The Human Centipede and the Red Lagoon

Trip Start Apr 23, 2012
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, July 20, 2012

My next destination after Potosi was Uyuni, gateway to one of Bolivia´s most famous attractions: Salar de Uyuni, the biggest Salt flats in the world, over 12000 square kilometers of pure white. The town was tiny, surrounded on all sides by a huge expanse of whiteness and there was only one road leading to it. I spent one night in town before beginning the three day trip to San Pedro de Atacama through the desert, huddled under enough blankets to almost crush you to death, cursing the day I ever left Hucachina and the heat... and the salt flats were infamous for temperatures of up to (or down to?) minus 40 Celsius.

In the morning I braved a shower, watching my breath freeze as I got undressed I convinced myself it was for the better: this way I wouldn´t have to shower on the Salt flats and there would be no reason to remove any item of clothing, even if it did make me a skank. I got picked up after breakfast, eggs again, and met the tour group: two girls from England, Sara and Clara and a couple from Poland with some obscure names I can´t even remember. Our tour guide was called Oscar and he was awesome: always smiling and making jokes, full of information - sometimes he talked so fast that we actually thought he was going to pass out with everything he was trying to tell us. 

The first stop was the train graveyard, where the first trains in Bolivia had been abandoned to rust in the salt: a giant playground for adults... seriously there were even see-saws and swings made from parts of the trains! After a good ten minutes of scrambling about on top of the trains, taking pictures and swinging I heard a ´HAAAANNNITTA!´ I turned round to see Katie running at me: she was on a different tour from me and we just happened to bump into each other, we spent another good chunk of time running about like kids taking photos before I headed back to my car to find a full car of unhappy faces - they´d been waiting a little while for me.

Next stop: salt factory, made of salt... well if you have that much of it. Not the highlight of the trip but I did learn that although Bolivia has so much salt they don´t export any of it because all the countries around them have access to the sea. Then it clicked: that´s why their soups are soooo salty; they have to use it up somehow! I also got to try some salt just processed, you´d think salt was just salt but this was THE saltiest salt I´d ever tasted - on Parr with the Dead Sea. After that we were taken to see the salt mounds, the special way that the miners have to leave the salt they collect before it can be taken to be processed. As far as the eye could see it was just little mountains of salt all spaced equally apart... it seemed a bit alien. After that we were taken to the eye of the salt flats: a large puddle where the earth had cracked and volcanic water was seeping through little holes. 

At this point Oscar told us a story about the surrounding volcanoes: there were four in total, a large one on it´s own, then two more large ones on another side with a smaller one sort of coming off of one of them. The one by itself was a girl volcano and many years ago she had a romance with one of the two other large ones: they had a baby and everyday he would go to work with his tools to make a living for the family. One day he forgot his tools so had to return to get them and low and behold: there was his wife in bed with the other large volcano! Well, Mr Volcano was not a happy chappy: he took the baby volcano away with him to the other side of the salt flats and refused to let the mother see him. The mother volcano was so distressed about not being able to see her child she started to cry and because she couldn´t milk, her breasts got so big that they burst! And this my friends is how the salt flats came about: white from the milk; salty from the tears. True story. 

Next came the main reason everyone goes to the salt flats: to take pictures playing with the perspective. Armed with a beer can and a packet of fags I was so excited to try it out and Oscar was more than happy to help us, taking all our cameras and lining up the shots he wanted as well as giving some of his own input... Gutted that none of us had a spare pringles can to hand to make a ´cool´movie, we moved onto the next site after an hour or so.

