Huanchaco – Peru

After I left Bolivia, with just 2 days left on my extended visa, I stopped for a few days in Puno, before heading to Huanchaco, a small oasis town in the desert. The main reason I stopped in Huanchaco was to tackle the surrounding sand dunes on a pair of skis. Having completed a ski season I can ski at a reasonable level on snow, but there was no telling how well I would be able to ski on sand! I headed to the hire shop mid afternoon and after a few practise goes with my instructor we got picked up by our sand buggy and we were off. Our driver pulled out all the stops and he was zooming across the dunes, pulling off donuts, even gaining air in places. We stopped at the top of 4 of the biggest sand dunes in the area, and after waxing my skis I was ready to go, attempting to carve through the sand. Sand skiing has a similar feeling as skiing on a thin layer of relatively compacted power, and offered plenty of resistance when turning or stopping. After the 4 sand dunes we were taken to a quiet area to watch the sun set over the desert, before our final run, an interesting route into town, which even had a mini jump!

The sand dunes in Huanchaco.

The sand dunes in Huanchaco.

Rare rain clouds hanging over the dunes.

Rare rain clouds hanging over the dunes.

Sunset from the top of of of the dunes.

Sunset from the top of of of the dunes.

A view across the oasis of Huanchaco.

A view across the oasis of Huanchaco.

The next day I took a day tour to Paracas, a nearby town, which included a boat tour to the ‘poor man’s Galapagos’ – Islas Ballestas. To reach Islas Ballestas we took a boat, passing El Candelabro, a strange pre-historic geoglyph, so huge that it’s visible on google maps. Once we reached Islas Ballestas we were greeted by thousands of birds, all competing in volume with the crashing waves. As we got closer to the land we could see that the shadows on the beach were actually hundreds of fur seals and sea lions. Closer still and we could see the Humboldt penguins happily waddling around on the rocks. Our captain took the boat around the islands, getting near to some of the birds like the blue-footed boobys and Peruvian Pelicans.

One of the boats just outside of Paracas, home to hundreds of Pelicans.

One of the boats just outside of Paracas, home to hundreds of Cormorants.

An arch on the Isla Ballestas.

An arch silhouetting sea lions and birds on the Isla Ballestas.

The waves crashing on the rocks.

The waves crashing on the rocks, not alarming the islands inhabitants.

A Pelican.

A Peruvian Pelican getting along with the Blue-footed Boobys.

We headed back to the mainland so we could explore Reserva National de Paracas. The national reserve consists of an arid coastal desert area as well as a much larger marine reserve. We stopped at a museum, several view points including lookouts over dramatic coves, with dark red coloured beaches. For lunch we had fresh ceviche in one of the restaurants in the small fishing port, before having a quick swim to cool down. After an eventful day we headed back to Huanchaco.

A penguins on the Isla Ballestas.

A penguins on the Isla Ballestas.

Playa Roja in the reserva.

Playa Roja in the Reserva National de Paracas

The next day I tried to see if I could tour some of the vineyards in the Pisco region. Many of the vineyards offered wine as well as Peru’s famous Pisco. I took a taxi from Huanchaco to the first vineyard, which offered a free tour and tasting. On the tour I met a German couple who were struggling to communicate with their driver, so they invited me to join them for the rest of their tour if I helped them out. We visited several other vineyards, all with very generous ‘sommeliers’ talking us through the process of making the different wines and Piscos, some allowing us to taste the ones that were still in process, or fermenting. After plenty of samples I was dropped off at a bus station, where I could take a bus directly to Lima.

 

Torotoro National Park – Bolivia

The final national park I wanted to visit in Bolivia was Torotoro. I took an overnight bus from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba and, after spending a day exploring Cochabamba, I took a local collectivo from Cochabamba to the town of Torotoro, which is in the centre of Torotoro national park. On my first evening I hiked up a small hill just outside of town to get a feel of the area and discovered a great view of the surrounding landscape. The geological features in the area are very distinct, with many of the hills looking like the spines on a Stegosaurus. As with all national parks in Bolivia, you have to be accompanied by a guide to visit, so the first morning I made my way towards the park rangers office, where the park rangers organised guided trips into the park. I was put into a group of 6 travellers and along with our guide we were packed into a 4 x 4 and made our way to Cuidad de Ita. Cuidad de Ita (City of rocks) is a series of caves, rock formations and spectacular landscapes.

