Our four day tour of Los Lipez, the Bolivian 'Reserve National de Fauna Andina Edurrdo Avaria' National Park and salt flats was absolutely spectacular and one of the highlights of our trip so far.
We met with the group on Monday morning which consisted of Esben and I, Matt a guy from Florida who had been living and teaching in Mexico for three years and Sarah a half Indian Canadian girl who was travelling before going to Peru to excavate a site for her archeology masters. We also had Elvis who was our Bolivian chef and English speaking tour guide for the trip and Mario our driver. Our luggage was strapped to the roof and we bundled into the land cruiser ready to set for our adventure.
The first day we drove through Los Lipez seeing some absolutely amazing rock formations and mountain landscapes. Because the rocks here are so rich in minerals the colour off the mountains are like nothing I have seen before and the combination of soft and hard rock means the wind and rain form crazy rock formations.
For lunch we stopped at a remote village and had some rice and lentils Elvis had prepared earlier before heading to an Inca ruin. The first day was a long one and we spent 11 hours in the car stopping occasionally for pictures and to enjoy the view. We entered the National Park at around 6.30pm and headed to our first hostel.
None of the hostels on the trip had heating and only the last had hot running water. I hadn't really anticipated how this would feel when after sun down and temperatures plummeted below zero....
Elvis cooked us some delicious hot vegetable soup and a mince dish with creamed potatoes for dinner. We were all so cold that we were in bed by about 8.30pm snuggled in our sleeping bags reading. All I can say is that I am so so happy I carried my -10 degree sleeping bag and thermals around with me for a month!!
On the second day we were up at 7am for a quick breakfast of rock hard dry bread and tea before loading up the car and heading off. We saw amazing dry lagoons with white minerals at the bottom (minerals you make soap out of, I can't remember the name) so it looked like snow and ice but wasn't, despite the fact it was bloody freezing. In the summer people come and mine the minerals and there are little tumbledown huts at the side of some of the lakes.
The second day was by far the coldest and a 30 minute swim in the natural hot springs was absolutely amazing. Before the springs we saw a couple of inactive volcanoes and later in the afternoon we went up to some geysers at 5000m bubbling and spitting steaming mud and stinking of Sulphur.
Our second hostel was at the bottom of a mountain but very exposed on one side. We were at 4500m and the temperature dropped to -15 degrees. I have to admit this was bitterly cold and no one was particularly enjoying the evening sitting next to some huge windows in a hut being battered by freezing winds! After dinner we played a quick came of cards and shared a bottle of wine before another even earlier night.
I have just realised that something I have failed to mention is the Lamas we saw throughout the trip. They were everywhere and where we stopped for the second night we managed to see some up close in the village. I also met a couple of the small children in the shop where we bought the wine and I can't imagine what it must be like to grow up in somewhere so unbelievably isolated and cold.
On the third day the main highlight was descending 1000 metres and therefore it was warmer and less windy ;-)! The second highlight were the flamingos!! We visited multiple lagoons and, even though it is coming into winter so there are less of them, we still managed to see a lot. We also visited some amazing rock formations formed from when the volcanoes had erupted thousands of years ago. We had fun climbing on the rocks and taking photos.
At the end of the first day we reached the edge of the salt flats and stayed in a salt hostel. At first I didn't believe it was salt as it looked normal but Esben performed a lick test and confirmed!
This was the hostel where we had our first hot shower in three days which was lovely .. Until you got out :-)!
On the last day they made us get up at 5am to go and watch the sunrise on the salt flats. This made me less than happy as any time before 6.30am just isn't worry seeing in my opinion! We got into our 4x4's and travelled in a convoy of three cars. About 20 minutes onto the salt flats we found out why this was. One of the cars in front got stuck in the salt. It seemed that none of the cars carried any equipment for this situation except a band which snapped as soon as they tried to pull the car out. We ended up being stuck there helping the other car for 4 hours while they went back and forth to the village to get planks and logs and new rope. It was freezing and sunrise was not that spectacular but Esben, Matt an I made our own fun by coming across a place they were making salt bricks and making models of our names out of them!
We finally got going after 10am and drove to this amazing island covered in massive cactuses. You had a great view of the salt flats from here which are 1/4 of the size of Denmark and are 110m deep in salt!
After the cactus fun we had some lunch and took some of the crazy pictures you can see on my Facebook page. Next it was off to Uyuni to end the tour and find our night bus to La Paz.
Uyuni was a horrible town and we were quite relieved we only had to spend a few hours there. Everything seemed half built, it was freezing and windy and didn't feel massively safe.
(See Facebook for pictures, sorry this ones taken a while. Will start the next blog now).