Catchup post Bolivia edition

So this edition starts on April 18 – today is June 6th – so I guess I’m getting closer right?  Even though every single day has been jam packed …. well, we’ll see where we get on this one.

We left Cusco the morning after I came back from the jungle trip.  I was drained but it was time to fly to Bolivia.  I posted a few pics from the salt flats earlier but let me explain it a bit more.   There’s a huge desert at incredibly high elevation (we were at 12,000 to 14,000 feet).   A giant part of it is made entirely of salt and it has become a huge tourist attraction.   The jumpoff town is a place called Uyuni and it’s a really strange place.  It’s completely desolate and it looks like I would imagine the wild west of the US would have been like – except with cars.

 

On the street in the strange town of Uyuni
On the street in the strange town of Uyuni

The tour that all of  the tour-ists (ourselves among these) comes to this place for is 3 days of driving across barren, empty but beautiful desert – but before we went on the trip we made plans to stay in a hotel that is made out of salt – literally.   I needed a rest and this place was perfect.   It was absolutely gorgeous and absolutely in the middle of nothing.  Check it out:

Katie lounging in the comfy bed in the salt hotel
Katie lounging in the comfy bed in the salt hotel
It was a really gorgeous high class hotel, and it's made out of salt.  Really.
It was a really gorgeous high class hotel, and it’s made out of salt. Really.

The hotel was about 12 miles from the tiny town and it was on the edge of 100+ miles of salt, flat desert.  There was nothing around and I went out and walked about 1/4 a mile away and I experienced I am pretty sure the most absolute silence I have ever experienced.  There was no wind and nothing to move.   There was dead, outer space silence.  In a forest things move, the wind blows, etc.  In deserts in California it seems the same – usually it’s the wind I guess – or distant cars – or something.  This was nothing.  It was cool and weird at the same time.

 

Sitting in the silence of the desert
Sitting in the silence of the desert

We stayed there for two nights – it was really cool but we were then off on the tour.  It was myself, another guy named Adam and I think 10 young female traveler with 2 guides all packed into Toyota land cruisers set to drive through the desert and see strange surroundings, have a lot of laughs, take a lot of pictures and …. drove, and drove, and drove.   No roads to speak of – for 3 days straight.   It started out in a train graveyard.   Rail transit of raw materials was a big deal in this area at the turn of last century.  Not so much any more but the train graveyard is still here.

This one definitely needs some work before it's back on the line.
This one definitely needs some work before it’s back on the line.
Rusted, Old, Cool - in Uyuni
Rusted, Old, Cool – in Uyuni

Next up was the actual salt flats.  First they showed us where the locals rake up salt into piles, let it dry, bag it and sell it.   Really.   This is where your salt comes from. (if you’re lucky that is)

Katie getting between the production lines at the salt plant.
Katie getting between the production lines at the salt plant.

After that came the cool part where we  took the fun pictures – I already posted the pictures from the part of the desert where you can create optical illusions in photos – check that blog to see more – here’s a reminder 🙂

Our new friend Adam had no problem balancing Katie and drinking a beer
Our new friend Adam had no problem balancing Katie and drinking a beer

The next stop on the tour was a mind blowing illusion – but it was real.  You see, the whole desert was once covered in water – and – there’s still an island in the middle of it.  A literal island – in the middle of a hundred miles of salt.   The island is populated with cactus and when you are walking on the island it feels as if the salt desert is an ocean around you.  Check it out:

Past the cactus is a sea ... of salt
Past the cactus is a sea … of salt
Katie standing on the cactus island in the sea of salt (no water).  It's the only "land" for miles.
Katie standing on the cactus island in the sea of salt (no water). It’s the only “land” for miles.

After several hours of driving we sadly reached the edge of the actual salt flat and got back to civilization (or something like that).    We unloaded at another building made of salt although this one wasn’t quite as 5 star it was lots of fun with our new friends and the scenery was phenomenal.   A killer sunset was followed by epic stars and a night photo shoot with myself and Adam who is a photo geek as well.   Oh yeah – there was an abandoned truck and a cross there too… Here’s some of the results:

Katie at sunset outside of the salt world
Katie at sunset outside of the salt world
Look - a selfie in the truck!
Look – a selfie in the truck!
Yeah - there was a cross there
Yeah – there was a cross there
What a laser pointer can do for you - demon truck
What a laser pointer can do for you – demon truck
Who wouldn't want to go for a ride in that truck?
Who wouldn’t want to go for a ride in that truck?

And here was dinner at the not-quite 5 star but still really great – salt hotel:

 

Dinner at the salt hostel with new friends
Dinner at the salt hostel with new friends

We woke up the next morning really early – I can’t remember – I think it was like 6AM – or maybe 5AM – and we drove.  A lot.  I love driving and I loved this but we drove a lot.  And then we drove some more.  We saw great llamas:

The llamas like to pose for group shots.  No one got spit on although Katie kept talking about it.
The llamas like to pose for group shots. No one got spit on although Katie kept talking about it.

Here’s a picture of our guide  Rolando with the guy that owns those llamas.  Rolando was a trip.    I got to know Rolando pretty well and I don’t think that I can do justice to anything that he told me about the person that he is.  This picture says a lot – but it also doesn’t even scratch the surface.   I can say that every single one of us was happy to have Rolando as a guide and that we saw many other people on the same tour and no one had a guide like him.

This was our guide and a local farmer.
This was our guide and a local farmer.

We stopped at a small town in the middle of this nowhere land desert that day to buy some supplies.   Here’s a picture of a woman who lived there.  This is what a lot of the women in Bolivia look like, dress like, live like.  This was legit.

