To reach San Pedro de Atacama from Salar de Uyuni you have to pass through many beautiful places and experience many unexpected moments. It takes 3 days. The first two you spend at 4000 m above sea level. Even though it isn’t a smooth ride along the highway, but a bumpy off-road trip, most of the people have a very positive impression. For us it is a convenient way to get out of Chile and move on to Bolivia.
The migration office and the Chilean border are situated in San Pedro. After a 50-kilometer climb you reach the Bolivian border, where you are processed – they check your visa, etc. Turns out on this border we don’t need any documents except passports and the fee in dollars. We got our photos taken, printed reservations, yellow fever vaccination certificates, all in vain. Welcome to Bolivia! Where for 60 dollars you get a sticker in the passport, a.k.a. visa.
Outside we are surrounded by high mountains, most of which are volcanos. The temperature drops to unpleasantly cold, but the open-air breakfast served with hot tea helps. Of course, many people ask about the toilet and they all receive the answer “There is only natural toilet here, we practice nudism”. So you go and moon the volcanos.
We are awaited by Bolivian 4×4 pick-up trucks, which will be our home for the next several days. The drivers are chefs and tourist guides and mechanics and whatever else we’d need. Our driver’s name was Johnny and he did everything within his capabilities to assure that we had an unforgettable experience. Our group consisted of an Italian couple on their honeymoon, a Brazilian student and a Polish man, who lived in Bali.
We loaded the luggage and set off for the entrance of the national park. We paid the fee and, without further procedure, we went to see the first landmark on our way, Laguna Blanca. The reflection of the mountains in the water made it attractive for the cameras.
Later we saw the Laguna Verde. It changed its color to green when the sun shone brighter and the wind blew. The color is caused by different minerals on the bottom of the lake.
We move on to the Salvador Dalí Desert? Why Dalí? Well, it looks like some of Salvador Dali’s famous artworks.
We need a little relaxation, so we go for a dip in Polques Hot Springs. The water temperature was about 38 °C. The hot springs must’ve helped us with the adjustment to the local conditions, if it’s true that they lower the pressure.
No more than a half hour away we started to smell boiled eggs. Well, it is normal. The geyser Sol de Mañana emitted steam in front of us. The steam reached only several meters height because it was in the afternoon and there was a lot of sun and wind. In the mornings the geyser normally reaches a height of over 20 meters. In the different holes there was bubbly mineralized mud.
We arrive at the first place to spend the night near Laguna Colorada.
When we paid for our excursion we were told that the conditions would be very basic and there won’t be water or electricity. We expected just a piece of wood to put out sleeping bags. It turned out there were very comfortable beds and not-too-clean bed sheets, so we used the sleeping bags after all. Otherwise, while we stretched ourselves on the beds, Johnny cooked for us and we filled our bellies. He had an interesting approach to vegetarian cuisine- fried eggs or eggs with vegetables.
In order to burn the calories we took a walk around Laguna Colorada, which changed several colors and had thousands of flamingos. Three species of flamingos inhabit Eduardo Abaroa National Park – andino, chileno and james. They differ in size and coloring of the tail. The wind was cruel, but it didn’t stop the flamingos from digging for food constantly, or us – from walking. We felt our heads a little bit heavy, but we have to get used to 4600m altitude, where we’ll be spending the night.
The Polish man decided to skip the walk but when we came back after 7 o’clock he decided to change his mind. That’s alright but it got cold and dark outside and he still hadn’t come back. Johnny was preparing the car for the trip tomorrow and had to cook dinner. We, the men of group decided to go look for him because at this altitude it is easy to fall or get lost because there aren’t lights anywhere. It took us about 20 min. The guy had decided to photograph the flamingos in the dark and got carried away. He had forgotten that he was a part of a group and the others would worry about him.
After the first day some things were clear. Firstly, Johnny was an awesome dude and drove carefully. He even promised to cook without eggs for Bistra. Secondly, the symptoms of the altitude sickness were complaining and headache in half of the people. Thirdly, it is hard to explain the idea of sharing to 12 people. Fourthly, the lack of shower facilities unites strangers. And lastly, never go looking in the dark for a stranger, driven crazy by the corporate world.
This article was brought to you in English by Marta Petrova.
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