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Laguna Verde Travel Blog

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A boiling mud pot at 5,000 metres in the southwestern Bolivian Altiplano.

Hello All,
Last night was a bit colder, but I think having the seven people in the hostal dorm room generated enough heat the it wasn't so bad.  I had read review after review about the expeditions into the altiplano being the coldest people have ever had to sleep in.  Awful, horrible stories, that had me frightened and determined to be prepared for anything.  So I brought ten sets of those hand warmers that hunters and campers use in the great outdoors.  They can slip them in their shoes, or pockets, or where ever.

I also brought long underwear that I had purchased over ten years ago for a late season Green Bay Packers football game.  Also from the game I brought a pair of socks that were so thick that I would have had room for another pair of pants had I left them behind.

A whole lot of steam from the center of the earth.
  I think I am going to make the bold step of leaving said items behind to lighten my load for the rest of the trip.

For the last day, we were all going to wake up at 4:30am to see the geysers and fumaroles at sunrise.  I don't think we made it that early, although I'm not sure because the only time piece I took on the trip was not working.  I took my iPod out after Juan's music supply had run out yesterday on the trip, and I don't think it liked the altitude, because it acted the same way going over the pass from Chile to Argentina.  It was totally locked up and non-functional, which was a bummer 'cause I wanted some rock & roll.  I was confident that if I docked with my computer it would work, but I left my laptop in Uyuni, so that would have to wait.

This made me want to get one of those mud treatments at a spa.

The TLC (Toyota Land Cruiser) seemed to be working better despite not having a shock absorber on the right rear, although I have no idea how that could be.  I also began to realize that no matter how bad the conditions in the TLC were, these were sights that had to be seen.  That the memories of all of the unique and fabulous sights in this remote area had a price.  And if that price was $63, two nights in shit hole dorms, and having just half a seat for over 1,000 kilometers, then I was happy to pay it.  I'm in Bolivia for Christ's sake.  Maybe it's not meant to be easy.  Maybe the profit margin for jamming one extra person on a tour makes a big difference to how some people live.

We arrived just as the sun was rising at Sol de Manana, a geothermal field at 5,000 meters that was like nothing I have ever seen.

Here I am surrounded by steam, early morning haze, and clouds of sulphur gas.
  A fumarole is a geothermal steam vent, and there were dozens of them here.  There were also dozens of mud pots.  These are also geothermal openings in the earth, and within each one was a boiling pot of volcanic mud.  A few if them spewed mud meters into the air, creating a very dangerous situation if you weren't paying attention.  I'm not sure if there are any geysers by the pure definition of the word, but it was the most incredible thing I have even seen.  Things were made even more interesting because this was, after all, the Bolivian version of a national park.  No ropes, no barriers, no rangers, no nothing to stop you from looking away for a second and ending up boiled alive by some slop from the depths of hell.  The whole atmosphere of sulfurous gasses, low clouds, bitter cold, and a nasty wind was very alien.
Chilling in the Thermales. Taken by Chantel. Her and Uwe chose to not get in. Losers!
  It gives you a new respect for what this world can do.  And it wasn't even 7am yet.

Next up was a very long drive over some of the roughest road yet.  Some of it was the typical rocky, or washed out, roads headed up the sides of hills.  But the worst type of road was over more gentle terrain between mountains.  Here it was wide enough for there to be maybe ten different tracks through the area, but every one of them was horrible, rutted, and washboarded to the extreme.  Now I have actually seen two road grading machines in my short time in Bolivia, but they had never seen this part of the region.

We arrived at a large lagoon which appeared to have areas of steam coming off of the water near the shore.  I figured out that we must be at the Thermales, or Aguas Calientes.

Along the wall. Lukas and Julia, Mathias, Me, and Julio.
  We stopped at a newly built community center, for what community I have no idea.  And on the shore there had been built a large cement hot tub around the largest of the hot water springs.  We were the second last tour group of the day to arrive, so it was already filled with bathers.  There was a small half built changing house nearby, but no other facilities.  All modesty aside, I shielded myself as much as possible to change into my suit and got in.  It was wonderful, and got better as the pool emptied out with others going on their way.  Getting out wasn't so bad, and although I didn't bring a towel the changing process was made easier by drying off with yesterday's shirt.  We enjoyed a nice breakfast, and took off for Laguna Verde and the Chilean border.
Here is Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon). It really was this green, and even greener.

We left our cook at Thermales to prepare our lunch for later, so it was very nice to have the seat to myself.  And I was actually able to nap a bit on the long trip, and our early morning.  We first saw Laguna Verde from a distance.  It was near a few other lagoons of similar size, but if stood out due to it's striking green coloring. Juan said it had something to do with the oxidization of copper in the nearby soil, but whatever it was made it breathtakingly beautiful.  There were many flamingos here as well, and we were in the shadow of the Volcan Licancabur on the Chilean border.  I had seen this volcano from the other side in San Pedro about eight days ago, and it was just as impressive here.

We took a bunch of group pictures here, as Chantel was being dropped at the border to head to San Pedro.