My view from the hill just outside of town.

My view from the hill just outside of town.

The approach to Cuidad de Ita.

The approach to Cuidad de Ita.

The caves in Cuidad de Ita.

The caves in Cuidad de Ita.

After a beautiful hike around the Cuidad de Ita we got back into the 4 x 4. I chose to ride on the roof with our guide so I could take photos and admire the landscape as we made our way towards Caverna de Umajalanta. After receiving helmets and head torches we headed into the cavern, following our guide over slippery rocks and ducking under stalactites. At some points we had to use ropes to lower ourselves, and others we were simply using wet rocks as slides. After several hours of making out way through the pitch black cave, with just our head torches, we made our way back to the entrance.

Stalactites and Stalagmite inside Caverna Ujameta.

Stalactites and Stalagmite inside Caverna Umajalanta.

The next day most of my group organised to do the trip to El Vergel Canyon together. We were given the same guide, and opted to hike to the canyon instead of taking a car. Along the way we saw a mini canyon with some interesting rock formations and dinosaur footprints. Once we reached the viewing platform we were in awe of the views it offered of the canyon. We followed our guide, who took us down a steep set of stairs, all the way to the bottom of the canyon, where a beautiful set of waterfalls awaited us. I enjoyed a refreshing swim in the river, re-energising for the hike back out of the canyon. After a long sweaty hike we were sat in another mirador, with another beautiful view over the canyon. We had opted to walk the long way back, hiking along the rim of El Vergel Canyon, and up another mini canyon, until we arrived back in town.

The waterfalls in the Canyon el Vergel.

The waterfalls in the El Vergel Canyon.

El Vergel Canyon from the main viewpoint.

El Vergel Canyon from the main viewpoint.

Noel Kempff Mercado – Bolivia

My main goal in eastern Bolivia was to visit Noel Kempff Mercado, a remote national park in the jungle near the border with Brazil. After a week set back due to the bus being delayed because of heavy rain, I finally had a ticket for the weekly bus to Remanso. What little information I found on the internet lead me to believe that my best bet would be to take the Remanso bus for roughly 24 hours, until the junction for Florida, then somehow cross the 40 km to Florida. I arrived for the bus early as instructed and after several hours of watching an extraordinary amount of things being loaded onto the bus, we were off, slowly making our way along bad roads, which just got worse. Several times in the middle of the night the entire bus had to walk ahead, while allowing the bus to pass the roughest sections of the road. Once we reached the junction the next day my hopes of paying a local with a motorbike to take me to Florida were dashed. The town at the junction was made up of little more than 2 huts, and there wasn’t another vehicle in sight. I was encouraged to rejoin the locals on the bus until we reached Remanso, where I would still be close to a different entrance to the park. I decided that this was probably a better option than being attacked by a jaguar while trying to hike 40km through the jungle, and got back onto the bus.

Our bus being loaded with the village's weekly supplies.

Our bus being loaded with the village’s weekly supplies.

What I didn’t realise was Remanso was another 16 hours away, and there weren’t any more food stops. Fortunately the lady next to me shared some of her dinner/lunch, and also pointed me in the right direction for the national park when we got to Remanso. I took a boat down the river to a small town called Piso Ferme, where I found a park office. One of the rangers showed me the first good map I had seen of the park and even mentioned that I might be able to catch a ride to Florida later that day. I cooked some food and took a bath in the river, before the ranger found me and explained that later that day a group of them would be driving to Florida (about 8 hours in the other direction) and I could go with them. Around 3am, after clearing several fallen trees, we had made it to the ranger’s hut in Florida, where I collapsed into bed after over 58 hours of almost continuous travelling.

The bus stopped at the junction for Florida, surrounded by butterflies.

The bus stopped at the junction for Florida, surrounded by butterflies.

