Let's get some perspective (photos)

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
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Trip End Nov 29, 2014


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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosi Department,
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beard

Leaving Chile, for most probably our final time, Tasha and I reflected on our time in South America's sliver of paradise. 2 years ago, as planning for this trip began, we hadn't given much thought into what Chile had to offered us. The Inca Trail, Amazon Rainforests and Argentina's Patagonia are all trademark tourist 'box tickers' in this continent, but it's been the trekking in South Chile, hitch-hiking on the Carretera Austral and magic starry night skies, that have been standouts so far.

To rival our emotional goodbye at Chester train station with the Jones', we failed in out attempt to hold back the tears as our next leg took us over the boarder into Bolivia. While in San Pedro Tash, Hidde, Hidde's sister Sanne and yours truly, booked onto a 3-day tour of Bolivia's wonderous Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat, measuring roughly 10,000kmsq. The tour ended up in Uyuni where we engaged in the classic tourist activity of perspective photos, making each other look so tiny and cute. The two days leading up to that offered breathtaking views of lagoons, barren desert land, thermal springs and wildlife.

During our 3-day tour we covered roughly 700km, absorbing the many jawdropping sights in the Potosi region of south-west Bolivia. 700km your thinking, that's a long way, definitely not walkable. Did my persistence in passing my driving test at the 8th time of asking back in September 2013 pay off?! Unfortunately not. Our group of 6 (Jean and Keri, a South African couple joined the Brits and Belgians) was whisked through the Bolivian desert by a professional, a lovely guy called Vladimir, who'd been driving these arid plains for nearly 10 years.

After my quad bike excursions on Easter Island, I felt positive that I could 'do a job' behind the wheel of a 4x4. My thought process was that driving through the desert meant you don't have to compete with annoyances likes pedestrians, traffic lights, or zebra crossings. Keeping a close eye on Vlad, I didn't see him complete a single parallel park and he certainly didn't reverse around any corners. As there wasn't a huge amount of traffic competing for space on the 'road' there wasn't much need to check his 'blind-spot'; a big stumbling block on many driving tests in the Morden area.

To give him his dues, handling that monstrous vehicle on such loose, uneven ground was no walk in the park. The local council don't plough much money into maintaining the roads and seeing as the nearest town is days away, it's not exactly practically either. Every now and again, Vlad had to reduce his speed unexpectedly due to a big hole in the road that needed to be swerved or driven over very slowly. Even a driver of Vlad's experience was unable to prevent his 6 passengers from being thrown around the back of his Jeep. At times the heat was suffocating, so for him to keep his concentration behind the wheels for hours on end must have been tough.

Luckily for us, and Vlad, we weren't driving around for hours on end through the barren desert topography with no rest stops. The breaks were all the more frequent because of the copious amount of water we consumed. The combination of vibrations and a bumpy ride meant that our bladder control had regressed to that of a gang of 6 year olds, content on annoying their teacher for multiple toilet visits.

Although Salar de Uyuni would be the final, breathtaking movement of this beautifully composed symphony, there were some magicaly moments to behold before the piece de resistance. With two phones and one digital camera, we captured hundreds of photos of fascinating colured lagoons, towering volcanoes, the mars like landscape, sunrises, sunsets, talkative flamingoes and speedy llamas. It's proved to be a tough ask narrowing down our favourites for this blog.

Starring out onto the vast laggons the different colours and tones made for truly compelling viewings. Vlad explained that the redness dominating the view at Laguna Colorado is due to the red algae that lives there. The laguna's high population of flamingoes is a direct result of the algae which these majestic birds feed on. Laguna Verde, the green lagoon, acquired its jade like pigments from an assortment of heavy metals such as lead and cooper and a range of minerals that fester in the laguna. It's naming seems fairly straightforward.

While sitting down for lunch one day, at Laguna Hedionda, a pat of flamingoes huddled together and began a feverish discussion. As more and more joined, the noise grew and grew. After several minutes it appeared that their differences had been settled and the group separated to complete their other daily activities. On another run-in with the local wildlife, after Tasha and I had managed to sneak away from the gaggle of tour groups, we were within 50 metres of a group of feeding flamingoes. Unbeknown to us, while we were watching the birds, a herd of llamas made their way speedily toward us. Casually, respectfully, quietly and with sloth like movements, we remained calm and still as 40 odd llamas of all sizes marched by us.

Sauntering back towards the guys to jump back into the Jeep, I noticed that we'd caught up with the llamas who were now mingling with a large group of humans. Getting up close and person with animals and harassing them is a big 'no-no' in my book, (for the record, Tasha and I were highly respectful of the llamas we met), it really grinds my gears. There was this one guy, 'Orange Pants' our car named him, who'd edged toward a cowering baby llama. As he crouched down, I think I heard a sinister cackle, his buddy prepared to snap away on his camera, as 'Orange Pants' gave a double thumbs-up. I was riled, furious; something had to be done.

