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    South by South America Tour – Bolivia Part 1

    Tuesday, September 17, 2019
    San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Markuu Villa Mar, Bolivia

    Ting Ting hits up the breakfast table of the tour operator Cruz Andina on the side of the road near the border between Chile and Bolvia.
    Ting Ting hits up the breakfast table of the tour operator Cruz Andina on the side of the road near the border between Chile and Bolvia.

    Goodbye, Chile.
    Goodbye, Chile.

    Well, the big day finally arrived: it was time to leave Chile and enter Bolivia. Just before 7:00 am, a van from the tour operator Cruz Andina pulled up and whisked me off with a dozen other lucky souls toward the Hito Cajon border crossing approximately 35 miles away from San Pedro de Atacama. This was the beginning of an epic three-day Salar de Uyuni tour of the rugged landscapes of southwest Bolivia. But first, we pulled over on the roadside behind a bunch of other tour vans a few miles away from the border, where we had breakfast while the driver waited for the border to open.

    Scott stands at the Hito Cajon border crossing between Chile and Bolvia.
    Scott stands at the Hito Cajon border crossing between Chile and Bolvia.

    Transferring our luggage from the Cruz Andina van to two Toyota Land Cruisers at the Hito Cajon border crossing between Chile and Bolivia.
    Transferring our luggage from the Cruz Andina van to two Toyota Land Cruisers at the Hito Cajon border crossing between Chile and Bolivia.

    Just as we were about to finish chomping and slurping, the border opened and the driver frantically started packing up the breakfast stuff and disassembled the folding table. Everybody took their last sips of coffee and tea and dumped out their remaining liquids on the ground. Then we jumped in the van and bolted for the border. First, we had to get stamped out of Chile, which was really quick and easy, then we pulled into a gravel lot at the Bolivian immigration checkpoint and transferred ourselves and all of our luggage from the Cruz Andina van into a couple of their four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers.

    A long line in freezing cold wind at the Hito Cajon border crossing between Chile and Bolvia.
    A long line in freezing cold wind at the Hito Cajon border crossing between Chile and Bolvia.

    The landscape around Laguna Blanca in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    The landscape around Laguna Blanca in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    There were six of us in each car. Accompanying me were Donal from Ireland, Cat from England, Sam also from England, Ting Ting from New York, and Scott from Breckenridge, Colorado, plus the driver Magic Mike from a small town in Bolivia. Next, we stood in a long line outside in the freezing, blustery wind to get stamped into Bolivia. I forgot to put on my gloves, scarf and layers, so I was freezing my nuts off and back on again out there.

    The white waters of Laguna Blanca in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    The white waters of Laguna Blanca in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    Ting Ting enjoys visiting Laguna Verde in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    Ting Ting enjoys visiting Laguna Verde in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    After 20 or 30 minutes, we finally made it up to the door, where the three Americans—Scott, Ting Ting and myself—got visas stamped in our passports after forking over $160 U.S. dollars in near perfect condition, plus our stacks of documents. The immigration clerk examined the money closely for any slight imperfections, but didn’t even so much as glance at any of the documents I worked so hard on procuring during my last two days in San Pedro. That figures! I wonder if anyone even looked at them later when there was a lull in activity. Probably not. Instead of the documents I worked so hard on, I could have inserted five pages of bootleg Snoopy comics and no one would have been the wiser!

    The vibrant brown, orange and red hues of the mountains at the Desierto Salvador Dali in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    The vibrant brown, orange and red hues of the mountains at the Desierto Salvador Dali in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    Rocks cast shadows at the Desierto Salvador Dali in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    Rocks cast shadows at the Desierto Salvador Dali in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    After rolling over a bumpy dirt road for a while, we pulled up to the entrance to the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. What a mouth full! If there were one more word in that name, it would be a paragraph, if not a novel! After paying a hefty $20 entry fee, we got back in the car and proceeded to the first stop of our tour, the Laguna Blanca, a salt lake which gets its stark white color from a heavy influx of minerals. It was super windy and cold there, so we bailed after a quick 30-minute look-see and photo session. Second in line for a visit was the nearby Laguna Verde, another salt lake that also sits in the shadow of Licancabur volcano. The wind here was also quite arctic. The beautiful desolation of both lakes was breathgiving, while at the same time, the high altitude was breathtaking.

