The Atacama & Uyuni Salt Flats
19.09.2009 - 23.09.2009
After arriving at San Pedro I discovered this little town is quite pleasant and small, consisting of only about 3 significant streets but is no cheaper than anywhere else in Chile and therefore very expensive compared with the remainder of South America. The town however offers a great starting point to visit the atacama desert which includes death valley, the valley of the moon and also for trips into Bolivia through the great salt plains of Uyuni.
Firstly it was off to tour the death valley which is simply remarkable for its complete lack of life and rain with it being the driest place on the planet. The trip out there is a cross between the nullabor (with less tress) and what one would normally assume to be giant stockpiles caused by erosion. After this it was off to see valley of the moon at sunset when the pale white desert soil under dimming light supposedly mirrors the surface of the moon complete with craters. This is quite an interesting sight and made for good viewing and hopefully photographs. Also the erosion here created some quite spectacular land formations including one that closely resembles a amphitheatre which is quite remarkable as well as many valleys and sand dunes.
Next day it was time to continue my long road trip back to Lima by travelling to Uyuni through the salt flats. The three day tour looked to be very interesting combination of sights along the way as well as being an easy way to cross into Bolivia. Firstly as we crossed the border as expected the border crossing in Chile was easy and went off without any drama, enter Bolivia. To say that the Bolivian border was an old squatters shack is probably overemphasising the positives in a way that a real estate might do to sell the place. It hardly looked capable of being any sort of abandoned dwelling let alone an official border control office. Never the less we persevered and through the ¨shack¨and were then met with the almost typical Bolivian problem of not having any change. Why the ATM´s and money changers insist on giving you 100 (and in my case 4 x 200) notes is beyond me because nobody ever has change for anything more than a 20. Here the official entrance fee was 21 Bolivianos (about $US3) as I waited about 20 minutes to get change from 25 Bs, I laughed at the attempts of the girls behind me to pay with a 100 note. Welcome to Bolivia!
Despite the fun and games at the border it was off to have some breakfast amongst the mountains and see some lakes of both usual and unusual colours. The first of which was a very white looking lake owing to the high salt content, which is high enough to actually float on if you want. Whilst the sun provided generous heat the wind chill factor was ridiculous with most people having up to three layers on - my jacket was on the roof. I did however find myself a nice little half made windbreak that I managed to finish giving me some protection! The other notable thing about this lake is the presence of wildlife most notably in the form of pink flamingoes which provided some entertainment and photo opportunities despite being very shy.
After breakfast we headed off to see the green lake, the colour provided by the high presence of magnesium which looked quite surreal almost like a carribean beach sort of colour. After a few photos here it was time to drive past the Salvadore Dali desert and then too thermal springs for lunch. After lunch we headed to the geysers, which erupt periodically under pressure if not particularly high. Next it was off to see the third coloured lake, this type and red or atleast a very strong pink complete with some 8000 pink flamingoes that added to the photo opportunities. Finally after travelling for about 6 hours through barren desert we arrived at a point where plants and animals existed amongst some picturesque mountain ranges.
The next day involved a morning of touring the many natural rock formation in the area before heading off to the so called llama paradise. A nice open area with a river flowing through it and plenty of plants seemingly home to 100´s of llamas. Next it was off to a giant canyon to chase a glimpse of a shy condor that is seen in the area infrequently. After much looking and talking to the locals they settled on the place most likely to spot the condor but atlas today the guides were left to point out only the discolouration on the mountains due to the condor crap!
The next day it was off to see the highlight of the trip the Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flats in the world. It was really quite surreal standing in the middle and being able to see nothing but white until the horizon and the brilliant white nature offers some interesting perspective style photos. As we continued along the salt flats we saw the island of cactii apparently the only thing that can actually survive out here and the salt hotel which is built completely from the dried salt bricks which was quite interesting. Over this trip we managed to climb up to 5300m, an altitude that had a few people struggling a bit, all in all the trip was really well worth it and the only casualty was a kids bike (thankfully no kid) that one of careless drivers managed to run over. Arriving in Uyuni it was pretty clear there was little to offer there so a night bus to Sucre and Potosi beckoned.