Dirtbikes & Death Roads: 2200 Miles in Bolivia

Discussion in 'Pictures' started by RockyRoads, Jan 3, 2008.

  1. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    The morning sun was revealing spectacular cloudscapes over the Andes mountains, and I could hardly contain my excitement.
    1A Arrival 1, Clouds.jpg

    We had been flying all night and were almost to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia and the starting point for our 12-day motorcycle adventure. As the plane descended through the clouds, we could see the snow-covered mountains:
    1A Arrival 1a.jpg

    Ben and I had been planning this trip for months—selecting the country, fine-tuning the itinerary, and arranging childcare at home for our two young children. Initially, I had wanted to ride in Peru and see Machu Picchu, but our research led us to a neighboring country, Bolivia, where Maurice of Moto-Andina (www.moto-andina.com) offered us a custom tour of Bolivia, from the mountains and high altiplano to the jungle, riding DR650’s on mostly dirt roads. We had explained to Maurice that we wanted a “very challenging” ride, with long days of riding, difficult terrain, and a route that would cover both the high altiplano and the jungles of Bolivia. We also wanted to do the "World's Most Dangerous Road" (aka "Camino de la Muerte"--Road of Death) north of La Paz. Maurice was extremely accommodating, answering our many detailed questions in full, and promising us an incredible journey.

    At almost 12,000 feet above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital in the world and is nicknamed “the city that touches the sky”. It has a unique location, inside of a large natural bowl carved out of the high altiplano. The airport is located on the flat altiplano above the city, at about 13,300 feet high. Ben and I had read plenty of stories about the debilitating effects of altitude sickness (nausea, headaches, difficulty breathing, insomnia) and had started taking preventative medicine the day before; whether it was the medicine, our genes, that “magic pill” that Maurice gave us at the airport, or our consumption of coca tea (or a combination of all four), neither Ben nor I suffered from altitude sickness during our trip.

    The route from the airport had us dropping down from the edge of the crater, into the city below. View of La Paz on our way from the airport:
    1A Arrival 2, La Paz from El Alto.jpg

    La Paz is structured so that the city center is in the bottom of the bowl, with the sides covered by the poorer neighborhoods (unlike most cities where the wealthy are generally situated up high with a nice view). Because of the altitude, the higher areas in La Paz can be much colder and do not have the plant life of the lower areas.

    Our hotel in Bolivia (the El Rey Palace Hotel) was spacious, very comfortable, and centrally located.
    View from our hotel:
    1A Arrival 3, Hotel View.jpg

    After a quick breakfast and short nap at the hotel, Maurice met us for a stroll through the city and a relaxing lunch at an excellent restaurant, La Comedie.

    Ben and I on the way to lunch:
    1A Arrival 4, BK in La Paz.jpg

    We were also joined by Marc, one of the four Belgians who would be riding with us on this trip. After lunch, Ben and I decided to visit a few museums and to wander through the market areas.
     
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  2. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    The streets were pretty crowded with cars. Ben:
    1A Arrival 5, Ben in La Paz.jpg

    There are also numerous minibuses, each with a “caller” who continually yells out the location and price from the side of the minibus. If you want to ride, you give a wave and hop aboard.
    1A Arrival 6, Minibus.jpg

    We visited the Museo Tiwanaku, which has some interesting artifacts from the excavations at Tiwanaku, as well as few mummies. Here I am at the entrance:
    1A Arrival 7, Museum.jpg

    The museum was quite small and only had a handful of visitors. While in the museum, we were approached by two girls who were interviewing people for a school project. Since Ben and I have been studying Spanish at our local community college for a year and a half, we were able to converse with the girls, and answer their questions (where were we from, how long were we staying in La Paz, etc.). At the end, one of the girls asked me if I would be her “madrina” (sponsor) because she wanted to come to the United States to study. I explained that I was already the madrina for a girl in Bolivia, Maribel (although she did not have plans to travel to the U.S.), and that we would be visiting Maribel the next day.

