Monday, October 30, 2006

Enjoying a day on the Salt Lake

(continued from day 1)

Waking up at the foot of volcano Tunupa to see the sun rise over Salar de Uyuni, to see the suns reflections in the motionless water and to see the sun shining at the flamingos and the volcano with its green, red, orange and beige colours was the perfect start on the second day of the 4-day trip.

After an early breakfast we went up the volcano where our first stop was at a primitive but well preserved tomb from the 13th-15th century. The tomb belonged to the Tiwanaku civilization which stretched over a big part of Bolivia before the Incas conquered the region. Inside the small burial chamber made in a cave, several persons (now mummies) were buried together with their most important belongings, so that they could bring them with them into the afterlife. Quite impressive the way the Andean weather can preserve the mummies that well, - even the clothing made of vicuña and guanaco wool is still intact after 500-700 years!

From the tomb we continued further up the volcano from approximately 3800 meters to 4200 meters going almost vertical. This was not exactly what we had expected of a morning stroll, but the final goal with a view over the entire (or almost the entire) salt lake, made us forget the effort of walking up the volcano. So worth it!

The walk it self did have it moments too. We followed a ‘llama path’ which has been made by the locals by building up primitive stonewalls, to prevent the llamas of eating the crops as they are sent grassing in the neighbourhood.
On the way we had a close reencounter with the Andean condor. In contrary to Peru, it came really close to us this time, and it was easy to see its white collar and the spread wing tips. We also passed a small field covered with the native plant Quinoa, which is a type of grain used in soups or as a side dish like rice. It is planted on the mountain side in 3700-4200 meters height. It is not vulnerable to the cold going way below zero, the sun though, can give it a tough time, why the locals need to cover the small spout with dried grass until it reach a height of 10 cm.

From the 4200 meters height, we did not only have a great view of the salt lake, but also to the colourful crater of the volcano Tunupa which is best described as something you would find on Mars, with its intense reddish colours. We snapped in the fresh air. Not really sure it gets more fresh than this?

We squeezed together in the jeep again and went from our lodging at the northern part of the salt lake to the southern part crossing the lake with a short stop at Isla Pescadora (the fisherman island). Here we entered a gigantic frog! (Well, actually it was a cave which looked like a frog, but why worry about the details).
What made the experience most special though, was that we had the place completely to our selves. Our cook and guide picked herbs for tea, Henrik climbed the island as he always hungers for places with the best view and the rest of us enjoyed wandering around on this deserted place feeling relaxed. Looking out at the otherworldly salt lake never seems to bore, it does seem to calm though.

Last stop on the salt lake was at the southern part of the lake where we saw some huge visible salt formations (hexagons). Why hexagons? That’s a question nobody can answer yet, many think it is because of the minerals in the underlying layers.

This was our farewell with the salt lake before we turned further south along the Bolivian highland. For a long while the salt lake continued to be visible in the horizon. The mirage effect of the islands on the salt lake was an unforgettable sight.

On the mainland the first stop was two caves near San Juan. The first cave has been given the name “Galaxies”, because of the futuristic lava formations inside the cave. It was discovered in 2003, so the specialists are still far from having studied its origin. So far the theory is that the cave used to be part of the Uyuni Lake, and because of a combination of ice ages, volcanic eruptions and fossil plants the cave is now like a dry version of an aquarium. It is like no other cave we have ever been to and the name, the Galaxies, makes good sense.

Close to the Galaxies the “Devils cave” is located. The Devils cave used to be a cemetery and it contains many pre-Inca tombs. Unfortunately grave robbers have emptied most of the tombs, leaving only 4 mummies for us to see and compared to the ones we saw near Coqueza we weren’t really impressed. On the top of the caves though, some strange cactus fossils have been placed, which gives an exiting contrast to the surrounding barren landscape.

The long day ended in a very small and dusty but friendly village. Everybody greeted us and were very pleasant and kind, which we have not felt to that extent many places.
Enjoying one of the best beers ever, after having spent a long day on the salt lake and on the dusty roads…well we felt like in heaven.

(to be continued)


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