Patagonia: The Good, The Bad, and The Expensive.

To kick off our adventure in the Patagonia area, we took a flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas.  Chile might not be a wide country (it never exceeds 150 miles), but it sure is long (like 2,700 miles), and it takes forever to travel up or down.  We decided not to spend the next few days in a bus and we booked a flight instead.

After a few stops on the plane, we arrived in Punta Arenas which sits on the Straits of Magellan.  This waterway is very important for shipping, which of course made Joe excited.

There are the normal Patagonian activities to do around here (trekking, camping, being outdoors, freezing), but they were all pretty pricey. By this time, we had mostly gotten over the shock of Chilean prices. However, price gouging took on a whole new meaning once we got to Patagonia. At times, you felt like you were getting seriously ripped off.

In many of the countries in South America, foreigners pay more for entry in to tourist attractions or national parks. This never bothered us because the price difference was always small (like a dollar or two), and we were visiting countries where locals make significantly less than the tourists. In Patagonia, it was much harder to swallow paying 8 times the local rate when you’re in a country where the cost of living is equal to, if not more than, home. The high prices definitely limited our options, but we still got to see all the major sights.

We spent a few days wandering around Punta Arenas, checking out the waterfront, and making new friends from Germany. (Practice your German, and check out their blog here:  http://www.hauabundnimmmichmit.jimdo.com!)

One of the funniest things we found in Punta Arenas was the workout/playground equipment right on the waterfront. It was like a free outdoor gym with an amazing view. Since then, we have seen this equipment all over Southern Chile.

Joe working out in front of the Straits of Magellan. Seems normal right?

Since we couldn’t spend all day working out, so we took a tour to Magdalena Island which is full of cute penguins.  This island has around 70,000 penguins waddling around (don’t worry, we counted them all to double-check their numbers).  To get to this island of cuddly creatures, you have to board an overpriced tourist ferry ($50 per person) with 300 friends, and sail the Straits of Magellan for about two hours.

Ferry to the island. Ready for this shocker....Joe loved sailing on the Straits of Magellan.

Once you get to the island, the ship drives on to the beach, drops the ramp on the bow, and everyone starts to “explore” on the clearly marked path.

Penguins heading for the hills as they just saw the tourist boat pull up.

The island has a roped off path that you must stay on, which is great for the penguins as it  gives them some room to roam without being trampled on by a tourist. Unfortunately, the large number of people on the small path gave it more of a Disneyland or zoo-like feeling. Luckily, there were heaps of these overdressed birds, and they were so cute that it made up for the insanely large herd of tourists.

Going for a walk. Is it me, or does the guy in the back look like he had too much to drink?

And now for an educational moment: these are Magellanic penguins and they migrate to this island once a year to have babies.   They choose this island because it is so far south and the sun stays out longer during the summer.  This gives the new parents plenty of time hang out with their new kids. They dig holes to nest in and the parents alternate the responsibilities of fishing and taking care of the babies. 

Joe with a few penguins

We showed up a little to late to see the babies, as they were already voted off the island and were returning to Brazil (or somewhere else warm) for the winter. Oddly enough, the penguins seem to leave in age order, with the youngest leaving first.

Island residents and our ferry.

We enjoyed our time walking around the island and hanging out with the penguins.  They were so cute, it was hard to stop yourself from crawling under the rope and giving them a little hug.

Some of these guys looked like they had fur coats on because they were still molting.

Nice coat, buddy.

Penguin standing guard.

Kris doing her best Penguin walk. As you can tell by clothing choices, it was not quite tropical outside.

Herd of penguins. Is it a herd?

After seeing the penguins, we left Punta Arenas and jumped on a 12 hour bus heading south to “the bottom of the world,” Ushuaia, Argentina.  We originally wanted to go to Ushuaia to score a last-minute deal on a cruise to Antarctica, but turns out it was a lot more money than we were ready to part with, especially after discovering how expensive Chile and Argentina were.

While in Ushuaia, the weather wasn’t the greatest, and everything was pricey. (Almost $20 each to get in to the prison/maritime museum? Seriously?)  We started to develop a bitter taste in our mouth as it seemed that we were being ripped off at every turn. Prime example: trying to be cheap (and somewhat healthy), Kristen ordered a nearly $6 bowl of vegetable soup for lunch one day. We nearly fainted when this soup turned out to be nothing more than a bowl of hot water with a packet of instant soup mix dumped in. All we could do is reminisce about all fresh, delicious, and cheap soups we had in Bolivia.

As we were increasingly feeling down about Ushuaia, we knew we had to do something to snap us out of it. We decided to spend the money and visit Tierra del Fuego National Park and explore its beauty. We made a conscious decision to not gripe about the expense: $20 for the 20 minute bus ride to/from the park and $20 each for entrance (locals pay less than $3), and just enjoy it.

Joe did try getting the local rate. When the park officials asked where we were from, Joe, in his best Spanish, said, “Aqui.” Not sure what gave us away, but we had to pay the full amount.

Tierra del Fuego National Park: "The End of the World."