    We continued walking through the streets of La Paz, in search of another museum that Maurice had recommended. On our way, we came across a peaceful and orderly protest in the streets:
    1A Arrival 8, Protest.jpg
    1A Arrival 9, Protest.jpg
     
  3. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Bolivia currently has a lot of social and political turmoil. Economically, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, although it has an abundance of natural resources. The population of Bolivia consists of approximately 65% indigenous people, and the current president (Evo Morales) is the first indigenous president. There has been, and still is, much oppression of the indigenous people. While I don’t understand all of the complexities of the social and political history, there appears to be a great divide between some of the wealthier non-indigenous people who live in the eastern low-lying cities, and the indigenous people who live in poorer communities along the high altiplano and who are demanding greater rights and benefits. During our time in Bolivia, there were violent protests in the low-lying city of Sucre, with several deaths, causing Maurice to change our route to bypass that area.

    More views of La Paz:

    We had to walk up the hills a bit:
    1A Arrival 10, La Paz.jpg

    After a long trek, we finally found the museum--but it was closed! We took a picture anyway to show that we at least had made it there:
    1A Arrival 11, Closed Museum.jpg

    The shoeshine boys were everywhere, wearing ski-masks to hide their faces:
    1A Arrival 12, ShoeShine.jpg

    Ben in front of the Iglesias de San Francisco, an old church that incorporates some of the indigenous religious symbols into the facade:
    1A Arrival 13, San Francisco.jpg

    A house that shows its history in the stonework at the base:
    1A Arrival 14, Old House.jpg
     
  4. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    That evening, we met the rest of the riders in our group and had a delicious dinner together. Here we are, from left to right: Kathy, Ben, Gérald, William, Marc, Olivier and Maurice.
    1A Arrival 15, Dinner.jpg

    DAY 1: LA PAZ TO JANKO MARCA TO SAJAMA

    This morning we traveled to Maurice’s home in the Zona Sud (Southern Zone) of La Paz, where the bikes were waiting. The colors of the hills surrounding La Paz were rich and varied, and there was a lot of construction:
    1st Day 1, To Maurice.jpg

    Many of the buildings in La Paz and other areas of Bolivia are made of brick, and there are often piles of bricks and building materials scattered around; at times, it was difficult to discern whether the buildings were being built or being torn down.

    Maurice and Rene (on top) loading the chase truck:
    1st Day 2, Truck.jpg

    The gang: Top Row: Rene (our fast and funny chase truck driver), David (our wonderfully upbeat #2 guide), Hugo (our exceptional mechanic), Marc, Ben, me, Gérald. Bottom Row: William, Maurice (our knowledgeable and extremely gracious #1 guide) and Olivier.
    1st Day 3, the Gang.jpg

    We then headed up, up, and up, out of La Paz, through the city of El Alto and turned south. The road out of La Paz was pretty twisty and was a fun way to start the day, and the views were amazing. With the clouds hovering at the top of the altiplano ridge, La Paz did indeed appear to touch the sky.
    1st Day 4, Leaving La Paz.jpg
     
  5. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Another view of La Paz:
    1st Day 5, Leaving La Paz.jpg

    Our ultimate destination today was the base of Volcán Sajama, the highest mountain in Bolivia (21,463 feet high). After our first gas stop, however, we would split into two groups. Ben and I would be riding to the small altiplano village of Janko Marca to meet Maribel and her family; Maurice and Rene would accompany us in the chase truck, and the rest of the group would go directly to Sajama. I had started sponsoring Maribel in 2006, and we had exchanged many letters. Before our trip, I had arranged to be at Maribel’s village at 11:30 a.m. today, although we were running a bit late.

    The town where we parted ways:
    1st Day 6, Town for Split.jpg

    A note about Bolivian roads: while there are some paved 2-lane roads connecting the few large cities together, the vast majority of roads are dirt, and street signs are practically nonexistent. The roads often branch off in various directions, and it is very easy to get lost. Even with written directions, navigation can be quite challenging. Also, there are many rivers that do not have any bridges. We had to cross one of those rivers on the way to Maribel’s village. Unfortunately, the rainy season started in early November this year, instead of late December, and when we arrived at the river crossing, it was veeeerrrrrrry wide. The water was only several feet deep, however, and the local people had a flat-bottomed boat that several men would pull across the river. On the other side we could see the boat waiting for a herd of sheep to finish crossing a field and board the boat. We waited, and waited. The sheep were not in a hurry. Ben and I were scoping out what looked like a possible path for us to ride across on our bikes. Ben decided to test things out, but he soon became embedded in a stretch of gooey sucking mud that tried to swallow his rear tire.

