On the 24th of October, we arrived in Tucuman in Argentina at 8 am. We waited an hour for our connection, and by 1.30 pm we were in Salta.
From October 25th to October 27th, we chilled out in Salta. We tried to find Alan a dentist, but none spoke any English, which made it hard to understand what they wanted to do to him, and most were fully booked. We gave up on that, and decided to wait till India. We had the camera cleaned - cost a fortune, but it was necessary as there was lots of dust on the sensor.
On October 27th, we caught an early morning bus to La Quiaca, then crossed the border into Bolivia, Villazon. The landscape along this trip was dominated by coloured mountains - very cool to see, and we snapped some pictures from the bus.
After waiting for a few hours in Villazon, we managed to catch a bus on to Tupiza.
On the 28th, we hung out in Tupiza and tried to get a tour together for the salt flats. The tour is normally done from Uyuni, but the reverse circuit from Tupiza finishes with the salt flats and ends in Uyuni, from where we will be closer to La Paz, so it suits us perfect.
Amazingly, when we returned to the hotel, we ran into Curtis and Caroline, whom we had first met in Bariloche. They were looking to do the tour the next day as well, so it could not have worked out any more perfect. Four people in a Landcruiser, plus driver and chef, is enough for four days. Some people do it with five or six people, but we preferred to pay a bit more and be more comfortable.
So on the 29th, the four of us, along with driver Javier and chef (and supposed English guide, who spoke no English) Victor, set off on the four day circuit of the Bolivia South-West region. On this first day, we travelled through the red mountain scenery that surrounds Tupiza, which is also the area in which Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid once robbed a payroll - they are supposedly buried in the mining village of San Vicente, outside Tupiza, though noone has ever found the right grave. The rock formations in this area where amazing - eroded by wind and rain into crazy formations.
We spent the first night in an adobe hut in a small village called San Antonio de Lipez. The beds were comfy, and we had plenty of blankets, so the night was fine. I woke up with a banging headache though, because of the altitude - we were sleeping at around 4200 meters.
On October 30th, we embarked on the second day of our journey. We drove for hours and hours through empty country and ever-changing landscapes of mountains, rivers, shrubbery, plains, and eventually dry, dry desert. The one thing that never changed, was that the landscape was completely harsh and unforgiving. The sun at these altitudes is so strong it burns you before you realise, and at night the temperatures drop below freezing - in the winter as low as -20. And the wind blows incessantly. How anything can live here is a mystery.
We stopped at several places of interest today. In the morning we visited a ruin town known as Pueblo Fantasma, sitting at 4690 meters. (Ruins which were built simply by "the people", according to our articulate guide Victor luckily he makes up for the lack of info with some decent cooking). Javier the driver stepped in and explained that the site was originally settled by the Spaniards as a mining town, because the surrounding mountains are rich in various minerals. However, they nevr succeeded in extracting these, and later abandoned the city again. Now it is simply inhabited by little vizcachas (cross between rabbit and chinchilla by the looks of them).
Later, we also visited Laguna Verde - a brightly coloured turqouise lake, coloured by high concentrations of lead, sulphur, arsenic and calcium carbonates. Behind the lake towers Volcan Licancabur, which straddles the border to Chile.
On the route away from here, we passed through a desert area, which looked like it had been neatly raked. Across the surface are dotted collections of volcanic rocks, spewed there by an eruption from Licancabur. They look surreal in their ordered placement, and they are aptly named the Rocas de Dali.
Later we passed a small salt plain, sulphuric lakes full of flamingoes, some hotsprings, and the interesting Sol de Manana geyser basin. The basin sits at 4850 meters, and is full of steaming, bubbling, stinking mud pots.
After a long day, we reached our overnight stop near Laguna Colorada (4278 meters), at a spot called Huallajara.
On October 31st, we took a closer look at the brightly red Laguna Colorada, on the banks of which we had spent the night.
After that, we e once again spent the whole day driving. Most of the day we drove through desert landscape, completely dry and empty, with vicious winds whipping across it. This desert is called the desierto Siloli. In the middle of this desert we once again came across volcanic rocks, thrown there by one of the many volcanoes in the area. The rocks have been eroded by the wind into odd shapes - one of them into the form of a tree, the famous stone tree. It was a lot bigger than I expected - very impressive.
After this, we once again drove past numerous coloured lagoons, with flamingoes dotted around their shores. We saw a still active volcanoe, Ollague, and admired the desolete landscape.
We spent the last night at a hotel built out of salt, on the shore of the Uyuni salt flats, where we had the first shower of the trip - soooo gooood.
Last day of the tour, November 1st, was all about the salt flats. The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world (12.106 sq km), and its sits at 3653 meters. We set out before sunrise, watched the sun come up over the salt flat. As we were here in dry season, the place was just a huge expanse of blinding white, with a tall blue sky above and fringed by looming volcanoes.
After sunrise, we headed to an island in the middle of the salt for breakfast, called Isla de los Pescadores. The island is inhabited by vizcachas and huge cacti, one of which is supposedly over 1200 years old (cactus, not vizcacha).
Later we did the obligatory silly shots on the salt flats, although most of them didn't really work.
At closer look, the salt flats are divided into hexagonal tiles, apparantly caused by the "respiration" of water and air through the salt - beneath the entire salt flat is a layer of water, which evaporates, and then gets refreshed by the rain in the rainy season. Strange as hell.
Finally, we stopped at a salt hotel turned museum, and at the village of Colchani where salt is extracted for consumption.
In the end, we headed for the town of Uyuni, and by the evening we were on a bus to La Paz, exhausted by exhilirated.