Salty Salar (Pt2)
After arriving at Lago Colorado's ramshackle collection outbuildings that was to be our home for the night, we made our way to the water's edge to check out the lake. All around the margins were encrusted deposits of borax which looked like loosely packed snow. The dirty pink water proved to be a little lacking in interest and, as the temperature had plummeted, everyone trudged back to the dorm hoping for a hot meal and not to succumb to hypothermia in the night.
Once inside, the gang assembled to play cards, a transatlantic version of the charmingly named 'Arsehole' unimaginatively renamed 'Asshole'! Much hilarity was offset by the rapid approach of bedtime and the covert military operation which was a trip- to the latrines - toilets being far too generous a description.
I fell asleep listening to William S Burroughs and was pleaseantly surprised that when we were woken at 5am, I hadn't suffered surreal nightmares as a result. The early start was neccessay if we were to reach the geyser field in time for sunrise. Apparently, as the sun came up, the gesyers lost their power and died back into the ground. THe scence was a strange one with steam clouds rising all over the plateux infront of us. The largest was jetting out a plume of steam 10 meters or more in hight before losing momentum and expiring into the chilly morning air. It was possible to put your hand into the column and feel the warmth of the blast, which was surprisingly cooler than being caught in the steam of a boiling kettle. At it's base, where the fumarole was no more than a few inches thick and at waist height, a thrust hand was enough to change the tone of the roar being emitted, as if it was voicing it's disapproval at bieng touched.
Further down the plateau, the earth ruptured into boiling pools of sulphurous, liquid mud. Several small pools were encrusted round their perimiter with yellow, white and green crystaline deposits. We nearly missed the spactacle as the temperature was well below freezing and most of the group were reluctant to leave the relative warmth of the vehicle.
Once more we set off and slithered down the wide valley, either side of us windswept and barren, the erth looked as if it had been freshly raked and was ready for planting. Occasionally, we'd pass small areas of tufted grasses which looked like a field of gonks, theirheads barely breaking the surface, ready to be harvested and sold at market to funfare owners as prizes. I made a mental note to go easy on the rum at bedtime and not listen to weird CD's at bedtime in future!
Soon we rounded a corner and were met by another lake which was fed by thermal springs which opened out into streaming pools near the lakeside. The water in the pools was hot to the touch and several members of other groups got down to their swimmers and lept in. I thought of doing the same but the painfully tingling in my nose, toes and fingers suggested I'd be better off fully clothed, I didn't want to scare anyone with my pot bellied, near white body anyway!
After breakfast, we raced to our final destination, Laguna Verde. The copper rich mineral stew in the icy water gave the lake its name and when the sun shone, the water's surface took on a vivid turquoise hue. The obligatory volcanic mountain rose up behind the lake, but this was was special. Volcan Licanabur made the whole scene picture postcard perfect, almost symetrical, it stood magestic, silent and alone against the azure sky. We created a small cairn and annointed it with coke as an offering to the mountain gods and Pachamama and all too soon, we were herded back aboard the jeepfor the last time.
We skirted the lake and quickly arrived at Laguna Blanca to catch our connecting bus to San Pedro de Atacama, just over the border in Chile.
We said our goodbyes to Jo and Ben who were returning to Uyuni and boarded the bus. Amlost as soon as we-d set off, we had to have our park tickets stamped then, after a few more minutes, we were off the bus again at the border crossing. Alex made what I thought was a desperate bid for freedom, running away from the outpost and out over open gorund. It turned out she only wanted her picture taken next to the 'Welcome to Chile' sign! WE sped down a long, straight, tarmac heighway (our first for quite some time) and on to San Pedro. We came to a grinding halt on the edge of town though as we faced the environmental inspectors! I pannicked when I remembered the hunk of cactus in my pack, especially when I saw the cactus poster with the big red stamp over it! I think the guy took pity on us and said that as long as it remained in the bag whislt we were in Chile, that-d be ok.
San Pedro was a small town that's dusty, full of gringos and Chilean holidaymakers but it it has a pleasant sfe feel and that's just what we needed after the last few days. We left Patty and Cathy to find their hotel and trudged off up the street with Jess, to fit our own lodgings... and hopefully take the first hot shower since we'd left Uyuni and Bolivia what seemed like a lifetime ago!