DAY 4: THE SUD LÍPEZ AREA (Borax Mines, Laguna Colorada, Geysers, and Laguna Verde)
I woke up feeling very well rested. I even managed to eat a small amount of breakfast. Today we were setting off to explore the amazing Sud Lípez area in the southern tip of Bolivia
. On the way we stopped for a short break and I decided to take a rest by sitting on what I had been affectionately viewing as soft tufts of grass along the road. Down I sat, only to discover that those “soft tufts” are really a form of desert cactus. Up I sprang, pulling long spiny rods out of the back of my pants (ouch!). Here I am a few minutes later sitting on some rocks with some of my furry friends:
Our first destination today was the borax mines. From a distance, the borax mining area looked very similar to the salty salars we had crossed over the past two days.
Our road with the borax fields in the distant:
A closer view:
Maurice wanted to take us to see the warehouses and the miners’ residences. We stopped briefly at the entrance, where a tire sign read “Prohibido el Ingreso a Vehiculos” (Vehicles Prohibited from Entering).
Here we are in front of one of the warehouses and some of the miners’ quarters. During the winter, the temperatures here can be brutally cold.
As we continued onward, we had our first sighting of a herd of wild vicuñas.
Vicuñas are small members of the camel family that live only at elevations above 11,400 feet in the high Andes
. They have traditionally been hunted for their soft and warm fur; however, they were declared endangered in 1974, when only about 6,000 animals were left.
After traveling for miles through pretty stark landscape, we were surprised to find this natural spring with green plants (and a herd of llamas) at the entrance to the Reserva Eduardo Avaroa.
A short distance later we reached the Laguna Colorada, which is a large lake with a reddish color from the algae that live in the water. The lake is the nesting ground for different kinds of flamingoes that migrate here and feed on the red algae (which turns the flamingoes pink). The guard at the reserve entrance asked us to keep our bikes away from the edge of the lake because the flamingoes were in their nesting period and shouldn’t be disturbed.
Laguna Colorada is approximately 14,000 feet in elevation. The surrounding landscape has nothing visually alive for miles and miles--just barren rock and dirt. (But there’s actually a road sign out here!)
We then headed up to the Sol de Mañana geyser, at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. The geyser sits inside a volcanic crater, with numerous pools of boiling mud and sulphur.
David prepared a nice picnic lunch for us, and we sat among the rocks near the geyser and enjoyed the beautiful day. Here are Rene, Hugo (partially hidden) and Gérald:
Maurice then led us further south toward the Chilean border. Along the way, we saw some more flamingoes:
One of the few buildings that we passed:
The roads then changed from rocky to fine deep sand (miles and miles of it), where you had to go really fast to stay up on top.
The surrounding landscape:
We passed by the Dali Rocks (supposedly they inspired Salvador Dali), which we could see from a distance:
View of the Volcán Licancabur, a dormant volcano that is about 19,250 feet high:
Finally, we arrived at the Laguna Verde, with waters that are a beautiful green due to the arsenic and other minerals in the water.
We arrived just as a herd of vicuñas were running by the edge of the lake:
Ben and I:
The wind was blowing ferociously, so the water was choppy:
We returned through the same deep-sand roads that we arrived on (they were even more fun the second time). We were constantly entertained by the beauty of the mountains, rock formations, sporadic greenery, and llama herds:
David and I passing by a typical small village:
Close-up of one of the houses:
We finally arrived at the small town of Queteña, where we would stay the night. Here we are in the courtyard of our hostel:
The manager/owner of the hostel, with her daughter:
After a quick shower, I noticed that the daylight was fading, and I told Ben that I wanted to explore the town a bit. We went outside and walked around, saying hello to the few people that we saw. However, there weren’t many people outside (it was quite cold and windy), and there were no shops or cafes to visit, so we returned to the hostel after a short time.
Here I am on the main street:
A local rancher cooked a dinner of llama steaks for the group this evening. Unfortunately, my stomach was still very sensitive and rejected even the thought of meat, so I had to miss the experience of eating llama.
[DAYS 5 -- 12 TO BE CONTINUED BELOW]