Sleeping in a salt hotel has some downsides it turns out. The air is really, really, really dry. We both woke up in the middle of the night struggling to breath because our mouths were so parched. We kept water near the bed for the rest of the night just in case. When it was time to get up at 6 am Lynn once again attempted a shower but the water was still cold. She toughed it out anyway while I decided that a day without showering wouldn’t be that bad a thing.
We met everyone in the dining room for the typical breakfast of tea, coffee, and toast and were pleasantly surprised when some scrambled eggs were brought out. By 7.15 we were once again crammed in the third row of our Land Cruiser and on our way to see whatever today would hold. Thankfully, our first stop came only 20 minutes later in the ghost town of Julaca. Seven or eight families still live among the falling down town and it seems to serve mostly as a pay bathroom and tourist trap. We once again spent way too long milling about, having exhausted everything there was to see very quickly and then wandering through the deserted streets trying to find anything interesting hidden among the trash strewn about.
The drive next took us by some very cool cliffs to the small town of San Agustin where we unloaded near the center of town and were sent off on a walk to a lookout ten minutes away. We were quickly winded climbing up to the viewpoint, a reminder that we are actually above 14,000 feet in elevation. The viewpoint itself was pretty disappointing and Lynn and I headed back into the town with Anders and Anna while the rest of the group modeled for Margot, the French girl, who has a propensity for taking way too long to take way too many pictures. Back in town we dodged some water balloons from some children celebrating Carnival and sat around the cars waiting for Lucio and our drivers to return from wherever they had wandered off to. Eventually the rest of our group returned, but still no guide or drivers. Another 30 minutes passed after our original allotted 30 minutes and we were toying with the idea of moving the cars when Lucio and company finally emerged from a house. It seems they had been eating breakfast and it suddenly became very clear that this rather disappointing lookout had been an excuse for them to eat breakfast with some friends.
Not very pleased with Lucio, we climbed back into the car and headed down the road to a valley filled with llamas. Here we were given thirty minutes to wander among them, taking pictures to our hearts content. About half of the llamas had been decorated with colorful pomps for Carnival and it made them even more photogenic. The whole group also quickly came across a baby llama that had just been born and was struggling to stand for the first time under the watchful gaze of its two very colorfully decorated parents. We all watched for quite a while before moving on to some of the other llamas. As our time ran out we headed back up to the cars and Lynn, who was very concerned for the baby llama’s well being, saw it stand up and could breath a sigh of relief that it was going to be okay.
Post llamas we waited around for way too long again before squishing ourselves back into the Land Cruiser for the drive to lunch. The landscape was definitely getting more desert like and we stopped near some large wind carved rocks for a lunch of chicken fried chicken, steamed vegetables, and local quinoa.
Most of the afternoon was a series of about ten stops at various places through the desert as we continued to make our way south. There were flamingo filled lakes, red sand dunes that we speculated were used for filming The Martian, more wind swept rocks, and even a rare fox sniffing Land Cruiser tracks on a dusty road. Our final stop for the day was at the Sol de Manana geysers which certainly beat the pants of the geothermal pools we saw in New Zealand. They were also located at 5000 m above sea level (by far the highest Lynn or I have ever been) and the strong wind was bitingly cold. We even took to standing in the steam from one of the geysers to keep warm (and smelly).
With our tour concluded for the day we made our way to a rustic hostel where we would all be sleeping in two large dorm rooms. The diesel generator wasn’t on yet when we arrived and we threw our things into the dark dorm rooms before coming back out into the common area for tea and a once again disappointing dinner. It seems this tour has no aspirations to best the Inca Trail in deliciousness.
After dinner we headed down to some hot springs just across the road. The tour company we had chosen is the only one that spends the night near the hot springs and we had them all to ourselves. As we settled into the 95 degree water our eyes adjusted to the darkness and we were greeted with spectacular views of the Milky Way as a thunderstorm set off lightning in the distance. We were all in awe of the beauty of it and enjoyed it for almost an hour before getting out, and racing through the cold night mountain air back to our hostel. Lynn and I both turned in at this point but some others chose to stay up quite late playing drinking games in the common area and would wake us up every so often.
Daily Walking Miles: Unknown, 12 hours in a bumpy car put an end to any estimates we might have
- Lucio, our guide, is very very proud of Bolivia and takes offense to any number of things that might slight his home country including but not limited to: losing to other countries in a series of wars that reduced Bolivia’s size, foreign tour guides, people who live in Santa Cruz (who he says are not real Bolivians), seemingly the entire country of Chile, and FIFA who ruled that Bolivia’s stadiums are too high to fairly play soccer.
- Baby llamas should be standing within 30 minutes of birth so we had really just missed the birth. The placenta was even on the ground nearby.
- There are a number of truck paths that cut through the mountains to the border of Bolivia and Chile. These are apparently used by drug runners who can get 4x the money for their cocaine in Chile.