Surprised by the amount of
Flamingos, hats, salt.
Since bidding a fond farewell to Paraguay, we have been on a whirlwind cross continent trip through various small Argentinian towns on our way to
and through Bolivia. Our first stop was in Resistencia, a place developed by artists and known as the City of Sculptures (over 400, in fact, grace the streets and public spaces.) Next was Salta, a fantastic city where we enjoyed architecture, views, our last feast of Argentinian meat, and an outdoor orchestra concert of Broadway hits played to an audience of 10,000! Our final visit in this great country was to Humahuaca, a tiny, peaceful village (honeymoon spot!) with some stunning monuments surrounded by natural beauty and numerous cacti.
With good feelings all around for the glory that is Argentina, we hopped a bus for the Bolivian border. We had to stop in border town La Quiaca to get our visas (required only for U.S. citizens at $100 a pop). Holding our breath we nervously but successfully walked across the border and found ourselves in Villazon, Bolivia. We dashed through this colorful and dusty town to catch the Expreso del Sur train, which gave us our first views of the amazing variety of the Bolivian landscape. Mountains, rocks, dry riverbeds, people in bright cloth working in fields of green, llamas, tiny stone villages - truly fascinating and beautiful. We pulled into Tupiza mesmerized, and were greeted by the sight of women in skirts and aprons with fabulous bowler hats, sitting on curbs selling nuts and other sundries. Bolivia is a feast for the eyes.
After a few days adjusting to the altitude (Tupiza is at 11,850 ft) and a few hours taking in the countryside on horseback, it was time to set off on our grand Bolivian adventure - the Salar de Uyuni salt flats tour. As a major tourist draw to this part of the world dozens of agencies run multi-day jeep tours of the worlds largest salt flat. We joined recommended La Torre tours for a 4 day excursion along with 3 other backpackers - Michelle, Nicki, and Ross, all English and delightful. At the helm was our trusty driver and guide Lázaro, and our cocinera (cook) Marta, who along with being a culinary genius kept our spirits high with her constant giggling.
The tour itself went beyond our wildest expectations. We were up by 5 am every morning and covered amazing amounts of ground in our Landcruiser. We stopped for picnic lunches with Marta producing fried eggs, steak, burgers and veggies from the back of the car! We dined and slept in little cement - and in one case salt - bunkers seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We drank wine and whiskey with the two other groups on our route, a jeep full of Australians (including a couple toting a 2 year old!) and a mixed group of Dutch, Italian, and Canadian travelers. We were shocked to find that every single tiny stone town we passed through had a nice concrete basketball court. Eli even got to shoot hoops with some local kids - not an easy feat at 12,000 feet!
There really are no words to describe how incredible this tour was, how much we saw, how beautiful Bolivia is, or what a fantastic time we had with our three new friends and our intrepid guides. We can only hope the photos do it some justice. In 4 days we saw great red mountains rising out of dry river beds; ghost towns made of stone left behind by silver miners; volcanos towering over red and turquoise mineral lakes filled with thousands of pink flamingos; natural geysers bubbling and frothing; enormous rock and petrified wood formations rising out of the desert; hotels made entirely of salt; a train graveyard of twisted metal and rusted locomotives; and of course, the Salar de Uyuni.
This salt flat is 13,000 square kilometers of natural salt measuring 20 km deep. There is a giant corral reef island covered in cacti rising out of nowhere. In places you can stick your arm into the icy cold holes in the surface and pull out salt crystals, perfectly squared off and as big as your fist. The range of environments we saw on this tour is astonishing, and this is just one little corner of southern Bolivia! It was 4 days we will never forget in a country that continues to surprise us.
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