This park was beautiful and we spent the day hiking.  Luckily the weather held out for our hike, and we scored with a day of no rain and minimal wind, definitely not the norm in this area.

Joe and Kris

It was a nice day, even if it was a bit cold, but what else can you expect when you are at the bottom of the world?

Kristen trying to get a little beach time. They call this summer?!?

Karate kid Joe.

The clouds held out long enough for us to get some good pictures of the mountains around the park.

Mountains around Tierra del Fuego

There was really not too much to do in the Ushuaia area expect book expensive tours, and although we were tempted by the “Dinner with the Beavers” tour (random!), we passed on all other excursions.

During our time there, the weather was not the best and it even snowed a little on us. Luckily, Joe picked up some new foul weather gear.

The lantern was extra.

Ushuaia is in a beautiful area and we enjoyed checking out the Beagle Channel and surrounding mountains, but we decided it was time to start moving north (for the first time this trip!), and hopefully find some better weather.

Beagle Channel

Mountains around Ushuaia

We booked another bus and started our 18 hour trip to El Calafate, to visit the Los Glaciares National Park.

The biggest highlight in this area is visiting the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier

This was also a pricey event ($3o for the bus to/from; and $20 for entrance), but we both felt that this was well worth it. This glacier is huge and you are able to get really close to all the action.  There are walkways all around the leading edge of this glacier that offer many amazing, and slightly different, viewpoints.

Glacier face. Notice the two boats in the far corner, each carrying over 100 people. This thing is HUGE.

The face of this glacier was massive as it is around 200 feet high.  We sat here for hours just watching the glacier calving into the water.  You could almost hear everyone praying for a massive crash.

Big piece coming down.

This glacier would make some of the most amazing noises as it slowly made its way into the water.  You had to sit and stare at the ice closely because by the time you heard the crack, it was already too late.  We were lucky and patient, and we had a large section come down right in front of us.

Before

During

After

It is somewhat hard to tell by this photo just how much ice fell, but if you look at the trees you start to get some prospective.

We had great weather for viewing the glacier and witnessed many giant pieces of ice fall.  This glacier is one of only a few in the Patagonia area that is advancing.

Of course, a week after we were there, this glacier was all over the news as the huge section dividing the lake came crumbling down (an event that occurs approximately once every four years).

Just one more picture, because who doesn't love a little destruction?

From El Calafate we took a four-hour bus ride to El Chalten, one of the hiking capitals of Patagonia.  We really enjoyed this area because the park was free and you could do all sorts of day hikes from your hostel.  This was the first time in Patagonia where we were able to stay under budget and we didn’t feel like we were getting nickeled and dimed at every turn.

El Chalten with mountains in background. Joe's special sunset spot was a bust.

Turns out we were VERY lucky with weather during our time in El Chalten.  According to the forecast there was only one day with blue skies and no wind that week, and that was the day we planned to hike.

Fitz Roy at sunset from our room.

We took two hikes in order to take advantage of the great weather, one to Los Torres and the other to a Fitz Roy viewpoint.

For our hike to Los Torres, the weather was still lifting, but the lookout was incredible.

Torres lookout- We spent over an hour here just hanging out and enjoying the incredible scenery and sunshine.

Zoom in on the Torres. We climbed to the top, but unfortunately camera broke.

The second hike we took was to a lookout of the Fitz Roy mountain, one of the more famous mountains in Patagonia.  We had unbelievable weather and the only cloud in the sky was made by a plane flying by.

Joe was so excited, he couldn't contain himself.

This mountain range might look familiar if you own any Patagonia clothing.

Might not look exactly the same, but supposedly it is.

We continued on our hike to a lookout over a lake. The weather held out for the whole day and we lounged on the shore side for quite some time.

Fitz Roy and nice lake, a little cold for swimming though.

Unbelievable weather! How did we get so lucky?!

To round off our tour of the famous sites in Patagonia, we headed back to Chile to visit the super famous Torres del Paine National Park.  Once again, the scenery was gorgeous and it was nice to visit, even if it was full of “trekkers” loaded down with everything REI has to offer.

Torres del Paine

We decided to take a bus in for the day from Puerto Natales and hike to the base of Torres.  This side of the park was not damaged by the recent fires, unlike the west side.  It was a long 8 hour hike round-trip to the lake, but again we scored with great weather and mostly clear skies, although it was much chillier.

Joe freezing with Torres in background.

Again the darn camera broke while we were on top of the center tower. What bad luck.

We had a great time visiting Patagonia but we needed to keep moving.  This area is just too expensive and we have to make our money last.

Time to board a ferry and sail up the Chilean Fjordes. Yeah, like that sounds cheap.

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Bikes, Beaches, and Street Culture: Valparaiso and Santiago

After a thrilling 25-hour bus ride from Northern Chile and a quick stop in Santiago, we finally arrived in Valparaiso. Joe had visited Valparaiso 11 years before while on the Golden Bear (his training ship), and he had always wanted to return. He could never really nail down what it was about Valparaiso that he liked so much, he just knew that he wanted to return.