    Rene lent a hand in the rescue.
    1st Day 7, Mud.jpg

    After we had successfully extracted Ben’s bike from the muck, a local man came out of one of the few houses by the side of the river and told us that the boat that was slowly crossing the river with the sheep would be too small for the bikes and chase truck and that we needed to go further down the river to one of the bigger boats. So off we went.

    One of the bigger boats:
    1st Day 8, Boat.jpg

    After we loaded the vehicles onto a boat, backing the bikes carefully down onto narrow planks, we relaxed a bit.

    Here I am with Maurice and Rene. And yes, the boatmen pulled us all the way across that wide river!
    1st Day 9, River.jpg
     
  6. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Some shots of the boatmen pulling us along the bank, to get around the sand/mud bars in the middle of the river:
    1st Day 10, Boat.jpg
    1st Day 11, Boat.jpg

    We finally arrived at Maribel’s village, 3 hours late. Maurice said that the concept of time was a bit more fluid in Bolivia than in the United States, but I was still really concerned about Maribel’s family thinking that I wasn’t going to show up. Ben and I arrived at what we thought was the village, and we stopped in an open area to discuss whether this was the right place or not. Then we heard a band start playing and saw a crowd of people coming toward us. This was indeed the village! And it seemed like the entire population was there to greet us. Maribel’s mother and family members blessed us with multiple sprinkles of paper confetti on our heads.

    The band:
    1st day 12, Band.jpg

    Me, with Maribel and her mother.
    1st Day 13, Maribel.jpg

    The crowd around us:
    1st Day 14, Crowd.jpg
     
  7. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Then Maribel’s family dressed us in gifts of traditional clothing—with a warm sweater and hat for Ben, and a beautiful purple skirt, sweater and hat (not yet on my head) for me:
    1st Day 15, Dressed.jpg

    They also gave us small glasses of brown beer to drink and instructed us on the local custom of first pouring a small amount on the ground as an offering of thanks. I only took a couple of small sips—my head was already swirling from the excitement around me, and I wanted my mind to be stay as clear as possible. Then the band started playing again, and we were pulled outside the gazebo to dance around the plaza.
    1st Day 16, Dancing.jpg
    (Does this skirt make my . . . ?)

    Ben was quite the ladies’ man:
    1st Day 17, Dancing.jpg

    My heavy motorcycle boots were not the best dancing shoes, and as we started our second loop around the large plaza, I was wondering how long my stamina would last. But Maribel and I were joking with one another, and there was plenty of laughter to carry me through.
    1st Day 18, Dancing.jpg
    1st Day 18, End of Dancing.jpg
     
  8. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Afterwards, Maribel’s teacher provided us with a grand tour of the school. Earlier this year, in preparation for our visit, we had asked the school if there was anything special that they needed as a gift. Here is the entrance to the school, with the new gate that we provided; Maribel’s teacher is on my right.
    1st Day 19, School Gate.jpg

    The school was very impressive. The buildings were well-maintained, and the students had planted some trees (a rarity in the altiplano area) in the courtyard. We visited Maribel’s classroom and admired all of the wonderful schoolwork that was displayed on the walls.
    1st Day 20, School.jpg

    The school recently built a small comideria (cafeteria) in which the mothers and fathers volunteer each school day to cook hot lunches for the students. Here are some of the items in the comideria storeroom; I thought the lamb’s head was very interesting:
    1st Day 21, Cafeteria.jpg

    The school is also in the process of building a greenhouse to grow tomatoes, carrots and many other types of vegetables and fruits for the children. There was a lot of community support, and pride, in the school and the achievements of the students. There was even an upper-level school for the older children and adults, which served a number of the surrounding villages. We could see that the monthly sponsorship funds (connected to many of the children) were being put to good use and were really making a difference in people’s lives here. After the school tour, we walked to Maribel’s house. Here I am with Maribel’s parents inside of their modest home:
    1st Day 22, Home.jpg

