We got up early to drive out on to the salt flats to watch the sunrise. It was freezing, but the beautiful colours made up for it. As the sun came up we started to get a sense of just how massive the salt flats are!
Tag Archives: adventure
After another freezing night in a hotel with no heating or insulation, we got up early to start the day by heading to the Árbol de Piedra (stone tree). Despite the temperature, everyone got out of the jeep and had a look around the rock formations. There were a whole bunch in one little part of a vast expanse of desert, which was quite unusual.
Again, we spent a lot of time driving but had plenty of amazing scenery to stare at out the window. The landscapes kept changing, and even though we drove past another five lakes (Ramaditas, Honda, Chiar Khota, Hedionda, Cañapa), they were all different and equally as beautiful.
Just before dark we arrived at the edge of the Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats) at a salt hotel which was made entirely from salt. It was still cold, but not quite as cold as the previous two nights, and everyone was excited to have a hot shower (there were no showers in the other hostels).
While we were waiting for dinner to be prepared, Mark went for a walk by himself and came back very excited that he had found puma tracks a few hundred metres from where we were staying. The guides were a little surprised, and we found out afterwards that some people were a litle freaked out at the concept of having big cats so close by (eg. One person got up in the middle of the night to close all the doors and barricade her bedroom door in case the pumas were hungry!)
A couple of the other jeeps from the same company showed up at the same hotel and it was nice to have some extra people to hang out with. We played card games and drank wine to keep warm, which was the perfect way to finish off a great day.
We spent a lot of time in the jeep and covered a lot of ground, stopping every now and then to take photos and appreciate the amazing scenery. We passed by several lakes and lagoons which were half frozen and particularly beautiful. A few people tried to walk out on the ice, only to fall through it and end up with wet feet for the rest of the day.
Highlights for the day were the amazing Volcano Licancabur (5950m), swimming in thermal springs in freezing conditions, geysers, and watching the sun set over the pink Laguna Colorada surrounded by flamingoes. The photos speak for themselves, and even then they don't quite do justice to the absolute beauty of the landscapes in this part of the world.
Crossing the border from Argentina was relatively straight forward. We caught a bus from Tilcara to La Quiaca, walked a few kilometres, then got our stamps and crossed into Villazón. From there we jumped straight into an overcrowded mini van with a crazy driver who delivered us safely to Tupiza. The town itself is nothing special, but the surrounding landscape is exceptional!
Most people seem to stop over quickly in Tupiza on their way to the Salt Flats, but we wanted to get to know the countryside a little better so we stayed for a few days. One activity offered is the Triathlon, which involves a combination of a 4x4WD jeep tour, horse riding and mountain biking. We decided that this was the best way to cover the area in a short amount of time and have a bit of fun along the way!
Red rocks, canyons, volcanoes, geysers, lagoons, deserts, pink flamingoes, pumas, haunted ruins, mummies and a sea of salt. Our six day tour from Tupiza to Uyuni was an epic trip. In fact, it was a saga. We were being almost permanently overwhelmed by the landscapes.
This series of posts is an attempt to capture the adventure. It will take a few, we've planned for ten…! Now, to be clear up front, this is really just about trying to help us remember it all. So, we don't expect anyone to read through every post. That said, if you are interested in visiting the salt flats and you've heard of the Tupiza to Uyuni option, this may help convince you to do it!
The map below shows the route we took through southwest Bolivia. We started in Tupiza, about 1.5 hours from Villazón by car. The route headed southwest to within 5 kms of the Chilean border and Atacama desert. From there we travelled north to the salt flats, where we spent two nights before arriving at the markets near Uyuni.
Our tour was actually two trips: the 'triathlon' around Tupiza and the five day journey to Uyuni. Note that the tours to Uyuni are typically four days but we added an extra day to hike up a volcano. These posts will cover all six days.
G'day from Trinidad, Bolivia. We recently celebrated our fifth month on the road in South America and we thought it was time for an update. We've been in Bolivia since the 28th of June and have had a great time. Currently exploring Bolivia's share of the Amazon Basin, which is a welcome change from the altitude and cold of the altiplano.
