The only realistic border crossing into Bolivia from this part of Chile basically requires a three day Land Cruiser 4×4 tour through some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery in South America. After a few hours of early morning driving and crossing the border into Bolivia, our first couple stops were at some really spectacular lagoons. The backdrops of beautiful mountains and the reflections from the sky into the water was gorgeous. We even were lucky enough to see flocks of flamingos hanging out in one of the lagoons. One of the lagoons had a hot springs adjacent to it, which was a lot of fun- the air was quite cold, but the hot water felt great. The only thing I was worried about in this trip was the altitude and not rushing to do anything because this would be highest elevation Adam and I have been, at over 16,000 feet. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about altitude sickness and it wasn’t anything I wanted to get. Adam and I took some precautions and drank plenty of water, ate some candy to keep the blood sugar up, and chewed some coca leaves (the locals really recommend this) which is almost like drinking a couple cans of Red Bull.
The next stop after seeing the lagoons was the geysers, and it was also the highest altitude we would reach on the tour. The strong smells of sulfur and the shortness of breath because of the altitude, it was hard to stay for too long. What really surprised Adam and I was that there were no barriers or fences to keep a safe distance away. You could walk right next to these thermal pools of hot mud popping and slip right in, it was really all at your own risk, which was fun and a little scary all at the same time. We laughed at each other and said how this would never fly in the United States. Driving to our lodge for the evening we saw a couple of these animals called viscachas, it looked like a bunny with a long tail, very cute odd looking critters. That night Adam fell ill with a terrible case of altitude sickness and had to sleep it off, while I hung out with a few people from the group and went outside to look at the stars. It was one of the most amazing things I’d seen on the entire trip. The Milky Way seemed as though it was right in your face, all of the stars shined so brightly and since we were up so high on a clear night it was like you could reach your hand into the sky and touch the stars. We saw so many shooting stars throughout the sky.
The next day Adams altitude sickness was thankfully all gone, and we took off for another day of weird sites in the absolute middle of nowhere. The first one was the cool and strange Arbol de Piedra, or “Tree of Stone”. This was followed by a few hours of driving through the desert, and eventually back through some mountains. The last stop of the day was at a train cemetery, which would have been really cool if the rain hadn’t picked up. We all ran in for about 5 minutes then had to get back to our truck or else we would have been soaked.
Day three was another South American highlight and why so many people come to this part of Bolivia, to see the largest salt plain in the world: Salar de Uyuni. They have two season here: rainy and dry, and we were there at the tail end of the rainy season. Both seasons are great to visit this place because in the rainy season you’ll have a couple inches of water over the salt plain making the world’s largest mirror, and the dry season is a never ending plain of white. This enormous salt flat covers 10,582 square kilometers of land – larger than the entire island of Puerto Rico! This place is a photographers dream because you have amazing perspective shots and can do some funny things. We all had a blast here and you can tell from just some of the pictures. My favorite is me flicking Adam while he stands on my hands.