The next morning I joined the rangers on a trip into the village where I was introduced to many of the locals over several breakfast and lunch stops. The town’s organiser promised to find me a guide with a motorbike to take me into the park in the morning. For the rest of the day I hung out with the rangers, lounging in hammocks and practising my spanish. In the afternoon my new guide, Mario, dropped by to introduce himself, as well as check I had everything I needed, including a bag that would fit on his motorbike!

My first view into the park from the rangers hut.

My first view into the park from the ranger’s hut.

The next morning he picked me up, and after a few minutes re-arranging our things we were off, heading towards the national park. Our first obstacle was the river, and as no jeeps had entered the park for over a year, the only method of crossing was a small row boat with a few planks to balance the motorbike on. Our second obstacle was the bank on the other side of the river, which was so steep that it took several attempts to push the bike up. We made our way towards the first campgrounds, Los Fierros, about 35kms along what was once a road. We regularly had to get off the bike to cross bridges made up of just a handful of planks, or clear trees that had fallen into the road. It turns out I’m not very good with a machete, but luckily Mario, having grown up in the jungle, was a pro! Each time we stopped the mosquitos would swarm in to attack me, despite using copious amounts of DEET, yet somehow Mario seemed to avoid getting bitten at all!

The bats who had made their home in the abandoned lodge.

The bats who had made their home in the abandoned lodge.

After 7 hours we reached the lodge, and I was fascinated to see how nature was taking back the abandoned buildings. Ants swarmed on the floors, while wasps flitted around and a whole colony of bats were hiding up in the rafters. I picked a bed inside, as I didn’t trust my tent if it rained, and Mario showed me the closest water source, passing the old airport and a puma footprint on the way. While hanging up some clothes I got bitten by a vicious wasp which had found it’s way into my trousers. After that my trousers stayed firmly tucked into my socks for the rest of the trip. We decided to take turns preparing dinner, so Mario cooked us beef and rice, before heading out for a night walk, where we spotted black foxes.

A very colourful grasshopper.

A very colourful grasshopper.

In the morning the riding was a lot easier and we zoomed across the plains, towards the Meseta, a 600m high plateau which was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World. Once we got closer to the Meseta we slowly made our way through the dense jungle, until it was no longer possible to take the motorbike any further. We continued on foot, along an extremely rough path, which kept Mario busy with his machete. Several times we stopped to listen to the monkeys, occasionally glimpsing them through the trees. After what felt like hours the landscape changed, with the trees thinning and large rocks randomly appearing, we had reached the base of the Meseta. From here on, the path began to get steeper as we slowly made our way up the cliffs of the Meseta. I soon realised the distances Mario was quoting were all measured in a straight line, and none of them had taken into account the many switchbacks on the cliff, but I supposed no one had measured the actual lengths of the paths in the national park. The mosquitos had been replaced by annoyed flies which were attracted by my sweat. I used a bandana and buff combination to cover as much of my skin as possible, but somehow this just encouraged the flies to land in my eye lashes; they were ruining what was otherwise an amazing view over the jungle canopy and the red cliffs.

The view of the Meseta when we were about half way up.

The view of the Meseta when we were about half way up.

The view over the jungle canopy from the meseta.

The view over the jungle canopy from the meseta.

When we did reach the summit of the plateau I was over the moon to discover there was a gentle breeze, keeping away the mosquitos and flies, as well as cooling us down. It was a gentle hour long walk across stunning plains to reach the Meseta campsite. I took a refreshing bath in the river while parakeets flew overhead, affirming that this area was indeed a natural paradise. It was my turn to cook dinner, and Mario was impressed with my stove, even if it wasn’t as fun as cooking on an open fire. In the morning we hiked to La Piscina, a natural swimming pool formed by the river. On the way Mario told me about the history of the Meseta, pointing to the burnt out remnants of a drug smuggler’s Cesna aircraft, as well as a motorbike that had crashed. Somewhere in the forest there were still hundreds of metal drums, left over from cocaine processing. Mario obviously didn’t believe in the processing of cocaine, as he had spent the entire trip so far chewing coca leaves – cocaine in it’s raw form.

noel-kempff-6

The beautifully flat and breezy ‘roof’ of the meseta.

noel-kempff-7

A faint path to our campsite was just visible through the overgrown grass.

