San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni tour. Part 1.

I am ready for my 3 day tour into Bolivia, via the salt flats of Uyuni (and many other highlights).  I have seen most of the sights in San Pedro and feel acclimatised after some high altitude excursions. I am picked up as the first one around 7.10am, we drive around and get 5 more people. My group for the next days is composed of 2 French girls, a Swiss who lives in the UK, a Brazilian and a Spanish (the only one not talking much English). I am happy, there is someone to translate for me as the Bolivian driver will only speak Spanish (having an English speaking guide is double the price). As it’s low season we got the trip for 90,000 pesos each, all food and accommodation included. We are not getting far though in the early morning, the immigration office (for our exit of Chile) is in San Pedro. We arrive there at 7.40am but it only opens at 8am. At least we are one of the first in the queue (the van queue, the drivers are queuing up for us to avoid a mess). After 8am we are informed that the road is closed due to snow and ice, we have to wait here until 10.30am. So we wait, have a good breakfast outside the van, enjoy the sunshine and wait. It’s not really a security issue, we are told it’s more about politics. Well, if I’ve learned one thing on my trip it’s to be patient, relaxed and just accept how things work here. It’s also easy to be patient if you have all the time in the world, it’s more difficult if you work and have to deal with all the stress of daily routine. I still hope to remain relaxed for a while when I am back home! It’s 11am when we are finally through exit border control but then some more waiting at the actual road closure. A half an hour drive later we are finally at the Bolivian border in the middle of nowhere, for a quick immigration and changing from the van to a jeep with our Bolivian driver Marcello. There hasn’t been any snow, our driver assumes the police was just lazy today… 

We drive off on the dust road to the Laguna Blanca, which is only 40cm deep and frozen. We are still inside the huge Atacama desert and now in a national park for which we paid an entrance fee. A bit further, the more impressive Laguna Verde, the colour is fascinating and the backdrop of the Licancabur volcanoe (now seeing it from the other side) provides for an even more spectacular view. 

Laguna Blanca

Laguna Verde, volcanoes Licancabur (right) and Juriques

Perfect shape, volcano Licancabur

Then we continue north to the so called Salvador Dali rock desert and to a hot springs pool. Here we have 45minutes to go relax in the water and this time I am actually going in the hot pool!  It’s about 40 degrees and although it’s cold outside due to the wind, the changing rooms are just next to the pool so it works out fine. The view from the pool is unbeatable, such a cool place! 

So beautiful the colourful hills!

Zulu, Auriane, Mona, Diogo and Alberto. So happy to have met these great people!

We change and walk up the few hundred metres to our shelter for lunch (at this altitude of some 4400m walking up is not that easy anylonger!). Lunch is mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, chicken, cucumber-tomatoe salad and apple for dessert. The portion is not big but just enough for us. 

We have to continue, as we started 3h later than usually there’s not much spare time. Next stop is at the impressive Sol de Mañana geysirs (morning sun), with 5000m elevation the highest point of our tour. The steam is pretty cool and also the boiling water and mud. Just my camera is making problems, it’s not working again. 

That’s a real shame as our final stop today is at the Laguna Colorado, the most colourful lake I have ever seen. It’s red and yellow and blue and plenty of flamingos are walking around. But now I only have my phone to take pictures and the flamingos are too far away. I try to tell myself that the memory and having been here is more important than pics, but it’s hard 😉 

Sorry about the bad photo quality 😦

Walking on salt

As we are late we cannot drive to the last lagoon. It’s another 2h to Villa del Mar, and the hostel where we are staying tonight at 4000m altitude. The sunset is beautiful but the last 30 minutes we drive in the darkness on the bumpy dust road. Timezone has changed by one hour, meaning the sunset is now very early at 6.30pm… The hostel consists of small rooms, I am sharing a 4 bed room with the guys while the French girls share a double bed. Bathrooms are outside and it’s quite cold, I am happy about having my sleeping bag. Dinner is a soup followed by pasta with some tomatoe-onion mix and luckily we get some crackers afterwards because the portions are very small. Alberto, the Spanish, isn’t feeling well, he cannot eat and has a headache, the altitude effect. I can feel the altitude but I am OK, it’s not too bad. We go to bed very early, I am tired and want to be fit tomorrow. 

Our desert hostel (pic taken the next morning)

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