|The southwest of Bolivia is a high arid landscape out of a science fiction movie. It's bleak and barren, and fantastic. Although most of land is above 4000 meters (13,000 feet), it was once covered by huge inland seas. They've mostly evaporated, leaving behind deserts, dried up salt lakes, sulpher-filled brackish lakes full of flamingos, hot springs, geysers, bubbling mud pools, and volcanoes......
...and for the princely sum of $100 each we got to go on a 4 day tour around this area, sharing a Toyota Landcruiser with 6 other people and endure nightly temperatures down to 20C -are we mad??!!
In truth it was fantastic, and the scenery spectacular. On the tour with us were a Dutch couple (Ellie & Rhin (sp?)), and a British couple (Claire & Ian). They were great company and we spent many hours chatting and keeping ourselves sane as Hugo played the same 3 cassettes over and over again in the Landcruiser!
We saw so much different landscape and so many different things in 4 days it was crazy. The highlights were:
Lagunas full of pink flamigos standing serenely in the freezing waters
Bubbling mud pools....and not fenced off like the ones in New Zealand - just how close you wanted to get was up to you!
Lakes of varying colours from red to bright turquoise
Hot water springs, which were great to sit in, but difficult to leave to return to the freezing wind!
The Salt Flats of Uyuni
The accommodation was very very basic - just one big room for all of us to sleep on camp beds, covered by as many layers of blankets as physically possible to keep the cold out! The first day of our tour was the start of the Bolivian Independence celebrations. We stayed the night in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. The celebrations there started at around 7pm with singing and dancing in the square, and when we left at 6am the next morning the die-hards were still there banging the odd drum drunkenly!! On our final night we'd all elected to pay a little extra to stay in a hotel totally made out of salt on the edge of the salt plains. Forget the novelty value of the place - it was warm, had cold beer and hot showers - we were in heaven!!
One downside of the tour was that we both ended up getting altitude sickness, which wasn't very pleasant! Over the four days we basically went from Tupiza, which is 2950 m (9678ft) above sea level to heights of 5000m (16404ft), and sleeping at 3700m (12136ft). Heights above 3000m are described as very high, and it's recommended that you should increase your height no more than 300m per day.....we increased it by over 1000m in two days - no wonder we were ill!!