La Piscina was possibly one of the best places I swam on my entire trip, the water was perfectly clean and clear, as well as being the perfect temperature for swimming. The waterfalls made a fun platform to jump off, and the flow of the river allowed me to float along as I pleased. We headed back to pack up camp, before hiking to the edge of the Meseta. Mario and I sat right on the edge, enjoying the spectacular view of the jungle canopy, making lemonade with some lemons we had found in the jungle. That afternoon we made camp about half-way down the Meseta, a spot with so many flies that I had to hide in my tent until sunset. Luckily we were near a small break in the trees, where I could watch the sun set over the jungle canopy.

The remnants of a plane that was used to carry out the cocaine being manufactured in the area.

The remnants of a plane that was used to carry out the cocaine being manufactured in the area.

La piscina, my private swimming pool.

La piscina, my private swimming pool.

The next morning we hiked through the jungle back to the bike. The path was much easier to follow thanks to Mario’s efforts with his Machete. Once we were back at the Motorbike we zoomed across the plains and were back at the abandoned lodge in no time. Unfortunately the second half of the journey took us far longer, as the heavy rains must have caused many more new trees to fall in the path. Mosquitos continued to feast on my blood as I helped Mario out, hacking at branches with a machete, and lifting our motorbike over roots and fallen trees. Eventually we reached the river, our final obstacle, so I took my final photos of Mario and our bike, before we reached the village of Florida again. I spent the afternoon relaxing in a hammock, keeping it swaying to keep the mosquitos away.

The sunset from our last campsite in Noel Kempff Mercado.

The sunset from our last campsite in Noel Kempff Mercado.

Mario crossing one of the many 'bridges' in the park.

Mario crossing one of the many ‘bridges’ in the park.

My return journey was simpler, if a little more expensive, and I would recommend the reverse to anyone aiming to reach Florida. I organised a ride on a motorbike to Campamento, a much larger village which was several hours away. We spent a lot of the trip dodging puddles, with me trying to hold my rucksack on, to stop it flying off the back of the bike. When we reach Campamento, I enquired about the next bus to San Ignacio, which was the next morning, so I got a room as the only guest at the only ‘hotel’ in town, and got stuck into another book. The next day I was on a bus to San Ignacio, where I arrived early afternoon. The only buses from San Ignacio were night buses, so I had the afternoon to explore the town, checking out the Jesuit church, and more importantly the cafe next door that had wifi. I took a night bus directly to Santa Cruz, and arrived back at my hostel, after a 10 day adventure, happy to be back somewhere with wifi and running water.

Crossing our final obstacle to exit the park.

Crossing our final obstacle to exit the park.

I always recommend Noel Kempff Mercado to any independent travellers really looking to get off the beaten track, and experience the Bolivian jungle in a really exciting and natural way. In my entire trip, this was probably my biggest adventure, the longest I went without speaking english and certainly the furthest I felt from all the other backpackers/tourists. I know the locals I met are keen for things to change back to how they used to be, for roads to improve, allowing the return of small scale tourism, who brought money to the businesses and guides in their small jungle towns. For their sake I hope it does improve, but personally I’m glad I had the park to myself.

The Jesuit Mission church in San Ignacio.

The Jesuit Mission church in San Ignacio.

Amboro region – Bolivia

After spending several days in Santa Cruz investigating the possibility of visiting Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, I bought myself some camping supplies ready for weekly bus out to the jungle. Unfortunately, due to heavy rain, the bus was cancelled, so I had to wait a week for the next one. I caught a collective taxi to the peaceful countryside town of Samaipata, in order to visit the surrounding area, especially the nearby Amboro National Park, and to test my new camping equipment.

The main square in Santa Cruz.

The main square in Santa Cruz.

The ruins at El Fuerte.

The ruins at El Fuerte.