So where have we been? Well, the map below tracks our travels to date. Basically we have covered the southern half of the continent and we are now making our way north. The plan is to spend August in Peru before travelling through Ecuador and Colombia. Our goal is to get to Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, the most northern point of interest on the mainland. We will be pretty stoked if we achieve it.
We are well behind on our posts but keep touching base for more stories – there's a ton of content coming your way!
Thanks for reading,
Mark and Saskia
Note from Mark: This post was drafted back in February but I needed time to absorb the experience. There's a lot in this one, might pay to get a drink before you start. My thanks to Ben Anscombe for the assistance.
Currently rolling along Ruta 40, a day after I completed the W track at Parques Nacionales de Torres del Paine, Chile. No injuries, just a bit of sun burn and the normal aches associated with hauling a pack.
Torres del Paine was an awesome adventure. It has so much going on – huge glaciers, imposing peaks, raging rivers, rickety bridges, stunning valleys and turquoise lakes. It gave me my first sightings of avalanches, condors and even pink flamingoes (of all things).
I started with dos amigos from the Navimag trip. Saskia decided to stay back in Puerto Natales (PN) due to a lingering illness, but hoped to meet us on the last night of the trip. We had all agreed to start at the Western end of the track and make our way across the Torres massif over five days. This plan was further fleshed out with help from the guides at Basecamp in PN (recommend the briefing, held every day in the afternoon).
For those familiar with the park or interested in the trek, we camped at Campamento's Grey, Italiano (free), Cuenos and Chileno respectively. We had the option of staying at Campamento Torres (free) instead of Chileno but for various reasons opted for Chileno.
20 Febrero, Glacier Grey
It took about half a day to get to our starting point, which included a bus trip from PN to the park and a short ferry ride to the Western end. This trip gave us a good view of the massif, which is easily viewed from the road. The rain that pursued us through the fjords had dumped plenty of snow on the peaks and the forecast was for clear skies. A good start.
We set off from the wharf at 1:00 pm. Here we could see the damage done by the fires of 2005 and 2011. The damage was extensive and, with jagged peaks and high cloud above us, made for a melodramatic setting. I was relieved when we reached the highest point in the track and gazed down onto Grey Lake. It's a great view from there, right up to the glacier.
We made our way down towards the lake, stopping frequently to take photos of the lake, mountains and ice bergs that had broken off from the glacier. It was easy going and we had a good time taking detours and marvelling at the views. The cloud slowly cleared and eventually it was sunny with no wind. Perfect!
We pulled into Campamento Grey at 6:00 pm. Its a good camp site with reasonable facilities and a great view of the mountains. Two condors circled the peaks above us as we debriefed on the day. Couldn't believe how good we had it.
21 Febrero, Grey to Italiano
It may be helpful to note that Campamento Grey is located near the glacier but it is not beside it. Further, you cannot access the glacier directly but it is possible to hire kayaks near C. Grey or you can walk up to a viewing platform about 1.5 hours north from the campsite. We decided we wanted to try the latter, so left at around 9:00 am to the viewing point.
There's no fire damage here and the forest is fantastic. After about 1.5 hours of uphill leg work we were rewarded with a stunning view of not just the glacier but the Southern Patagonia Ice Field and snow covered mountains. The view was crystal clear, just beautiful. I've never seen anything quite like it, it was an overwhelming experience.
We hung around waiting for the sun to throw a bit more light before taking photos. A bunch of people in kayaks paddled up to the glacier and gave us a real sense of scale e.g. huge. Eventually the sun cleared the Torres' western shoulder. We took photos and then to our surprise stumbled into a glade filled with Andean wood peckers. Some how we didn't scare them off with our excited yelps and snapped a few picks. Chuffed!
