Salar de Uyuni: Day 2
Up at the crack of dawn we packed up our things and all meandered into the main hall, half-asleep, for some breakfast. Not to long later we were loaded up and headed out for the next big touring day of spectacular and bizarre Southern Bolivia.
Driving along the flats we saw lots of vicuña, the high-altitude, wild (and prettier) llamas, and could see the lines of different ancient ocean levels in the surrounding hills. We stopped in a couple of tiny towns to use the restrooms and stretch our legs until we reached the first big stop of the day, a lagoon, where there were a couple of flamingos and some Andean geese. We admired the birds from afar and didn’t spend to long as they wanted more time for stops along the way.
San Agustín was our next stop. Thanks to the high-altitude and cool weather, we were now in quinoa country and Oscar made sure to point out the fields and old harvestin factories on our way into town. Once out of the cars we crossed the river and hiked up a small hill to get a view of San Agustín.
After finding a perfect Game of Thrones chair on the top of the hill and each of us enjoying of the feeling of being queen (or king), we wandered down to a women who looked like she was sitting next to a pile of pink sand on the side of the river.
We learned her name was Antanea and she was filtering the quinoa rosada seed from the skins. Next to her sat three huge sacks filled with filtered quinoa and she was in the process of filtering and filling the last.
She was separating the skins from the quinoa by picking it up in a small tin and pouring it back onto the blanket she sat on. Because the quinoa grains were heavier than the skins, the wind would catch the skins and blow them from the quinoa, separating them. There was not a whole lot of wind while we were talking to her and she explained without wind the work is very slow, but she had only started that morning and already had filled the other three enormous sacks beside her. She was lovely, nice and friendly woman, happy to talk to us and tell us about her work. After offering her a small amount of money for letting us take so many pictures of her (she was so grateful) we walked away, feeling like we got a small glimpse of what life might actual be like in this tiny town in the middle of nowhere, Bolivia.
Lunching with Llamas
The next sight to see was a small river with a bunch of flat land where llamas were grazing. They prepared lunch and we all headed onto the weird short pointy grass walking with the llamas and jumping from bank to bank.
At one point I tried to sit and realized the grass was actually in the same family as cactus and probably couldn’t even been considered grass…. Brandon had a bit of a tough time, falling into the river mud and getting tons of prickles on his hand from scrambling up the bank haha.
Lunch was delicious, a Bolivian style chicken milanesa with plantains and rice. We got to walk it off a bit down the road where the cars collected us after they got lunch cleaned up. After driving just around the corner we stopped and admired the view into a deep expansive valley. I wrote “Vegas or Bust” on the back of one of the dusty cars and had a laugh trying to explain what “Bust” meant to Francisco in Spanish.
Petrified Lava Fields + Volcan Licancabur
As we continued driving Oscar explained we were driving through a petrified lava river. All around us were enormous, crazy looking rocks riddled with holes. Oscar did an amazing job at taking the strange sights surrounding us and giving them meaning. We were nearing the border of Chile and at the next stop it was possible to Volcan Licancabur steaming in the distance.
At this stop Oscar showed us one of the oldest plants in the world, the llaneta. It originated as a coral, but adapted to living on land as the oceans dried over time. In Australia there are fossils of these plants, scientists think which gives more validation to the theory of Pangea. The llaneta were lime green, looking more like a rock than a plant, however they had sap and in the darker areas had bigger “leaves.” In reality they just looked like big alien moss things sprouting up from the rocks.
Unable to help ourselves we took a few more pictures with a rock shaped like a dinosaur head before moving on.
Borax Flamingo Lagoons
Another flamingo filled lagoon was next on the agenda. Oscar explained that borax, not salt, was the white powder surrounding the lake in this area. When wet it foams and works as a shampoo; supposably many of the birds and animals in the area use it to clean themselves.
Unfortunately the pack of flamingos flew to the other side of the lake before we were able to get to close, however thanks to Dad’s binoculars we were able to watch them a bit. The funniest part of the stop was watching mom and Brandon try to use the cleansing powers of the borax. Both picked up some of the white powder (along with a lot of foul-smelling, flamingo contaminated dirt underneath) but were unable to get water due to the quick sinking mud surrounding the lake. They settled for some dirty ice and rubbed there hands together…. No foam and they both just had disgusting smelling brown hands. It was quite comical and we determined you might need more pure borax and real water to get these so called cleansing, foaming effects.
