3 day four-wheeling from Chile to Bolivia

After a sorrow goodbye in Santiago, I jumped on a 23-hour bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama, a little town on the north-east of Chile at the edge of the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. A bit zoomed out after a long ride, I found myself a cozy Slovene-run hostel called Sonchek. I was wrong when I thought I would relax a little before my next big move. As soon as I dropped my backpack I met Julian, journalist from England, who excited me with his travel itinerary, so I ran to the travel agency myself to investigate. And after that, Lea, Australian girl, made sure I was booked for the afternoon as well. I went on a 3-hour tour to the “Valle de la Luna”, full of amazing rock formations, sand dunes and salt mountains. The valley is famous for its resemblance to the surface of the moon and NASA even tested some of their equipment in this location before taking it to the real Moon.

Next morning started early. A cocktail of 10 travelers from all around the world nestled into a van and headed toward the Bolivian border. As soon as we crossed over to Bolivia, we got shocked by the drastic temperature drop and the cold unfriendly wind. Warmed up with tea and some refreshments we got divided into two groups of five and continued on a 4×4 drive, heading towards Bolivian high plain to visit places like Laguna Verde and Laguna Blanca, Dali Desert, thermal water pools, Sol de Mañana geysers and cracks with emerging volcanic lava. We ended the day at Laguna Colorada, beautiful lake with intense deep red color around 4.500 m high. Cold to the bones we tried to warm ourselves up with dinner and entertaining stories, secretly trying to avoid the fact that we will eventually need to go to bed. Beds made out of stone in a big, non heated room. Each of us put on all the possible clothes, hats, gloves and all the winter accessories, climbed into sleeping bag, covered with 3 thick blankets and the report in the morning was the same from all sides–What a long, uncomfortable, freezing night!

But there was no time for complaints as we were packed into our jeep at 8 am sharp, continuing our trip to Siloli Desert, Laguna Honda, Chiarcota and Cañapa and then to Chiguana salt flat and San Juan town. The second night was spent at the Salt Hotel, a hotel that is actually made out of salt, including the beds, tables, chairs and all the rest of the furniture. Our dinner was quite spectacular, we even got 2 bottles of wine to share between the ten of us and maybe that’s why this night was less cold than the previous one.

The third day was the most amazing one for many of us. We finally hit the hardly awaited Uyuni salt flat, which is, with its more than 10.000 square kilometers, the largest salt flat in the world. Driving through this hallucinogenic landscape was an outer world experience, Pink Floyd was playing in my head and my heart was racing fast. And in the middle of that magic was an island Incahuasi full of cactuses. A playground for anybody with a camera.

After lunch we reached Colchani town, visited the train graveyard and finished our amazing trip in Uyuni, where we each parted different ways. Whether or not Julian liked it, I decided I will stay glued to him for a little while, as he seemed strong enough to carry my bags and brave enough to scare away the unwanted attention. It also helped that he was traveling the same direction. So we booked a bus to our next destination and settled in the internet cafe to surf through our options about crossing over to Peru. Border between Bolivia and Chile is closed due to the miner’s protests, so we decided we will try to fly there. Booking a flight ticket in a third world country is not as simple as it soon proved. Several international calls on the other side of the equator, scanning the documents, faxing and running from one place to another. But, with lots of patience we now finally have two tickets to Peru.

Let this be all for now. In the next blog I will tell you all about the cool city I am currently exploring with all my senses and how I got here. A tinny hint to keep you from wondering too much–it’s the highest capital in the world.

About Barbi & Ira