Fish Island was the last stop of the day: a small cluster of rocks in the middle of the whiteness of the salt flats, overcrowded with catus. The view from the Island was amazing, the epic contrast of the near-black rocks with the white and the cactus in the picture! We were told that because of the harsh conditions it took ten years for them to grow one centimeter... some of the catuses were MASSIVE and the oldest one was one thousand two hundred years old. After wandering around the Island in awe of the amazing landscape we headed to our hotel for the night, guess what it was made of? Yep, salt! It was even on the floors, like proper salt grains as a floor covering... I must admit I felt like an idiot asking if there was any salt at dinner

The next day, having slept well and been rather cosy despite everyones foreboding we set off at six for another day of amazing sights. First we went to a volcano view point where we saw a huge volcano with smoke rising from the crater, stopping several times along the way so that the Polish guy could hop out and take a photo... it was brought to my attention by the English girls later that day that he was the spitting image of the guy from the human centipede. No kidding, he actually was and having a Polish accent didn´t help the matter - he was nice enough but it was a bit strange when he took his trousers off the the car beside me...

Today was a day of lagoons: the first one had a very difficult Spanish name that I can´t remember but it was beautiful nonetheless. The mountains surrounding the lake reflected in the crystal blue water and it was so clear that the reflections could have passed for the real thing... we walked around the whole lagoon and were picked up on the other side by the car. Then it was the Stinky Lagoon and surprise surprise: it stank! It´s redeeming feature aside from the obviously stunning scenery around it was that it was full of flamingos... real live, wild flamingos! It was weird thinking that they weren´t just there to be on display in a zoo: they were free to come and go as they pleased and they weren´t in the least bit frightened of humans. They came so close you could actually have reached out and touched their lovely pink feathers.

The rest of the day was mainly driving to the hotel, stopping to jump out and take photos of the landscape that changed so dramatically the further we went, at one point Oscar spotted one of the rodents that lived in the desert, what he liked to call a ´Squabbit`, because it looked like a cross between a squirrel and a rabbit. We also stopped in the San Salvador desert to see the stones: the desert is named after the artist because he paints scenes that involve such dramatic contrasts, similar to the landscape there.That night we were warned it was going to be cold: very cold. I swear everyone over reacts to the cold in the Salt flats, I was considering taking off a bloody layer, I was roasting but then again I´m used to Costa del Biggar... 

The next day we got up at five for the last day of the trip, I must say I was looking forward to getting to the heat of the desert. The first stop was another volcano, but this time we got to walk through the crater of it! There was steam and sulfurous gases rising all around us and Oscar made it very clear that we had to step exactly where he stepped because if we fell in, the temperature would boil us alive... not quite the heat I was looking for. As the mud boiled it formed huge bubbles that stank when they burst, it was really difficult to see the end of it with all the smoke. 

After the volcano we made our way to the much anticipated red lagoon. It was absolutely breath taking, yet again I found myself questioning how this could possibly exist: it was blood red. Oscar explained that it was that colour because of the micro-organisms that lived in it. Words can´t describe how beautiful it was: surrounded by mountains, with a thin white edge around it, it was amazing. Definitely gets the medal for lagoon of the trip. 

On the way to the border for my transfer to Chile we stopped at one more lagoon: the green lagoon. No where near as impressive as the red but with the impressive volcanoes all all sides it was something special: full of arsenic, Oscar recommended we shouldn´t swim in it, that´s why there were no animals around it. 

At the border it was all a bit hectic, I had to pay fifteen Bolivianos to leave the country and get my stamp, which I later found out was totally illegal! The money the officers take goes straight into their pockets.... god damn it! Descending two thousand meters in less than an hour I could already feel the heat of the San Pedro de Atacama desert and although the salt flats had been a once in a life-time opportunity I was happy to finally be able to take my bloody Alpaca jumper off...
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Comments

durian acrobat on

How cold is cold? Planning on visiting the flats some day!

hannahbruce
hannahbruce on

Very, very cold! Make sure your guide has some sleeping bags and hot water bottles available: it may look sunny but for most of the time you're at around 4000m above sea level!

durian acrobat on

Which tour company did you go with?

hannahbruce
hannahbruce on

I think it was red planet expeditions but there's a huge number of companies in Uuyni and I think most of them include these extras if you ask.

durian acrobat on

thanks!

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