Uwe, Mathais, Lukas, Julia, Me, Julio, and Chantel. I guess I'll edit out Juan's thumb when I get home. :)
  The drive to the border was short, and we said our goodbyes and hopped back in the TLC.  We actually hit a stretch of road that was fully graded and used by trucks for transport between Chile & Bolivia, so it was the nicest ride yet.  We picked up our cocinera at Thermales and were making good time.  We had actually caught up with several of the groups when we got to Laguna Colorada, but Juan found a nice secluded place to park and have to ourselves.  Laguna Colorada is a bright red, and it comes from borax and other minerals in the water.  I am still amazed that the seemingly fragile flamingos thrive in this type of water, in this desolate place.  I thought they were all native to Orlando, Florida fake lagoons.

We drove a bit longer before setting up camp at a secluded little lush green valley for lunch.

Laguna Verde with Volcan Licancabur in the background.
  We only had a few stops left, and most of the time would be us hauling ass to make it back to Uynui by 7pm or so.  We stopped at Valle de Rocas for more examples of volcanic rock and wind erosion.  And we went through four or five small pueblos of people farming and tending to llama or sheep herds.  Very rural, and very mellow.

It had also been sprinkling rain on and off all day.  And there was much more evidence of rain on the horizon, with dark nasty clouds everywhere.  We crossed a few streams along the way, which was very exciting because of the extra water.  After we crossed the biggest of them all, we came upon a TLC that had almost made it across the same river at a wider point.  But not quite.  It turned out this was the TLC that had saved everybody the day before in the mud flats, so Juan was more then happy to pull them out quickly.

The Bolivia-Chile border post near Laguna Verde.
  They had been there about 30 minutes, and were very happy for the assistance.

Shortly afterwords were were on another main road.  Every five kilometers or so there were signs touting the progress of this fancy new graded gravel highway.  We made it to the small town that was to be our last stop, and Juan asked if we were up for it and we declined.  It had a cute little restored stone church, but I got a nice view from the TLC.  More importantly, the town's gas station had closed 10 minutes before our arrival, and Juan seemed concerned.  We drove through two more such villages, and Juan made fuel inquiries in each to no avail.

The gauge was perilously low when the city light of Uyuni started to appear.  I superstitiously refused to look for fear that we wouldn't reach them.

Laguna Colorado with many flamingo.
  Sure enough we sputtered to a stop.  Out of gas.  Standard operating gas protocol seems to be a full tank, and two auxillary tanks of the roof of the TLC gets you all the way through the Altiplano and back.  But I'm guessing standard protocol doesn't take into account an hour plus stuck in mud revving your engine.

As I had guessed there was a trickle left in each of the roof tanks.  So Juan made a makeshift funnel out of an empty 2-litre water bottle, and Mathias and he drained them to the last drop.  The TLC fired up and we headed into town.  We passed three other TLC's stopped by the side of the road, but there was no helping this time.  The town gas station closed at 8pm, and if we didn't make that, we were in big trouble.

This rock looked like a sitting buzzard in Valle la Rocas.
  We did make it, and Juan put in about 5 litres to get us to the tourist office.  Adventure over.

I got a room at the same hotel as Wednesday night for $40 Bolivianos, and plan to get a good shower, and a good night's sleep.  I wasn't all that hungry.  I'm not used to three meals a day I guess.  But I found a food stand serving what turned out to be llama burgers.  This was walking around food.  There was a normal sized bun with a White Castle thin patty of llama meat, but as big as a whopper, cooked on the spot.  Then throw in some lettuce, tomato, and onions, put about ten thick cut french fries on top with your choice of ketchup or mayo and there you go.  $2 Bolivianos (~$0.25) get you one of these, and I had wished I'd gotten two.

Juan returning the favor and rescuing our rescuer from yesterday.

Tomorrow I hope to catch the 10am bus to Potosi, although I've had not alot of luck reserving early buses the same day, so I may have to settle for a 7pm overnight bus.  In that case I should be able to catch up on the blogs if I can find a good connection.

BTW, my iPod is working fine, which makes me happy.  But I wish I could have subjected everybody to my musical tastes for part of the ride.  It must still be the disk jockey in me.  Further reading does confirm the iPod hard drive has a maximum operating altitude of 10,000 feet.  That solves it I guess.

worldup says:
Very cool trip especially for $65.
Posted on: Feb 13, 2007
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A boiling mud pot at 5,000 metres …
A boiling mud pot at 5,000 metres…
A whole lot of steam from the cent…
A whole lot of steam from the cen…
This made me want to get one of th…
This made me want to get one of t…
Here I am surrounded by steam, ear…
Here I am surrounded by steam, ea…
Chilling in the Thermales.  Taken …
Chilling in the Thermales. Taken…
Along the wall.  Lukas and Julia, …
Along the wall. Lukas and Julia,…
Here is Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon…
Here is Laguna Verde (Green Lagoo…
Uwe, Mathais, Lukas, Julia, Me, Ju…
Uwe, Mathais, Lukas, Julia, Me, J…
Laguna Verde with Volcan Licancabu…
Laguna Verde with Volcan Licancab…
The Bolivia-Chile border post near…
The Bolivia-Chile border post nea…
Laguna Colorado with many flamingo.
Laguna Colorado with many flamingo.
This rock looked like a sitting bu…
This rock looked like a sitting b…
Juan returning the favor and rescu…
Juan returning the favor and resc…
Laguna Verde
photo by: jendara