Returned back to Campamento Grey to decamp. Someone had The Rolling Stones blasting. We took our time as we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us. The hike back out of the valley was slow, hard work with the packs, hadn't realised how steep it was. Still, we had great weather.
It took the whole afternoon to get back out and down to the original landing point. By this time one of the amigos, Ben, had hurt his ankle and was limping. We got him to stick his leg into the nearby lake then strapped it. From there it was a 2.5 hour trek to Campamento Italiano. Doesn't sound like much but our legs were tired so it was slow going. Fortunately we were distracted by views of the southern lakes and the setting sunlight on the peaks.
Eventually stumbled into Campamento Italiano around 9:00 pm. All buggered. We estimate we hiked for about 10 hours in total, my longest day hiking to date. Cooked up pasta with tuna and finished off with a hot chocolate. Big day. Went to sleep with the sound of distant avalanches providing a hint of what was to come in the morning.
22 Febrero, Valley de Frances
Despite the long trek the previous day, staying the night at Campamento Italiano provided a key advantage – it sits at the base of the Valley de Frances, the mid point of the W trek. This is probably my favourite part of the trip, but by a margin.
We got up early to get the most out of the day. Cloud had come in overnight but it was quite high and we could still see most of the peaks.
The trek up the valley to the viewing point takes around 3 hours. The trip began with an up close and personal view of Cerro Paine Grande and Glaciar del Frances. Within minutes of our approach there was a thunder crack and a plume of snow billowed from under the cloud on our left. We thought that would be it but for around eight minutes snowed poured down the face of the mountain like a waterfall. Amazing.
The path up the valley follows a river towards a wide bowl at the top of the valley. The valley itself is fairly evenly divided by the river and features near pristine forest and stunning views of the Torres' craggy peaks and towers. Facing south, one is presented by an almost perfectly composed view of the valley and the southern lakes and rolling hills beyond. I will never forget it.
Getting up early was the best decision we made that day. As we walked back down the valley low cloud quickly rolled in, spoiling the view for those still making their way up.
A quick lunch back at camp and we were off east to Campamento Cuernos. This was a fairly easy leg which we completed under time. Great views of the local lakes. Rain began around 4:00pm which was good as were able to set up our tents in time. I had booked dinner at the hut, or refugio, which with the rain turned out to be a brilliant idea. Sat down with the boys and smashed the largest pork chop I've ever seen. Finished off the night with a couple of beers and fell asleep pretty quickly.
23 Febrero, Cuernos to Chileno
Woke up to rain. Got up for breakfast at 7:30 am. Found Floris, amigo número tres, who had expected his EU7 tent to buckle under the rain. The tree cover saved him but the tent was soaked. Decamped in the rain and began trudging up and over the next hill.
Ben was not in good condition. He had remained stoic despite the injury but it wasn't getting any better. The night before he had stumbled through the door into the hut, wobbled over to us, then wiped out half the table when is ankle gave way. Hilarious but not good!
Fairly early in the walk we came across our first river. The water was maybe knee high but moving fast over the rocks. People on the other side directed us to a tree that overhung the river. So next thing we are climbing into the tree and dropping down the other side! Good fun.
After three hours of walking in the rain we reached a junction that lead to Chileno (north east) or out of the park (due east). Ben's ankle was a real problem and the rain meant Floris was in for a bad night. The lads decided to end their trip that day and walk out. I was tempted to join them as I wasn't going to see much at Chileno with the rain and cloud, however there was the possibility that Sas would be making her way in to meet me there. So we all shook hands and agreed to meet for dinner in PN when I got out.
Turned out to be the right decision for all of us. Within minutes of arriving at Chileno Saskia walked through the door! We spent the rest of the day in the hut with the other soggy campers. Booked dinner again, big piece of slow cooked beef. Went to bed in the soggy tent, warm but not exactly dry. Saskia bore it well.
25 Febrero, Back to Puerto Natales
We woke up to rain again so decided to head off early. Decamped fairly quickly and after 2.5 hours we were out of the park and waiting for transport.
