In and out of Chile; and across the Bolivian altiplano and salt flats.

So we left Salta, destination San Pedro De Atacama, Chile. We planned on staying in Chile only 2 days but the reason for the curious detour was: a) because there were reports that this was one of the most scenic bus journeys going, and b) to say that we’d been to Chile. The journey takes you through the mountainous North-West region of Argentina over the Andes upto the border crossing at a dizzying 4,900 metres and down into the desert region of Antofagasta and the dusty Star Wars-like town of San Pedro. It’s pretty immense, but the altitude can lead many people to get ill, but I made sure I was prepared by stuffing a load of Coca leaves (procured in Argentina) in between my gum and cheek which prevents the effects of altitude sickness; in addition to many other benefits for one’s health, so is claimed.

At the 4,900m border crossing this hungry little chap was after the biscuits I was scoffing:

Example of the scenery on the journey (hard to capture from the bus!):

San Pedro is like no-where I’d been before. Being a desert town at 2,400m it’s hot, sunny and dry by day and bloody freezing by night. The buildings are all very low and mostly made using primitive building materials (straw and mud it would seem) and there is a lot of sand and dust everywhere. But this all makes it quite a charming place (apart from the large amount of French that somehow get drawn there ;)).

Star Wars-ville:

The highlight of San Pedro was a late night trip to the local conservatory where a tour guide will take you through the various types of stars, solar systems, galaxies and planets including the signs of Zodiac and some interesting history. There were over a dozen telescopes where we could see cool stuff like Jupiter and the moon close-up.

Having a look at a planetary nebula M2-9:

The moon. Close-up:

From San Pedro we booked a 3 day tour of the Bolivian altiplano (high alpine planes) that would drop us off in Uyuni, Bolivia. The tour of the altiplano is a feast for the eyes and senses. The altiplano is like a 4,000m+ desert with huge snow-capped volcanos jutting up all over, and multi-coloured lakes dotted at various locations. There is a white lake, green lake, a red lake (literally blood red ’cause of the beta carotene) and other bluish, turquoisish lakes. All the various colours are produced from the array of minerals and metals present. In addition there is also a 4,500m hot spring you can take a dip in, and a bunch of prehistoric looking geysers and bubbling mud pits.  The combination of the sights and the altitude literally make you feel like you have landed on another planet.

There are no roads over the altiplano so the whole trip is done in a 4×4 Toyota Landcruiser with you local Bolivian guide. The first night is fairly uncomfortable at a height of 4,700m where a mixture of thin air and -15 degrees means it’s hard to get sleep in the very basic accommodation you are offered. Luckily the second night is at a lower height which affords a sounder sleep.

Start of the altiplano – border crossing with Bolivia (4,600m):

Before setting out on the three-day tour:

Perfect execution of the Air Jordan.  Done infront of Laguna Verde (Green Lake):

High altitude hot spring.  Lovely and warm until you get out!

Salvador Dali desert.  So-named becasue of the rock structures that look like they have been painted by Dali:

Closer view of the Dali rocks:

Laguna Colarada.  Red because of the beta carotene:

Loads of pink flamingoes live in the lake.  It’s all very strange:

Arbol de Pierda (Tree of stone):

Me and Crag on top of some massive rocks we scaled:

After traversing the altiplano you start the third day by visiting the salt flats of Unuyi. This is an awesome spectacle: a 12,000 sq/km dried up salt lake which has left a thick layer of blindingly white salt over the whole area. In addition to the altiplano you feel like you’ve been in multiple sets of science fiction films by the end of the trip.

First stop on the salt flats is Isla de Pescado (fish island) which is covered in great big cacti (and a few llama knocking about):

Shouldn’t have sat there:

This cactus was 900 years old and 9 metres high!

Onto the salt flats and the fun can begin with the shrinking gun:

Huge lollipops:

Gimnastics on the huge lollipops:

Couldn’t get back in the landcruiser:

The last stop of the trip is somewhat bizarrely a locomotive cemetary just outside of the final stop Uyuni. But we were startign to find out that bizarre and Bolivia are two words that fit together very well!

End of a exhausting but amazing trip.  Chilling on a well old and broken locomotive:


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jack
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 07:36:23

    Alright Booth – Not sure if you and Crag are still having problems with internet connections or had managed to watch it so thought I would update you on yesterday’s football result.

    Manchester United lost against Manchester City at Old Trafford. It was by quite a bit margin in the end too……1-6 would you believe!

    I know that you may think that my opinion is bias, so I have decided to remain neutral and use a spectrum of headlines to get across just how monumental this result was:

    Ferguson feels the pain of his ‘worst-ever day’ at United – Guardian
    Manchester City thrash United in derby – BBC Sport
    Shattered! My worst day in football, says Fergie, as sensational City destroy United – Daily Mail

    So, words such as ‘humiliated, crushed, thrashed, destroyed’ have been used to describe the result with even the Manchester United Official website describing City as ruthless.

    Apparently, City have inflicted Manchester United’s worst home defeat since February 1955!

    Just thought, given that access to info may be hard to come by and not necessarily in English, that I would do my bit to update you.

    You owe me a pint for this ‘public service announcement’




  2. dominicbooth
    Oct 24, 2011 @ 13:09:15

    Cheers Jack. Although you’ll be pleased to know I was actually able to drag myself out of bed at 7.30 to watch the match and so I am aware of how the affair unfurled. But, I didn’t check out the media reaction afterwards so in that respect your comment has been informative. So thanks. A lot.


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