Salt Flats and into Bolivia
We had some really tough days out of San Pedro de Atacama heading to Bolivia border, involving some significant elevation gains and as is common in desert conditions, some strong winds!
I can break the first day´s 130kms into 4 sections – 1st section involved a climb at 8km point and then a further climb from 15km to 35km, which was slow but rewarding, reaching an altitude of 3450m, and taking about 3 hours! 2nd section was an exhilarating downhill and long flat of 30km, taking only 1 hour to lunch. 3rd section after lunch was a straight 30km into a head wind, tough and I managed to stick it out as the 4th section we made an about turn and had the wind behind us for the remaining kms to camp, a quiet road passing the largest open pit copper mine in the world!
The second day broke me…the wind stayed with us and was a steady uphill from camp (at 2500m) with a blinding headwind practically the whole way to lunch at 65kms and 3500m altitude. As I reached the 50km mark, I knew I didn’t have the energy or inclination to finish the day, but lunch was not far, and at 60km we cruised downhill and enjoyed lunch at the foothills of a smoking volcano (San Pedro Volcano). An enjoyable drive, with magnificent views of the surrounding mountains, and then descending into Salar de Ascatan, where the winds blew salt and dust from all directions. We camped that night in the shelter of some ruins next to a lake on the Salar with mountains silhouetted in the water, flamingos feeding on algae and the odd vicuna in the vicinity! A freezing cold night at 3500m and relentless winds!
We had an awesome ride on our last day in Chile, a good dirt road, starting with a 4km climb, and then a long rocky descent along Salar de Carcot, surrounded by mountains, passing vicuna, another 5km ascent and then descent to Bolivia – another new country! An easy border crossing and with 2 local Bolivian guides (Saul Snr and Saul Jnr) we made our way across Salar Chiguana to our salt hostel in San Juan – awesome place and the first experience of great Bolivian hospitality!
We were very excited to be heading to Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world…..but first we had 45kms on killer dirt, sand and rock to reach it! And it was constantly teasing us on the horizon! Surprisingly I loved the dirt road – sick!!!
At last, Salar de Uyuni, we almost kissed the salt, felt like this huge beach or frozen lake for those Northerners! We had 10km to lunch….exhausted, hot and starved! We were slightly worried about the wind with a further 70km on the salt lake after lunch, after 35kms we stopped for coke at Isla de Pescadora, a coral and cacti covered island, with plenty of land cruisers with tourists parked nearby! And then a beautiful tail wind pushed us the last 35km at about 35km/hr along the smooth salt surface with the sun starting to set…..magical! A long tough day but one of the Highlights of the tour!!!
It was sad to be leaving the Salar de Uyuni and fortunately we had a short day, starting on the salt flats, with Vulcan Tupuna towering over us, flamingoes flying in formation, heading up and over the hills, passing small farming villages (potatoes, quinoa and llama) and back down to the salt flats. We stayed at a comfortable eco lodge at Salinas (Garci Mendoza) with fantastic hosts providing traditional Bolivian meal accompanied by some very drinkable Bolivian Vino Tinto!
So far in Bolivia, I am loving the beauty of the landscape, the friendliness of the people and the fact that there is significant evidence of traditional dress and ways! Still more to come… Challapata, Oruro, La Paz and Lake Titicaca, until then Adios!
Posted By Natasha Barker