Valpariso

Welcome to Valparaiso! (Plenty more street art to come.)

Valparaiso felt very similar to San Francisco, as both cities are covered with steep hills, funky houses, street art, and are port cities (quite possibly the reason that Joe might like it).

Valparaiso was a major shipping port during the California Gold Rush, but eventually lost its prominence when the Panama Canal was built. Despite this, it still maintains a strong maritime presence and celebrates its shipping history.

To manage all the steep hills in the city, they developed and use funiculars. These are basically elevators which run on train tracks that bring you to the top of the hill for a small price. If you ask us, paying the small price was way better than the long walk up.

Valparaiso from the funicular.

In the car riding up! Funny, not may people shell out the money for a ride back down the hill.

Some of the funiculars are over a hundred years old, which made us worry a little as we listened to the numerous creaks while we ascended.

Joe with tracks in background.

Funicular controls. It's a pretty basic system.

Riding the funiculars is a great way to quickly find an incredible view.

Joe looking at the harbor; the same harbor he visited in college.

This town is also a big fishing port, but a few fishermen have found a new catch that nets in more money, tourists.  These entrepreneurs have removed all their fishing gear, and replaced it with seats to take boatloads of people around to visit the harbor. We jumped on this opportunity and took a ride.

***Valparaiso Tip – Get together with about 6 other tourists and hire your own boat. We had only 8 people on our boat as compared to 50 or so on a full public boat, and the cost was only about two dollars per person more.

Seal sleeping on a bulbous bow during the harbor cruise.

Chilean Navy training ship. We would like a ride please!

Also during our time in the city we enjoyed a “free” walking tour. These tours are often found in large cities, and the guides do them solely for tips. From past experiences, they usually guarantee a great time.

We walked up and down stairs and streets of the city for three hours while we learned about the history and checked out some impressive street art.

Stairs painted to look like a piano.

Valparaiso is considered the art and culture center of Chile and this cannot be more evident than in its street art. The graffiti artist and street artist have an unspoken agreement to not cover each others work, so many store and home owners commission a street artist to beautify their establishment and to avoid it from getting “tagged”.

Walking around the city is like going for a gallery walk in a huge outdoor museum.

Enjoy this little virtual gallery walk.

No, this picture is not sideways.

Who's there?

Nice restaurant.

3-D street art coming to get you!

Pigs really can fly!

This lady is somewhat fishy.

Narrow houses fit in where they can.

A sailor's life for me.

Amazing stairs- notice the reflection on the tread part of the stairs.

One of our favorites.

From Valparaiso, we took a long, 15 minute metro ride to the resort city of Viña del Mar. Our motivation for coming here was to enjoy the nice weather, eat good seafood, and sit on the beach. The beaches were absolutely packed in Viña del Mar because we were there during Chile and Argentina’s summer break.

We found a little reprieve from the large crowds at a beach called Playa Negra in the small city of Concon, a short bus ride away. We would take the bus in the morning to Concon, rent an umbrella, eat seafood empanadas, and enjoy the warm sand.

Plays Negra

The capital of Chile, Santiago, was next on our list. Santiago is a very developed city with many sky scrapers and over 7.2 million people. It was easy to spend your day sitting in the main plaza and getting lost in the city.

Big palm tree in the plaza.

Santiago has a great metro system, so we would walk until our feet hurt, and then take the metro back. One afternoon, we went to Cerro San Cristobal for panoramic views of the city. It has a large statue of Mary on the top of the hill and the views were superb.

Big Virgin Mary statue with small chapel on the inside.

Joe with Santiago in the background.

Santiago was a great stop, but was cut a little short because of a bike race in Valparaiso, called Cerro Abajo. This is one of the wildest urban bike races in the world as it make its way from the highest hill in Valparaiso all the way down to the harbor. The race only takes place once a year, and we couldn’t believe that we just happened to be in the area on the right day, so we made a long day trip from Santiago to check out the action.

Along the course, the riders must overcome stairs,

Big jump after bombing the stairs.

Take tight turns with crowds,

He said "oh crap" after hitting the wall.

Ride on walls,

Big wall ride

And fly through many big jumps,

Big jump with ocean views. (Shot with a Nikon. Shhh, don't tell Canon.)

Big jump through a window.

As if all the obstacles were not enough, the riders would also have to dodge the occasional dog barking at their heels or the wayward tourist not obeying the boundaries. It was somewhat scary at times as all that stood between you and a biker doing 40 MPH was a flimsy piece of plastic caution tape.

The guys and girls were crazy as they flew down the hills with such speed that it was hard to capture them on camera.

Trying to get Joe point at the rider, but they were just too fast.

This race was one of the wildest things we have ever seen. The riders were very talented and it was fun to watch as they made quick work of this difficult course. We still can’t believe we were lucky enough to be there during this once-a-year event!

To see the whole course through a rider’s perspective, check out this video.

Now that we have spent some time here, we have somewhat settled into the higher prices and we have enjoyed what we have seen so far.

