Monday, April 21, 2008

Salar de Uyuni - Day Two, Part One

Nobody slept the first night. We woke up on the second day to a brisk, frozen desert at 4:30 am sore and exausted. Today we had a lot of ground to cover. We had a quick breakfast of apricot jelly on bread with coca tea and we were off into the early morning darkness. Our first destination came into view just as the sun was starting to poke over the distant Andes mountains. The Landcruiser came to a halt at the abandon town of San Antonio at the base of Mount Lipis. The town once boomed a population of over 2,000 people with the discovery of gold and silver in the nearby mountainsides. This was during the 1700´s when it was still under Spanish rule. Workers would load up llamas with the precious metals and kie them over into CHile where they could be loaded onto a boat bound for Spain. Much of the original architecture still stands yet as I walked around it, it looked more like a bombed village.

It´s reasons for abandonment is much more interesting. With the high altitude, constant cold weather and numerous mine colaspes, many deaths occurred at the mining site. It was believed by the towns people and reenforced by the local priest that the mine was inhabited by the devil and that it had placed a curse on the mine and it´s workers. The superstition got to a point where it was impossible to find workers willing to go into it for fear of the same fate and in 1984 the last of the town´s inhabitants called it quits.

As I walk across through the passageways and sandstone rubble, I think about how the beliefs of these people were so strong that they would pack it in on such a beautiful place. A strong belief can have a powerful effect.

Our guides beckoned us onward and we climbed back into the truck. Our next stop came to the banks of the Laguna de Moregon with the huge Volcan Uturunco (6008 km high volcano) at the opposite bank. We arrived just in time to spook about a hundred pink flamigos slipping and sliding on the ice trying to get away from our truck. For not having any immeadiate predators out in the desert, these birds were incredibly timid. Infact through out the entire trip you could only get within about 70 yards of them before one would spook sending the entire flock airbourne off onto the opposite side of the lagunas. It was a routine that would continue throughout our desert visit.

We took some pictures than hiked back up to the car where our driver Lazano was under neath the back chassie hammering in and tightening the back clamp of our rear leaf springs. Noticing our concern, Margarita reaches into her bag to pull out tropical lolly pops. The trick works and it seems an appropriate theme when you consider the colors and decor of the enterior of the Landcruiser. The only hitch is that we are our in a freezing, cold desert where the ice, over an inch thick on the streambeds, has yet to melt in the morning sunlight. It gave you a false sense of warmth but no complaints could be heard as we all enjoyed our after breakfast treats, chugging along to the next great views.

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