It took a while to get to sleep last night. I’m obviously blaming the altitude because I blame it for fucking everything. I’m not out of breath tying my shoelaces because I’m too fat for my trousers. It’s the altitude. Definitely spilt that beer all over myself because of the altitude. You can blame it for a multitude of fuck ups. The fact the blankets were static central and every time I turned over there was a fucking lighting storm in my bedding didn’t help. I ended up ditching most of them because getting a static shock is unpleasant enough. Getting sixteen of them just as you’re dozing off violates international anti-torture laws.
We had breakfast, packed the car and got on the road for a day of lakes and lakes and lakes. Our first lake was Laguna Hedionda which, apparently, means Stinking Lake. You can see why. No, wait, you can smell why, and this is when we found out that Adrian had a crap sense of smell. I sort of envied him. The flamingos didn’t seem to give a flying fuck either, they were knee deep in it. We did wonder if the silly buggers had gotten themselves frozen into the lake, there was a thin layer of ice along as far as we could see, but then one of them started moving around. Turned out they were as bothered about us as they were about the stench emanating from the lake.
Just down the road was Laguna Kollpa and that had a metric shit tonne of flamingos. Another car had deposited its tourists by the lake and they managed to scare them away. Cheers, guys. We were dropped off and we made our way to the lake as the car buggered off to the opposite side. We were to walk around it whilst admiring the lanky streaks of pinkish birds. They’re really quite fabulous aren’t they? They have to take a run up to take off then their little legs carry on paddling along the surface as they gather momentum. I say little legs, they’re not, they’re comedy strings of spaghetti that have no right holding the weight of an entire animal up.
We slowly wandered around, the guy who’d initially gotten too close to the flock and scared them away meandered in front of us, but sort of a rapid meander so we couldn’t overtake him. There was a flock right on the path so no one could help freaking out those buggers into flight though I’ll admit, it did make for some great photos. There was another flock he could easily have given some space to but chose not to and sent them fleeing over the water.
Adrian has a hobby whereby when he meets a British person he picks their brains for Cockney rhyming slang so we went through what we knew including James Blunt, which has entered the lexicon as rhyming slang for “cunt”. Apologies to any Americans reading this, I know you’re allergic to that word but it does happen to be one of my favourites. Adrian wondered if we could introduce aristocrat as rhyming slang for “twat”. As in, the bloke that keeps scaring the flamingos off is a right aristocrat.
We got back to the car and off we fucked to what would turn out to be an absolute highlight; the Termas de Polques. We had to drive across the Salar de Chalviri to get there as vicuñas bolted out of the way. These guys are so bloody adorable. They’re not domesticated and their wool is very expensive and rare. They do look a lot like the guanacos we saw in Argentina but apparently they’re smaller and lighter. I want one. I’ve no idea where I’d keep it. In the bath with the penguin I also want? Would that work?
Anyway, these hot springs! Last time I was here we were told we could only have fifteen minutes in the springs and it was twelve years ago so I can’t remember if it was a “don’t spend too long in volcanic water” thing, or if we were just running late. Probably the latter to be fair. I don’t recall there being changing rooms last time either. This whole thing was an infinitely better experience. There are two pools, one is slightly hotter than the other. Adrian grabbed a beer and joined a group of Peruvian guys in the cooler pool and we beelined for the hotter one.
A guy who I think works there warned us it was 28°. Puh-leeze, I’d run my bath hotter than that! Is it really a hot spring if you don’t feel like you might lose your epidermis? It was a gorgeous temperature. Other people dipped their feet in and retreated to the other pool in horror. Only an American woman joined us at first. Eventually others filtered in after spending a bit of time in the other pool. We just relaxed and watched the flamingos and the vicuñas wander closer, unperturbed by the human activity. Eventually we tore ourselves away and Bernaba asked us if we wanted lunch right now, or if we wanted to see Laguna Verde. It wasn’t even 11am yet so we opted for the latter.
We passed through the Desierto de Dalí, so called, I believe, on account of the fact the random deposits of rocks make it look a bit like a surreal Salvador Dalí painting. Without the melting clocks, clearly. In fact if you’re seeing melting clocks you’ll probably want to see a doctor because I think the altitude has properly gotten too you. It’s awesome but impossible to make it look good on camera. We carried on to two more lakes; Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde at around 4350 m.a.s.l., seemingly eye level with snowcapped mountains on our left, and the striking, red-brown mountains on the right as we made our way through the desert.
These lakes though, like, how are they next to each other but they’re different colours? How are they any other colour but blue? It’s alien as fuck. It’s probably too do with minerals. Of course you can’t have a lake in these parts without a fuck off great big volcano looming over them and this honour went to Volcán Licancabur. It’s also worth noting that the volcano is slap bang on the border with Chile. That’s literally a whole other country over there.
