We’re ascending, higher and higher in this desert landscape, to cross from Chile into Bolivia. I’m so worried about getting sick in the thin air that the altitude has become an obsession. Fortunately, nothing worse than light headaches and shortness of breath is in store for me.
The border station is a shack at the edge of nothing. The “toilet” is a place to stand or squat behind an old rusted bus. Processing is quick, and I’m told I should buy my visa in Uyuni when we arrive two days later.
Sometimes place names are remarkably literal. “Altiplano” means highflat and it’s just that. In this atmosphere blue-brown snowcapped mountains show off, with no foliage to obscure their grandeur. And wind-sculpted sedimentary rock statues display impossible curves against a backdrop of blue sky.
Laguna Colorada’s deep scarlet and rusty hues are formed by algae, but I like to think it’s the Earth secreting some essential life-giving fluid which these ethereal flamingoes, from some distant tropical paradise, come to feast on. I don’t actually know where flamingoes come from, but I’d always thought of them as tropical birds whose flamboyant pink could be linked with carnaval and other debaucherous occasions. We give these elegant birds the respectful distance they deserve, but all too soon they fly off to who knows where.
Sol de Mañana geyser field might attract more visitors if it were renamed “Death Field.” Like the old “Death Road” from La Paz to Coroico (which tourists happily cycle down nearly every day the weather permits) this collection of bubbling pits, which also lacks guard rails, has its own share of death traps.
The locals probably think we’re idiots, following a group of llamas through this barren town, trying to get the perfect photo. Imagine a group of foreigners enraptured by a herd of cows in a farm near your hometown, and you get the idea