San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
One more housing project brought us all the way north to Iquique, but that project is for another blog…
We arrived in Iquique by plane from Santiago- landing into this desert by the ocean- a strange, ironic place. Such a dry arid dusty city at the edge of the expansive salty Pacific Ocean… so much water, yet no oasis in sight.
There was an eeriness to Iquique that was hard to pin-point. It was beautiful in its unique landscape, yet so desolate.
We walked the beaches and parts of the town, but everything seemed… sort of lonely.
We drank wine and killed time watching some surfers glide and crash in waves that must have been 10-15 feet tall. Local graffiti lined concrete walls at the beach.
An amazing view of the ocean from our hotel.
A short 2-night stay in the ocean-desert city and we were off to another desert in Chile: San Pedro de Atacama, our last stop before heading into the crazy landscapes of Bolivia.
9 hours post-traumatic-bus-ride later and we were in San Pedro de Atacama, known as an oasis in the high arid altiplateau (7,200 ft.); a laid-back, quaint adobe town with incredible surroundings: volcanoes, gysers and breathtaking night skies.
It was our first taste of beautiful blue skies and dry air.
Inside our own personal adobe dome house.
An amazing desert shelter for two.
Pops of pink.
Church of San Pedro de Atacama.
The main square strung with green. We ended our time in San Pedro with an incredible stargazing night-tour that took us out to the middle of an astronomer’s ranch to look at all the stars through his 12 amazing telescopes- we even got to see Saturn’s rings.
Salar de Uyuni
Bolivia contains the largest salt flat in the world at 4,086 sq. miles, containing an estimated 10 billion tonnes of salt. About 70% of the world’s lithium reserves come from the Salar de Uyuni as well, which lies beneath the thick salt slab.
A 3-day jeep tour would take us from San Pedro de Atacama up through the altiplateau towards the salt flat.
Our jeep-tour crew: Stefan from Germany, Stan from Poland and Tim. “Welcome to your Bolivian adventure,” our shuttle driver exclaimed as we took a sharp left onto a dirt road and crossed in to Bolivia. “Where anything is possible and nothing is certain.”
He dropped us off at 4,800 meters, about 15,800 ft- the perfect place to catch your breath just in time for a border crossing where they would only accept mint-condition $20 bills for the $160 Visa- that’s 16 perfect bills between the two of us. No ink stains; no tears; and no B-2s. We got lucky… but not everyone. An Asian-American woman behind us tried to present a Canadian ID card in order to have the US Visa fee waived- she didn’t have cash and she was pretty much screwed. “Do you accept credit cards??” she nervously asked. The Bolivian official who spoke English said “No” and laughed… he then joked in Spanish, “Let me just get on my cell phone and make some calls.” We were in the middle of nowhere in Bolivia- no cell service, no ATMS and definitely no credit card scanners.
The first two days took us to a series of lagoons and incredible rock formations. High winds rocked the jeep as we drove. It was an unforgiving landscape.
Tim and Stan braved the cold to take a dip in a hot spring along the way.
Our first night up in the cold, high altitude was rough. Headaches and shivering, but it was beautiful. After a simple spaghetti and salsa (?) dinner with hot soup and tea, we all climbed in to our 20 degree (??) sleeping bags to try and get some rest. But not Stan. No, Stan the Pole had gone out drinking the night before and had met a Texan girl. He was tired and hungover and – whoops – forgot to drink water on the ride. Now at 15,800 feet Stan was not feeling so well. What was a restless night already got exciting as Stan threw himself out of bed at 3am and puked spaghetti all over the walls and into the hallway. At about 6’4″ Stan is a big guy- he eats a lot and this … this was no small event. The altitude, being hungover and maybe even the Texan had all made Stan very, very sick.
A couple hours later we woke up for a 7am breakfast and were off into the altiplateau again.
A cluster of flamingos on the left.
High winds, dust and the intense sun.
On our second night we stayed in an entirely salt-constructed hostel. The walls, floor, tables- everything had been built out of the most abundant resource around. One of our more interesting rooms. By the second night, Stan was feeling slightly better and had managed to drink some water. A hot shower, soup, tea and some cold beer knocked us out.
On the final day, we woke up around 4:30am to catch the sunrise over the infamous salt flats. What an impressive sight it was.
Photo credit. Isla Incahuasi- an island of cacti and life in the middle of thousands of miles of salt.
Photo credit. The Incas used to find refuge here while crossing the salt flats. Such an insane landscape!!
Our day ended in Uyuni, a dusty raw town with not much more to do besides grabbing a beer and a bus. Bolivia had already blown us away. Next stop… the colonial town of Sucre!