    We were then treated to a meal of quinoa soup and lamb. Quinoa is a nutritious grain that is grown on the altiplano; Maribel had explained to me previously in one of her letters that quinoa soup was her favorite food. During the meal, Maribel’s mother ran into the house and urgently requested a knife, explaining that one of their cows had eaten something that had caused its stomach to swell up, requiring emergency action in order to save the cow’s life. She ran back a few minutes later, frantically asking for another knife because the first one was too dull. There didn’t appear to be any other knives available, so Maurice handed over his multipurpose tool. Maribel’s mother was able to cut the cow’s stomach open, clean it out, and then sew the cow back together. The village leaders, as well as the leaders of the local sponsorship program, were crowded into Maribel’s small one-room house. While we were eating, we were introduced to each one. We learned that the village leaders are selected each year and are responsible for running the village as well as resolving disputes and doling out punishment to community members who break the rules.

    After eating, we thanked everyone profusely for such an incredible welcome and heartwarming hospitality, and we explained that we still had many more miles to travel before we reached Sajama. During the last round of goodbyes and hugs and thank-yous, I finally got the customary greeting down—a handshake, then a kiss on the right cheek, then another handshake. (I had been doing a handshake and then trying to do a kiss on each cheek.)

    We continued onward to Sajama. Night was fast approaching, and the roads had many potholes and surprise washouts that made night riding more challenging. There wasn’t much time to take photos, but Ben took this one of a pretty valley that we rode through.
    1st Day 23, Ride.jpg
     
  9. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    After nightfall, our pace slowed down due to the road conditions. The moon had not risen, and the blackness was immense all around us. At one point, there was a huge gap in the road from a washout that was not noticeable until the last moment—I registered the gap in my brain, increased the accelerator, held my breath to see if my tires would clear the gap, gave up a prayer of thanks when both wheels were on the other side, and stopped for a moment to let my heart settle back to its normal rhythm.

    We finally reached the asphalt of the two-lane highway. Maurice explained that we had 35 miles of highway before our turnoff to Sajama. The chill of the night air was intense, and I put on another jersey under my jacket and inserted some chemical hand-warmers into my gloves. Above 12,000 feet (and especially at highway speeds), the cold of the altiplano has a way of blasting its way through clothing. After only a few miles, I was frozen. My night vision is also not the best, and my imagination wants to play tricks on me. And every once in a while, a big truck coming the other way would almost blow me off the road. After a few more miles, I have to admit that I was just plain miserable. I kept ticking off the miles in my head, thinking, “Okay, only 27 more miles to go; okay, only 24 more miles to go.” To pass the time, I tried to list the ten things that I enjoy doing the most in life. The first that came to mind was holding my husband’s hand (after 16 years together, I still get a kick out of slipping my hand into his), the second and third were snuggling with my two beautiful children (especially when they are a bit sleepy), and the fourth was riding crusty trails on dirt bikes with my girlfriend Chris every week. There were other things, but those four kept me feeling warm and cozy for quite a few more miles.

    We finally reached our turnoff. I was shivering uncontrollably, so I had Ben put a chemical body warmer on my upper back—ahhhhhh, I should have done that 25 miles ago! The rest of the ride to Sajama was on a relatively straight dirt road with some sand in places. We arrived at the Sajama hostel around 10 p.m. My odometer read 232 miles for the day. The rest of the group had just gone to bed. The chase truck had difficulty fitting into the courtyard, so the manager/owner of the hostel got out his sledgehammer and knocked quite a few large rocks off of the stone-wall entrance (talk about accommodating!). Dinner was on the stove for us, and we were soon sitting down to more quinoa soup and a spaghetti dish. We hurried to bed before the generator was turned off.

    Photo of our hostel at sunset, taken by Gérald earlier in the day:
    1st Day 24, Sajama.jpg

    DAY 2: SAJAMA TO LLICA

    The next morning was crisp and clear, and we were able to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.

