You can read Part I of Mark’s Travelers and Tourists in Bolivia here.
On Saturday, we awoke to a hurried breakfast of coffee, tea, and toast before packing up the jeeps and heading south once more. In the morning, the land was flat, populated only by calico herds of grazing llamas and huge fields of soy and quinoa. The jeep bumped constantly over the thick, brown dust of the road, which (after passing through the tiny town of San Juan del Rosario) eventually yielded to the red, metamorphic gravel of a desert that might as well have been the surface of Mars. Besides the soaring mountains in the distance on all sides, there was only the wide open red hills and the wind rushing through all of that space.
In a huge rock formation that stands at the foothills below the desert, we found a viscacha, an animal that looks like an irritated rabbit with a tail. It was also here that the dust clogged an air filter in the jeep, and Don Ismael had to go spelunking in the engine compartment to replace it. Quite the encouraging sight in the middle of one of the loneliest wildernesses on Earth.
The rock formations in this area were unbelievable, notable among them “El Arbol de Piedra” (the stone tree). If anything, Bolivia as a country is a surprising place, and it didn’t disappoint when, after driving for hours on the Martian surface, we drove over a hill to find a laguna that was the darkest shade of blue I have ever seen in a body of water. Pink flamingos bobbed on the surface of the salty water (the white stuff you see in the picture is salt), and sparse scrub grew up around its banks.
We finally wound up at La Laguna Colorado, which basically means “Red Lake”, and that is certainly a different title. Because of the iron content of the water and the algae that live in it, the lake appears to be blood-red. We stayed the night here in a small (decidedly shady) hostel next to the lake, which we shared with several groups of European young people on vacation. Steven and I wound up playing cards with three Irish girls and a slightly drunk Dutch guy, which, if you have never tried, I highly suggest.
Wake up call on the Lord’s Day came at the frosty hour (night in Potosi is cold) of 4:30 AM. Packing on every layer we could find, we stumbled out to the jeep, helping Don Ismael load, and continued on our way. The first stop were the geysers. Volcanically fuelled, these holes in the barren earth belched sulfurous steam high into the blue morning sky. Pools of boiling muck glooped lazily in sunken pits, and shrouded the whole area in clouds of mist. Very cool.
Laguna Verde, made around 9:00 that morning, was our southernmost stop, bringing us dangerously close to the borders of Chile and Argentina. After admiring the emerald-green of the lake, we turned around and started making the long way back north. We did stop, briefly, at a volcanically heated laguna about 30 kilometers from the Laguna Verda, which has a sectioned-off pool for swimming. After bouncing around in a jeep for two days, covered in dust and muck, hopping awkwardly down a frosty gravel hillside in a only pair of swimming trunks (much to the amusement of one’s companions) is a small price to pay for relaxing in a natural Jacuzzi surrounded by flamingos and Andean mountains.
The way back was arduous and long, but all of the discomfort was more than worth it. Uyuni is a wild and amazing place, transforming from salt flats to farmland to desert over an amazingly short distance. And to think that this is only one of Bolivia’s many natural treasures.