The first night it rained very heavily and I woke up slightly soggy. After hanging my things out to dry I joined a group and we hired a taxi for the day, allowing us to visit El Fuerte. El Fuerte is a hill top ruin dating back to the time of the Chané people. We explored the site by following a marked trail leading us past view points, over the surrounding mountains and the ruins themselves. Despite the ruins being quite basic, we enjoyed the walk around the site, and the views of the surrounding countryside. After the ruins we stopped at the Cuevas waterfalls, where a short path lead us past three waterfalls, set in a pretty valley. We went for a quick swim at the third waterfall, before checking out the viewpoint, which gave a nice aerial view of the waterfalls.

Samaipata

El Fuerte viewed from above.

One of the waterfalls at Cuavas.

One of the waterfalls at Cuevas.

Samaipata-3

The landscape around the Cuevas waterfalls.

Overnight there was significantly more rain than the night before, and I woke up very damp, hoping I wouldn’t have this problem in Noel Kempff Mercado. I went to negotiate with the mototaxi drivers, hoping to get a cheap ride to somewhere where I could hike into the national park. Due to the volume of rain overnight no-one was prepared to bike to Amboro, but I did manage to convince a young guy to take me up to Abras del Torres. After an entertaining and at times nerve-racking ride up the hill, I was happy to get off the bike, and opted to walk back to the main road. At Abras del Torres I found some interesting bird life, famous giant ferns and amazing panoramic views.

Samaipata-5

Two swallow tailed kites flying above Abras del Torres.

The views from Abras del Toro.

The views from Abras del Torres.

The next day I took a collective taxi to the junction closest the Los Volcanes area of Amboro National Park. I had seen pictures of this area and knew I had to visit, but I could tell the lodge there would be a little out of my price range, so I hiked in the general direction of the lodge with no plans and a leaky tent. The route to the lodge had some stunning views, including the classic view over the Los Volcanes rocks. By the time I arrived at the lodge it was almost dark. The owner greeted me with concern, and explained that the lodge was currently closed. I asked for permission to camp close to the lodge, but the owner kindly allowed me to stay in one of the empty staff rooms. The next morning I accompanied his friend on a walk to complete some chores, and his friend explained all about the history of the lodge, as well as pointing out many of the different plants in the area. I had a relaxing afternoon by the waterfall, enjoying the tranquility of the empty lodge in this beautiful setting. Later that afternoon I was dropped off back on the main road so I could flag a collective taxi back to Santa Cruz.

Samaipata-7

The Los Volcanes rocks, slightly shrouded in cloud.

The setting sun on the Los volcanes rocks.

The setting sun on the Los volcanes rocks.

The view from the lodge at Los Volcanes.

The view from the lodge at Los Volcanes.

Sucre – Bolivia

I arrived in Sucre a few days before Christmas after several busy months, so I decided to stay in Sucre longer than usual, taking my ‘Christmas Holiday’ from travelling. In total I was in Sucre for two weeks, spending most of my time wandering around town, having lunch in the market, taking private spanish lessons and simply hanging out with a coffee. The centre of Sucre is beautiful with well manicured plazas, whitewashed churches and colonial architecture. There are also plenty of quiet spots just outside the city, such as the cemetery, and La Recoleta Mirador, which offers fantastic views over the city from a relaxed cafe.

Sucre-8050

Gobernación de Chuquisaca.

I was in Sucre during the rainy season, so despite the climate being fairly pleasant most of the time, it often rained very heavily for a few hours each day.  While it was raining I enjoyed the Casa de la Libertad, in Plaza 25 de Mayo, where a young guide showed me and a friend round, while giving us a lesson in Bolivian history. We learnt how Sucre and La Paz share the title of capital city, saw the declaration of independence and saw some portraits of Bolivia’s most famous war heroes and Prime Ministers. While the weather was good, we visited the Siete Cascades, seven waterfalls set in a beautiful valley, that can be reached using one of Sucre’s local bus routes. The first two waterfalls are easy to reach, however each subsequent waterfall required more scrambling to reach. Eventually we got to the final waterfall, so after a bit more scrambling we made our way back to waterfall number 5 and took a swim in the refreshingly cool pools.

One of the siete waterfalls.

One of the seven waterfalls.

For Chirstmas Eve our hostel hosted a Christmas dinner, where we were served the traditional Picana. Later that evening we stumbled upon a midnight mass in the Cathedral, which seemed similar to one in England, except the locals came baring small dolls of the Baby Jesus. On Christmas Day I found a cafe with good wifi and played board games over Skype with my family. In the evening I went for dinner with some friends from my hostel, before we all went to watch the only non-dubbed showing of Star Wars of the day.

