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  • Writer's picturePaula Cooper

28 0ctober Salar de Tunupa, Uyuni Bolivia to San Pedro, Chile: Dry Dusty Dramatic Deceptive

Up far far too early, we met our transfer to Chile, via a dry dusty dramatic delightful safari crossing the Eduardo Avaros National park and the Siloli desert.

At the crack of dawn we briefly stopped in Uyuni at the extremely dusty cold and windy train graveyard. Built by the British in the 19th Century the railway to Uyuni was largely abandoned in the 1940s due to mineral depletion and local indigenous opposition. Left to rust the ancient train cemetery has become a tourist attraction!

Oiled road mutating into blissful new tarmac we drove through the ancient town of San Cristobal, refurbished recently by the Japanese. They purchased the 50% foreign owned stake in the open cast mine (silver, lead & zinc) from the Canadians in the nearby mountain; currently the most important mine for raw mineral export in Bolivia.

Earlier we passed the Lithium mine, the Salar besides salt and borax, also has 7% of the worlds Lithium reserves in it’s brine and underlying porous halite body. Local opposition to the mines from foreign companies in the 1980s lead to the government, hoping for more revenue, entering a recent joint venture with ACI Systems Alemania aiming to reach an annual production of 35,000t this year.

The tarmac didn’t last! Thundering mineral laden trucks passing, on the hairy rutted dusty track as we detoured around the the new roads construction, passing quinoa and llama farms into the arid zone and finally the national park entrance and the desert. Definitely a bumpy Bolivian massage!

A wild vicuña veered infront of us, shaking everyone! We also saw an ostrich, more vicuña herds, Andean flamingos and a rabbit like creature whose name I didn’t catch; viscachas apparently.

Extremely windy, drying and cold we ventured briefly out the car donning increasingly more clothes, to view and photograph various of the Siloli desert and national park views.  Far too many photographs, I think I got snap happy!

The the 6mile long Laguna Colorada, along with its flock of Andean flamingos, both owe their red colour to algae that thrives in the salty water. Very picturesque - too many photos!

The sulphurous geyser’s bursts at 4850m in the caldera at Sol de manaña really stank, as did the bubbling hot mud. In the howling dusty gale, whilst very dramatic I wasn’t a fan! However I did really enjoy paddling a little lower in the natural hot springs at Polques; the first too warm, the second just right! If it wasn’t so cold and windy I wouldn’t have minded a dip.

After lunch in Polques we ventured on to the green lake, Laguna verde at 4309m, more grey then green, the colour from toxic suspensions of arsenic, magnesium, carbonate and calcium; Lincancabur Volcano making a dramatic backdrop.

Shortly after leaving the national park we handed over our passports to confirm our customs entry before driving another mile to the new border complex. Windswept, kept waiting, eventually we were ushered into a glass lobby to receive the important exit stamp.

Early, we waited almost an hour in no man’s land on the Chile side for the delayed transfer to arrive; gratefully accepting the Bolivians’ kind offer to wait in their car. So windy dusty and cold, compensated by incredibly dramatic volcanic scenery!

Transfer complete we drove to a warehouse like building where we received our entry stamp, our permit to visit (not to be lost if we want to depart Chile) and baggage scan all under the gaze of the Chilean police; fortunately more interested in the international rugby than us! I daren’t take a photo!

Goodbye Bolivia. Hello Chile

Hearing about volcanoes being the result of a love triangle as legend has it, we stopped for a photo before descending to San Pedro at 3159m. A bustling touristic heaving adobe town in complete contrast to the windswept wilderness of earlier, a shock to the system as we dined in a popular bar where Simon bravely sampled the local rico pisco sour!

(Hotel warm fire; Train Graveyard Uyuni)

Driving the unpaved road/tracks past San Cristobal across Eduardo Avaros National park and the Siloli desert.

San Cristobal mine and journey to Siloli desert

(San Cristobal open cast mine & mountain; wild ostrich!; view; wild vicuña; tufts grass they eat; wierd grass used for fires by indigenous peoples; views of borax lake; more views along the way)

(Flamingos on Borax lake)

Siloli Desert

(Desert views; famous rock tree; vicuña)

Red lake

Sulphurous Geyers and then Hot Springs

Green lake

(Power station being built experimental so far)

Border between Bolivia & Chile

(Bolivian customs; Bolivian border; Bolivian passport control (new 2022); Chilean Border)

Chilean Volcanoes Pomerape (left) and Parinacota on way down to San Pedro

(Arid dry slopes; Volcanos; San Pedro; Rico pisco sour)

(Simon's photos now included)

Video to follow if technology back home allows.

We stayed at Casa Atacama San Pedro, Chile

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