Joe was stoked to have the opportunity to visit Valparaiso again, and it still remains one of his favorite cities.  Kristen agrees there is just something about Valparaiso.

Now, time to head south to “the end of the world.”

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San Pedro de Atacama: Welcome to Chile! Now, hand over your wallet.

After our two-day border crossing from Bolivia, we arrived in the desert city of San Pedro de Atacama. This is a town full of adobe mud houses, and it felt different from any other place we have been.

San Pedro de Atacama

It was also our first taste of Chilean prices, and that was a bit of a slap in the face. Everything was at least four times the price it was in Bolivia. The initial sticker shock made us want to run back to Bolivia. We also arrived in San Pedro during Chile and Argentina’s summer break, which means this place was packed with local tourists.

This area has a lot of beautiful attractions; from stunning desert landscapes, to geysers, to its own little salt flat. Seeing how we had recently done a few tours similar to these (and for a fraction of the cost), we just decided to visit the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and stroll around town.

The town has a nice adobe church and a plaza to hang out it.

Joe and the adobe church

It was a bit of a culture shock arriving from the poorest nation in South America, into one of the wealthiest. They have crazy things in Chile, like paved roads, road signs, public bathrooms, garbage cans, and other modern convinces we haven’t seen in a while. Chile probably spends more each year on it highway system, than Bolivia does on running its whole country. It took us a little while to get use to this new, fancy way of living.

San Pedro also has a lot of dogs, who all seem to run the city. We saw locals and tourists  gladly feeding them their leftovers. We never meet an unfriendly one, but they were a little intimidating when they rolled around in large gangs.

These dogs have mastered the art of scaling the adobe walls. They would have no problem jumping and standing on a wall that was six feet tall.

High-jumping: a skill any dog in San Pedro must master.

Locked up for fence jumping.

One day while wandering around the town, we were treated to one of the most interesting rainbows we had ever seen. It did not take on the classical bow shape, but it just suddenly seemed to appear in the sky.

Weird Rainbow

Close up

The one tour we “splurged on” was to the Valle de la Luna, named so because it looks very similar to the moon. This was also our first taste of a Chilean tour, and unfortunately, we felt more like a number than a guest. It seemed that everyone in the whole town was being herded around in busses that stopped at the same stops, at the exact same time. We started to miss our small Bolivian tours, even if you sometimes got a drunken guide.

Regardless of the larger tour, and many people, we still had a good time as the views were great.  Along the way to the sunset over the Moon Valley, we made a few quick pit stops.

Joe jumping over the ridge.

Kris by the sand dune. Where is my sandboard when I need it?

This sand dune was huge, but unfortunately they would not let us climb, roll, or jump down it. Guess the place would look pretty trampled if everyone was running all over the place.

Logical rules were yet another thing we would have to get used to. In Bolivia, not even the dinosaur footprints are off-limits.

Sand Dune

Great views

Our next stop was at a rock formation called The Three Marys.

The Three Marys- We think this requires a bit of an imagination.

There were a few other rock formations nearby.

We thought this one looked like Pac-Man or a dinosaur.

The recent rain had washed away the dirt from the rocks which allowed the salt show through. This is also a place with a lot of salt, but it wasn’t as impressive as The Salar de Uyuni.

To us, it looked like a fresh dusting of snow had hit the desert.

Joe, where is your jacket?

For the grand finale, we arrived at the overlook of the Valle de la Luna to watch sunset. At first we were a bit disappointed as there was a heavy cloud layer, but the sun came through and gave us a good show.

Sunset - Valley de Luna

Valley de Luna

This overlook was ripe with excellent places to take pictures along the edge.

Don't worry, Joe tied her in.

More sunset

The sun didn’t set until 8:15, so we quickly took our pictures and loaded back in the bus for the trip back to San Pedro de Atacama before it got too late.

End of the sunset

Our introduction to Chile started off well, regardless of the sticker shock. We will say that Chileans have been super friendly and helpful, even if we can only understand 20% of what they say. In San Pedro, we had a great hostel (a bit of a splurge, thanks to Joe getting confused by the new currency), and some tasty meals while we settled back in to a more “civilized” life.

From San Pedro, we made a quick stop in Calama to wait for a bus, and then embarked on a 25 hour bus ride to Santiago.

With so much bus time, we were so lucky that we got to watch Fast and the Furious #1-4 in horribly dubbed Spanish!

After many hours on the bus to Santiago, and after accidentally riding a city bus without paying (Ooops! Thanks to the awesome bus driver for the helpful directions and not yelling at us!), we made it safe and sound to Valparaiso.

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Bolivia: Final Thoughts

Bet you thought we’d never leave Bolivia. Well, we finally did, but only because we had to make it to Patagonia (Southern Chile and Argentina) while it was still summer.

Traveled for: 54 days

Cost per day of travel:

Bolivia is cheap. You can basically live like royalty (well, backpacker royalty), and never worry that you will break the budget. The amazing thing is that we never were conscious of our budget here, but if you were, you could even spend a lot less!