    Sajama, an extinct volcano:
    2nd Day 1, Sajama.jpg
    (Notice the rocks holding down the edges of the tin roof, a common sight in the altiplano.)

    The twin peaks across from Sajama:
    2nd Day 2, Twins.jpg

    Close-up:
    2nd Day 3, Closeup.jpg

    Our group, bidding farewell to Sajama:
    2nd Day 4, Leaving Sajama.jpg
     
  10. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    During the morning, we entered a national park, where we saw our first flamingos:
    2nd Day 5, Flamingos.jpg

    We also visited some ancient structures, recently restored. They are thought to have been funeraries, with colors from the earth.
    2nd Day 6, Funereals.jpg

    The roads were pretty rocky (although not as bad as some later in the trip). Here is Hugo with William, changing one of the three flat tires our group would get today:
    2nd Day 7, Flat.jpg

    Whenever we stopped in one of the towns, a small crowd would gather around us, curious about where we were going:
    2nd Day 8, Town.jpg

    Along the way, we saw many herds of domesticated llamas, which are highly valued animals; their wool is warm, their dung provides much-needed fuel for fires (there is no wood because trees don’t usually grow at such high altitudes), and the meat is purportedly tasty (I missed our one dinner of llama steaks, as I’ll explain later). Here is a typical village with llamas:
    2nd Day 9, Llamas.jpg
     
  11. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    We stopped for a few minutes in a small town next to the Salar de Coipasa (also known as the “Baby Solar”), a large salt flat that covers over 850 square miles and is approximately 35 miles across. (Tomorrow we would be riding on the grand Salar de Uyuni, which covers over 6000 square miles.) Some buildings in the village:
    2nd Day 10, Stone Buildings.jpg

    We talked briefly with this woman and her two children. She was kind enough to let us take her picture. (We always asked before photographing someone; many people said “no”.)
    2nd Day 11, Family.jpg

    Ben and I riding on the Salar de Coipasa:
    2nd Day 12, BandK.jpg

    Our friend, Gérald:
    2nd Day 13, Gerald.jpg

    The salt looks very much like snow. However, there is wonderful traction.
    Me:
    2nd Day 14, Kathy.jpg
     
  12. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Ben took a close-up of the terrain:
    2nd Day 15, Stopped.jpg

    Since we were over 12,000 in altitude, the surrounding hills did not have a lot of vegetation. Due to the early rainy season, portions of the Salar had water that reflected the sky and surrounding mountains. The landscape was just stunning.
    2nd Day 16, Salar de Coipasa.jpg

    The early rain also meant that the edges of the Salar were quite muddy. Unfortunately, our chase truck got stuck.
    2nd Day 17, Stuck.jpg

    We tried unsuccessfully to free it. Maurice finally led the bikes away, as Rene was digging a hole to bury the spare tire and pull the truck out using the front winch. We continued through a series of jeep trails, over and around hills, with rocks and sand and some water. Fun, fun!

    A town we passed by at sunset:
    2nd Day 18, Setting Sun.jpg

    Our destination was a town across a portion of the next Salar; however, Maurice didn’t want to cross the big Salar at night without the truck. On the edge of the big Salar was the town of Llica. Maurice went into town to see if we could stay there tonight (many towns in the altiplano do not have hotels/hostels); he returned saying that the only accommodations were a few “very basic” rooms. He explained that he did not usually bring groups to stay overnight in Llica because there wasn’t a good place to sleep; this was just an emergency situation because of the chase truck.

    As we rode into town, I could hear a band playing with numerous brass instruments and a booming drum. While planning our trip, I had read an article by a traveler in Bolivia who had been kept up until 1:00 in the morning by a band playing outside his hotel window (that band had been practicing for an upcoming festival). The sound of the band got louder and louder as we rode through the town; I had to laugh as we stopped right by the band, which was playing directly in front of where we were staying. I asked Maurice if he knew of any festivals occurring today or sometime soon; he said “no”, and jokingly said they were celebrating our arrival.

