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Posts Tagged ‘Salar de Uyuni’

Salar de Uyuni (Part 3)

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The main attraction. The Salar de Uyuni. When we first started planning this trip and decided on spending a good chunk of the time in S. America, this was one of four main natural attractions we really wanted to see, along with Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls (which we are at as this is posting), and Patagonia. When US relations turned sour with Bolivia over the summer and early fall, and it looked like we weren’t going to be able to go to Bolivia, we were less than thrilled. Luckily for us, things turned around, and traveling in Bolivia proved not to be a problem, which was fantastic because we found this country to be quite magical, and the Salar de Uyuni was the perfect conclusion.

We awoke on the fourth morning only a few kilometers away, so less than a half hour into our day we saw the world’s largest salt plain, at 10,500 square kilometers, with flats made up of eleven separate layers ranging in thickness from two to twenty meters. When first driving across it, we were quite happy to be on solid, flat ground that was not bumpy. Then we looked around us. “WOW” was the preferred term of the day for our group. The vastness, brightness, and whiteness was truly awe-inspiring. Nature truly astounds me sometimes, and again, as in much of Bolivia, the Salar de Uyuni didn’t disappoint (this place is so vast and white that my mother-in-law told Megan that when looking at it on Google Earth it was a huge, white, glaring section of the map, and remember, this is a picture from a satellite).

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After driving for a bit, we came to the Isla del Pescado, which was formed of chalky rocks and coral. This was an island in the middle of the Salar, which was a little disconcerting at times because the flats looked like water, only there were cars driving on it, and we could walk on it. But then there was an island, and it was just bizarre, and once again, I had to question what planet I was truly on. We had the chance to hike to the top of the island, which provided some moving views yet again. The cacti that dotted the island, the morning sun, the surrounding mountains on the horizon, and the blinding whiteness of the Salar itself all added to the magnificence of the scene.

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After taking it in from the island, we got the chance to have our fun. When researching the flats before we came, we always came across the same pictures. Because of the uniqueness of the Salar, people can take pictures that fool the eye, and Megan, Steve, Lisa, and I were ready to act like kids and have some fun. It was time to let loose, act silly, and goof around at a place that we would most likely never be again, and a place that was like no other on Earth. I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story (all the pictures from this post show up in the gallery, but there are a bunch of the ones like the one below, so be sure to go through them all).

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Even though this was not exhausting like hiking the Inca Trail, we were all pretty tired after spending four straight days in a jeep. The sheer brilliance of our surroundings was somehow taxing as well, and I was mentally spent after reflecting and thinking about everything I had just seen over this tour. We had a five hour jeep trip back to Tupiza, and we knew that we were heading to Argentina the following morning. One leg of our trip was ending, and it was a little depressing. Peru and Bolivia were quite different than Argentina, and we knew we were entering a place that, although close in proximity, would be completely different than the places we had been. Bolivia had been a country that we wanted to go to now while we were young because we knew it would be a challenge. It was the most developing of countries either of us had been to with the poverty and the difficulty of traveling. But with the prospect of leaving in our sights, we became nostalgic about our time here, wishing we could stay longer, and vowing that we would someday return.

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I don’t know how many times I said the following phrase while on our tour, “I really feel like we’re on another planet.” Now I’ve seen mountains many times over the years, in Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, upstate New York, Vermont, Switzerland, and now Peru and Bolivia, but I have never seen the differing landscapes and colors that I saw over our tour of southwest Bolivia. Every corner we turned provided new landscapes, differing colored mountains, volcanoes, geysers, and even a rock that looked like a tree.

On the first day, we found ourselves describing our surroundings like the American Southwest. The rock formations were very similar to a part of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah called the Fiery Furnace (only they weren’t red).

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As we went along on the tour though, the landscape changed. There were mountains, and they reminded us a bit of the Painted Desert in Arizona, only much more dramatic. All four of us found the scenery breathtaking. It was funny to hear everyone try to describe what we were seeing. The plethora of different shades of colors on each separate sandy mountain was a sight to see. Steve described it as one of those different colored sand things framed in glass. Megan described it as someone kicking several different colored cans of paint down the mountain. I described it as God taking a package of colored chalk, throwing it on the mountain, and stomping on it with his foot. All were apt descriptions. And the thing was that every mountain was different. Some had different shades of reds, oranges, and yellows, some had different shades of grays, whites, and blacks, some greens and blues. And it was all surrounded by desert, which provided a great contrast to the mountains.

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While the previous pictures provided us our scenery for much of the middle two days of the tour, like I have repeatedly said, it was constantly changing. Towards the end of the second day, after we saw Laguna Verde and drove through much of the area from the above pics, we came across the Sol de Manana Geysers, which was a first for either of us. This area was 5000 meters above sea level, and we saw the power of the Earth (or at least I think it was Earth) up close. This area was intensely volcanic and the temperatures within the bubbling, steaming mud pools can reach up to 90 degrees Celsius (over 200 degrees F).

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Another interesting part of our journey was the Arbol de Piedra in the Desierto de Siloli. We arrived here on our third day. The Arbol de Piedra is a tree shaped rock formation, which has been formed over the years by sand and wind driven against its sides to give it its distinctive shape. While the Arbol de Piedra was impressive itself, again, we were greeted with great views from every direction. The formation we came to see was surrounded by all different types of other rock formations, which was set in the middle of a desert, and then surrounded by differed colored mountains like the ones above.