Without the “big” tours (Jungle, Pampas, Torotoro, Uyuni), cost was about $30 per person, per day.

With the above mentioned tours, cost jumps to $47 per person, per day, but considering we did 13 days of tours where everything is taken care of, this number is pretty low.

Now that we are in Patagonia, which is as expensive as Europe (if not more so), we really miss the days of getting a freshly cooked almuerzo for $1 or a nice hostel for $12. Now we’re stuck with lousy pizza for $10 and a room for $50+. Yikes.

Places Visited:

Copacabana/Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Quime, The Jungle, The Pampas, Torotoro, Santa Cruz and Samipata, Sucre and Potosi, Tupiza, Uyuni Salt Flats

Favorite Stop(s):


It is impossible to pick just one!

Torotoro was great because it was relaxing, the sights were incredible, and there weren’t any tourists there.

One of Torotoro's many amazing canyons.

The Pampas: anytime you can see wild capybaras, that is a win for Kristen. Our drunken guide also kept things lively.

Oh capy, my capy!

The Salar de Uyuni is unique in the world, and despite the insane number of tourists, its beauty is still unparalleled.

There really aren't words to describe it.

New Phrase Learned:

– “Sumo” is fresh juice (which is everywhere and so cheap!)

– In keeping with the juice theme, most areas have a policy where they refill your juice glass for free called, “Yapa.” This applied even to the smoothies (and supposedly with produce as well). It translates as “a little something extra.”

So many fruits, so little time. Gotta love the yapa.

Moments We Remember:

– Our drunk Pampas guide congratulating himself (mid-stream) for finding capybaras (which he didn’t help to find).

– Seeing the endangered macaws soar over the canyon in Torotoro.

– Joe being treated like a minor celebrity at the market in El Alto (La Paz), where everyone wanted to shake his hand (maybe it’s the beard?). Once we finally got our chicken lunches, they turned out to be super delicious and cheap.

– Walking out in to the salar.

Quote:

“I’m a hustler, baby!” – sung by Teresa and accompanied with a little shimmy, when we got the exchange rate we wanted, after being told that it would only be possible in La Paz.

Biggest Surprise:


– We had heard so much about the Bolivian people being “reserved” to the point of being rude. While we experienced that in Copacabana (who wouldn’t be rude if you lived in that city?), we found the rest of Bolivians to be pretty nice. They won’t go out of their way to talk to you, but on the plus side, they are not ALWAYS trying to sell you something like in Peru. They seemed to appreciate the fact that we spoke at least some Spanish.

Item We Packed Bought That We Couldn’t Have Lived Without:

– Our Tigo internet card. Internet in Bolivia was spotty at best. The Tigo card provided us with internet in more places. In larger cities, it was actually pretty fast too! Definitely, a good investment.

Potosi: This Tigo modem was just a little bit bigger than the one we had.

Total Time Spent Apart From Spouse:


Almost a whole day! A new record! This occurred when Joe and Teresa rode “The World’s Most Dangerous Road” outside of La Paz. Kristen was relieved when they both returned safe and sound, or there may have been much more time spent apart.

Would We Do Anything Differently:


– Stay longer. We already miss Bolivia, and not just because it was so cheap (although that helped). We are in South America until June, so we may return for a little bit, because it is more affordable, easier to understand their Spanish (much trickier in Chile and Argentina), and believe it or not, there are still more amazing places to visit.

Would We Return:


-Yes, maybe even on this trip! We know Teresa is already planning her future return to the country as well. Got to make that $135 five-year visa worth it.

Posted in Bolivia | 1 Comment

Finally, We Present: The Salar de Uyuni

Thanks to our guide, we arrived at the salt flats for sunset after a long day of driving. We joined a few other groups at the edge of the salt to watch the sun disappear. We decided to shed our shoes and walk out to distance ourselves from the rest of the crowd.

Start of sunset - Uhh, so where do you want to walk to?

This time of the year, the salt flats have about two inches of water covering most of the area. The water level changes frequently depending on the amount of rain and wind. For our one and only sunset on the salar, we were lucky to have just the right amount of water and lack of wind to create the perfect reflection.

The cameras never left our hands.

Kris doing a cartwheel. This was take 37.

We walked out far enough to be the only ones in sight. It was a strange feeling standing out there, almost like your walking through a dream.

Joe walking into the abyss.

We were the only group to stay for the entire sunset, and we watched the colors change before heading back to our hotel.

Joe in the sunset as wind started blowing a bit.

This area, although it is a national park, it is still used for harvesting salt. Local workers  would rake the salt into piles, give it time to dry, and later shovel the salt into trucks. The salt can be used for eating, after iodine is added, but they seem to mostly use it for construction.

Salt pile

We stayed in a hotel in which the building blocks were made out of salt. They also made the tables, chairs, and bed frames out of salt. You could just feel your blood pressure rising just standing inside the hotel.

Salt hotel - Equipped with salt tables, chairs, and pillows.

