Salt flattin and stuff

Trip Start Sep 01, 2007
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Trip End Sep 10, 2008


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, November 30, 2007

we pile into a land cruiser with 2 gals from the states, 2 gals from denmark and vico, the driver, cook, guide and fixit dude who speaks several languages-----just none of them are spanish or english.    this out to be good.   

first we went to the train graveyard.  this is just a scrap heap, but makes the whole ghost town thing come to life.   then on to cochani, where the people sweep up the salt, dry it, and refine it with iodine for the table.    you can buy anything you might want made  of salt.  

then we went to the salt flat itself.    the rain water and spring water mix with the crystals and they grow very rapidly.   the salt is nearly 15 meters thick according to vico at some points.    but then he also tells us that the salt was created when noahīs ark was floating and the sea mixed with all the water on the earth.  when the water receded, the salt flats remained.    ohhh.    yes, i know that story.   so is that what the people believe here? well the scientists think differently, he says.  but he doesnīt have the words for that theory.   ok.  

on we go.   the flats are amazing.   extremely white.   very flat.    devoid of all depth perception except for the honeycomb hexagonal designs you can see but not really capture in photos.    the lack of depth perception allows for some hysterical photos.    and it should allow for speed, right?  noooo. you see, vico is a very responsible man.   both hands on the wheel, reasonable speed, etc.    does he have his eyes closed?   hmmm.

we arrive at an island of rock in the center of the flats called isla de pescado.   there are no fish here so i donīt know why.  there are thousands of saguaro cactus though.   and coral like growths on the rocks.   

we stay the night in a salt hotel on the edge of the salar.    really.  a hotel made out of salt blocks with salt on the floor.   pretty neat.    unfortunately, the other groups that stayed there are on the party rampage.   finally, at 130 in the morning, i remind them that we have no doors and that i can hear their ever increasing voices over the ever increasing music (yes they brought the ipod and the speakers) even with ear plugs in.    ohhhh.    are they really that oblivious?   yes, they are.     then the help comes running through our room at 430 am.    she slams the back door, comes in again, leaves it to slam in the wind and goes in our bathroom.   our guide was supposed to wake us up now to catch the sunrise over the salt flats.    he never shows.   but we are awake now because the other group of partyers are up and with the music again.    so jason and i go out to catch the meager sunrise.   nothing by alaskan standards.    we spot one of the ferrel donkeys and whisper him into letting us pet him.    very shaggy and dusty but cute just the same.    though we can see wild llamas and vicuņas as well, we will have no such luck with them.

we carry on south towards the high deserts of the atacama.   the land is sparse of vegetation but we see wildlife just the same.    vicuņas must eat something but i donīt know what.    we also see some vizcachas, chinchilla like things, and more llamas.     there is a lichen here called llareta that the people burn for heat.   the wind sculpts the rock formations into great climbing Torres. 

we sleep at 4300 meters (sort of, different groups on the same bender kept us up)  at laguna colorado (red) and get an early start at 0500.    we go to some geysers where there is boiling mud and pools of different colors.   there are no signs or fences to keep the dummies from slipping in and vico sets us loose saying he will pick us up on the other side.   you mean we just walk through?  yeah, just donīt go in the water.  it will make you a french fry.   ohhhhhkaaaay.    people stagger around (5000meters) and we wonder how there could have only been 2 deaths here.    we go along to some hot springs and then get a flat tire. we use the spare and go onto laguna verde (a green lake that looks like it belongs in alaska) where vico repairs the flat tire with a new tube and pumps it up with a bike pump!  and then we  turn back.     all these lakes are salty, by the way.   on the way back, we get another flat.   good thing he repaired it.    then we go to another weird town for lunch.   villa mar backs up to a rock wall that resembles the bad lands of south dakota.   we go wandering around and find a canyon.  there is a tail to an airplane crash and several side caves/canyons.   jason heads into one and finds 3 human skulls, one of them with skin on it still, part of a rib cage and plenty of decay.    holy moley.   what kind of town is this?   
i ask vico and he says the custom is to bury the dead with a cross.   so what are these people doing out of the ground, clearly beheaded??????   gulp. 
on the way, we continue to have car troubles.   vico fixes them and we arrive safely, but very dirty and dusty, with everyone coughing.   

we head out to the local pizza place called minuteman.   it is run by a guy from boston and is like the mooseīs tooth.     really good pizza too.  
then, as if getting up at 430 and driving around all day wasnīt enough, we get on a train at 3 am and ride it to villazon.    it arrives, several hours late at 430 pm after heading through canyons, badlands, and high flats.    we even saw snow (where the train stopped because it was slipping on the tracks!!!)   the train stopped alot actually and the men would get out and shovel dirt off the tracks.    occasionally, the whole train would tilt sideways on the tracks.  
eventually, slow as molasses, we pulled into villazon where we crossed the border into argentina.
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