So the hotel we stayed in for the second night was another Tayka hotel (same as the night before, but no salt). This hotel was very nice, but had a very weird policy. Electricity turned off at 10:00 p.m. HUH? Now I know electricity is expensive in Bolivia, but come on this getting to be ridiculous. (Try getting up in the middle of the night without light and see how many times you bang into things in an unfamiliar room.)
Anyway, by morning you could have chipped ice off me and made margarita I was that cold. But hey it got better. We were planning to leave at 7:00 a.m. as the day was going to be particularly long. We were traveling all the way to the southern Bolivian border (where the Bolivia meets Chile and Argentina) and then all the way back to Uyuni so we needed to get an early start. I was packed and ready to go and headed downstairs to the warmth of the lovely lobby and then into the dining room at 6:30 a.m., but there were zero seats open. The place was full. Now it was not a big dining room, but come on there was another area they could have opened and heated, but they did not. So I was left standing there without a table. And without a table, they would not serve me breakfast (i.e no hot breakfast). I grabbed a yogurt, a bun and some cheese and meat from the breakfast bar and went into the lobby to eat the scraps I managed to put together. As you can imagine, I was not a happy camper.
We Rodrago appeared I told him what was going on and he tried to help, but got nowhere so finally I said let’s just hit the road. I left my key at the desk and then grabbed my bag and headed out to the car, Just as I was about to climb in the car, Rodrago came outside and informed me that the front desk advised him that I still had to pay for the tea I had at dinner last night. (Taka hotels have yet another weird policy that you can have all the tea you want in the lobby, but if you order tea at dinner you have to pay 5 Bolivianos (less than a buck). I looked at Rodrago and said you have got to be kidding. Now 5 Bolivianos was nothing, but this bloody hotel was going to charge me for tea when they wouldn’t even serve me breakfast. I don’t think so. I walked back into the lobby told them that I would offset the price of my tea at dinner for the cost of breakfast that I paid for as part of my stay and didn’t receive, so they actually owed me money. The manager quickly apologized and told me I would not be charged. REALLY. HOW GENEROUS!
We finally hit the road after the breakfast/tea debacle driving through the desolate high plains of the Andes. First stop of the morning was the Stone Tree and rock formations. Now at this point, we were in what I would call the high Andes. We were at approximately 14,000 feet and it was bloody cold outside. Nevertheless, Rodrago insisted that I jump out and have my picture taken in front of the Stone Tree. Check out the pic. Don’t I look happy and warm?
We continued to drive up into the mountains towards our second stop, Laguna Colorado aka the Red Lake. Apparently the mineral deposits in the lake gave it a distinct red colour. Once we reached the lake, the view was really quite spectacular. Now bear in mind were were already at approximately 14,000 feet, so the once towering Andes framing the lake now looked like little hills.
And wouldn’t you know it. Those wacky flamingos were enjoying a morning feed in the lake. Those birds must have special feathers because it was damn cold. (Have I mentioned how cold I was?)
Anyway, with the requisite pictures of Laguna Colorado behind me, we began to head into the “higher” Andes. Yep you read that right. Our morning was going to be spent climbing even higher through the mountains. The view as Jose drove was spectacular, but as we continued to climb, I felt it becoming more difficult to breath. The drive was taking us up into the snow capped peaks (at approximately 16,000 feet). Now the classic part of the drive is that as Jose drove on the frozen dirt and rock road and snow, it became impossible to see where the road continued and where the plain old frozen dirt began. At times, Jose was simply taking the path of least resistance. We encountered numerous portions that were completely covered in snow and impassible only to find that the land beside the road was passible. It was a crazy, beautiful, wild and very bumpy ride.
And a quick side note. Apparently it is highly unusual to have the amount of snow we encountered. As I have previously mentioned, the area had a significant storm in the two days before I arrived as well as in the prior week, which had made the trip I was now taking impossible last week. The reason this was all so unusual is that the winter period in the Andes is the dry season so there is usually very little snowfall. As a result, the amount of snow I was experiencing was out of the ordinary. (Move along folks no global warming to see here.)
Anyway, as we motored along, Jose stopped a couple of times so we could all jump out and take pictures. It is not every day that you get up close and personal with the tops of the Andes and the views were absolutely spectacular. The landscape was completely barren except for the snow and dirt and rock, but when you looked around at the mountain tops that appeared to be oh so close, you felt like you were in a magnificent painting.
