Uyuni - Tupiza (16/05/16 - 27/05/16)
Salar de Uyuni
Having no real expectations for the salar we were totally in awe! The stark white beauty is hypnotizing and almost spiritual, feeling like you have stepped into another world of pristine white emptiness. Adding to that is the magic of the salt itself, forming an artwork of hexagons and geometric shapes on its surface and the whole spectacle is framed by a back drop of blue mountains with the occasional patch of white meeting the blue horizon. No other experience compares! We were close to disappointment at the very beginning when we found ourselves having to share the space and sights with dozens of tour operators unloading their squealing, monument climbing excited loads but once past the crowd at the first island of Incahuasi we drifted to an outer island and then only saw the odd truck in the distance. We stayed two fabulous peaceful nights followed by a morning goofing around creating crazy pictures then intending to find a new sheltered spot for the night we drove just a little to close to an island and unsuspectingly slithered into thick grey gooey mud, there was our trusty vehicle and home imprisoned at an incongruous angle in the salar. Unable to sleep in it we were forced to resort to the tent with much relief that we didn't actually sell it after the trekking fiasco at Torres del Paine. More than a day was spent extracting the truck from the mud with Martin jacking her up step by step on rocks after the winch and then the diff locks failed just when we desperately needed them!! With huge relief it finally slurped up out of the mud and we vowed to stay a good distance from the lake edges! The area resembled a war zone by the time we had finished.
first we had fun ....
then we had more fun and got silly ....
and then we had even more fun and got to have a workout ....
Tour operators, advertising, guide books, previous travelers, friends and acquaintances all rave about the famous rare off the beaten track difficult to access 'Laguna route' so obviously we had extremely high expectations. Within a very short time Martin described it as the best way to wreck your vehicle! Constant rumbling over rocks, corrugations, ruts and drop aways, through huge beds of bull dust and all while being showered with stones and dust and hooting from the literally hundreds of tour operators on tight schedules - one of the worst “roads” either of us have ever driven!! The volume of traffic is creating entire hillsides of corrugated tracks as wide as the valleys allow, drivers starting new tracks as the old ones become corrugated. On the positive side the landscape was often breathtaking, the lagunas speckled with beautiful flamingoes and the multi-coloured volcanoes created a dramatic backdrop. A campsite at the beginning of the route provided our third visit from the local gendarmerie, apparently looking for rogue drones sent from Chile? Luckily they accepted our reason for being there and left without presenting their armor. Unaware at the outset, we discovered along the way that there is actually accommodation available and came across several interesting hotel options but despite the altitude and cold found good campsites, one with its own private dining room in the rocks above the truck. Arriving late at Laguna Colarada, otherwise known as the red lagoon we didn't spend a lot of time but it was a lovely colour and dotted with more flamingoes, the piedra de arbor or tree rock is an interesting rock formation sitting with a collection of boulders in an otherwise flat valley and finally before camping for the night we got to see the beautiful “Dali desert” in stunning evening light.
Laguna Verde - Tupiza
Another gruesomely windy cold night in the mountains and up early to arrive in good light at laguna verde which sadly didn't show off her famous colours for us as is very dependent on the angle of the light, already busy with dozens of tourists and very chilly we were soon on the road again. A little disappointed we abandoned the laguna route and headed north-east toward Tupiza via a mountainous route not nearly so popular with the tour operators and didn't see another vehicle for hours at a time! We couldn't believe our luck at stumbling on this route, it way outshone the laguna route with totally incredible scenery changing continually, climbing and dipping into valleys one after another still at over 4000m altitude most of the time. We had purchased two jerry cans of extra diesel in Uyuni incase needed and added it to the tank part way through the day, next the truck started to struggle up the steep climbs and was seriously lacking in power. Not prepared to attempt another mountain we camped in a valley and Martin changed both fuel filters and the air filter. It eventually ran well again and we presumed a combination of altitude, dust and dirty diesel had brought the big beast to an almost standstill!! Next day with the truck back to her normal health we continued through the mountains, through the abandoned former mining town of San Antonio de Lipez sitting forlorn at 4690m and arrived nice and early at the stunning quebrada above Tupiza, resembling thousands of spires in every direction. It was a treat to loose altitude and watch the scenery and animals change, donkeys appearing again and almost excited to see trees reappear despite their wizened forms. Tupiza is an attractive city surrounded by dramatic red cliffs and with a fertile green river valley running through the centre and whose claim to fame is that it is near where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid supposedly met their ends!