This area can get very chilly at night, but the salt bricks did a pretty good job keeping the cold out. We convinced our guide that we also wanted to see sunrise on the salar, and being the good sport that he was, he agreed. After a delicious “last supper,” we bedded down early in anticipation of another amazing day.

After another early morning wake up, we were back in the jeep heading to the salt flat, about a twenty-minute drive from our hostel. This time we would actually drive onto the flats and in to the water.

Our guide knew just where to go to avoid the crowd and give us an amazing sunrise.

Sunrise

After sunrise we drove further into the salt flat, and again found a spot all to ourselves. We had a nice breakfast (pancakes on the salar!), and started to explore. We of course, took far too many pictures.

Great views with breakfast

We didn't ever get tired of this view.

In dry season, this place is all hard pack salt and it is possible to drive all over, but during wet season, this is not possible. Most of the jeeps stayed within sight of each other, and we only ventured about five miles in to the salar. There have been recent stories of tourists talking their guides into going further. Most of these stories have ended happily, but a few jeeps found themselves lost or stuck in the salt flats for a few days.

Our guide, who always played it safe, was not going to take any chances. He told us how easy it is to get out there, lose your bearing, and get lost, so we didn’t try to talk him in to anything.

Looks like Kris is floating.

We walked about a mile away from the jeep and felt like we were all alone in this unique place. It is easy to take a million pictures, and we probably did.

Jumping Joe

The water was so salty (duh, it is a salt flat), that by the end of the day, our pants could have almost stood on their own from the amount of salt that had collected on them. Also, walking around on the coarse salt provided great exfoliation for the bottoms of our feet. We told our guide that people in The States would pay a lot of money to have this type of treatment, and had a good laugh at this.

After six months, we still like each other!

In the dry season the entire place is covered by dry, octagonal salt formations. We were lucky to still see a little of this shape intact under the water.

One of Kris' favorite pictures.

Because there are no real points of reference, it is easy to take some interesting perspective pictures. These usually work better in the dry season without the reflection, but we were able to make a few (kinda) work.

Joe carrying Kris - As usual.

Kristen, get out of the bottle. Seriously, I just washed it.

Kris giving Joe a kiss.

It was a fun experience to walk around not really knowing where the horizon began or ended. It all just blended together. When something was a distance away, it looked almost like it was floating.

Is that jeep flying or driving?

Kris walking in the clouds.

We were even treated to a flamingo fly by! They don’t hang out in the salt flats, but sometimes fly by to enjoy the view, or to get to another non-salty pond.

Yes, more flamingos.

There is an old “historic” salt hotel that is on the actual salt flats. No one is allowed to stay here when the salar is wet, but you are still able to visit and buy something. Similar to our hotel, everything is made out of salt.

Picnic tables made of salt.

We took a few more pictures and spent a few more minutes in these great surroundings before heading back to Uyuni. This was the last day of our tour, and from here we would start our “adventure” to Chile.

Kris taking in the view, one last time.

Joe tried to convince the guide to let him drive. It didn't work.

Our guide never pressured us to leave, even though we are sure he wanted to start his drive back home. He helped us take great perspective pictures and answered all the questions we could come up with. It was an amazing trip with spectacular scenery and unimaginable views, but without our guide and cook, the trip could have easily not gone as well.

On the drive back to Uyuni, where the tour ended, the car was quiet and we all reflected on our recent adventure. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience. Yet one more reason why Bolivia is amazing. (Take that, Tee!)

Joe and Kris in the Salar de Uyuni

From Uyuni we took a 2 day jeep ride to Chile for yet another interesting border crossing. We passed a lot of the same scenery, but this time there was no slowing down to enjoy it.

Pedal to the metal, Chile awaits.

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Flamingos and Dusty Roads – More from the Southwest Circuit to The Salar de Uyuni

We bumped along the high altitude plains and canyons of the Southwest Circuit, for almost two days before reaching the more famous lagoons.

Great desert views along the way

Now, lagoons on their own might not be that exciting, but when you stuff them full of flamingos, that is another story.  We explored many lagoons of different hues crammed full of flamingos, and if you know anything about Kristen, this made her super excited.

One Lone Flamingo

We won’t bore you with too much detail about the lagoons, but they all were interesting in their own regard. Some were colored red due to the allege and others green from the minerals. The colors of the lagoons are more pronounced when the sun is out, but unfortunately there was not too much sun during our visit.

Us freezing at Laguna Verde. Not so green without the sun.

Lagoon in the distance

Even though the colors were not super bright, the lagoons were still beautiful and interesting. Getting to them was also an adventure, as this area looked like one giant road with tracks leading in all directions. Thankfully, Segundino, our guide, knew just where to go.

The entire area was covered in small, volcanic rocks which made perfect natural roads, and actually, they were some of the best roads we had seen in Bolivia.

Driving along -Pick your path.

Sometimes it seemed like we were the only ones around for miles.

Okay, so now that we have bored you with the details of the lagoons, here come the pictures of the flamingos.

Flying flamingo

Some lagoons “only” had a few hundred, while others seemingly had a few thousand.

Flamingos

Kris and her new pals.

