Day 72: Lagoons–Stinky And Otherwise

Wed. 24th October 2012

Looking out over the Laguna Colorado (Red Lagoon)So it wasn’t the best night’s sleep ever. A mix of a rowdy French group, snorers in my room and a group clomping and banging around as they left at around 4am meant that I gave up on sleep well before the 5:45 alarm call. People appeared in dribs and drabs for breakfast, which wasn’t up to the standard of our Inca Trail breakfasts – perhaps we were just spoilt there!

It should have been a 7am departure but we were held up because, during the night, someone had nicked a dust plates off the wheels of one of our Land Cruisers. We suspect that’s why there was a very early leaver. It took a little while to bodge a replacement out of a beer can and we were loaded and off by 7:30.

We really felt like we were a long way from anywhereWe started off running along the edge of the salt flats parallel to the mountains. Initially we were on a deeply rutted track and for the first time felt that a 4×4 was absolutely essential. One of the 4x4s caught a rock awkwardly and pulled the valve out of the tyre. Later, after a quick swap of wheels, we got onto to something more like a road – albeit one that was unmade – and progress was quite a bit faster as we left the salt flats behind and headed into the mountains. We had been warned that there was quite a bit of driving to be done over the next two days, so we settled in for a long ride, listening to a mix of Bolivian music (no thanks), Latin American pop (ditto), my MP3 player (much better, but limited selection of music) and Norah’s iThing (better selection).

4x4, railway lines and a whole lot of nothing!At one point we had to cross the railway track and we all got out to stretch our legs and to admire the view of the lines disappearing into the distance. I’m no geologist but even I could see from the distinctive conical shape of the surrounding mountains that we were in volcano country. A little further on, we came to our first lagoon – Laguna Cañapa. The flamingos on the lagoon were sight enough (and cause of many photos – thank goodness for digital cameras!) – but the vista of the lagoon ringed by white Borax deposits and green swamp with mountains and volcanoes all around was really something else. The panorama setting on my camera really came into its own here.

Flamingo at Laguna Hedionda (Stinky Lagoon)Next up (i.e. a couple of hours of bumping along in the 4x4s later) was Laguna Hedionda – Stinky Lagoon. It wasn’t that bad but you could see why it was so named. Along with the flamingos, borax and ring of mountains, you could see the white borax stained with streaks of yellow sulphur. Here we had lunch of Pique Macho – the Bolivian national dish which comprises a beef and sausage stew with added chips all served in one dish. Somewhat unusual, but tasty enough.

Stone Tree in a barren landscapeWe carried up on into the mountains after lunch. As we climbed higher, the terrain became more and more barren, and the vegetation became sparser and sparser. With a distinct red tinge to all of the rocks, it was like driving on the surface of Mars. Incredibly, on one of the rock formations, we spotted some Viscacha – a type of rabbit. They just seemed to sit there (like Tribbles?) and pretty much ignored all of the cameras being poked their way. Another really strange sight was the Stone Tree – a rock in the middle of the high desert that had been eroded by the wind so that it looked (sort of) like a tree. Other rocks looked like a dragons head, or just simply very rugged and barren.

Active volcano in the distanceBy this  time, we were running late. The tracks had proved to be hard going for the 4x4s and we were all quite tired of the bouncing around. So, after a hasty rearranging of the agenda for the rest of the day and tomorrow, our last stop of the day was at the Laguna Colorado, the Red Lagoon. Sure enough, the water is distinctly red in colour from algae – going well with the white ‘icebergs’ of Borax and the pink and white of the flamingos. Vista from hills above the Red Lagoon

Sunset view from our refuge for the nightWe just have time for a few photos before heading on to our ‘refuge’ for the night. This turned out to be even more basic than last night’s Salt Hotel and at 4,200m or so with the wind blowing and the sun going down, it really started to get cold. The view out over the lagoon did make up for the lack of luxuries and the sunset added other shades to the landscape. Fortunately too, the refuge wasn’t as busy (or as large) as the Salt Hotel and so we were able to spread out over 4 of the bedrooms with 4 people in each – all very happy campers. After a tiring day and in expectation of an early start again tomorrow, nobody was late to sleep.

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