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Ben and Ange - On the Road

High and Dry

BOLIVIA | Tuesday, 22 April 2008 | Views [591]

The boys!

The boys!

South America is a land of extremes. When you think of the place you think of lush wild rain forests. Well, it is also home to the driest place on Earth, the Atacama desert. Located between Chile and southern Bolivia it is a wild ride. A wild three day four wheel drive ride to be exact.

We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama, located in Chile but close to the border with Bolivia. It is pretty much in the desert and also a long way up, 3200 meters. Up this high it makes walking and talking interesting and quite a challenge. We hung around town for the day, it was only a small place, and booked our trip through the desert to Uyuni in Bolivia.

So the next day we caught a little minibus up to the border where we rendezvoued (sp?) with our four wheel drive and our guide, Frans Christian. A bolivian native who seems to be able to shove a whole coca plant up his cheek. Our 4wd was about 20 years old but it was a toyota landcruiser so it did us well and no breakdowns.

The first day we cruised past some pretty cool salt lakes that were mirrors due to no wind at the time. Made for some good pictures of the mountains reflected on them. Each one seemed to have it´s own colour too. From red to blue to green. First day was pretty short and we arrived at out first refugio early in the afternoon to be served lunch by a couple of Bolivian women in the very traditional dress. Now did I mention that we had been steadily going up through the day. The refugio is at a height of 4200m. At this height breathing no longer comes naturally. You actually have to concentrate and take deep breaths because if you breathe normally you just don´t get enough air, and if you try having any animated conversation you pretty much stop mid sentence gasping.

The altitude does have some advantages though, you get pissed really quickly and fits of hysteria set in quickly. More than once that night Ange and I, as well as the rest of our group, were in stitches from some pretty lame jokes.

Day two was into the real heart of the desert. The terrain is absolutely barren of any plant life. It´s mostly rocky with a few sandy patches and of course higher still. We topped 4800m at one stage. At that height it is also very cold. You expect a desert to be hot, but no. The Atacama desert is actually very very cold, especially when the wind gets up. It´s also a little bit different to what you would expect as it has snow capped mountains all around. Most of them are actually volcanos as the area is very tectonically active. It also means that there are geysers and hot mud springs around the place. Which are very cool but the smell of sulfur is a bit over whelming.

In the afternoon we began to descend slowly and a few bits of vegetation started making an appearance. A few lakes also started to appear again and we were treated to a few flocks of flamingos. We finally arrived at our next nights accomodation around 7pm on the banks of the Salar de Uyuni, The largest salt flat in the world. At a mere 3600m we enjoyed the abundance of oxygen.

Day 3 was an amazing experience. We when first booked the trip Ange and I really didn´t think that we would be impressed by a salt lake. We´re from WA after all. But this lake is very impressive. Blinding white as far as the eye can see. It makes it very hard to judge distances but that makes for some very cool pictures that you can take. We travelled for about an hour across this salt flat, with the driver taking his hands off the wheel and looking around as if it just didn´t matter, to a little island in the middle.

Here we had a little walk around amongst the cacti and took in the view. From there it was more travel accross the salt falt to our detination of Uyuni, or almost. Not 2 kilometers from the town we ran out of petrol. It was very funny to see our guide catch a lift into town to get some fuel, leaving us sitting in the abondoned 4wd. But he returned and we made it. A wonderful 3 day trip through the Atacama desert to Salar de Uyuni. Check out the pics when they´re up.


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