    The band:
    2nd Day 19, Band.jpg
     
  13. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Yes, our room was very basic:
    2nd Day 20, Room.jpg

    The room was so bad that it was funny. We took a peek at the sheets and found that they hadn’t been changed lately, and there was garbage under the beds. We were on the second floor facing the street, with the glass in one window missing; so we had the band’s music in full force in our room. The part that had both Ben and I really laughing, however, was “walking the plank” whenever we had to go to the bathroom (I won’t even talk about the condition of the bathroom). The bathroom was in another area of the building; we could reach it by either (a) going downstairs, crossing a courtyard, and then going up another set of stairs or (b) walking to the end of the rickety balcony outside our door and stepping out onto a plank that was balanced across a wooden post that stuck out of the wall, with the end of the plank resting on one of the stairs that came up from the floor below. Most of the time, we chose the plank, although we had to be careful and step so that the plank (which was not bolted down) didn’t fall off the wall and drop us 8 feet to the cement below. A bad photo of the plank (our camera lens didn’t open properly)—between the end of the wooden walkway and the edge of the plank is an 8 foot drop, with the stairs much further in the distance than they appear:
    2nd Day 21, Plank2.jpg

    We had dinner at a small café around the corner—very good rotisserie chicken and rice. It had been a long day. Our expressions in this photo never fail to make me smile (we really WERE having fun!):
    2nd Day 21, Dinner.jpg

    The band had disbursed by the time we finished dinner, although one trombone player was still wandering around playing for at least an hour afterwards. We didn’t have our luggage because the chase truck didn’t make it into town that night. Ben and I bought toothbrushes and paste from a small store on the way back from dinner. We then settled in as best as we could, to listen to all of the night sounds of the town, including many dogs and a rooster that started crowing at 3:30 a.m.

    DAY 3: LLICA TO VILLA MAR

    Ben and I both woke up feeling very ill. Neither of us could keep any food down, and our journeys across the plank were far too many. We also had chills. Despite our protests that we didn’t need a doctor, Maurice brought us a local doctor, who took our blood pressure and prescribed some medicine. The doctor said that different countries naturally have different kinds of bacteria, and our bodies were probably reacting to a type of bacteria that was new to our systems.

    I was determined to ride my bike, but by the time I got on my gear and carried my helmet down the street and around the corner to the bikes and the chase truck (which had arrived that morning), I had depleted every last bit of my energy. I reluctantly sagged into the passenger seat of the chase truck; it was not my finest moment.

    Ben had more strength than I did, and he rode the first portion of the day before joining me in the truck.

    Ben crossing the Salar de Uyuni:
    3rd Day 1, Salar.jpg
     
  14. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    We stopped for a short time at the Isla del Pescado, which is an “island” near the middle of the Salar, covered with large cactus.
    3rd Day 2.jpg
    3rd Day 3, Isla de Pescado.jpg

    We continued south across the rest of the Salar, then through sandy and rocky roads to a wonderful small hotel near the town of Villa Mar. We arrived at the hotel after dark, but here are two pictures of the landscape along the way.
    3rd Day 4.jpg
    3rd Day 5.jpg

    The hotel was beautifully decorated in a sparse yet artistic style. There was a delicious dinner served, which Ben enjoyed; I had to pass because my stomach was still turning somersaults at the thought of food. Our bed was extremely comfortable, and we had our own bathroom with hot water. We both slept soundly.

    DAY 4: THE SUD LÍPEZ AREA (Borax Mines, Laguna Colorada, Geysers, and Laguna Verde)

    I woke up feeling very well rested. I even managed to eat a small amount of breakfast. Today we were setting off to explore the amazing Sud Lípez area in the southern tip of Bolivia. On the way we stopped for a short break and I decided to take a rest by sitting on what I had been affectionately viewing as soft tufts of grass along the road. Down I sat, only to discover that those “soft tufts” are really a form of desert cactus. Up I sprang, pulling long spiny rods out of the back of my pants (ouch!). Here I am a few minutes later sitting on some rocks with some of my furry friends:
    4th Day 1, Pokies.jpg
     
  15. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Our first destination today was the borax mines. From a distance, the borax mining area looked very similar to the salty salars we had crossed over the past two days.

