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Salar de Uyuni Trip: Day 2

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

In the morning I felt much better: the altitude sickness from the previous night had completely gone and I even had the bonus of having missed dinner to kick-start my post-Argentina diet! When we started off in the car, David advised me to join him in chewing coca leaves to ward off the effects of the further ascent we had planned for the day. He had been chewing them almost constantly since we set off the the previous day, until after a few hours of driving his cheeks bulged like a chipmunk's. I was curious and I really didn't want to feel as ill again, so I took him up on his offer; after initially tasting very strong and bitter, it settles down to quite a pleasant flavour reminiscent of tea. I think it maybe perked me up a little, too, but the effect is certainly no stronger than a cup of coffee. David told me that 80% of Bolivians chew coca leaves; no wonder the American policy of coca plantation eradication is so unpopular in Bolivia: coca is central to their culture.

The landscape on the second day was even more arid than the first, but what really stands out is how richly coloured all the rocks are; apparently this is due to the incredible variety and wealth of the mineral content. We soon came over a pass from where we could look down at what looked like a frozen or snow-covered lake, but David told us that is actually mineral deposits, though not common salt as in the Salar we were eventually going to reach.

We passed a small green patch where lots of llamas were grazing. The each had different coloured ribbons tied to their ears to identify to whom the belonged. David told us that each family in the area owns about two hundred (I think it was) llamas, since they are their only source of wealth.

Out of the car is was really cold, since we were at about five thousand metres above sea-level, but still the coca leaves seemed to be keeping any problems at bay. Everyone else started feeling sick though. I'm not sure if I had just gone through some threshold the night before or if it genuinely was chewing the coca leaves that kept me healthy, but I was definitely the best off all day.

At the park entrance a poster had advertised the fact we would see flamingos and when we got to the mineral-rich lake, we discovered there loads of flamingos all over the lake, though they were quite shy, and tried to evade our photography.

We pressed on, through ever drier ground until there was almost no plant life at all. All the time we were surrounded by colourful mountains bursting with valuable minerals apparently. No wonder Bolivia was exploited by the Spanish so much as a mining country and source of raw materials.

Finally we came to a hot spring, where we had lunch then took a dip in beautiful surroundings.

Then it was onto Laguna Blanca and Laguna Verde, with Volcan Licancabur as the backdrop.

David told us we would next be driving through the Desierto de Dali. I wasn't sure what the big deal was supposed to be, but we all took photos anyway. I suppose some of the warped rocks are supposed to look like something he would have painted. Or maybe the place inspired him, my Spanish wasn't good enough to work it out.

Then the next stop in our busy schedule was at some geysers at 5000m. Tina started to feel really ill here, and David gave her some drug for treating altitude sickness. I still felt fine and encouraged everyone else to have some coca leaves but, apart from Joanne testing a couple of leaves, everyone else stuck with their sickness or chemical treatments.

Finally we dropped down towards Laguna Colorada where we were scheduled to spend that night. We would be sleeping at 4350m and I still felt fine. David said that we would not actually take in the lake until the morning, instead saying that it was time for tea. We sat down to some bread and the sickly sweet dolce de leche when I remembered that I really wanted to finish off the Chilli Bovril that I had been carrying since South Africa: my bag was too heavy and it was time to start doing away with pointless extras like this. With our bread, we were also offered various teas, including some of David stash of coca leaves, to use as an infusion. Very pleasant, subtle, and I'm sure as harmless as coffee. What is it about Western culture that makes us want to distil and refine the goodness out of natural products until they become dangerous and addictive?

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on October 20, 2009 from Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
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