Happy New Year, and what a great year it has been! We wish all of our friends and family well and a great 2016. Our year on the road has been incredible and Southern Bolivia was no exception. Here we found probably the most exotic and memorable landscapes of the trip. This remote part of Bolivia greets you with desolate and jaw dropping landscapes that include dry lake beds of salt, brightly colored lagoons and mountains from another planet.
This part of our trip was all “off-road” and we really felt the spirit of adventure and remoteness as we made our way to the border (and the 1st world comforts) of Chile. This and southern Baja were by far the most remote landscapes of the trip. Luckily, we teamed up with our new friends of the road Rich and Ash and Mallory and Chris to take on this 10 day trek into a another world. It was a good thing too.
The start of this adventure begins in the dusty town of Uyuni. It was here that, after climbing Huayna Potosi, we raced to meet Mallory, Chris, Rich and Ash who were camped just outside town in an abandoned train yard. Yes, a scary graffiti-ed rusted train graveyard that could easily be the set of a horror film. Apparently though, this is a “fairly” common place for overlanders to stay, so that is why we agreed on this being our meeting place.
However, when we arrived to the train graveyard just after sunset we couldn’t find our friends, and the place weirded us out. I had just turned the van around to head back into town to find a hostel, when I see Rich running at us through the old trains waving to get our attention. We were ecstatic to see him, and he jumped in and showed us to where they were camped. It actually wasn’t that bad, and that night he got some pretty sweet pictures of the place. We would have never camped there alone though!
The next morning, we loaded up on supplies in town, and after searching 3-4 stations for gas, we finally got Titus filled up. In Bolivia, most gas stations will not sell to foreigners or if they do, they charge an enormously high rate ($5+/gallon). The trick to getting gas is finding the right/crooked gas attendant to make a deal with on the down-low. Basically, you agree on a price that is reasonable (say $3.50/gallon) and he then fills up your tank at the Bolivian national rate ($2/gallon) and he then pockets the difference. It is shady business, but with Titus holding 45 gallons, a low paid gas attendant can make $60+ quick cash by just filling us up and we save a ton vs the foreign rate!
Entering the Salar de Uyuni (AKA the Salt Flats of Uyuni) was an awesome experience and we didn’t quite know what to do with ourselves. It is a massive expansion of white, so naturally you just floor it! After racing around for a while, the girls all took over the driving and the guys grabbed beers and got in the passenger seats. There was nobody around, and all we could see is oceans of white, as we cranked the tunes and flew toward the direction of our GPS marker.
The Salt Flats are a dry prehistoric lake beds that cover over 4,000 square miles. Included in this terrain are “Islands” of corral and mountain that rise up out of the salt flats. These islands are fun to explore and are generally where you camp by at night. However, the salt flats get extremely soft and dangerous as you get closer to the islands. If your vehicle gets stuck in this salt mud because you drove too close (100 feet), you are screwed. We kept hearing horror stories of people getting stuck for days in this muck. Basically, you have to jack your car up and search around for boulders or wood planks from the islands to put under your tires to get out. It can take a week to get a car out if at all, and we met someone who had been stuck for over a week and a team of army soldiers were eventually hired to get him out. We managed to avoid this calamity, and we camped the first night at the Isla Incahuasi. It is the most popular place for tour groups to go, but at night, it was just us there. It was an incredible sunset and fun first day and we got some cool photos.
The next day we cruised over to another more remote island called Isla Pescado. It was here that we set up for some “perspective bending” photos. Since the salt flats are so vast and flat and white, you can get some pretty interesting pictures. We also spent the day hiking on the island, playing exciting games like who can hit a cactus with the most rocks, and salt flat Frisbee. The day ended the day with another incredible sunset and we managed to put together a mexican feast.
The next morning, after two days and nights of living in salt, we were ready to wash the salt off of us, Titus was ready for a shower too, and I was also thrilled that we hadn’t gotten stuck anywhere yet. Not wanting to push our luck, we decided to head back to the town of Uyuni. On the way out we stopped to get some cool picks at a salt hotel and the Dakar Race monument.
Back in Uyuni, we found an awesome pizza place and all of us tried to get a blog post out, instagram up or skype call done as the next day we were heading on a 5 day off-road drive through southern Bolivia that would end at the border with Chile. This route is call the Lagunas Route because it takes you past several stunning colored lagoons, many filled with flamingos.
The next morning, after giving Titus a thorough car wash to get the salt off, we headed out of town. Every thing was going great until about 100 miles outside of town – we blew a tire badly. This was bad news as we had 5 days of off-roading ahead of us, and now we had no spare tire. We decided after changing it, that we would push on with our friends. The funny thing is that last year we were following a blog Song of the Road, and the exact same thing happened to them in almost the exact same spot. If we were to get another flat on the Lagunas Route, it was going to take a long time and massive pain to get a new tire. Not wanting to lose our friends and desperately wanting to do this journey, we decided the risk was worth it. That night we camped in a rock garden and prayed the rest of the trip wouldn’t have any more issues.
On day 2, we found our first colorful Laguna set below stunning mountains and full of flamingos! That night we camped next to the flamingos, and we had a little dance party to celebrate a day without flat tires and being in some of the coolest landscapes of the trip!
The 3rd day on the drive we actually entered the wild National Park Eduardo Avaroa. This park contains the famous colored lagunas, wonderful geysers, hot springs and some crazy rock structures. That night we camped in a canyon, with the goal of waking up before sunrise to hit visit these geysers that steam and fume best at sunrise.
On our 4th day, after seeing the Geysers at dawn, we took a dip at the hot springs in the park. We got there just after the tour groups had left and had the pools mostly to ourselves. We also learned that they are adding in 2 more hot-spring pools and will soon pave the road into the park for tour buses. This has potential to completely ruin the place. So glad we got to travel here when 4×4 off-road vehicles were a must! That night we camped out in the middle the desert in a place called Dali Desert because the rock formations look like they came out of a Salvador Dali painting. This was also Thanksgiving day, and that evening we scrounged up all the food we could find to put together a mini Thanksgiving feast (keep in mind we had to go through all our produce before entering Chile the next day!). Everything didn’t turn out perfectly of course, but considering the situation, it was an amazing dinner. So thankful to get to share this moment with new friends, in new places that I’d never thought I’d see or even knew existed! Oh and also extremely thankful we hadn’t gotten another flat tire. That night, it got pretty cold when the winds came, and every one crowded in Titus for card games (our favorite being Sh*thead).
The next morning, I woke up with an itch to get to Chile and to get a new spare tire! After a few more pictures with our friends, we parted ways and Jenine and I bee-lined it through the border town of San Pedro de Atacama, and on to Calama where we picked up a new spare tire after learning that Chile has different spanish names for many, many things. For example, tires are now called neumáticos instead of Llantas which they use in most other countries we’ve been to.
We are now in Chile, which is a place we’ve been dying to get to since the trip started. It’s also where 1st world comforts are now available and it feels like we are back in California. The past 12 months, and especially Bolivia, were a whirlwind of adventure. I am just amazed at all that we have seen, done, and learned. Now we start the Chile/Argentina Patagonia phase of our trip. It’s going to be exciting and beautiful, but long gone will be the days of bargaining for gas, camping in questionable spots and basically feeling like a fish out of water every place we go. It is also the final 4-6 months of our travels, where the thoughts of what will we do next can’t be ignored. But we are trying to stay excited and focused on what is going to be an incredible end to this adventure.
More incredible pics: