Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia and the "Driest Desert in the World" (Chile)
Yay, I can finally post because I found a computer fast enough to upload all these pictures!
On Saturday (a week ago) I left for a three day tour of Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni salt flats) and the surrounding area in Bolivia. The tours are in a 4-wheel drive SUV kind of car. The guide books all warn about sketchy trucks, bad drivers, breakdowns, not enough food etc. So I left for the tour not really knowing what to expect and not getting my hopes up. It turned out to be fantastic. Yes, the drive was slightly sketchy and I could have eaten a lot more than we were served, but we didn´t have any accidents, and we only broke down once and were back on the road in 15 minutes. The trip is 7 people and a driver (not so much a guide because they don´t really tell you much) on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. The whole trip was so beautiful, we drove through so many different types of places, all very different. I think that the best way for me to describe the whole thing is through pictures.
This is the Salar de Uyuni, it is a 12,000 sq. km. salt flat which is where most of the salt in Bolivia is mined from. I guess in the winter it looks more like salt plains but this time of year (summer) it is covered by a couple of inches of rain water which makes the most beautiful reflections. You can see every mountain and every cloud reflected in the salar and you cant tell how far away they are or where the sky starts and ends. Here is an attempt to get a picture of the reflection.
It was also fun to take pictures of our own reflection although the picture doesnt look as good as it really looked. We just took off our shoes and walked through the water over the salt and by the time we got back in the truck our legs were caked in salt up to our knees.
There were also buildings make completly of salt, they were made of bricks of salt and then all the tables and chairs inside were all made of blocks of salt. They sold little souveneirs made of salt and we were all hoping to buy salt shakers made of salt but it seems they dont make those, you would think they would, I bet they would sell big to to the tourists.
The drive was through flat desert type areas sometimes with vegetation, sometimes without and always with mountains (sometimes snow covered) in the background. This is an example of a typical scene out the window.
So we were driving through these flat areas and then all of a sudden we came upon this... Just rocks of all shapes and sizes everywhere fore miles.
At other points we came across similar areas but where the rocks were more like boulders and everywhere as well.
Then we would come across many lakes. This is where we stopped for lunch the second day. Like the salt flats, most of the lakes have an amazing reflection and the mountains and clouds always seem to be situated perfectly to get a spectacular reflection.
Late in the day we stoped at the Arbol de Piedra (tree of stone) which is just a big stone that slightly resembles a tree with lots of other bolders around (they are on the other side so you cant see the rest of them in the picture). Then right in the middle of the desert, in the middle of the summer, it started to snow. It was so surreal. It was just flurries but later that night it snowed for real, which meant it was very cold and there were minimal blankets which just means sleeping in a lot of clothes. The snow is not so strange when you take into consideration the altitude we were at. On the third day we got to about 4,900 m (that is really high).
This is another lake, Laguna Colorada (colored lake) which although appears to be muddy in this picture is actually a vibrant red color with patches of blues and purples.
At this lake as well as many others we saw lots of flamingos, there were always hundreds of them and they were always to far away to get good pictures but this was one of my lucky ones where they were starting to fly away, scared by all the tourists but I managed to get them just in time.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to see the geysers at their most active time of day. Where the geysers were was completly snowy and so we all bundled up and walked through the snow. The geysers are extreamly hot and so the snow was melted around them but a couple feet away we were surrounded by snow and snowy mountains.
This is the group of us and the car we spent three days in. As you can see, we are all unprepared for snow and so bundled up in what clothes and hats we have because it was really cold.
We got back into the car, drove through the snow for litterally only ten minutes and were here...
Natural hotsprings with the most gorgeous view. Considering we had just been in the snow you would think it would be cold but the water was about 33 degrees C which is something really hot in F, I still havent figured out the metric conversions.
The last stop on the tour was the Laguna Verde (Green Lake). You may notice that the lake is not at all green. This is because they lake turns green when it is oxidized by the wind and so you can actually see it changing colors. Unfortunatly the wind was not strong enought while I was there and so I did not get to see it green but it was still beautiful and yet again had a great reflection of the snowy mountains.
From there I took a bus into San Pedro de Atacama in the North of Chile. This area is known as the "Driest desert in the world" yet it rained every afternoon I was there and I was almost stranded there because of the rain. The whole area is completly unprepared for rain. Most of the building dont have really roofs and so it was difficult to find a restaurant for dinner that didnt have water pouring in from the "roof." The roads around there were closed because of the weather and my bus to Santiago was cancelled. There was about a day of panic where I was sure I wouldnt get to my orientation on time but luckily I had given myself extra time and the roads opened later in the day. While I was there I did go to Valle de la Luna for the sunset which was beautiful and had the added bonus of the sunset on one side and a very bright double rainbow on the other side.
So I was able to get a bus about 4 hours south to a nothing town where I had to stay a day and a half, two nights to wait for a bus to Santiago. The good thing was that it had a beach, so I went to the beach for about half the day. I ended up getting one of the worst sunburns I have ever had despite constantly putting on sunscreen but it was nice to spend a day at the beach. I then took an 18 hour bus ride to Santiago and arrived this morning. I just wandered around the downtown area this afternoon and tonight I am meeting a girl from my program for dinner who is also here early. Tuesday morning is the start 0f my orientation.