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Salt Flats of Uyuni - Day 3

Written on: Wednesday January 9th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia

Author: Julie


Now that the truck was fixed, we could head out on what was supposed to be yesterday?s intended course across the Altiplano of Bolivia towards the Laguna Colorada, thus bringing us closer to the border with Chile.

Kevin woke up particularly early this morning and watched the sun rise as I slept for as long as I could under my warm blankets. We loaded up the truck and sat in anticipation to see if it would start. Unfortunately, we were now only four passengers in the truck. Julien and Galia had opted to take a local bus back to Uyuni to catch their pre-bought ticket back to La Paz instead of continuing on with us. As sad as we were to see them leave, we now all had more room in the truck to stretch out. We had been packed in three per seat and it made sitting for a long time difficult as our butts would go numb with the inability to adjust our position.

We drove for a couple of hours, admiring the incredible scenery of the Altiplano with its snowy peaks, arid plains, and the occasional heard of vicuna, an endangered cousin of llamas and alpacas. Our first stop of the day was at Laguna Chiarcota-Chiguana and our first sighting of the three breeds of flamingos that were indigenous to this area. There was the Andean Flamingo with a mostly light rose color to its body, then the Austral Flamingo with a salmon colored body and black-tipped wings and finally the rarest of all, the James Flamingo with its Black and pink stripped body. We watched them for a while as they did what flamingos do: stood in the water and fed from the lake bottom or flew around to clumsily land near the shoreline. We got back in our truck and headed off to see the next three lakes named Hedionda, Honda, and Caņapa. They all looked very similar with large colonies of flamingos and vicunas browsing near by. They were surrounded by large mountains and their waters were an incredible blue. It was a beautiful sight and worth all the problems we had experience the past two days. It was too bad Julien and Galia weren?t here with us to experience it.

We continued our path down south towards the border and most of us fell asleep for an hour in the truck before we were awaken by the truck driver. We had reached a particularly dangerous area of the road and we had to get out and hike up to the top while he negotiated it with the truck. It gave us a chance to stretch our legs a bit. The scenery had changed again and we were now in a deep valley surrounded by rocky outcroppings and low brush everywhere. The cook, named Christina, showed us the path up while to the left we could see the truck bumping up and down over large boulders on an otherwise non-existent path. It was a beautiful area, with nary a sound but our footsteps, the wind and the occasional noise from the truck on the other side of the hill. Then, suddenly Christina stopped and pointed towards a set of rocks. Sitting on quietly on the rocks and eyeing us secretly was a couple of Viscachas. This is a species of a rodent from the chinchilla family. They looked like a cross between rabbits and a large mouse with their bunny ears, mousy face and long bushy tail. They are usually found between the tree-line and snowline in the Andes. We watched them for a few minutes before they quickly hopped off with extreme agility to a safer area of rock farther up the hill. We found the truck at the top of the hill, waiting for us to continue on to our next stop: The Stone Tree.

The next hour of driving proved to be extremely bumpy which caused our downfall. A certain section of road was rippled like a washboard and as we drove over it our truck was shaken like a ragdoll. Thinking nothing of it we continued on till a little while later, having left the roughest part of the road and onto a large plain, our truck decided to die on us, again. At this point, we were experts at the waiting game and settled down to wait out the arrival of another truck or crossing our fingers that the guys could figure out what was wrong with it. Kevin double-checked all the connectors and couldn?t find anything wrong with it. So, time passed and an hour later a truck approached our way. Kevin mentioned it to the driver but he refused to stop the truck, so Kevin had to hoof it across the plain at 4300 meters in altitude, stop the truck and ask for help. The truck agreed and drove over to assist us. After talking with the new driver, he tried a few things including taking a sample from the gas tank. Turns out we had a lot of water in the gas tank and the bumpy road must haven shaken it all up till it caused our engine to stop. Fantastic! Unfortunately, the helpful driver couldn?t help us further and he got into his truck and drove away. Kevin was trying to convince the driver to slowly drain the water out of the gas tank when another truck appeared on the horizon. Again, for a strange unfathomable reason, he refused to stop the truck and ask for help even though he didn?t know how to fix the truck. Would he have wanted us to stay there forever? We will never find out because Kevin ran over to the other truck and got him to stop for help also. When he arrived, his passengers got out to stretch their legs. It gave us time to chitchat while they figured out what needed to be done. During our talks with them, we found out that their driver had been drunk since the night before and had been belligerent all morning long. Even though we didn?t have the best driver, at least he wasn?t a drunk. Anyhow, they managed to use our broken winch to attach to the other drunk and we were pulled for 30 minutes to the lunch site where all the other trucks had stopped. Our cook pulled out a cold lunch of a chicken breast and salad, while the driver had a few of the other drivers come over and check out the engine. After much deliberation, they decided one of the parts needs to be changed. So, for 20 Bolivianos a new part on the distributor cap was installed, a quick turn of the key and the engine started up again. We still had water in our gas tank but the driver didn?t seem to be concerned about it.

Off we went towards the next stop on the tour: The Stone Tree. A large area of limestone rock had been shaped by the wind into odd formations including the most famous one that looked exactly like a tree. We spent 15 minutes there wandering around the area looking at different shapes. A few other tourists were there crawling up and over the rocks. It was certainly a very different and interesting area that we hadn?t seen in our travels as yet. Even the driver was busy taking photos of the cook in front of the rocks.

Time was passing by and our always rushed driver hustled us back into the truck towards or next and final destination of the day. We arrived at the entrance of Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve to pay our entry fee of 30 Bolivianos. Inside the park entrance were our accommodations for the night. We drove by a couple of buildings with the cook and driver debating at which one we should stop. There was small range in quality from one to another and of course, par for the course for this trip, our driver chose one of the worst looking ones. We stopped in the parking lot, waited for him to talk to the owner. Negotiations complete, he waved us in to our shared room for the evening. Outside of the room was a long hallway with large windows in front of picnic tables where we took our tea and cookies. Talking with the others, we realised that the reason the driver was rushed was because he was trying to get here before the other drivers so he had a choice of the cheaper accommodations. We figure he pocketed the price difference so he wanted the cheapest ones.

Outside of the hostel was one of the most beautiful laguna of the tour. Laguna Colorada is a shallow salt lake home to a large population of flamingos and llamas. The driver dove us to a look-out where there was an awe-inspiring view of the red lake. The color is due to the red algae sediment content in the water. Unfortunately, the weather had turned quite foul. Huge storm clouds brought in rain and heavy winds so although we were looking at what was supposedly one of the nicest lagunas in the altiplano, we weren?t able to get its full effect. The red of the water was muted and we weren?t able to experience the panoramic vista of the red lake, green surroundings and bright blue skies that were in all the photos that we had seen. We walked down to the shore line and carefully made our way to a family of llamas that were resting in the wind. Our steps were silenced by the howling breeze and we were able to take some close up photos of the herd. Feeling the evening cold setting in, we decided to head back to the hotel for supper. We were unimpressed, but not surprised to find that we were eating the same dishes as the night before, soup and spaghetti. As we were finishing up our plates we noticed that we hadn?t had anything to drink with our meal and that other the other tables had wine. When we mentioned this to our driver, he pulled out a bottle from a grocery bag and handed it to Thomas. We assumed that he was trying to keep it for himself. After dinner we packed our bags and set the alarm for a 3 am waking.