Miles of Salt & Mystical Lagoons: Last Adventure in Southern Bolivia

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.

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Getting Titus a little salty in the Salar

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.

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Getting off-road as we make our way along the Lagunas Route

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!

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Rich took an awesome photo which makes this scary place look pretty fun (@desktoglory)

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.

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Which way should we go?

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Chris trying to figure out what is under here - muck and water, you do not want your vehicle to fall through this

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Time to rock out on the flats (photo from @desktoglory)

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.

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We made it!

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The guys get airborn

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Incahuasi "island" the main tourist center in the Salt Flats

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Camping, night one on the Flats

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.

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Titus just keeps getting bigger on us!

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A george and Jenine smoothy?

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Jenine and I found the mythical mushroom forest in the salt flats

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Rich going in for a grab, Salt Flat Frisbee

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Camp spot on the second night, any closer to the island and you rig could get stuck. Isla Pescado

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A chilly but incredible Sunset

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Sunset in the Salar

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.

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Exiting the Salt Flats posing at the Dakar 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.

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After being offline in the Salt Flats, here is everyone trying to get their blogs, instagrams and skype calls in

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.

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No repairing that guy. Brand new tire shredded just as we were heading off road for 5 days

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Rich and I getting the spare on

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After getting a flat tire, we headed off road to find camp

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Camping in the rock garden - start of the Lagunas route

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We got a big brush fire going on the first night of the Lagunas Route. Gasoline lit that place up

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!

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This place is already so beautiful, and then the Flamingos show up to make it even more so

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Flamingos!

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Titus better not shred another tire...

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Lagunas Dance party

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I knew it was a good idea to carry these LED lights all this way from California

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.

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Rich heading up

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There are sort of roads here

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Jenine with a Jenine Pose

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The crew on the rocks

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Jenine and I under the Tree

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laguna colorada bolivia

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Camping in the canyon - photo credit goes to Chris (ourcoordinates.blogspot.com)

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Whoa - these Geyser are crazy. Watch your step!

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Jenine and I having fun, but not about to go in there!

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The whole crew by the geyser, it was worth the 5am wake up call

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).

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Taking a dip together in the hot springs

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Heading into the Dali Desert

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Titus was chasing the Vicunas through the desert

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Jenine in her "Kitchen" preparing our Thanksgiving feast

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Thanksgiving is served!

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The team gathered around for Thanksgiving in Bolivia

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Playing cards in Titus

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.

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Getting ready to head out of Dali Desert

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One last flamingo pic on our way out

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An awesome 5 days come to a close

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.

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Bring on Chile!

More incredible pics:

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Rich took an awesome photo which makes this scary place look pretty fun (@desktoglory)

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Seems like a good place to camp?

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Night time camp at the train graveyard

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Rich all smiles as we enter the Salt Flats

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Caravan into the Salt

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Chris trying to figure out what is under here - muck and water, you do not want your vehicle to fall through this

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Which way should we go?

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Jenine getting behind the wheel for the first time in a while

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The ladies gearing up to race through the Salt Flats

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Time to rock out on the flats (photo from @desktoglory)

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Cruising through the flats

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The first island we visited and the only one where there is tourist activity

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Camping, night one on the Flats

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4K square miles of salt

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Jenine and I posing on the night one at Sunset

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We made it!

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The girls doing a sunset jump

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Pogo hoping

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The guys get airborn

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Incahuasi "island" the main tourist center in the Salt Flats

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Getting set up to take some perspective photos down below

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Titus just keeps getting bigger on us!

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Camp spot on the second night, any closer to the island and you rig could get stuck. Isla Pescado

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Jenine and I and our tiny rigs in the distance, Isla Pescado

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Cactus hitting compeition

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Just another day at camp

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The whole crew in the Mushroom Forest

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We love our giant Vitamix, only problem is getting the fruit into the top

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A george and Jenine smoothy?