The valley of the siete cascades.

The valley of the siete cascades.

Once the excitement of Christmas died down I went in search of a Spanish School. I visited most of the main ones around town, but as soon as I met my teacher at Continental Spanish School I knew where I should study. We agreed on private afternoon lessons, and at around £3.50 an hour they were a bargain. I returned that afternoon to finally start taking the lessons that I really should have started over 8 months ago! I really enjoyed the lessons, and I could really see the improvements I was making every day, and by the end I was happily chatting away with my Spanish teacher about lots of different topics, although some required a lot more concentration than others. As I was just taking half day lessons I could use my mornings to visit things like the Dinosaur footprints, La Glorieta Castle and the market.

A statue of a dog outside of one of Sucre's white churches.

A statue of a dog outside of one of Sucre’s white churches.

I was in Sucre for New Year’s Eve as well, and my hostel hosted another group dinner, before the entire hostel turned into a nightclub, furniture was moved, and the garden was turned into a third bar. At midnight we made our way to the main square, which was full of local Bolivians, most of whom were holding fireworks. At midnight the fireworks were set off, often just hand-held or planted in the patches of grass. Maybe not the safest way to celebrate, but no-one appeared to get hurt.

Local Bolivians celebrating as part of a parade.

Local Bolivians celebrating as part of a parade.

Potosi – Bolivia

I caught an afternoon bus to Potosi right after my Uyuni tour. Originally Potosi was a mining town, with with thousands trying their luck in the silver mines in Cerro Rico. Eventually the Spanish founded their main mint in Potosi, making enough silver coins to fund the Spanish empire. The proof of this is in the beautiful churches that litter Potosi’s narrow colonial streets. The most interesting tour in Potosi is the Cerro Rico tour, which allows visitors to tour the working silver mines. I was advised to wait until Monday morning to take a tour as then there would be more activity in the mine.

Potosi-7594

One of the many beautiful churches in Potosi.

I spent my first day in Potosi wandering around the old town, enjoying the churches and markets. There was a huge range of different markets in Potosi, selling everything from food to christmas decorations. My explorations took me through several different neighbourhoods, each with several spectacular churches and steep cobblestone streets.

Potosi-7630

Potosi’s very own Statue of Liberty.

The next day I visited the Casa Nacional de la Moneda which used to be a coin mint, and is now a museum providing regular tours in both english and spanish. Our guide took us through the many different rooms in the Casa de la Moneda providing in depth explanations about the smelting and purification of the silver, as well as the production of the silver coins. Many of the rooms contained the original equipment that the Spanish had shipped from Spain in order to produce the silver coins.

 

 

Potosi-7639

One of the Colonial streets in Potosi.

One of the Colonial streets in Potosi.

Later in the afternoon I was walking through the north of town with a friend from my hostel when we came across the stadium which was hosting a football match between 2 Bolivian teams. We bought tickets and found ourselves in the away team’s end, which was full of colourful and excited supporters. Luckily the team was winning, so the supporters were in good spirits, with a marching band keeping everyone entertained. Each time their team would score, or the players came on or off the pitch the crowd would cheer throwing thousands of torn up pieces of paper in the air.

The fans celebrating a goal at the football match.

The fans celebrating a goal at the football match.

On Monday morning we made our way to the office for our mine tour of Cerro Rico. We received our protective equipment before stopping at a small miner’s shop to purchase supplies to give as gifts to the miners. I bought some protective gloves and a big bottle of Pepsi, knowing how much Bolivians love their soft drinks! Our Coca-leaf chewing guide first showed us round a small processing plant, explaining that it was just used a few days a week as the level of silver being mined was very low. We then made our way into the mine, regularly seeking the protection of an enclave, to avoid the passing mine carts. The empty mine carts had to be pushed up a slight incline, and they had to give way to the full carts, hurtling down the decline.

Miner's pushing an empty cart into the mine.

Miner’s pushing an empty cart into the mine.

