Salar de Uyuni – Day Three (3)

At five in the morning we had packed our jeep and were on the trail, wrapped up in multiple jumpers and with gloves and beanies and a sleeping bag wrapped around our legs. It was very cold, almost freezing without the sun, and our destination would be even colder.

hot pools from a view
Looking down on the thermal hot pools from a nearby hill.

the jeep and Jan
A very cold and very early morning start.

We climbed from our already high altitude in the dark of pre-dawn until we reached the lofty height of 5000 meters. It was here, at this height, just before dawn, that we encountered the geysers of the Andes. Here we saw something like the boiling mud and geysers of New Zealand, but without the guards, fences, warning signs, and "keep out" signs. In fact, it was all completely natural, with only a road that wound through the field of steaming vents, boiling mud, and dangerously soft ground.

me in the geyser field
Standing in amongst the geyser outlets to show the size of them.

With time to look through the field of danger, we all took our cameras and braving the sub-zero temperature we wandered from geyser to geyser looking at the high-pressure steam escaping into the atmosphere. What amazing sights it provided. In the pre-dawn blue light we stepped carefully around the massive vent holes, venturing into the field to the edges of the pools of boiling water and mud that had sunk deeper than the surrounding lands.

lowlands of boiling water
Looking down into the sunken lands from the edges.

Avoiding the sulphur smoke and the tiny vents on the ground around our feet we moved along the field until finally reaching our four-wheel drive again. We all eagerly jumped into the heated vehicle, glad to experience the warmth once again. Our many layers of jumpers was just not enough to keep out the cold, and my hand that had been clinging onto the camera the whole time felt just short of frost-bitten.

jan taking a photo of geyser
Jan moves in closer for a photo of a very noisy and active geyser.

group standing on the edge
Standing on the edge of one of the geysers.

the strongest geyser
The most powerful and noisiest geyser of them all.

Thermal Hot Pool
To cancel out the effects of the cold that we had just experienced, we dropped back down to a height of 4,800 meters and after an hour of driving along the sandy-rocky roads, come to a thermal hot-pool. Even though the ground felt like ice, and to remain comfortable even in the warmth of the emerging sun we needed skiing gear, once we had stripped off and sunk into the thermal waters, everything was fine. The warmth of the waters hugged our bodies and sheltered us from the cold outside.

driving to the thermals
The road that leads to the thermal hot pools.

people in the thermal pool
Everyone enjoying the warmth of the themal pools.

Climbing Hills At 4800 Meters
While the others still enjoyed the warmth of the thermal pool, I left early to climb a nearby hill that I had seen while relaxing in the waters. This hill was rocky and reasonably easy to climb, yet it took me over half an hour to reach the top. Even on the beginning slope I had to slow down my steps and take it easy. By the time I was reaching near the top, I could only take a few steps before having to stop and rest my body, the super-thin air of this altitude reducing my efforts dramatically.

thermal waters
The waters that I gave up to climb the hill.

Upon reaching the top and taking some photos to prove it, I then ran all the way back down the hill. This was a silly thing to do, as when I had reached the bottom, my body was so exhausted from the effort that I felt almost sick and had to sit down for the next half an hour. Everything done at this altitude really needs to be done slowly, something I learned graphically from that descent.

view from the hill
Looking out from the top of my hill over the lake fed by thermal waters.

Laguna Verde (Green Lake)
Breakfast was cooked while we bathed in the thermal waters, and after eating a hearty breakfast we all climbed aboard and left the remaining jeeps and their passengers to travel through the desert of Salvador Dali, so named for the paints that they make from the rocks that can be found in this area.

desert of salvador dali
Some of the rocks in the Desert of Salvador Dali that can be used to create different coloured paints.

Moving through the desert, we pass through an area that is frequently used by NASA for its extreme similarity to the surface of the planet Mars. Here there are many rocks of all sizes strewn all over the ground, with big hills and mountains nearby.

a valley like mars
The valley coveted by NASA for its appearance so similar to Mars.

After passing through this interesting area, we move onto the final sight for our tour. Laguna Verde (Green Lake). A lake that turns turquoise green during days of wind, we had the fortune and misfortune to have perfectly blue skies and no wind at all. By climbing to a high vantage point we could see some of the green in the lake from which it gets its name.

laguna verde
Green Lake on a quiet day is still green but just not the vivid green that we were told it could be.

While here we all gather our remaining Bolivianos and give it to our driver, Wilson who had done a tremendous job in guiding us through the entire tour. Horror stories of this tour abound, but we had experienced the complete opposite from start to end and he deserved our gift.

group photo
The complete tour group, with Wilson our driver in the front.

It All Comes To An End
With the presentation completed, we crossed over to the other side of a nearby lake known as Launa Blanca (White Lake) for the colour it turns in the middle of winter when it freezes over.

laguna blanca
Taking photos of the amazing reflections in Laguna Blanca.

We farewell our companion and driver, Wilson, and then sit down to wait for our bus to Chile to arrive. When it does, we climb on and were soon passing through customs and entering into Chile. Our tour of Uyuni had come to an end.

bus stop
The place where we waited for our bus for Chile to arrive.

Throughout the entire tour there was so much to see and experience. At times it seemed surreal, while other times it was just totally amazing to see the things that we saw. To think that during the entire time we were driving in a car between the Andes peaks on large areas of flat lands and deserts at heights between 4,000 to 5,000 meters is staggering. Yet through it all we laughed and chatted and formed new friends and amazing memories.

bolivian flag
Looking at the Bolivian flag for the last time.

Everywhere I went in Bolivia people told me that I needed to do this tour. Above all things, I was told that this was the main thing that I needed to do. So I did it. And I think they were right.

Welcome to Chile sign
A sign in the desert reminds you that you are about to enter Chile.