We doubled back to the hot pools where Porfi was waiting with another fantastic lunch. Seriously, I wonder if we can pay her to just follow us around Bolivia as our personal chef? I mean, we wouldn’t be able to afford to do anything afterwards and I’d have to be rolled onto the flight home but I think it’d be worth it. We waddled back to the car and climbed to 5000 m.a.s.l. to see another highlight; the Sol de Mañana, a classic geothermal landscape plonked in the middle of nowhere.
You want geysers? You got it. Boiling mud? You’re covered. Though hopefully not in aforementioned boiling mud. Holes that look like they’ve been badly painted unnatural colours by a dude who’d never been outside? Yes please. It honestly looks like a set from Star Trek, but the Original Series when they were all about the low budget and the colours. You can wander around as close to the death-pits as you like and it’s your own bloody fault if you fall in. There are no safety fences to mar your photos, no staff blowing whistles and yelling at you to back away lest your eyeballs melt. It’s fantastic!
Back in the car then and onwards to Huayllajara where we’d be sleeping tonight. We rocked up at about 3pm, unloaded, then Barnaba took us to the Laguna Colorada which was pretty much spitting distance. You could see it from the front door. He parked up and, after describing the three different species of flamingo to us (spoiler alert: they’re all pink) he told us we could take as long as we wanted. We took that to mean buy a beer from the café there and sit by this ridiculously coloured lake and drink it whilst gawping at flamingos. It’s red. Like, so fucking red.
There are also big, white swathes of borax which just add to the alienness of it all, then huge flocks of flamingos that could be James, Andean or Chilean. They’re all too similar to pick them out of a lineup. They were a lot more fearless than the flamingos we’d been seeing too, they only started to get agitated when someone saw fit to launch a drone. Yeah mate, because everyone wants a jar of angry bees as a soundtrack to their Laguna Colorada experience. We finished our beer and strolled back to the car, obviously taking about a hundred more photos as we went.
Okay so I’m going to get a little bit ranty. Hold on. Barnaba went over the plans for the following day which involved looking at a bunch more cool shit then heading to the Salar de Uyuni in the afternoon finishing up in Uyuni. Waaaiiit a minute. No. We’re not meant to be going all the way to Uyuni tomorrow. We’re meant to be stopping just short of the salt flats, staying in some manner of hotel made of salt, then on the fourth day getting up at some god awful hour for the sunrise over the flats. No one would choose to spend any longer than necessary in Uyuni, especially when they’d paid to stay somewhere else.
So because there was too much water on the salt flats it was currently prohibited to drive to Isla Incahuasi, which is another highlight, so he wanted to completely change the schedule but that would mean rushing through day three. When we sat down and had the trip described to us we were told we’d be going to Isla Incahuasi but apparently this hadn’t been possible for three weeks. So why not tell people? Why not say you can’t enter the salt flats but this is what you’ll be doing instead? I definitely wouldn’t want the “something else” to be tearing through day three to end up in Uyuni and whilst I’m mostly annoyed at the tour company for not telling us this I’m also a little bit annoyed at Barnaba for trying to change the schedule to such an extent.
Anyway. Dinner was predictably fantastic, Porfi always comes through for us. The woman can absolutely cook. It’s simple stuff but she somehow makes it taste incredible. What’s she sprinkling on that shit? Fairy dust? I’m obsessed with the vegetable soup too, I wish I’d remembered to get the recipe off her. Sure, I can Google it, but it’s probably going to be one of those things that you can’t quite nail because the secret ingredient is love. Or MSG. Gods I hope it’s not love.
There’s a little bar in this village which might actually have a pool table but we all decided to skip that in favour of an early night. We wanted to see the stars so we had to wait for the moon to set and the generator to turn off so we set an alarm for 3am. We did indeed get up at three and it was absolutely worth the bitter, bitter cold that upset all of my extremities. We weren’t out for long, just long enough to try and pick out a few constellations before crawling back into bed for a couple more hours.
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Quetena Chico to Huayllajara, Potosí Department, Bolivia
Stayed at: Alojamiento Huayllajara, Huayllajara
Useful shit to know…
- It’s Bs6 each to use the hot springs. This also gets you one free toilet usage.
- Afterwards it costs Bs3 to use the toilet.
- Changing rooms are by the hotter pool and are included in your entrance fee.
- They sell beer in the room you have your lunch in.
- There’s accommodation by the hot pools too, apparently you can ask your tour agency to stay there or, of course, if you’re doing this independently you can stay wherever you damn well please. I’ve no idea of the cost though.
- Alojamiento Huayllajara only has electricity from a generator for three hours a night. It kicked in at 7.30pm when we were there.
- They also offer hot showers for Bs15.
- None of us had any usable signal at the accommodation on Entel or Tiga.