An amazing five day 4WD tour: climbing Volcan Uturuncu (6008m!!), geysers, lakes of many colours, flamingoes, more volcanoes and the worlds largest salt plain.
04.12.2011 - 09.12.2011
Early on Sunday morning, all 4 of us, Ben and Tanis, Deb and me, head down to load up the 4x4 Toyota jeep that will be our transport for the next few days. We meet our guide, Alan, and our cook, Carmen, and hit the road. Glad that we decided on a trip for only 4 of us, we all get a window seat, though the back seats are a little cramped, especially for 6 foot 4 Ben! But we stop often for photos and keep swapping around.
First on the trail is the Luna landscape of El Sillar a dry craggy wind scarred landscape of red sandstone.
Entertainment during a tasty lunch (arranged amazingly quickly by Carmen) was an exploding Coca Cola bottle. Tanis did not get much sympathy, only laughter, but she took it well! During the afternoon, other than many long miles on the road, we explored the desserted ruined town of San Antonio. Here we saw what appeared to be an overgrown rabbit with a curly tail, known as a Viscacha, almost wallaby like in appearance with the way it bounced along. Apparently they are quite tasty, and they clearly knew that as they kept their distance!
Once we arrive, tea, biscuits and dulce de leche are out for us. Dulce de leche is a sticky sweet caramel spread made from milk and sugar, and very more-ish! As dinner took a little while to arrive, we hit the sack shortly after, all anticipating the tough day ahead!
And so the challenging day had arrived, the climb of a volcano over 6,000 metres, Vulcan Uturuncu. After a very bumpy, stoney and steep ride to the starting point, we commenced our climb. Immediately the climb was steep fine scree, painfully difficult to make progress on, as for every 2 steps upwards you made, you slipped back almost as much. We were impressed that Carmen and Alan decided to join us, even though we had hired a local guide. She even brought us snacks for one of the many stops that we had to make along the way. Being above 5,000m was new for all of us, and it soon showed. We were stopping every 10 minutes or so for a rest, and even when climbing, it was slow steps, that lack of oxygen was starting to take its toll. But we persevered, and were eventually rewarded with all of us managing to reach the summit, and wow, was it worth the climb. Being the highest volcano in the area, the 360 degree view we got was awesome.
After plenty of photos, and snacks to keep the energy up, we started our descent, significantly quicker as we 'surfed' for want of a better word down the scree slopes. The noxious sulphurous fumes soon made us all feel nauseous, but thankfully that had passed by the time we got back to the hostel, and at a mere 4,200m, we were gulping in the oxygen!
After exploring the Dali Rocks, bizarre shaped wind sculpted rock statues sticking up in an otherwise barren sandy landscape, we chilled by Laguna Verde, the first of many different coloured lakes, this one being an impossibly light green. Before lunch we visit some hot springs, a great place to chill - in fact Deb and I were the only ones in the hot spring. After lunch the lake we visited (Laguna Colarado) was a deep red/copper colour, and much to our delight, full of flamingoes. While for most of the time, they had their heads in the shallow water feeding, the lake contrast to the pink birds was quite something.
We also got to explore some active geysers, making Deb feel very much at home, with the eggy smell reminiscent of Rotorua in New Zealand and our night's stay is next to another lake full of flamingos.
More lakes full of flamingoes today, and new scenery to explore, each seemingly more amazing than the last, and lots of photo stops again! Lunch was spent in the shade of more bizarre rock formations, listening to Elvis from the jeep (not that our guide was a secret Elvis fan...it actually came from Deb's Zen...), and feeding apple cores to grateful local viscachas. The afternoon was equally eventful with not 1, but 2 tyre blow outs, apparently a regular occurrence, and nothing to do with Alan's driving, which thankfully we are all very happy with (he was definitely not a taxi driver in a previous profession!). Our accommodation tonight was in the Salt Hotel on the edge of the Salt Plains. A building, yes you guessed it, made entirely of salt, even down to the tables and seats! And more importantly for all of us, our first shower for 4 days!
We had all agreed on an early start to catch the sunrise, and it was so worth it. There is simply no where on earth quite like the Salar de Uyuni. At over 4,000 square miles, it is by far the largest salt plain in the world, estimates put the actual quantity of salt at over 10 billion tonnes, and in parts it is 140 metres thick! But perhaps more astonishingly is that over the entire area, the height variation is no more than 1 metre. On the plains are a few craggy islands, and Isla Incahuasi is where we had our breakfast. This outcrop is covered in Cacti, and the elevated summit gives us the perfect place to contemplate the extraordinary sight of the Salar de Uyuni. Incidentally the cacti grow at only 1 centimetre a year, and many are around 8 metres tall! Yes 800 year old cacti!
The Salt Plains were the perfect surface for driving on and, as many of you know, world land speed records have been acheived on similar surfaces. We took advantage of this, and made our way to the volcano on one side, where we saw some old mummies in a cave. They were left in sitting positions, still have hair, and included children, bizarre and chilling! On our journey back across the salt plains, we stopped off at another salt hotel, played a game or two of twister (yes Deb brought that all the way from England!), and took some fun photos of each other using perspective to confuse the mind's eye!
Here we also met people travelling by both motorbike and amazingly, bicycle! All with incredible stories to tell, and crazy distances covered! Before we knew it we had arrived in Uyuni, our final destination on this tour. And so we grabbed some lunch, and said our goodbyes to Alan and Carmen, the trip ending all too quickly.....