Sparky Travels

March 22, 2011

Salt Flats I

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — admin @ 11:28 pm

I was woken abruptly at 8:30am on the 21st of Feb by the woman at the hostel banging on my door offering me a chance to join a tour to the salt flats in an hour. After a bit of haggling I decided to go for it and rushed about town trying to get money and supplies for the trip. Tupiza lacks ATMs so I had to queue at the bank for a credit card advance.

At 10am I met my fellow tour-ists at my hostel: Rick, a violinist from London and Claire & Cigdem, dentists from Australia. Our driver was Mario and our cook/guide was a lovely Bolivian lady called Modesta, who spoke as much English as I speak Spanish.

With our bags and supplies strapped to the top of the 4×4 we set off for our 4 day tour. Quite quickly into our drive we were climbing into the mountains where the views were incredible. The rock formations I witnessed the day before were revealed to be present over vast swathes of the area. Much of the day was spent driving through the country west of Tupiza along dirt roads. We had occasional stops for photos and one in a small almost deserted town to stretch our legs.

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Our home for the night was a village in the middle of nowhere with a pretty church and not much else. Our room was nice enough, the beds had lots of blankets covering the straw mattresses and there was a table where we sat round having dinner. The vegetable soup which Modesta had made was superb and the mince stew was very hearty. Once the sun had gone down the stars were very visible and the band of the milky way slashed brightly across the sky. We toasted our trip with some wine and champagne which Rick had resourcefully included in his supplies.

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We were awoken at 5am the next day and after a quick breakfast we got on the road again. The girls were a little worse for wear, mainly due to the altitude which was not surprising given we were already way over 4000m. In fact, after a stop off at an abandoned settlement of ruined stone shacks we passed 5000m, 5 kilometres above sea level! On one of our regular breaks we watched llamas feeding at a sort of oasis and by 11am we’d arrived at a sizeable lake. We caught our first sight of pink flamingos there and strolled around part of it, taking the obligatory ‘jumping’ photos.

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The sun is mighty powerful at this altitude and although the nights are extremely cold, the place warms up quickly during the day. Thus, we were eagerly anticipating stripping down and having a soak in the hot springs. It was pretty busy when we arrived, with a dozen or so 4×4s parked up but it quietened down pretty quickly. The water was perfect bath temperature and the view as you lazed in the pool was lovely.

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After another tasty and filling meal courtesy of Modesta, we drove towards a semi-dormant volcano, passing Salvador Dali desert on the way. It is so called because the landscape with warped rocks sticking out of the ground is reminiscent of Dali’s paintings. Next we reached Lago Verde (Green Lake) which was undoubtedly green (and toxic) due to the minerals it contains.

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Our final stop of the day was at the geysers. Unlike Old Faithful or others I’ve seen, these were open pools of boiling hot mud. The smell of sulphur was overpowering while Modesta and Mario led us through the labyrinth paths between the pools before telling us that a tourist had died falling into them on another tour. Not a good way to go.

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Our accommodation was slightly more communal, with a number of jeeps worth of tourists in the same place. While they all had comically early nights we sat up for a few hours playing cards (Hell No) and drinking rum & coke.

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