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Uyuni – Salt Flats

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This part of my journey was the most majestic, magical, tranquil, serene, silent, breath-taking days. 3 days in salt flats, smooth mountains, flowing rivers, playful streams, frolicking emus, decorated llamas, profound canyons, winding valleys, wind blown snow, hot heated sunshine, freezing cold, dust filled cars, one way bumpy roads, land cruisers, and a delicate full moon against ranges of a sherbet sunset. I was in La Paz for one week with no plans.

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The Salt Flats of Uyuni are the largest salt flats in the world at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi). It was transformed through perhistoric lake transformations. The Altiplano is the area where the Salt Flats are and are is a high plateau, which was formed during uplift of the Andes mountains. The plateau includes fresh and saltwater lakes as well as salt flats and is surrounded by mountains with no drainage outlets.

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My experiance before heading to the salt Flats: I was thinking of going to the jungle, or maybe to perfect my Spanish east in Sucre, I couldn’t make up my mind. Late one night I met some friends and one of them when asked what he was up to the next day replied, “I’m driving to Uyuni and doing the 3 day Salt Flat tour in the South Eastern part of Bolivia. I responded “that sounds amazing, can I join you?”. Because he has a car I knew it would be cheaper and we could go to more places and take out time. Three days later and I could not of imagined what was to unfold those upcoming days.

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On the Salt Flat tour we saw a bus turned over, these guys were definately stealing some of the bus parts.

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SAM_0548We left from La Paz at 10 am, one hour out of the busy city and we encounter patrol stop number one. The government official would not let us through because we didn’t have a fire extinguisher in the car. After convincing him we were to go and buy one, he finally let us pass. Next was gas. Bolivia gives a special price to foreigners for buying gas. It’s 4-5 Bolivianos a litre for Bolivians and 9.75 for foreigners. You can get turned down from gas stations too as many gas attendance don’t want to fill out paperwork for that and could potentially get into trouble if they give you a cheaper price.

Eventually after being turned down twice we were able to get gas for 7 Bolivianos. Most of these people end up pocketing the extra gain. 9-10 hours later we arrive in windy, cold, buzzing Uyuni and found a place to crash for $30 Bolivianos ($4.4 USD).

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In the morning we were ready to leave but I realised I lost my debit card, and ironically so did my friend. We ended up staying another night as well because we had issues filling up not our car, but the extra 70 litre tanks. Apparently they think we were going to go to sell gas at the border. So we leave the next morning at 10 am, start out for the salt flats. Anyways, after a lot of hassle and wasting time we finally were off. We didn’t have a map, or the slightest idea of where we were going. The salt flats are huge, I am grateful we did not get lost.

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Many people warned us against going alone on the circuit and we were convinced that we could do it ourselves. The next three days were full of bliss. Two hot spring stops, hundreds of mountains ranges, such varying sizes of lakes and colours. There are four different types of pink flamingos living in the area, and just the silence of the wind blowing through the flowers as literally not a soul in sight for kilometres and kilometres. You become apart of the landscape and it was so easy to connect to the land. The energy, the movement of the breeze and the stillness. I get chills thinking about it. That scenery was the most gorgeous landscape I have seen yet on my travels, I would absolutely go back to these flats and hear that it is even more stunning in the wet season as the whole flats become a lake and you can see perfectly the reflection of the sky onto the lake. It is something I want to go back to.

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For every way to get to a new mountain or river, there were always 2-5 different ways to get there. The roads were so bad, some literally had drop downs into dried up rivers. It could of potentially be dangerous. We did get 3 flat tires, including one that happened when we were close to 50 mph winds and the sand was being blown in our faces. Well, on the bright side, I now know how to fix a flat tire.

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If you go alone: bring a GPS with coordinates already mapped up and downloaded. GPS does not work in the middle of no where. Makes sure you bring enough food and water for the days you go into the circuit. There is no place to buy food, except one touristy place that was an overpriced restaurant near the hot springs ¨agua termales¨.

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We camped, which was crazy cold, probably the coldest I have ever been in my life. I could not feel my numb feet and have never shivered that much. I would recommend bringing fire wood if you can so you can build a fire. If you go by yourself make sure to bring AT LEAST 2 – 70 liter gas cans on your roof rack. There are no gas stations and if you are lucky in San Juan or other small towns you can knock on doors and ask the locals if they are selling any gas. Better to be safe than sorry.

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Tire

Here is John fixing the second flat tire, with such crazy winds it blew the jack off the car!

Toll

Here was a toll that one local town decided to make for cars to pass through and pay. Some towns even have a string or rope to make cars stop. Does not seem legal! This one he is using a rock to raise the toll.

In the end, after 3 days of travelling, getting lost, finding our way again, stumbling upon majestic rivers and pink flamingos, running out of gas, getting 3 flat tires, being too cold to sleep, loosing more things on the 3 day trek than our entire travels, and just being unprepared made for an eventful Uyuni tour for me. I would recommend taking a 3 day circuit from Uyuni to the Chilean border. There is so much competition out there, and tons of horror stories that I head. Like they say in Bolivia, what you pay for is what you get!

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Colca Canyon Trek, Peru

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The Coloca Canyon: Earthquake country, flying condors, loney dirt-cactus filled paths, getting lost, running raging rivers, playful dangerous gysers, stray dogs panting medicinal hot springs, striking mountains as far as the eye can see. This is my kind of Peru.