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While I was continually impressed with everything we saw over the four days, the reason we came on this tour (and the one main reason we came to Bolivia, even though we soon found out there’s so much more to this wonderful country) was the Salar de Uyuni itself. But that deserves its own post, and it will have to wait for next time.

Until then…

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No, we’re just in Bolivia.

I found myself asking this question multiple times on our four day tour through the Salar de Uyuni. First, the tour name is a little misleading as we didn’t even see the famous Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) until the morning of our fourth day. It would be more accurate to describe this as a tour of southwest Bolivia.

On this tour that brought us through a good portion of the southwestern part of the country, I was constantly astounded at the uniqueness and beauty that surrounded us. The entire country of Bolivia has been this way, but it was never more evident than in our four day jeep trip. This tour brought us through such a myriad of landscapes that the four of us (Megan and I, and Steve and Lisa, from Australia-who were fantastic traveling companions for this four day trip) found ourselves using words like “lunar” and “Mars” to describe our surroundings.

So instead of the usual chronological posts about a trip like this, I have decided to change it up a little bit. I’m not going to give a blow by blow account of everything we did from day one until day four. Instead, I’m going to break it down into three different posts intertwining all four days that I feel will accurately depict what we experienced over this four day tour: Lagoons, Landscape, and Salar de Uyuni.

Lagoons

On the morning of the second day of our tour, we came across the first of many lagoons that we saw over the course of the trip. This particular one was the Laguna Morejo, which was at 4855 meters.

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The great thing about the lagoons was that they were all different. Every one we saw had a certain uniqueness to it, which really became the theme to the four day tour. Every corner we came around, every direction we turned, it seemed as though it was completely different. I have never experienced anything like it before. We have been fortunate to see some beautiful and unique things throughout all our travels since we have been together, but I have never been as speechless as I was during the Salar de Uyuni tour (and for those of you who know me, “speechless” usually isn’t how people describe me).

Another great thing about the lagoons was the wildlife that was abundant in them, particularly the pink flamingos. We first saw them at the first lagoon named Laguna Hedionda (there was a second lagoon of the same name on the third day). There were at least a hundred pink flamingos chilling out in the shallow lagoon, most sticking their heads underneath the water eating. We tried to be as quiet as possible approaching them so we could get some good pictures, but once they heard our presence, they all took off flying. At first we were bummed, but luckily Megan was ready with camera in hand, and she managed to get some great pictures of the flamingos flying off in unison, their reflections in the lagoon below. It was a fantastic sight to see.

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(Aside: In the above pics, you will also notice clumps of salt in the lagoons. We saw salt in bits and pieces as we set out our first day, and as went along and got closer to the Salt Flats themselves, more and more clumps and piles of salt came about.)

Soon after we left Laguna Hedionda, we came across another lagoon and our first salt flat. It was kind of odd that one was called a lagoon and the other a salar, as Kollpa Laguna didn’t much look like a lagoon as it did a huge lake of salt, and Salar de Chalvari looked more like a lagoon, but hey, they didn’t ask me to name them, so I’ll try to refrain from criticism. As you can see in the pictures below, Kollpa Laguna almost looks like a frozen lake in the wintertime that has been covered in snow, but there is no snow, only salt. There were so many different colors evident in the salt as well, which created a very interesting and unique look.

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The Salar de Chalvari was a stopping point, first because there was a hot spring for us to relax in, as we had been working so hard sitting in a jeep for six hours, and then for lunch. In the Salar de Chalvari pictures, you can notice the steam coming up from all around the water, and at the front of all three pics, there is a small pool, which is where we all got to hang out for about a half hour before lunch in the almost 100 degree water. It was quite relaxing.

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Near where we stayed on the second night was Laguna Colorada, which is where we spent the first hour or so on the third morning. Again, flamingos were everywhere at this lagoon, and there were mountains all around, some reflecting in the lagoon. Salt was again everywhere, and some of the different minerals around us gave parts of the lagoon a reddish hue. Again, the rainbow of colors was astounding.

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We were lucky enough to see many flamingos in the lagoons, but the second Laguna Hedionda provided flamingos that didn’t seem too scared of us. At one point, I was about 10 feet away from some, and they didn’t seem to mind at all. This lagoon wasn’t the most spectacular, but it did afford us the chance to get several up close and personal pics of the flamingos.

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While Laguna Colorada was a great way to start the day, we saw the most spectacular of the lagoons the day before, Laguna Verde. Verde is the Spanish word for green, so we knew we were in for something out of the ordinary while driving there. When we were driving towards what we thought was Laguna Verde, we saw a lagoon that was kind of green, but it was a bit of a letdown. Then we turned the corner, and I heard my wife gasp. Like I stated earlier, turning corners became quite exciting because we knew we were most likely in for a treat every time we did so. This was no exception. We had jumped the gun, and the first lagoon we saw was not in fact Laguna Verde, because once we turned this corner, there was no doubt where we were. The rich color in the Lagoon is caused by high arsenic and magnesium content in the water (see, I told you it was like we weren’t even on Earth anymore). The pics look good, but honestly, it was much more dramatic in person. The pictures, while great, really don’t do it justice.

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While the lagoons were impressive and provided some beautiful scenery for the four day tour, to me, the constantly changing landscapes and abundance of differing colors in the mountains and rock formations awed me most, but that will have to be saved for next time.

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