While we waited we saw several native birds (tíques, caranchos and condors) and some wild llamas.
Arrived back at PN at 5pm, went out for dinner with Sas, Ben, Floris and another couple from the Navimag trip, Rik and Elena. We found a restaurant that specialised in BBQ meat, Asador Patagónico, which delivered the goods in spades. We demolished a delicious meal of Patagonian lamb, beef and salmon with local beer and wine to wash it down. A perfect end to our adventure.
While in Mendoza, we took the opportunity to go on a day trip to the Andes to see Aconcagua, the highest mountain in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres. The drive there was simply stunning, with amazing geological formations that changed colour as we climbed higher into the mountains.
We stopped at the entrance to the national park where we were able to go for a walk to a lookout to see Aconcagua. Fortunately for us, there was a light dusting of autumn snow, which was the first for the season. The mountains were even more picturesque than usual, although the tip of Aconcagua was covered in cloud.
We had a huge buffet lunch at the last little town before the Chilean border. Afterwards, the sun came out over the mountains and we wandered around taking in the scenery.
On the way home, we stopped off at Puente del Inca (Inca Bridge), which is a natural formation and actually has nothing to do with the Incas. There are thermal springs which calcify around the rock to form the bridge. The ruins of a hotel from the 1960s remain, but the rest of the area is pretty desolate and is really just an excuse to sell tacky Inca souvenirs to bus loads of tourists passing from Aconcagua to Mendoza.
The drive home provided more amazing scenery to finish off a fantastic day in the Andes.
As we sit here in San Rafael's autumnal sun, sipping on local wine, we started going over our travels to date. We pulled out our map to look at where we have been over the last three and a half months.
The journey so far has basically been four different chapters:
- Patagonia, including the Navimag trip, Torres del Paine, El Calafate, Perito Moreno Glacier, Mount Fitz Roy and Ushuaia.
- The cities of Buenos Aires, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, including a visit to the Tigre River near BA and a few days in Botucatu and Paraty, Brazil.
- The tropical paradise that was the journey from the Pantanal to Iguazu Falls, via Paraguay.
- North and western Argentina, including Córdoba, San Rafael, and Mendoza (as well as Bariloche and Salta which are next on the list).
As you can see in the picture above, we are now in Argentina's wine region and quite close to where we started in Chile.
It has been one amazing adventure after another! To paraphrase a friend, all the bus trips and shitty hostels are worth it when we find ourselves drinking cocktails in Rio or staring at the Devil's Throat in Iguazu Falls.
We have now 'dropped anchor' in San Rafael, where we have been working with an organic farm collective for a few weeks. It has been so nice to get some rest and have time to hone our español before we start off on the journey north (which we are still working out!).
We would like to say thanks for stopping by to read our stories. This blog has been good fun, we hope it is entertaining our friends and family back home. Cheers also to the other bloggers on WordPress that have visited and left a comment or liked a post. Always nice to have a bit of validation!
In order to get from Brazil to Argentina, we decided to go the slightly more adventurous way, through Paraguay. We caught a bus from Bonito to Ponta Pora, where we stayed overnight in a dingy hostel near the bus station. The next morning, we tackled the bureaucracy, getting exit stamps on our passports from the Brazilian Police and entrance stamps from Paraguayan Immigration. We thought we needed a visa, so we checked with the Paraguayan Consulate who assured us that we didn't, and said that we could easily cross the border with just a stamp from Immigration.
We then caught a taxi to the Paraguayan bus terminal in Juan Pedro Caballero, the same town as Ponta Pora, but just across the border. Within an hour we were on a bus headed for Concepción! The whole process was far easier than we expected. Perhaps a little too easy…
If we had more time I would have liked to go exploring more and find the Australian Colony. “New Australia” was established in 1893 by 220 Australian immigrants with the aim of creating a socialist utopian commune. It failed miserably, but apparently descendents of some of those immigrants still live there. I heard about this last year for the first time on the news, and thought that was such a random part of Australian history that we should have been taught about it at school!