Bolivian woman in San Juan.  She could be 80 or she could be 40.  Who knows.
Bolivian woman in San Juan. She could be 80 or she could be 40. Who knows.

We also saw a lot of these Vicunas – wild relatives of Llamas that don’t survive when people historically tried to domesticate them!

These are Vicuna - wild relatives of Llamas that won't allow themselves to be domesticated - they simply let themselves die.  Be free guys!
These are Vicuna – wild relatives of Llamas that won’t allow themselves to be domesticated – they simply let themselves die. Be free guys!

After another couple of hours we found ourselves … in the middle of nowhere, racing a train that was racing across the desert.

Nowhere, Bolivia
Nowhere, Bolivia

We were at about 14,000 feet.   At this altitude it’s really obvious how hard it is to breath.  If you move faster than a walk you start to breath in a way that you just aren’t used to.  Even though we had been at elevation in Peru and had done lots of hiking this was still .. different.  I can’t imagine for people who didn’t get themselves aclimated.  Anyhow, here were some pics from that part of the trip:

waiting for a train
waiting for a train
Waiting for a train?
Waiting for a train?

I feel like this is getting to be long – but it was a long trip.   Maybe I will complete the words for the rest of this day and then add the pictures – because we drove across Bolivia for 12 hours that day – or close.  We stopped at places – but we toured for 10 hours.   We saw all of the following:  lagoons in the mountains with flamingos; an active volcano; weird rock formations; lots of wild llama-related animals called vicunas (they were everywhere); a wifi sign in a crazy remote place; foxes running the desert; mountains with 7 colors of minerals; landscapes that looked like mars; absolutely insane guys riding touring bicycles through this wasteland; rock trees; giant rock lizards; chinchillas; geo-thermal geysers; more lakes made of poisonous materials, again with flamingos …. and … I’m missing stuff but maybe you get the point.   Here are some photo highlights:

IMGL0577_Snapseed
Llamas – not to be confused with Vicunya – these are not wild
IMGL0492
These trucks are tough!
IMGL0454
Fox in the road! Middle of nowhere. This guy was hungry enough to approach us.
IMGL0342
Yoga pose, and volcano, at 14,000 feet. This was the highest spot and walking was a chore here.
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Anytime is a good time for an “Adventure”
IMGL0393
Flamingos … and arsenic. Looks so peaceful – just don’t drink.
IMGL0417
Our own lovely group of flamingos – concept credit – MU
IMGL0466
Our driver sped ahead and got us here before anyone else
IMGL0471
Out of his freaking mind. This makes an iron man look silly. 100% nuts, 100% on a bicycle. G’luck buddy!
IMGL0476
Another “Adventure” …. we were getting creative — or maybe bored (not me – but some??)
IMGL0512
This rock got to be this shape from the wind – I was sort of impressed … but sort of ‘meh’ by this point
katie_vs_lizard1
.. And then I found the ‘giant attack lizard rock’ and I realized that in this one case, the tour guides were showcasing the wrong rock – ‘tree’,’schmee’.
IMGL0588
I just found this lovely.
IMGL0437
Surprsingly, it didn’t work …..

The last bit of the day was a visit to a geothermal area.   If you’ve never been to one of these just think of steam that smells of rotten eggs coming out of deep pits and a bit of heat and you’re there!  This one had the additional feature of being absolutely in the middle of nowhere.  Nada, nothing, just rocks for miles.

Thermals are dangerous.  We heard that some college kid nearly burned his foot off there the week before. We're pretty sure he didn't know how to read ......
Thermals are dangerous. We heard that some college kid nearly burned his foot off there the week before. We’re pretty sure he didn’t know how to read ……
Katie, silhouette - in the safe zone.   Lollipop in hand, catching fumes of eggs from behind.
Katie, silhouette – in the safe zone. Lollipop in hand, catching fumes of eggs from behind.

Finally that night we arrived at a place with an amazing hot spring fed pool that didn’t smell at all – we sat under the night stars and it was wonderful.   Sadly, it turned not so wonderful and we had a strange encounter with a fake cop and some other locals who were drunk as hell and wanted to hang out with the girls.   Thankfully nothing really bad happened but let’s just say it was not the best end to a great day.   No pictures available.

The next day it was all over within a couple of hours.  We saw the sun rise, they drove us to the border of Chile, dropped us with tickets to get on a bus to Chile and it was done – just memories and photos at this point – but great ones on both counts.

For the last photos here’s the border of Chile and Bolivia – like something again – out of a western movie – and just like I would expect at the end of this long voyage ….

The border of Chile and Bolivia at the edge of the salar at around 13,000 feet above sea level.
The border of Chile and Bolivia at the edge of the salar at around 13,000 feet above sea level.
Yes - that's Bolivian customs right there.
Yes – that’s Bolivian customs right there.
Adam and Katie waiting at the high border to cross,
Adam and Katie waiting at the high border to cross,

It was a whole lot in 3 days.  I’m leaving it as a standalone blog post – won’t try to add more to this.  Next stop Chile!!   See you next time.

Here's the crew that we traveled with!
Here’s the crew that we traveled with!

3 thoughts on “Catchup post Bolivia edition

  1. Thank you for sharing your trip through the amazing narrative and pictures! These virtual tours of faraway places are absolutely phenomenal! Here I can sit in my little Oakham kitchen, listen to the summer bird chorus (probably as close to jungle sounds as I’ll ever get!), and escape to a faraway world of adventure. Stay safe and continue to have fun!

  2. Only you Mark would go to the middle of nowhere and get to hang out with a group of beautiful women. Oh yeah the pics and narrative is was great too. 🙂

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