Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Salar de Uyuni Trip Report Part 1

I am pleased to report that after a multi-day tour through high desert,  mountains,  and altiplano,  that I have made it to Uyuni,  and then La Paz,  Bolivia,  safely.  I just now have internet access,  4 days after starting the trip, so there are quite a few photos that I have to post. 

Uyuni Trip Day 1:

I got up early in order to make sure that I was packed and ready to catch the bus that picked me up at my hostel.  It turns out that the passport control to exit Chile is just outside the city,  even though the border is an hour away.  Chile has this figured out,  there's really only one road,  so they don't bother putting their passport control at the border,  they put it much nearer to town.  The line to exit Chile was fairly long,  and stretched out down the block,  across the driveway where large trucks were pulling in and out to do customs inspection,  so every few minutes our line would break in half to allow these semis in and out.  Many of them were car carriers,  lots and lots of used cars headed into Bolivia,  I imagine someone's making a lot of money off that somehow.

I got through the Chilean passport control and headed up to the actual border.  Bolivia unfortunately,  doens't have it quite as nice.  There are no towns near this border,  the only thing that is there is a small brick shack.  And I don't have a Bolivian visa.  You may recall from my adventures in Buenos Aires that while I have all the documentation,  my instructions were to get the visa at the border.  So I give the border guard my passport,  all the documentation,  and he takes my passport,  puts it in an envelope,  stapes it closed,  writes "immagracion uyuni" on it,  and hands it to my driver.

This was expected,  given the stories people have been telling on the internet who are doing the same thing.  What was not expected was my driver shrugging and handing me back the envelope.  So I carried my passport with me for the next few days.  Which was fine with me,  at least I knew where it was.  More about this in a future post when I actually get to Uyuni.

After a bit,  we were off.  And we were off into some of the strangest,  most surreal landscape I've seen in a very long time.  There were geyser fields,  mountains,  and nearly zero vegetation.  At times we drove through boulder fields,  with giant rocks strewn all over,  other times it was nearly dead flat.  There were lagoons of various colors, depending on the mineral content,  and volcanoes where only the very tops had snow.  We drove up to 4900 meters,  and slept overnight at somewhere around 4500 meters.   And all of that elevation made me ill.  It was a good thing that I had some medication with me,  it helped a great deal.

We were all in Toyota Landrovers for this,  by the way,  which made it through the entire trip without any problems.  Um...except for the fact that ours would occasionally not start, and our driver would get out, grab a tire iron,  then bang on something near the right front wheel a few times.  Then he would be able to start the vehicle.  I have absolutely no clue as to how this worked,  but it seemed to make everything okay.  Very strange.

My Landrover was one of four on the trip,  and between the 20 of us there were 2 Brazilians,  2 Spaniards,  myself,  and the rest of the group was either from Germany or Switzerland,  which meant there was a lot of speaking in German.  In my own truck I was the only one who did not speak German,  which meant that when the driver spoke in Spanish,  the one girl would often translate into German,  and forget to translate into English.  Nonetheless,  everyone was pretty great,  I had a very good time,  with lots of conversations about the fall of the Berlin wall,  the differences between Germany and Switzerland,  and general surprise on their part that I even needed a passport for Bolivia.

That night we stayed in unheated adobe buildings.  I rented a sleeping bag,  and had to pee several times during the night.  Side effect of the altitude medication. 

Ok enough stories.  Have some photos.

The Chile/Bolivia border.  Note the wonderful "middle of nowhereness" about this.

Laguna Blanca.  Because it's white,  more or less.  Blanca.

The red Landrover was the one I was in.  An endless stretch of featureless desert all the way up to the top of those there volcanoes.

Oh,  nearly forgot.  In one of the lagunas,  there a very large number of pink flamingos.  Awesome!  Laguna Colorada I believe.

Perhaps my favorite image from the entire trip,  these two flamingos on the edge of the water.

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