4 day 4 x 4 Expedition to Salaire de Uyuni, Bolivia

After spending a couple of days walking and horse riding around the amazing spaghetti western style rock formations in the canyons around Tupiza, we loaded our gear on to the roof of a 4 x 4 vehicle and, along with 3 young lads from Cambridge (UK) we started our 4 day expedition through the fabulous south western region of Bolivia up through the Eduardo Avaroa National Park and on to the great Salaire de Uyuni.

         Canyon in the Tupiza area                  Canyon de Diable (Tupiza)                      Sillar - dramatic rock formation

At least on this trip we didn't have to get up too early for our first day.  Our driver didn't speak much english but we got along fine and managed to get most of what he was telling us as we drove along (we think!).  We stopped at several viewpoints for 'the taking of mucho photos' - the first being at Sillar where we had a great view of the dramatic rock formations.  Then on to Awanapampa - the main attraction there being it's many llamas - however there was some sort of road building going on so we had to take a bit of a detour around the bulldozers - and ended up getting stuck in the muddy ruts!  Eventually we were pulled out by one of the lorries - and had to pay for the privilege!  The llamas were used to carry salt, dried llama meat etc from the remotest parts of the area to trade in the valley regions of Tupiza and Tarija - the journey taking between 15 to 20 days - so would only be undertaken 3 times a year.  We passed through the ghost town of San Antonio (4690 ml) once famous for it's gold but according to local legend the devil ruled here and forced the villagers to abandon the town!  No sign of the devil when we were there.

            Stuck in the mud                           Ghost town of San Antonio  (known locally as the small Machu Picchu)

We entered the Eduardo Avaroa Park at dusk and found our lodging in the village of Quetena Grande (4150 m). With daytime temperatures of around 10 degrees C falling to -5 degrees overnight we were very glad we had rented sleeping bags! The local people are Quechua speaking and pan for alluvial gold by digging to approx. 1 meter deep along the banks of the river.  On average each 'miner' removes around 15 -30 grams of gold per month.


                                           Our first night was spent in a small dormitory of one of the houses - I had to share the dorm with Matt and the 3 lads - which I wasn't looking forward to but the lads were extremely quiet! They must have been a bit miffed at having to spend their trip with 2 old foggies!

           Our 4 x 4 group                                Loading the jeep the 2nd morning

Up fairly early the next morning, we continued our tour and came across the first lake - Laguna kollpa - huge amounts of raw material are extracted from the lake to make soap.  Our next stop was a treat - a bathe in the hot springs at Polques- a bit chilly getting changed though as the changing rooms were non-existent!  On then to a fabulous turquoise lake (4350ml) - Laguna Verde - at the foot of the Licancabur volcano. The green colour is due to the high levels of magnesium, arsenic, lead and calcium carbonate which are kept in suspension due to the constant wind which keeps the water in motion.  We had to find a sheltered place to stop for lunch out of the bitterly cold wind.  We were just about at the border of Chile at this point.


All our meals were prepared by a cook who was traveling in a 2nd jeep.  He would be up very early in the morning to prepare the lunch in advance then catch up on his sleep in the jeep - he'd obviously seen it all before!                          

              Polques Hot springs                      Laguna Verde and Licancabur volcano                

It was then on to a completely different landscape of geysers and Fumarolas at the Sol De manana (5000 ml) where the mud bubbled and the crevices in the earth emitted really smelly Sulphur Dioxide!  Matt could get quite close as he's no sense of smell to take the photies.

We arrived at our next accommodation in Wayllajara - a purpose built lodging with several dormitories not far from the Laguna Colarada (4278 m) at around 4pm.

                    Bubbling mud (see the face?) and fuming fumarolas   


    Our hostel at the Laguna Colorado                 Laguna Colorado                                  Laguna landscape

As we hadn't have much exercise that day, we got the driver to drop us off at the lake and said we'd hike back to the hostel - we didn't realise it was going to be quite as far! - with a freezing cold wind blowing across the vast desert area! The lake gets it's red colour from plankton which contain a red pigment which is emitted with great intensity later in the afternoon. The lake is home to 3 types of flamingoes who come to these elevated lakes in the freezing cold to breed.  They feed on the plankton and algae which gives them a beautiful rosy plumage.  We were glad to get back to the hostel - where our guide informed us we had just walked about 5km in a temperature of around -6 degrees (not including wind chill!)  Thank goodness for those sleeping bags again as there is no such thing as central heating in these places.

     Laguna Colorado Flamingoes                         Fabulous plumage                                 Llamas at the laguna

Day 3 and we were off again to the surreal landscape of Desert de Siloli - an area of amazing rock formations of petrified lava just scattered around the desert sand covering an area of around 110 sq. km. We left the other jeep and took a detour through a frozen gully watching out for chinchillas and coming across more interesting ice formations.  We kept stopping for a bit of exercise but it was extremely difficult to do much more than walk up a few hills at this altitude (around 4800m)

                The stone tree                               Ice amongst the rocks                               Another petrified formation

             Icicles in the gully                     The green plant is Yareta - used for cooking                   4855m

We continued past many other lakes dotted with flamingoes and volcanoes and through so many different landscapes until we arrived at our final night's accommodation on the edge of the salt lake - a salt hotel.  From the outside it just looked like any other building but inside was amazing - the whole place and furniture was made out of blocks of salt!


     More flamingoes on another lake       Inside of a cactus decorating the hall       Even the beds were on blocks of salt          

We had our last supper together in the salt hotel where we had an early celebration of Jean's birthday



             Inca Huasi Island                             Birthday cake for breakfast                    Feeding the llamas 

It was up very early the next morning to ride out on to the salt flats of Lake Tunupa (Salaire de Uyuni) to watch the sun rise then visit one of the islands - Inca Huasi Island.  These islands at one time were covered in water and you can see the remains of coral in amongst the volcanic rock.  Inca Huasi is covered in cacti - some over 9 metres high and one reputed to be around 900 years old.  More breathless (literally) climbing to the top of the hill then down for breakfast - with a very nice surprise - our cook had made Jean a birthday cake!

The Salaire de Uyuni is the largest salt lake in the world - approx. 12500 sq.km at an altitude of 3650 m - stretching in every direction as far as the eye can see.   There is less than 30mm of rain per year - falling between December and April and when there is rain on the salt flats and clouds in the sky there are amazing reflections on the salt floor which give the illusion of the sky blending with the land. Unfortunately we only saw photographs of this but we had driven partly on the salt flats the previous afternoon and at that time of day because of the thin air and the solar radiation, the horizon appeared to blend into the sky and we 'saw' views of oceans.  The landscape is famous for facilitating the taking of silly photos, so we had to make do with a couple of these instead of the the fantastic mirage type pictures we had been expecting - might have be better if doctored in photoshop, but our crazy photos are straight from the camera.

               On the Salaire de Uyuni                                                      Crazy photos                                                                                                                                                                       

So after a buffet lunch we were dropped off at Uyuni where we caught the night bus back to La Paz ready for our next adventure............


back to flotsam................