The pi

The pneumatic drill being used to drill holes in the ceiling on the mine shaft.

At one point in the mine our guide took us down a separate shaft, to where some miners were actively creating new mine shafts. To reach the site we had to climb down rickety ladders while squeezing through tiny holes. Eventually our group found space and perched on some rocks, while we watched several miners wielding a large pneumatic drill, using it to create holes in the ceiling of the shaft. They then laid the charges of dynamite, before asking us to make our way back to the main shafts, so they could safely set off the dynamite. On the way out we left them with some of the ‘presents’ we had brought with us. Climbing back up the ladders was a difficult task, as the air here deep in the mine was even thinner than it was at the entrance to the mine (at 4200m altitude). Panting we made our way out of the mine, avoiding the continuous stream of carts. On the way back to Potosi we reflected on what was a very interesting and eye opening experience. The conditions in the mines were far from ideal, with workers spending many hours continuously in the mine, often without food or water, surviving just with coca-leafs. Many mine workers seemed to be spurred on by the potential of a lucky strike, or the lack of other employment opportunities in Potosi.

A full cart making it's way out of the mine.

A full cart making it’s way out of the mine.

Uyuni – Bolivia

The best place to book an Uyuni trip is in Uyuni itself, and don’t worry, whatever time your overnight bus arrives someone will be there to sell you a last minute trip. I selected the standard 3 day tour with an agency based on price and the promise that their drivers didn’t drink. After a few hours of hanging around Uyuni town we set off. The first stop was the Train Cemetery, which was a scrap yard for the old trains used by the mining companies. We had fun for a while climbing onto the roofs of the trains, waiting for our driver to return from re-fueling.

The Uyuni salt flats.

The Uyuni salt flats.

Uyuni-2304

A perspective shot from the salt flats.

Isla

The cacti on Isla Incahuasi.

The next few stops were in the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world, created by a sea which covered the area millions of years ago. The salt flats are a truly unique landscape and appear to stretch as far as the eye can see, like an optical illusion. After a while we reached the Isla Incahuasi, a rocky island in the middle of the salt desert covered in cactus. Taking a walk on the island gave me the impression I was on a real island, surrounded by an incredibly flat, white sea made of salt. That evening we reached a small town on the edge of the Salar where we stayed in a hotel made mostly of salt.

An active volcano we stopped at on the way to the Lagunas.

An active volcano on the way to the Lagunas.

Flamingos in Laguna Colorada.

Flamingos and volcano reflections in Laguna Hedionda.

The next day we left the Salar and headed towards the Chilean border, where we were greeted by numerous smoking volcanos and lagunas. The first laguna we stopped at was Laguna Hedionda which had beautiful reflections of volcanos, as well as plenty of flamingos who weren’t shy about coming close to the camera. The last stop of the day was Laguna Colorado, a huge laguna with a reddish tint that varied in intensity depending on the conditions.

Uyuni-7536

Flamingos in Laguna Hedionda.

A dust twister in front of one of the volcanos on the Uyuni tour.

Laguna Colorado.

Laguna Colorado.

The next day we woke up early to visit the Solar de Manaña geysers, which are most active around sunrise. The geysers were spewing a combination of mud and steam which created a dramatic effect with the early morning sun. Despite all of the bubbling mud pits this was still the coldest part of the trip, most of us shivering unless we were dangerously lose to the geysers.

The sun peeking behind the hills at the Solar de Manaña geysers.

The sun peeking behind the hills at the Solar de Manaña geysers.

The mud bubbling out from the geysers.

The mud bubbling out from the geysers.

The next stop was a hot spring heated naturally by the volcanic activity. After the cold morning start I was happy to get into the water, warming up instantly. One of the final stops was Laguna Verde, a lake with beautiful volcanos in the background. When there are high winds the particles in the lake are activated and give the lake a greenish tinge. Although it wasn’t that windy when we were there I could still see a faint green tinge on the surface of the laguna. After Laguna Verde we headed to the Chilean border to drop off half our group, while I headed back to Uyuni enjoying the extra space in the car.

The Solar de Manaña geysers.

The Solar de Manaña geyser field.

Laguna Verde.