Tons of pink feathers

It was a little hard to wrap your head around the fact that you were looking at flamingos in the freezing cold at around 14,000 feet.

Not the most graceful looking take off.

Shouldn’t they be hanging out in the Flordia Keys drinking tropical drinks on someone’s lawn?

Yes- all those pink dots are flamingos, and this is just one side of the lake.

Nice colors

These guys were dangerous so we stayed far away. Just look how ferocious they are.

Okay, while this area has many flamingos, it actually may have more Toyota Land Cruisers.

Land Cruiser rally. Just imagine it during high season.

If you ever owned one of these jeeps in the last 20 years, you can pretty much guarantee it is down in Bolivia, cruising the salt flats and Southwest Circuit. Once we met up with the jeeps from Uyuni, there were literally hundreds cruising around the terrain, and even more in the towns. You had to take a good look at your jeep and note some of its details in order not to get in the wrong one after a scenic stop.

We also had a nice break at some hot springs, which were pretty awesome once the crowd cleared out.

Kristen soaking up the water's heat. Seriously, 20 minutes earlier there were at least 40 people in here.

We were also lucky to have our functioning Land Cruiser (some other groups were not quite as lucky), as it took us to some more amazing places, like geysers located at over 16,000 feet. If you haven’t picked up on this fact yet, we have basically spent the last three months at high altitude.

The geysers were blasting off a bunch of steam, like a boiling kettle, and were fun to walk around. These geysers are unlike other ones around the world we have visited because they are hot enough to melt your skin off, but come without warnings or fences to keep you back.

You could walk right up and even fall in if you wanted to. Bolivia just figures you should be smart enough to know the steam coming out of the ground is dangerous, and you should decide how close to get. This is so unlike The States, where if someone got burned, they would try to figure out how to sue Mother Earth.

Yeah, Joe's feet were on fire

If you know anything about Kris (and her clumsiness), you would understand why Joe was worried about a fall here.

We spent the night in a rustic cabin at high altitude, and headed out early, again. This day we had a long distance to travel, and we were hoping to get to the salt flats by sunset.

Along the way we passed some great rock formations, and the famous stone tree.

Kris and the Stone Tree

We spent a little time running around the rocks and enjoying the barren landscape.

Don't move, you are holding everything up. Did you know Joe was a modern day Atlas?

Rock formations in the middle of nowhere.

Our guide had told us about a little salt hotel near the salt flats where he wanted us to stay. The only problem was there was only room for 3 jeeps, and there would be 12 trying for the same spot, so we had to keep moving.

So back in the jeep, and back on the road.

We spent the rest of the day putting some kilometers behind us, as we cruised the muddy roads leading to Uyuni. True to his word, our guide got us to the salt flat for sunset, and a room at the salt hotel. Double bonus.

We spent about 2 hours walking around the salar and taking in the gorgeous sunset.  It was incredible and we were so stoked to have made it in time. It was definitely worth all the time in the car.  Not many guides are willing to visit the salar for sunset and sunrise, but our guide was more than happy to make both happen.

First experience with the salar....So, which way is up?

During the rainy season the salt flat is full of water and the reflections on this smooth water are unimaginable.

The salt flats are one of the most magical places we have ever seen.  We took so many pictures of this one special place, that we’ll have to share the rest of the salt flat pictures in the next post.

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The Wild, Wild West (of Bolivia)

After helpful Spanish lessons, feeling like locals in Sucre, and a quick stop in Potosi, it was time to make our way to Tupiza. This is where we were going to organize our tour of South Western Bolivia, which of course included a visit to the Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat, and Bolivia’s most famous tourist destination).

Prior to our tour we had a some time to hang out in Tupiza and explore the area. The city is a pretty tranquil town, and the surrounding mountains were breathtaking and made us feel a bit like we were at home. Also, if you like mediocre pizza, you’ll love that every restaurant here seems to offer their own version.

At the mirador overlooking Tupiza.

There are two big tourist draws to Tupiza:

1. Go horseback riding through the canyons.

2. Book a tour through the Southwest Circuit and to the Salar.

We did both.

Now, at one point in our adventures, we said this would be the last horse ride, but when it only costs five dollars five per hour, how could we refuse?

We walked to the farm where we would embark on our horse ride and we met our unassuming guide. He was around 15, sported floppy hair, converse, and tight jeans, not of the Wrangler variety.  We were especially impressed with his ability to wear skinny jeans and yet still have them sagging a little too low.  He was not what you would normally consider “a cowboy,” but he seemed more than proficient in readying the horses.

We suited up, mounted the horses, and were off. Every now and then, our horses would get excited and take off running for a bit. It was thrilling to race through the canyons on the back of a galloping horse.

This area of Bolivia looks very similar to Utah or the Grand Canyon in The States. The surrounding hills are deep red and the landscape, while barren, is striking.

Canyon Land - You got to be tough tree to make it around here.

Kristen and her trusty steed.

Dry riverbed and great hills.