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Located in the Southern part of Peru in the second deepest canyon in the world, this 3 day hike was one I waited 3 weeks to take. It was one of the reasons why I came to the small town of Cabanconde, and well worth the wait.

The trek started in Cabanaconde, and the first leg was criss cross, zigzag deep into the canyon. We headed steep deep down into the valley about 1,000 meters. When the altitude changed, so did the trees, birds, temperature and life surronding us. It took us about 4 hours down to get to the Colca River at the bottom of the canyon where we met a geyser that was exploding before our eyes. Without hesitation we decided to test all the tiny pools of water the swirled with the cold mountain river, and eventually swim in them. It was potentially dangerous but worth the thrill as it was the highlight of the hike for me. The canyon was actually created from an earthquake as it seperated the canyon into two.

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Next stop was an hour to small part of the river called Lluar, barely a little town, more like one hostal was settled next to the Colca river at the deepest part of the canyon. Little ducklings learned how to swim upstream from their parents, hot pools of medicinal thermals, polar bear diving into the cold rivers (going from one hot spring into the cold river and back again), and light hints of eucalyptus saturated in the rainfall which was the first we had had in months filled the air with a thick smell. So much beauty.

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There was a little friend, named Pepe who was a 7 month old Alpaca (llama) that lived outside of our dormitory. He was quite friendly and frequently would blow snot on you. He was very photogenic and made for some good photos and laughs. The owners were planning on getting a female llama and starting a family for what they reffered to as ¨decorations¨.

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After a good nights rest we headed out to hike 1,000 meters back up the canyon on the other side to San Galle, known as the Oasis of the canyon that had pools in about 5 different establishments to choose from. This was quite surreal as we were so tired from the heat that these pools were the perfect way to end our day.

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I forgot to mention, since I work at the Hostel Pachamama in Cabanacond,e the whole stay at the hostels I was at in the canyon were free as well! Food at some places was half off or free as well. I found it so lovely to have those connections from my work, feels like I have a big family in the canyon. I feel so lucky, and not just another tourist but much more calm, tranquil and appreciative of the different towns and people who are so welcoming in them.

While in the canyon we felt 2 earthquakes. They were small and barely lasted seconds but it was quite the experiance as the roads leading around the canyon are so small and dangerous that you could hear and see rocks falling from the canyon. But not to fear, we were safe and stayed away from the danger.

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We hiked back up to Cabanaconde at 6:00 am the next morning and it took 3 hour up, up, up on a tiny path that literally went through one of the steepest parts of the mountains.

SAM_0418For lodging in Lluar called ¨Lluar Lodge¨ the price is usually $20.00 Soles ($7USD) for a dorm and $10.00 Soles ($4 USD) for each meal. In San Galle I stayed at Las Palmeras and the price for a dorm was $15.00 Soles ($6 USD), meals were the same price $10.00 Soles ($4 USD) and these prices are considered expensive for the canyon.

SAM_0415If you go to the canyon make sure to bring water as it is $3.00 Soles in town and $10.00 Soles in the canyon. I would reccomend packing bread and avacado and snacks. You have to stay at least 2 nights, although I have met people who do it all in one day and eventually get sick from altitude or need to recooperate for an entire night. Take your time if you go to the canyon. I believe its a place to really enjoy slowly and apprecaite. It is not going to be anything crazy, there are not many tourists, and the hikes are hard. If you dont like hiking I would not reccomend it. Although there was an option to take a donkey for $60.00 Soles (25 USD) up the mountain or a 4 X 4 for $200.00 Soles ($80.00 USD), make time to enjoy!

All in all when I returned to Cabanaconde I was beyond thankful and happy for the people at Pachamama and my mural that I made there. I have been bartending at the hostel as well, and it just made me appreciate everything more being away for a little bit.

Back to the Mountains, Salento

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Magical mountains, birds singing a symphony of songs, delicate raging rivers, potent flowers shining in the sun and shades of varadescent greens cover the rolling hills in this story book land. Salento, Colombia is one of the most beautiful places I have seen on my journey thus far. I forgot how beautiful the mountains are.

In Salento there is the most gorgeous hike that I’ve ever been on. It’s called Valley de Cocora and it’s about 45 minutes $3,500 COP ($1.70 USD) out of Salento. It’s free to do and about 6-7 hours to do the whole loop. There is even a hummingbird farm! This hike was stunning: tiny path lined with wax palms, mysterious clouds thickly wet with dew, the occasional cow, waterfall after waterfall, and rolling hill after rolling hill.

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There was one mountain that was later than the others, and the clouds would creep slowly up it, and then spiral down the side. I’ve never seen anything like it, I felt as I had fallen asleep in a fairy tale and awoken to a new world.

After traveling almost 3 months on the coast I forgot how wonderful the mountains are. Going from 90 degree heat to rain and lucious trees has made me appreciate the qualities of both landscapes. Colombia is so diverse and colorful, every place is so distinctly different.

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To get to Salento from Manizales you can go to Pereira or Armenia. Both are easy and both will get you to salento. I chose to go through Peridea. It was $8,000 COP ($4.00 USD). It was about 1 hour bus ride. From that terminal I got another bus to Salento. It was just a 45 minute bus ride for $8,000 COP ($4.00 USD). It’s a short ride and easy to catch from Peridea. The weekend schedule is different from the weekday schedule so make sure you check before you go.

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