Sunday, March 13, 2016

Atacama Desert - Recap and Photo Dump

The Atacama Desert in Chile and Bolivia is the driest desert in the world. Parts of it haven't seen precipitation in 400 years, they say.

Here's a quick recap with photos from the last week.

My journey began in San Pedro, Chile. It's a small town in the desert that is a jumping off point for excursions into the desert. On my first day there I met Lina (pronounced like we say "Lena") from Sweden and we went for a bike ride in the Valley of the Moon national park. Beautiful desert formations and salt mines. The white in this photo is salt and, yes, I licked it to be sure.

The Great Salt River in Valle de Luna national park. Apparently in this area it rains about 3 times a year -- torrential downpours where they close down the whole town of San Pedro and it's dirt (mud) streets.

More cool desert features...

Gorgeous plains near San Pedro...

From San Pedro it is popular to take a jeep tour into Salar de Uyuni national park in Bolivia. Uyuni Salt Lake is the biggest salt lake in the world at over 4,000 square miles. Our exploration of the area started just west of the salt lake where there were other lakes (with water!), many exhibiting spectacular colors based on the different minerals they contain. A highlight was this lake which has a strong rusty/orange-red hue to it and is full of wild flamingos. I enjoyed just sitting and watching the flamingos for an hour. It's right up there with my favorite wildlife viewings.

There were also llamas hanging out at the same lake.

The days were gorgeous and it is the end of summer here, but this whole area is 10,000 - 13,000' above sea level. The days can be rather chilly so this thermal hot spring was a welcome sight.

Here's another cool lake. I was digging all the colors.

Sunrise over the Uyuni Sale Lake. The night prior to this we stayed in a hotel made of salt blocks. My bed was a big block of salt with a mattress on top. The tables in the dining area were salt. Pretty interesting. We left at 5am to get out on the lake where 1 cm of water covered this section. The reflections in the water of the rising dawn were amazing.

Here's my weak attempt at a zen pose...

The jeep tour contained 6 of us and a driver. Here are 3 fun ladies I was lucky enough to spend 3 days with (l to r: Ieva from Latvia, Andrea from Switzerland, Liana from Portland, OR):

More llamas in Llama Valley as viewed from an ancient cliff dwelling:

In the middle of the massive salt lake was an unexpected surprise -- Cactus Island. This island was probably 1/2 mile long by 100m wide and was absolutely crammed full with cacti. Super cool.

So now I'm in Bolivia. Since I had already made the border crossing I decided to stay here and spend several days introducing myself to the southern part of the country before heading back to Argentina for that 10-day meditation retreat I mentioned previously. 

What's Next

I'm writing this from Sucre, Bolivia. It's a charming, historical city of 200,000 people and full of white-washed buildings. Very pretty. Taking a couple more Spanish language lessons here at 1/2 the price of what I was paying in Chile and Argentina. Bolivia is beautiful and very affordable. Also, the Spanish they speak here is much more clear and easy to understand than speedy Chile and accent-heavy Argentina. I'll be back here in a couple months after I visit northern Argentina and Brazil.

In a couple days I'll visit Potosi, Bolivia which they call the highest city in the world. It's at about 13,400' and has a population of 250,000. At one point it was rich with silver mines, but those days are long gone.

South of Potosi near the town of Tupiza, Bolivia is where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their end. They do tours of the sights but I'm told they're not good tours. I'll be going right through there, though. In Argentina I was also very close to a still-standing cabin that Butch and Sundance lived in for a few years after they fled from the States and took up cattle ranching on many thousand acres of land they bought. I also chose not to visit that sight because it's not a museum or anything, just an old building you can look at from the outside. But I've enjoyed reading the history since I'm so close.


Ann Vinciguerra said...

I think these are the coolest photos you have posted so far!

Kirk Ahlberg said...

It was a very photogenic area. Super cool.