We rode into two different canyons and each time, we left the horses to explore deeper on foot.  It was nice to give our legs and backsides a break from the saddle, while we hiked the canyons.

Kris riding through, like the horse riding pro she is.

The water has cut its way through the canyons and has left some really cool rock formations, with plenty of places to explore in between.

Joe feeling extra short.

Not quite as fragile looking as the Delicate Arch.

Oh red rocks, you remind me of home.

This area is near where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid were killed after a raid, so Joe was looking everywhere for lost treasure. (We need to find something to keep paying for this adventure.) No luck. Guess he’ll just have to go back to work at some point.

Will we fit through there?

We made it back to town just as huge and dark clouds rolled in, and luckily, we weren’t quite as sore as we were after our ride in Colombia.

Now, on to the start of the Southwest Tour (which ended up being one of our favorite things in Bolivia)!

First, we were told by many people (and travel guides) to start our tour from Tupiza and not from Uyuni for a few reasons.

– It’s best to have the last day be at the salt flats, as opposed to the first day – True

– Tupiza is a better city than Uyuni – Very True

– You don’t feel like cattle (as much) when going on the trip – True

– There are actually things to do in Tupiza as compared to Uyuni – True

– You get an extra day on the tour to see lesser known sites – True

– The tours are of better quality – True to our knowledge

If you are in a major time crunch, Uyuni will work in getting you to the salt flats, just be prepared for hundreds of tour operators offering the same (and seemingly mediocre) service.  Tupiza only has a few tour operators, and most have better reputations, which leads to fewer headaches when booking a trip.

From Tupiza we were able to organize a 4-day trip, leaving from Tupiza and ending in Uyuini.  Along the way, we would passed some breathtaking vistas and at times felt so far removed from everything.

The entire trip was done in a Toyota Land Cruiser which carried extra fuel, a pick axe and shovel (luckily, we never needed the pick axe or shovel), and good 4×4 (a MUST for driving in the wet season!). All these precautions were necessary because we traveled around 12 hours per day on rough, muddy roads, and climbed mountain passes at altitudes greater than 16,000 feet.

We are ready to roll.

Our tour group consisted of the two of us, two girls from Argentina, the cook (Naomi) and the driver/guide (Segundino). Our guide was great, and he was always safe and attentive to our needs. Our needs mostly consisted of pulling over to stop so we could take yet another picture. He never took any chances, and was always tinkering with the car whenever we stopped. He was quick to spot wildlife, and seemed amused by us and the scenery. At no point did this Bolivian guide pop any adult beverages, unlike someone else we all know and love.

As we climbed out of Tupiza in the Land Cruiser, we were treated to some amazing canyon views.

Canyon view

View of Sillar: So all we have to do is cross that?

Joe, Kris, and the Cactus - Like how Joe positioned himself to be taller?

Joe jumping at Paso del Diablo - We will talk about the broken leg later.

Our first day on the tour was fairly straight forward with just a few lookouts along the drive. The amazing part was that it seemed like were in the middle of nowhere; we didn’t even have cell phone service!

View from San Antonio de Lipez, where we spent the night.

The accommodations along the trip were basic at best, but they suited our needs. All of us  shared a room and dined together.

Typical accommodations

Typical accommodations.

Also, the food was pretty good on our trip, even if our cook was very sick the first day.

Our second day started off very early (4:30am), as we had a great distance to cover, and the “road” was in rough condition because of the previous night’s rain.

Shortly after the sun came up, we stopped at Ruinas de San Antonio, a ghost town. This town was built around the 1600’s when the area was very wealthy from nearby mining, but there are conflicting reasons about why it was abandoned.

The old church

Deserted town in the clouds

This was an eerie place with all the old ruins, and we were the only ones there to explore them. Some resourceful animals have moved in to the area, and now call the town home.

Viscacha, the new town rodent, I mean, resident.

Are those really parakeets? We are at like 16,000 feet and it is freezing

Are those really parakeets? Not a bird you expect to see at 16,000 feet and freezing.

After this pit stop, we headed to one of the highest stops on our trip.  There was a nice view of a lagoon in the distance that was stuffed full of flamingos.  Unfortunately we did not get close enough to take pictures of these birds.

Kris trying to stay warm at 4,855 meters above the sea.

We descended from the high altitude we headed into another beautiful valley.  Again, this reminded us of the Grand Canyon, but had its own unique beauty.

More canyons

Kristen was VERY excited about the huge number of baby Llamas we saw. This is the time of year that the Llamas are giving birth, and Kristen was more than happy to take a lot of pictures of these cute little guys.

Brand new and already best of friends. Try to hold back the awwws.

We even found a baby llama, which our guide said was only a day or two old.

Okay, it is fine to awww here.

We have many more pictures of these adorable guys as it is impossible for Kristen to resist so much cuteness.

So far, the Southwest has been a blast to explore. With all this open space, it was initially hard to believe that this is a major tourist destination.

Lonely road

There is still much more to come from this tour, including thousands of flamingos, bumpy roads, beautiful lagoons, and the world-famous Salar de Uyuni.

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