The Bolivian Desert: Land of Lagoons, Volcanoes, Flamingo’s & an Angry Cat

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September 8th, 2015. Onwards from Salar de Uyuni. Yesterday was amazing. I saw the salt flats, then the Milky Way at night. Slept in a tiny “hotel” made of salt. I have such an easy going feeling that I’ll happily take in whatever may happen with no pressure or expectations whatsoever. I saw what I came here to see. The rest of this tour can be anything for all I care.

We set out through unmarked desert roads to some cool rock formations, the start of the Atacama desert, lagoons, volcanoes, mountains, flamingos, etc… What really is making this whole tour worth while more than the sights themselves are the people I’m with. Most of the individuals are about my age if not a little younger. There’s about 3 people out of the group of 15 that are older. Anyways, they are from all over the world. From England, Germany, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Austria, we have quite a good mixed group. Everyone is more than happy to get to know one another, help with pictures, share in stories, backgrounds, jokes, it makes for a great time.

“The people & not the scenery made this day special.”

As we make it to the first desert and stop to fix a car tire, I’m able to take pictures of a semi-active volcano that’s smoking! So cool and here I am hoping it’ll blow so I can get some good shots. There’s no one other than us out here. The terrain is how you’d picture another planet such as Mars, hence our tour agency name Mars Explorer I assume. We travel through valleys on gravel roads, come across a pack of wild Llamas. I can’t tell you how many people, including myself, mention our desire to tame and ride one across South America. After lunch we see a red lagoon where there’s maybe a thousand flamingos! These creatures are beautiful. Since I was a kid reading National Geographic magazines I always wanted to see these in the wild. I recall a specific page I used to often look at. I feel as if I’m here in that exact spot where the picture was taken. Now I’m the photographer. It’s such a cool sense to be in these places I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid and to see animals in their natural habitat like they were meant to be seen. Not in some confined locked up space can one truly enjoy the beauty of any of natures creatures.

From here we visit a place referred to as the Salvador Dali desert. Like a Salvador Dali painting, the rocks and scenery look painted with many various shades of brown and white that eerily blend together. There’s also the cool effect of random rocks being placed amongst this landscape for no reason whatsoever. How a place like this comes to exist where there is near no life or rain for years leaves me with a surreal feeling of being somewhere very few human beings ever get to travel. There’s a beauty in being nowhere. The free feeling that goes along with it is also incredible. I’m loving this day! I think to myself, I could explore forever. One last place that we stop off in is a top a semi-active volcano with bubbling mud pools and steam coming out of random parts of the ground. It’s like a much smaller version of what you’d see at Yellowstone. Speaking of which, when I bring up the comparison I’m surprised at how no one else has really even been to a place like Yellowstone. There is a lot in my own backyard of a country that I am reminded I am lucky to have. During our time on top of the volcano, one tour group member from Austria decides to pee into the volcano. I guess this was always on his bucket list to pee into a volcano. While all of us are laughing, the Bolivian tour group leader says, “Mother F#*!” And yes I didn’t add the ‘er’ to the end because he only said the noun version of the word, which to me is always funnier when a foreigner says an English swear term a bit off. He also says that Pachamama (mother earth basically) will be VERY ANGRY! So take note. If you pee in a volcano in another country, check 1st with the locals to make sure you may not make them angry with you.

During the night, the whole group has dinner together and we drink a bit of wine. Being so high in altitude, the wine is hitting a bit quicker than anticipated. Also, I take note and get everyone cracking up at how people from England can’t typically seem to say the word ‘squirrel’ correctly.  It sounds more like ‘squirwell’ or ‘sqirrel’. For whatever the reason, we all get a good laugh over this and keep finding reasons to say ‘squirwell’. Sorry Lily & Adam. After dinner most of us go into a natural hot spring under the stars. I’m downing as much water as I can because how hot & dizzy I’m getting. As I look up at the night sky I see the Milky Way in even more clarity than I did the night before. This is the most clear the stars have ever looked. Here I am, in the middle of nowhere, in a natural hot spring, under the most beautiful view of the Milky Way that I’ve ever seen. 🙂  I am happily taking it all in.

After everyone is in bed I wake up around 1:30 am. As I walk quietly out of my room to go to the bathroom I have to step outside to get to the actual bathroom facility. Once I step out the door in the dark of night onto the step below, I step on top of some sort of random creature! Whatever it is starts freaking the hell out! I feel these legs hitting the bottom of my shin and calf and this thing letting out a loud screech. I look down and notice it’s the cat I’ve been seeing walking around the place… I darn near just had a heart attack this thing freaked me out so much! How was I supposed to know it’d be nestled under the main door step where anyone, of course me, would step going outside. Poor thing walks away and looks fine… well fine and a bit pissed off with me. It was making some pretty disgruntled meowing noises if there ever were such a thing.

The next day we set out. We split up in vehicles based on whose going back to Uyuni and those that are onto San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Brenda from Holland, Philipp & myself start to hang together from here on. Our last thing on the tour is to see the most poisonous lagoon in the world. This blue lagoon, or Laguna Verde, yes I know verde is green but as you can see above it looks blue, is comprised of arsenic and other chemicals. As the waves hit the shore I see strange crystallizations of this different liquid forming. It’s not quite snow or ice, yet something stranger all together.

As we wrap up our time we part ways with the group. It’s bitter sweet. I met so many great people that I will never forget on this 3 day tour. Still, I’m left feeling a close connection with Brenda & Philipp that I’m happy to be a part of for a little longer as I venture into Chile. This border crossing is A LOT easier than it was getting into Bolivia. Yea, thanks Bolivia… NOT! I already have a good feeling about Chile. I see a sign that has arrows pointing left and right. Turn left for Argentina, right for Chile. Down this mountain and onto San Pedro de Atacama, the desert, stars & valley of the moon!

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