Sioli Desert – Visiting Mars
As we entered the Sioli desert (highest and driest in the world!) the landscape got more and more bizarre. This whole time we had been traveling from 12,000 to 15,000 feet above sea level and there was nothing but sand, dirt and rocks. There were large hills next to us, most dormant volcanos, and huge random rocks at their base in the sand. Oscar explained they were remnants from the explosions years ago, so bizarre to look at. We finally stopped at a spot called Red Planet, the name sake of the company. It was deemed Red Planet because it is their idea of how we would imagine Mars to look… Barren, desolate, red sand, few rocks.
Not to long later we arrived at the Rock Tree. A famous rock that has been withered away by the wind until today, resembles a tree.
We spent the remainder of our time scrambling around on the random and massive rocks that surrounded the Rock Tree. A couple beers tipsy it was a little scary getting so high up, but the expansive and empty views from the top were worth it.
Laguna Colorada – The Red Lagoon
Continuing our never ending day of sight-seeing we couldn’t help but contain our awe when we set our eyes on the Laguna Colorada, or Red Lagoon.
Although the lake looked a toxic metallic red, the bright color is due to the red algae that survive thanks to the extreme and random conditions. With help of the wind and water circulation the algae is pushed to the top creating the vibrant red color. Oscar explained that because this same algae is a part of flamingos diet it is responsible for the fact they are pink! We could see a couple flamingos in the distance, but for the most part just enjoyed the interesting view of a bright red, natural lake.
Everyone getting a bit tired of being in the car, we popped in some coca leaves for the final leg of the journey. Francisco had been chewing on them since we started the journey and we were all excited to see what the big hype was about. Each taking about 8 leaves, we chewed them a couple times, stuck them in our gum and sucked out the juices for about 30 minutes. That side of my mouth got quite numb and I swear I got a nice rush of energy. 😉
Volcano Sol de Manaña
Last but definitely not least we arrived at Volcano Sol de Manaña. My expectations were completely blown away when we arrived at a plateau full of bubbling mud baths and sulfur water.
The energy was constantly bubbling from the earth and it was crazy to watch. There were about 20 different pools, each with different levels of ferocious spouting liquid. Oscar kept cautioning to watch your step which was necessary as many times there were tiny bubbling pools right behind you.
The water was steaming and the ground was roasting hot, but it was COLD in the air. We could only stay for so long before it felt as though our fingers were going to fall off. Oscar had said this was his favorite stop of the trip and it was easy to understand why. The intensity, bubbling mud and explosiveness that was contained in that small site was hard to look away from and leave no matter how cold you were.
Lodging + Dinner
Everyone was quite excited when we reached our lodging for the night! We had been told that because we were so far in the middle of nowhere the hotel ran off a generator for 4 hours, and then shut off for the rest of the night. Prepared for a frigid night we put our sleeping bags under our bed covers.
Dinner was once again delicious, veggie soup and a yummy chicken pasta. We finished off our jug wine, making friends with an Irish girl about my age in the process. She hadn’t been to thrilled about her travel partners for the trip. Her car contained the two stick in the mud women (I mentioned earlier) and a variety of other people a bit uninterested in talking to each other. She and her mother were traveling together (her mother, one of the funniest people I have ever met) and both seemed so relieved to be talking to people who laughed at their jokes and were genuinely interested in what they had to say.
Another bottle of wine later (luckily they had them for purchase at our limited supplies hotel) we all were excited to meet down in the natural hot springs to soak, relax and look at the stars after dinner.
Soaking in Hot Springs under the Stars
One of the coolest aspects of Red Planet Tours (and reasons we had chose it) is they visit the natural hot springs during the evening. Thanks to the fact we were staying at a hotel (and the only tour group staying there) we got our own private soaking session under the stars for as long as we desired. Everyone brought a bottle of wine or some beers down and we enjoyed the wonderful water while looking at the starriest sky I have ever witnessed.
Francisco pointed out one the coolest constellations I have seen, a scorpion! The triangular body hugged the moon while the tail curled away into a full spiral. Oscar showed Jordan and I the ‘private tub;’ a small overflow area that turned into a natural back massage while you felt more isolated and could look out into the massive lagoon the hot springs sat next too. GREAT company, new friends, warm hot springs, and ridiculously starry skies, it was incredible. A magical evening, one of my favorites in South America, one I will never forget.
Oh, and thanks to the warm wonderful waters I slept like a toasty little baby in my sleeping bag under the covers.