"Oi knobhead, as long as you've got your picture all's good in the world yeah", I barked, breaking the serene mood for a moment.

"But they love me", he joked whilst stridding away from the shivering young llama who was backing off towards it's Mother.

"No mate, they're scared of you. If they could, they'd call you a prick n'all". Sheepishly, OP sloped off with his pals. Glad we weren't in his Jeep, I thought.

Now, this was Day 1 at about 4pm. Over the next 48 hours we dined with OP and friends on several occasions and shared multiple photo opportunities together too. News reached the rest of our Jeep of my reaction to his treatment of the trembling llamas and his presence resulted in sniggers and uncomfortable glances for the duration of the tour.

If I'd have known that we'd have been bumping into OP with such regularity I might not have been so scathing with my volleys of abuse. On the other hand, if my actions mean he's more respectful towards baby animals then a few uncomfortable social interactions is a small price for me to pay for the animal's sanity.

The day we reached the salt flat, Vlad woke us extra early to ensure we were witnesses to sunrise. In the Bolivian darkness we trusted Vlad behind the wheel, snaking around the perilous roads. My MP3 player, plugged into the Jeeps' USB port, pumped out the atmospheric, harrowing tones of 'Explosions in the Sky' (yes, i know EITS have been mentioned on here before) and the mood in the vehicle changed with the key signature of the music. Suddenly, with a quick spin of the wheel in the morning's dusk blackness, it dawned on the 6 of us that the dim rumbling from beneath the wheels was hard, crystallised salt. Sunrise was minutes away as the Jeep's speedometer made it's way clockwise at an exhilarating rate. The instrumental cacophony shook our bones, hairs stood to attention all over our bodies as we peered out of the window into the flat, magical plains. In the half light, there was just enough light in the sky to gaze into a never-ending, dawn landscape. A few of us were drooling.

At what seemed a completely random point, Vlad expertly dropped the car's speed, turned the wheels and came to a precise stop in 'his parking space'. Silently, the 6 of us vacated the vehicle, and mere minutes later, that familiar golden sphere broke into view in a fashion I had never been privvy to before. As we took in our surroundings during a most memorable sunrise, our sextuplet was alone on the salt, not another sole in sight, not even Orange Pants. The quiet tinkering of 'Explosions in the Sky' emitted from a crack in the window to our backs; Explosions in the Sky offered Tash, huh, just like the sunrise.

Tearing round the Atacama Desert proved to be tiring work. Not being fully accusmtomed to so many early rises, it was important that we had some decent food to eat and a place to rest our weary bag of bones of an evening. Having heard tales that nights in the desert are frightfully cold, we prepared ourselves for the worst. Settling down under 3 blankets, wrapped up snuggly in a sleeping bag, with socks, long johns and a bobbly hat (amongst other layers) I gradually knodded off.

I'm sure you're wondering why I didn't just jump into bed with Tash so we could feed off each other's body heat. Well, we tried that but I was kicked out of the tiny single bed on account of my wriggling. Poor me. The second night's sleep was much more pleasant, in a warmer abode, although a lie in was out of the question. Stepping out into the cold, bitter but fresh air each morning, made us all quickly realise how cold it actually is in the desert without a roof over your head. The thought of pitching our tent out here shook me and Tasha to the core. The trusty hot water bottle would have gone down a treat.

Spending the entirety our 3 day trip between 3700m and 4300m above sea level, it was inevitable that the dreaded altitude sickness would strike. The 6 of us all suffered at some point usually in the evening, when our drained, dehydrated bodies rested after an exhausting day.

Foodwise we were never let wanting. Back in San Pedro, a few backpackers had warned us that you needed to pack many additonal treats and snacks due to the lacklustre meals. Now, I thought that was fair enough, because ultimately when your out in the desert, there's only so much food that can be carried for a party of 7 (6 plus the driver) with only basic cooking apparatus. Vlad set the bar high on the first morning, only two hours after we'd met. Upon exiting immigration I returned to the Jeep to be presented with a steaming mug of coffee and a breakfast spread that rivalled the finest hostels in Brazil, (Brazil does breakfasts exceptionally well). Both days he rustled up delicious lunches, serving a Bolivian quiche one day, packed full of meat and veg. Tash's slang for Coca Cola made for a couple of embarrassing moments at meal times.

"Anyone fancy any full fat cock guys?"

Where's Orange Pants when you need him.

Luckily, after the end of our 3 day tour, we quickly booked onto a bus from Uyuni to Sucre. Sneaking a peek over my shoulder I could make out the distant town and the glorious salt flats on the horizon. Picture perfect.
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Comments

Si Taylor on

Great read! I'd love the 'inside scoop' though, the juicy deets...

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