packing up our 4 x 4 for our 3 day tour of the Salar.
Got up at 8:00 am. My hair was still wet from the night befores shower, which was one floor down in an outside concrete enclosure. The water hadn´t fully heated up, so I got the cold shower of the group...and when it is about 7 degrees celcius outside, that isn´t fun. Eric had stood outside with my coat to escort me safely back to our room. Finished packing up and went to the tour company in the square. The company people weren´t even there, but the doors were wide open, allowing us (or anybody else) access to the supposedly secure baggage area where I was to drop off my bag. Oh well. Had breakfast at another touristy place with the others while we waited to go on our trip. I guess they needed to get something signed by the police for our trip? We met our guide, Rudy, and our cook, Aida, both who were very nice, but only spoke Spanish.
Looking down the street in Villa Villa. You would think nobody lived there.
And we were off! Started off on a very wide, nice gravel roads, which were built and maintained by Canadians and Americans looking for minerals such as putter, silver, and others. Gradually the roads became smaller and smaller, until they were only single laned, rutted dirt roads. We crossed the pampa, first bypassing the salar de Uyuni, which we would look back by. We forded rivers and ended up in the small village of Villa Villa for lunch, where I paid 1 Boliviano to the owner of the convenience store (which we also had lunch at) to use the "bathroom", which was no more than a pot on a dirt floor that you had to dump water out of a bucket to flush the waste down. On the way to the bathroom, I saw our cook preparing some meat on a propane grill and asked the senora what is was, and if it was llama (which is more common than beef around here).
View from the playground in Villa Villa, where we had our lunch. Looks like a fun place huh?
I will never forget the look on her face. It was a look of resentment. Nonetheless, I used the bathroom and ate the llama steaks in the 1/2 convenience store, 1/2 room full of tables. Yet, the walls were covered with pictures of Jesus and 7 year old calendars with almost naked girls on them. I felt somehow conflicted. We continued on, and saw many different animals including llamas and vicunas. The llamas had red ribbons or flowers in their ears which upon asking Rudy, he explained to us that their was a festival of the llamas, where a special couple (equivalent to a master of ceremony) gets to decorate the ears of the best looking llamas. Thene everyone else gets to decorate their llamas ears.
chicos coming to greet us after class in Villa Villa, Bolivia after lunch on our first day of the salar tour
It is to celebrate the birthday of the llama, the 20th of January although they celebrate from Dec-Feb. It was very strange to see llamas out on the open range in the middle of nowhere with decorated ears. The vicunas we saw were just smaller llamas, but with a characteristic pattern of wool coloring. Their torsos where 1/2 white, 1/2 tan, cut diagonally. Rudy told us that their was a $300 fine for killing one, since they almost went extinct due to the overhunting of them due to their extremely fine wool that they possess. They are not domesticated, as llamas are, and we are not sure why. We entered into the Reserva Nacional de fauna andina eduardo avoroa for 30 Bolivianos each. It is here where all the animals are protected, and it is the reason why the vicunas have made a comeback.
One of the kids that came out to greet us "gringos" which they all openly called us.
This area covers 715,000 acres and includes volcanoes, lakes, hot springs, and pampa. By nightfall we made it to our lodging, which was a handfull of clay brick buildings, interlinked into one small complex. The only purpose for this is to shelter salar tourists for the night. Needless to say, this building was less than deluxe. There was no heat, no running water, and to turn on the lights, you had to connect two live wires on the wall where the light switch used to be. We ate our dinner of salty spaghetti dressed in full winter gear, and went to bed under the thick layers of blankets and our sleeping bags...although it still wasn´t warm enough. The generator kicked off at 10 pm, and all was quiet, for most groups had to be up at 5 am like us as well.