful place. The final stop of the first day was the redish laguna colorada, full of red algae and home to three different species of flamincos. A beautiful place at over 4000 meters. Our shelter was not far away and we spent the time talking and playing cards and dice. It was a funny night where everyone got to know each other a bit more.

The second day starts with the laguna colorada, followed by the stone tree, an eroded rock that somehow resembles a tree. Around it there are more stones that people keep on climbing. I end up finding one that resembles a bird, or maybe it's just my imagination seing things in the middle of the desert. We proceed, visiting a few altiplanic lagoons, that are not as spectacular as the ones from the first day. There were also the coloured mountain and the Ollegue volcano on the route, before we pass through the first salar (and the train line that ends in Antofagasta). Our place for the night was the salt hotel, a peculiar place where all the walls are made of salt! We visited some mumies right next to it, once we arrived and then it was just time to relax, have a warm shower and wait for bed time to come! The big day was awaiting.

And finally the Salar de Uyuni comes. Big, huge, empty, white, imense, quiet and beatiful. All these feelings come to me as we enter the salar. I want to stop and take the funny pictures that I've seen from other people. The lack of an horizon produces very funny optical ilusions, specially when you take photographs. We stoped for an hour and acted like children with a new toy during that hour. The guides are probably so used to that that don't even bother to come out of the car. We next moved on to the IncaHuasi Island, an island in the middle of the salar, that is covered in cactus, the only thing that grows in this place. Some are over a 1000 years old! Impressive! As we are finishing lunch me and Clement see some bolivians playing with a ball. We run to join them and spend the next 30 min trying to run at 3000 meters. It was really funny. Football breaking barriers, as it should be! We are informed that the road blocks that had closed the access to Uyuni for the last few days, are over and continue our trip towards the city. Before being dropped off in the city center we visit the train cemetery, a strange place where a bunch of old locomotives are rottening in the sun.

And so it ended the trip in the lost city of Uyuni, a place that, appart from being the gateway to one of the most exquisite tours in the world, has little to offer even to the normal backpacker, that doesn't demand much. We spent the rest of the day trying to get some money (there's one ATM in town that doesn't always work), eating some decent food and trying to keep warm. We said goodbye to the brave ones who decided to leave immediately and try to relax in the cold rooms of this remote place, that doesn't have a single paved road connecting it anywhere else in the country. Tomorrow it is going to be a long journey to Sucre, via Potosi, but I want to relax at a lower altitude before continuing to explore south america and Bolivia. The last days have been amazing and full of different feelings and experiences. Lets hope it stays like this. :)

I would also like to recomend the Cordillera travel agency tour. I had heard really bad experiences from the salar tour. I think mine was quite OK. I don't know if it was from the tour operator, the company or what, so just be aware that these three or four days are not easy and no tour company offers a confortable upper class journey. I didn't have any complaints from these guys, but others have had. There are no tour operators without complains, so I believe it is luck that determines a good experience :)

RC
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San Pedro de Atacama

There's probably no other place on earth like San Pedro de Atacama. At times it just feels like we are in another planet. The lunar landscapes at the Valle de la Luna, become even more mysterious and strange, as the sun sets. Valle de la Muerte, is just a beautiful place where I wouldn't like to get lost. Quebrada del Diablo an example of what water can do, having built a beautiful and enormous canyon. The Geysers del Tatio at sun rise look like hell, if it exists.

This is San Pedro de Atacama, a small city, in the Atacama desert, the driest desert in the world, in the northern part of Chile, right next to Bolivia. Everyone that had been there told me I had to go there. And so I did. My first image of the desert was on the bus. It is a long way from Santiago to San Pedro. So long that I decided to break the journey in two and stay at the lost city of Copiapó one night. I regret I did that, but it was probably wise to do it. But Copiapó has just nothing to offer the normal tourist. It's an old miners city, that seems to be waiting something to stop existing. But lets not talk about that... Lets talk about Antofagasta and its beautiful coloured houses standing just in front of the high dry mountains by the pacific ocean. I didn't stop there, my bus just went through it, but I wished I did... I might go back to northern Chile by the end of the month and visit it and do somethings I missed in San Pedro. But the best part of this long trip was the sunset on the road between Antofagasta and San Pedro. All the sky turned orange, it was beautiful and the perfect welcome card to the most peculiar place I've ever been to!

I'm a huge fan of deserts. Don't ask me why... It's just such an empty place that it makes me feel so empty that the brain just starts thinking and racionalizing so fast as if it is trying to compensate for the lack of everything. And so, as I approach San Pedro, the more aware I am of what surrounds me and probably that reflects all the visual images I had during the days I spent here!

I met Guy as we left the bus, when we arrived in San Pedro. Although we went to different hostels, it was very likely that we would meet in the small city center. And so we did. We spent the next 3 days doing things together around the city. We biked to Quebrada del Diablo and the Valle de la Luna (although in this part of the trip we had to push the bike more than biking due to the strong wind that kept blowing sand into us), hiked to Valle de la Muerte and sandboarded the dune, and took the perfect tour to Geisers del Tatio. We also planned the Uyuni Salar tour together. I lost count of the pictures I took in these 3 days. Everywhere I turned a postcard like picture seemed to lay in front of me.

I can't write much more about San Pedro. It was just too beautiful and my vocabulary too limited to describe it. I'll leave you with the pictures as soon as I find a place to upload them! Meanwhile, if you are really curious about it, just google it. San Pedro, the most alien place in the face of earth.