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Here is how it looks when setting up for the pictures

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The girls have been waiting for this for a long time

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Rich going in for a grab, Salt Flat Frisbee

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Getting set up for Dinner

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Dinner time!

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A chilly but incredible Sunset

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Sunset in the Salar

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Rich and I on the salt flats

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Jenine finding zen in the mushroom forest

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Jenine and I found the mythical mushroom forest in the salt flats

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Exiting the Salt Flats posing at the Dakar monument

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After being offline in the Salt Flats, here is everyone trying to get their blogs, instagrams and skype calls in

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No repairing that guy. Brand new tire shredded just as we were heading off road for 5 days

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Rich and I getting the spare on

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After getting a flat tire, we headed off road to find camp

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Camping spot night night 1 on Lagunas Route

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We got a big brush fire going on the first night of the Lagunas Route. Gasoline lit that place up

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Camping in the rock garden - start of the Lagunas route

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Heading to find this colorful lagoons and Flamingos

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Getting offroad as we make our way along the Lagunas Route

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Titus better not shred another tire...

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Flamingos!

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This place is already so beautiful, and then the Flamingos show up to make it even more so

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The gang ready to take on the Salt Flat of Bolivia

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Titus glamour shot

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We've made it a long ways from home!

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Asian night dinner!

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Lagunas Dance party

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I knew it was a good idea to carry these LED lights all this way from California

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Heading out for another day

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The crew cruising through

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Rich heading up

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There are sort of roads here

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Soaking it in before heading out

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Jenine with a Jenine Pose

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Nice place for a rest stop

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The crew on the rocks

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Entering the national park

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Árbol de Piedra - Tree Rock

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Jenine and I under the Tree

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laguna colorada bolivia

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Jenine admiring Laguna Colorado

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Vicuna - a wild Bolivian deer

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Camping in the canyon - photo credit goes to Chris

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Up at sunrise and heading out to catch the Geyser

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Whoa - these Geyser are crazy. Watch your step!

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These geysers are fuming!

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Titus cruising up close to the Geyser

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The whole crew by the geyser, it was worth the 5am wake up call

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Jenine and I having fun, but not about to go in there!

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Jenine loves the side mirror shot

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Taking a dip together in the hot springs

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Jenine getting a soak in

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Selfie in the tub

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Heading into the Dali Desert

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Titus was chasing the Vicunas through the desert

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Camping Thanksgiving day in Dali Desert

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Camped close to the rocks to block the wind

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Beet and ginger shake

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Jenine in her "Kitchen" preparing our Thanksgiving feast

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Thanksgiving is served!

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The team gathered around for Thanksgiving in Bolivia

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Dali Desert

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Playing cards in Titus

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Getting ready to head out of Dali Desert

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One last flamingo pic on our way out

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Goodbye Bolivia!

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An awesome 5 days come to a close

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"Overlanding is for Lovers"

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Bring on Chile!

Posted in Bolivia Tagged with: , , ,
4 comments on “Miles of Salt & Mystical Lagoons: Last Adventure in Southern Bolivia
  1. Sylvia Loran says:

    These are fantastic photos and a wonderful blog. When all is said and done, I think you have the making of an adventure book. It’s great that you have made friends on the road. Happy 2016 and happy trails…..

  2. Aunt Patty says:

    Happy 2016 George and Jenine!
    I have a book about the Salt Flats of Bolivia. Now I have family who visited !!! So super cool. Very different landscape. Even though you are in Chile and soon Argentina Please continue to be mindful of your surroundings. We love and miss you both very much.
    Aunt Patty

  3. Karie says:

    I really like this incredible post. Full of adventure. And I am excited to find out what will come next for you guys too.

  4. Joe and Pam Lara says:

    Hi Jenine and George,
    These are really cool pictures….so glad Titus did a good job (not getting another flat tire).
    Keep having fun, we all miss you !
    Love Mom and Dad