    Our road with the borax fields in the distance:
    4th Day 2, Borax.jpg

    A closer view:
    4th Day 3, Borax.jpg

    Maurice wanted to take us to see the warehouses and the miners’ residences. We stopped briefly at the entrance, where a tire sign read “Prohibido el Ingreso a Vehiculos” (Vehicles Prohibited from Entering).
    4th Day 4, Sign.jpg

    Here we are in front of one of the warehouses and some of the miners’ quarters. During the winter, the temperatures here can be brutally cold.
    4th Day 5, Borax Houses.jpg

    As we continued onward, we had our first sighting of a herd of wild vicuñas.
    4th Day 6, Vicunas.jpg

    Vicuñas are small members of the camel family that live only at elevations above 11,400 feet in the high Andes. They have traditionally been hunted for their soft and warm fur; however, they were declared endangered in 1974, when only about 6,000 of them were left.
     
  16. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    After traveling for miles through pretty stark landscape, we were surprised to find this natural spring with green plants (and a herd of llamas) at the entrance to the Reserva Eduardo Avaroa.
    4th Day 7.jpg
    4th Day 8.jpg

    A short distance later we reached the Laguna Colorada, which is a large lake with a reddish color from the algae that live in the water. The lake is the nesting ground for different kinds of flamingos that migrate here and feed on the red algae (which turns the flamingoes pink). The guard at the reserve entrance asked us to keep our bikes away from the edge of the lake because the flamingos were in their nesting period and shouldn’t be disturbed.
    4th Day 9, Colorada.jpg
    4th Day 10, Colorada.jpg
    4th Day 11, Colorada.jpg
     
  17. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    Laguna Colorada is approximately 14,000 feet in elevation. The surrounding landscape has nothing visually alive for miles and miles--just barren rock and dirt. (But there’s actually a road sign out here!)
    4th Day 12.jpg

    We then headed up to the Sol de Mañana geyser, at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. The geyser sits inside a volcanic crater, with numerous pools of boiling mud and sulphur.
    4th Day 13, Geysers.jpg
    4th Day 14, Geysers.jpg

    David prepared a nice picnic lunch for us, and we sat among the rocks near the geyser and enjoyed the beautiful day. Here are Rene, Hugo (partially hidden) and Gérald:
    4th Day 15, Lunch.jpg

    Maurice then led us further south toward the Chilean border. Along the way, we passed more flamingoes:
    4th Day 16, More Flamingoes.jpg
     
  18. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    One of the few buildings that we passed:
    4th Day 17, Building.jpg

    The roads then changed from rocky to fine deep sand (miles and miles of it), where you had to go really fast to stay up on top.
    The surrounding landscape:
    4th Day 18, Landscpape.jpg

    We passed by the Dali Rocks (supposedly they inspired Salvador Dali), which we could see from a distance:
    4th Day 19, Dali Rocks.jpg

    View of the Volcán Licancabur, a dormant volcano that is about 19,250 feet high.
    4th Day 20.jpg

    Finally, we arrived at the Laguna Verde, with waters that are a beautiful green due to the arsenic and other minerals in the water.
    4th Day 21, Arrival at Laguna Verde.jpg
     
  19. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    We arrived at Laguna Verde just as a herd of vicuñas were running by the edge of the lake:
    4th Day 22, Vacunas.jpg

    Ben and I:
    4th Day 23, Lag Verde.jpg

    The wind was blowing ferociously, so the water was choppy:
    4th Day 24, Winds.jpg

    We returned through the same deep-sand roads that we arrived on (they were even more fun the second time). We were constantly entertained by the beauty of the mountains, rock formations, sporadic greenery, and llama herds:
    4th Day 25, Views.jpg
    4th Day 26, Marsh.jpg
    (cont.)
     
  20. RockyRoads

    RockyRoads Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Aptos
    Name:
    Kathy
    (Views continued)
    4th Day 27, Llamas.jpg
    4th Day 28, K with Llamas.jpg
    4th Day 29, View.jpg
    4th Day 30, Llamas.jpg
     
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