altiplano adventure

along this trip, we’ve done several things which fall into the “once in a lifetime” category. but even amongst those incredible experiences, our four day trip from chile to bolivia was unforgettably unique.

the trip began inauspiciously with a half day wasted at the chilean border, waiting for the officials to decide whether or not to open the mountain pass (previously closed due to snow). after much “will they/won’t they” we finally got underway, the group climbing high into the mountains to the one-room hut which served as the bolivian immigration department. after the formalities, we crowded all 13 of us into 4×4 landcruisers, strapped our bags and food to the top, and the expedition began in earnest.

the landscape is indescribably intense. startling colours which appear out of nowhere – green white and red lagoons. barren stretches of rocky plains give way to bright yellow scrub and white snow dotted hills. violent grey and lemon sulfured fumaroels hiss and spit. neon pink flamingoes are incongruous at 4500 meters, wading serenly against blood red waters and white islands in the shadow of ancient violet volcanoes.

we clamber around in the cold, taking photos with wind chapped cheeks and gloved fingers. there is a welcome respite in thermal hot springs, only to be followed by the bitter sting of biting winds hitting warm wet skin. the nights are colder, warmed only by wine, energetic card games and layer upon layer of blankets.

there are altititude headaches and multiple cups of coca leaf tea (the locals remedy). accomodation is spartan. we are cold and uncomfortable much of the time.

yet every morning we awake to brilliant clear sun and crystal skies. there is comraderie and a sense of adventure which carries us through. we are privy to visions most people see only in dreams. and we know it.

on the third day we roll through more multicoloured lagoons and eerie windscaped stone forests. there are llamas and foxes sxattered through the hillls, eeeking out their meagre existence amongst the dry grasses and parched earth. more flocks of seagulls, theor rosy shapes awkwardly graceful in flight. we descend to the empty lake bottoms, the long dried beds dusted with salt crystals. we spend the evening in a hotel made wholly from solid salt, like a rough-hewn crystal palace.

and then on day four, we’re up before dawn to catch the rosy hues of first sun rising over the salt plains. as the sun climbs higher in the sky, the endless salt pans change personality – from the cold pebbly white of opaque ice, to the hallucinogenic glare of dizzying white-on-white like a blinding snowfield from the antarctic. holographic effects, mirages and infinity illusions create a surreal scene right out of a dali painting. it is vast and pure and stretches out to meet the cerulean sky in a perfect horizon. spectacular constrasts dazzle the eye, incomprehensible tricks of the light. it’s unreal, unlike any other earthly landscape. we’re like children, playing with photos, dancing, lying down to make salt angels.

and then, finally, we arrive in uyuni, where the altiplano adventure ends. it’s a bleak return to civilisation after days spent wandering in the wilderness. some friends leave, some travel on with us to our next stop. but even if we never meet again, we’ve shared the unique wonderment of an experience that will never leave us.

not all the photos are up yet, but here’s a few

Comments are closed.

  • Photos