We eventually reached destination number three for the morning: the geyser park. The entire area we were driving on is considered an active volcano (although apart from the geysers, there was no volcanic activity). It was unbelievable to see the numerous steam vents and bursts of steam coming from the ground splayed against the backdrop of the Andes. Now the smell was something else. Strong sulphur odors, which was not the best from my poor old lungs, but hell I was never going to be back here again, and I was damn well going to suck it up and wander around for a bit.
By now the air had warmed up somewhat so going outside was actually bearable. The geysers were really something to see with the constant hissing noise all around us. There was one geyser in particular that was shooting steam straight into the air, while others were letting out periodic “belches” of steam.
We finally left the geyser park and headed into Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve where we drove down the mountain for a bit and then back up and across even more snowy, frozen dirt.
After bumping along for over an hour, we finally reached our destination: Laguna Verde or Green Lake close to the border of Chile and Argentina. And all I can say is WOW. The view was absolutely stunning with an inactive volcano (Licancabur) framing the lake and numerous smaller peaks surrounding us.
Now why “verde”. Well the presence of large mineral deposits in the lake (copper and arsenic to name two) resulted in the lake taking on a green appearance, which can vary from deep emerald to pale green depending on the amount of sediment the winds stir up.
The presence of snow was also a bit of a phenomenon. Now sure the peaks have snow, but the amount of snow where we stood was unusual as I mentioned before. However, it sure made for fabulous pictures.
We finally left Laguna Verde, but not before a couple little Andean foxes came by to say hi. I have had extraordinary luck seeing animals in the Andes. (One I failed to mention previously is that I spotted a number of rhea, which are related to the emu and ostrich. Unfortunately, Jose drove right by the birds and Rodrago did not see them. I was so excited it took me a bit to explain what I had seen. I kept saying I saw an ostrich or emu, but my words got lost in translation. Finally, I was able to explain myself, but by this time we were so far removed from the site, I never got a picture. And alas I never saw them again.)
So with Laguna Verde in the rear view mirror, we began the journey back to the park entrance. We made a couple stops along the way. First at the Dali Desert, an area that has many multi-coloured mountains that give the appearance of a Salvador Dali painting, hence the name. While it was lovely, it couldn’t hold a candle to Laguna Verde.
The second stop was for a quick lunch at the hot springs a few kilometers before the park exit. Now the crazy thing is that people were actually in the hot springs and while it had warmed up quite a bit, there was absolutely no way I was going to climb into those hot springs only to later have to climb out into the cold air. Thanks, but no thanks.
After our quick lunch break, we began the journey back to Uyuni along the same route we had taken that morning. By mid-afternoon, we had finally reached lower ground and we began to encounter the usual llamas and vincunas we had been seeing throughout the trip.
By 4:00 we finally reached a real road and the bumping and jostling of the vehicle came to a stop. I actually gave Jose a round of applause for his masterful display of driving skills. (I cannot emphasize enough how difficult the driving conditions had been.)
Unfortunately, our celebration was short lived. As we passed yet another herd of llamas crossing the road, we felt a thud and some bumping. Jose pulled over. Uh oh. Flat tire. Fortunately, Jose had a spare and a fellow driver pulled over to help. In less than 15 minutes, the guys had jacked up the vehicle, removed the flat, pulled out the spare from the underside of the vehicle, put the new tire on and lowered the vehicle back onto the road. Fabulous.
And in case anyone is wondering Jose’s music for today included Fastball, Natalie Imbruglia, Queen, No Doubt, Eagles, Eminem, Rainbow and Soul Asylum.
Anyway, once we were back to driving, we ended up stopping in the little town of San Cristobal (about an hour from Uyuni) so Jose could check the tire and have a needed break. I asked Jose if I could pick up any food for him and he declined. Rodrago and I ended up wandering around stopping in the town Mercado and the magnificent church. We ended up picking up some grilled corn and empanadas for the road and met back up with Jose in less than half an hour. Although Jose indicated he was not hungry, he scarfed down the empanada and corn in short order.
By 6:30, we were pulling into Uyuni with the last fading light. I was exhausted, but I could not imagine how Jose was feeling. Both he and Rodrago had been wonderful companions on what I can only describe as a stunning, amazing adventure.