We have finally arrived in Bolivia, La Paz, a city located about 3,600 metres/ 12,000 feet high. To get to La Paz, we had to cross the Peru/Bolivia border at Copacabana. At the border, it was not too difficult for me (Canadian) to get an immigration pass and enter the country. However, we saw some American tourists having great difficulty. I believe that all Americans have to pay a $200 CDN fee just to get their immigration pass. I don't think USA and Bolivia had the greatest relations.
At La Paz, our friend Stephen joined us for the rest of the tour. Not to my surprise, he had great trouble adapting the high altitude environment. In fact, he was even more sick than us because he had no preparation. At least in our case, we gradually moved up in altitude. After taking one night's rest, we were ready to check out the largest salt flat in the world.
We took a propeller plane to arrive in Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world.
At Salar de Uyuni, we signed up for a 3-day tour called the Red Planet. I really enjoyed Red Planet and I would recommend this tour to anyone. The tour guide, Juan, was very knowledgeable and he can speak English (a plus!). We were instructed to pack light because they put all of our backpack luggages on top of the 7-seat van. We only packed the essentials in our small pack and left our main back-pack in their office at Uyuni.
This trip was one of the best, and main highlight of South America. We were able to drive at least 300 kilometres of pure salt and sand desert. There was absolutely nothing in this desert (you can call this boring or cool). However, towards the end, we were able to see a few interesting lagoons with wild animals, such as alpacas and flamingos. At night, we were treated to a nice hotspring and stargazed at the sky - absolutely beautiful because you could see the entire Milky Way. Unfortunately, I was not able to take any pictures of that with my DSLR because I didn't have my tripod to do long exposures.
Below is a train graveyard. This wasn't a tourist attraction before. When Bolivia still had their largest silver deposit, located in Potosi, they had a nice railway system that transports silver across the country to their capital, La Paz, or one may argue that is Sucre. When silver deposits completely ran out, there was no use of the railway system. As such, the company abadoned the train and was going to destroy it. However, during the process, kids would skip school and go to this train graveyard to play and hang out. Back then, it caught the eyes of a few tourists and decided to srpead the word about it (thinking it was such a great place to see). The train graveyard became more popular and eventually the train company couldn't destory them.
This is called Salt brick which I will explain later.
Now you can see the salt behind me. All the white content or sediment are salt. Uyuni is the largest salt producer in the world, which makes an essential ingredient for lithium ion - battery for your smart phones. American companies wanted to partner up with local companies to extract all the salt they could. However, the government halted the partnership and restricted involvement from foreign companies to a minimum. The government feared that their greatest asset would be depleted without giving the wealth to its people, avoiding the crisis similar to their silver deposit.
Since this is called the salt flat, you will see the that the horizon of Uyuni is completely flat. Scientists measured that there is only one metre in variation of altitude throughout the entire area. Scientists hypothesized that the flatness came from years of erosion when the area had water.
Unfortunately, you were probably expecting the beautiful "mirror of the sky" kind of picture in Uyuni (just like the ones shown in Google). In Bolivia, there are two seasons: wet and dry. During wet season, that is when you get the effect of a mirror on the ground reflecting the sky. We went during dry season so we missed out.
Since Uyuni is extremely flat, photographers are able to take advantage of the distortion of distance perception and create funny pictures. We, of course, did the same.
A random cacti island in Uyuni.
This is how we ate our lunch. Since we didn't have any tables, we could only eat from the back of the van.
You must ask, then where do we sleep at night? Well, Bolivians used the salt to build salt bricks and constructed a few "houses" in the desert. These "houses" have no doors, nor heat. I remember that I was freezing cold sleeping in these houses. Not to mention that this was the place where I had the worst headaches, because we reached at least 5000 metres high in altitude.
Stinky lagoon. These are Vicunas, same animal family of the llamas.
Same place but with flamingos now.
Not to be mistaken, this is actually rock and not a tree. Due to erosion, it now resembles a tree. For some odd reason, this has become the symbol of Uyuni, which you can see from many postcards.
The green and red lagoon.
The colour in these lagoons all come from algae.
At the end, you are treated with a picture of llamas and alpacas.
We were pretty much at the tip of the Atecama desert. Our way back to Uyuni town was still quite far (around 300 kilometres). Nonetheless, it was a very fun experience.