    The complex textures of myriad minerals covering a salt lagoon at Polques Aguas Terminales in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    The complex textures of myriad minerals covering a salt lagoon at Polques Aguas Terminales in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    The hot springs pool at Polques Aguas Terminales in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    The hot springs pool at Polques Aguas Terminales in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    Following another drive over the dusty, bumpy roads, we arrived at our third stop, the rock-strewn Desierto Salvador Dali. This place was named after the famous rocks that cast long shadows in the barren landscapes featured in some of Dali’s paintings. The nearby mountain range, which glowed with vibrant brown, orange and red hues, was even more impressive. Fourth up was a break for a little soaking in the hot springs of the Polques Aguas Terminales. While the others pruned their skin, I just sat and admired the complex textures of the myriad minerals covering a salt lagoon that spread out over the vast landscape.

    Lunch time at a hostel near Polques Aguas Terminales in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia. Clockwise from top right: Scott, Cat, Donal, Sam and Ting Ting.
    Lunch time at a hostel near Polques Aguas Terminales in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia. Clockwise from top right: Scott, Cat, Donal, Sam and Ting Ting.

    Beautiful craters at the Geyser Sol de Manana in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    Beautiful craters at the Geyser Sol de Manana in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    After 45 minutes or so, we had lunch just across the road inside an incredibly ugly hostel complete with a hideous popcorn ceiling. Our fifth stop of the day came in the form of the incredible Geyser Sol de Manana. Complete with small craters filled with gray bubbling goo and vents belching out loads of thick steam, this place was super amazing and fun to dwell within. Noticing a big steam column blasting horizontally from the largest vent, I walked back and forth through it repeatedly, delighted by the sheer novelty of it all immensely.

    Steam belches from the main vent at the Geyser Sol de Manana in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    Steam belches from the main vent at the Geyser Sol de Manana in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    A tourist gets blasted by a column of steam from the main vent at the Geyser Sol de Manana in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    A tourist gets blasted by a column of steam from the main vent at the Geyser Sol de Manana in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    Our sixth and final stop of the day was at the Laguna Colorada, a shallow salt lake, the red color of which is caused by red sediments and algae. The lake is home to several thousand flamingos, which chow down constantly on the algae. Like many locations in northern Chile and southwest Bolivia, walking around this place truly felt like visiting another planet. It was very eerie and beautiful. After battling very high winds and cold temps at that spot for an hour, we jumped back in the car and drove northward for a couple of hours.

    The otherworldly Laguna Colorada in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    The otherworldly Laguna Colorada in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    Flamingos dine at the Laguna Colorada in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    Flamingos dine at the Laguna Colorada in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    After nightfall, we pulled into the tiny village of Mallku Villa Mar, where we checked into a super funky hostel complete with tripping hazards built into the floor in the doorways and super sketchy bathrooms in the common areas. Needless to say, I didn’t take a shower that night. As we finished dinner, four young local boys walked in and sang a few traditional Bolivian songs while playing pan pipes, all backed up with one boy on a drum. It was an endearingly shambling performance. By 10:00 pm, everyone hit the hay, as we had to get up pretty early for breakfast at 7:00 am the next morning. And so ended the first day of our awesome Salar de Uyuni tour of southwest Bolivia with Cruz Andina.

    The eeire landscape at the Laguna Colorada in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.
    The eeire landscape at the Laguna Colorada in the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, Bolivia.

    Local boys sing a few traditional Bolivian songs while playing pan pipes and a drum during dinner at a hostel in Markuu Villa Mar, Bolivia.
    Local boys sing a few traditional Bolivian songs while playing pan pipes and a drum during dinner at a hostel in Markuu Villa Mar, Bolivia.

    Words and photos ©2019 Arcane Candy.

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