It was time for us to leave the expansive Salar de Uyuni and begin our journey to the furthest reaches of the southwestern portion of Bolivia. A dirt road lead us away from the bustling town of Uyuni, and the landscape quickly gave way to expansive Quinoa fields, and Llamas roaming freely.
Our drive was going to take us through Villa Alota before ending up in a small village overnight. This is when having a highly experienced and professional guide serves you the best. The area is quite remote with only a few hostal type accommodations available. None can be found on the internet, and most reserve day-by-day with dormitory style rooms with shared baths. Our guide Gerardo Hartman of Expeditours had carefully planned for this portion of the trip.
The first and most important thing was to hire a secondary driver and his Jeep/truck (in great condition) to drive. It seems that if one drives there and is not a local, overnight the jeep could be sabotaged from other local drivers. The second was to stock up the truck with vital essentials including water to last a week, oxygen and medical supplies, and supplemental food to provide for dinner and lunch along this section of the trip. There are no restaurants available, and the hostals offer just spaghetti usually for dinner. Hard for those with dietary restrictions. As my friend is Vegetarian, and myself allergic to all mammal products, this was ideal.
Lastly, he knew of our preference to have private rooms with even better, an in-room bathroom. No sharing for us. There was no way we’d be given these type of accommodations if it wasn’t for his planning and connections.
But before arriving to Villa Alota for lunch, we stopped through a town called San Cristobal which has the world’s largest deposits for zinc, lead and silver. The Mine is now owned by the Japanese based company Sumitomo Corporation. Mining is an age-old trade in Bolivia. A country rich with Gold, Silver, Tin, Copper and Zinc. It explains why Spain invaded and dominated the country for centuries, pulling silver from the mines in nearby Potosi.
Villa Alota is a village as I remember all old Altiplano villages to be like with homes built with Adobe brick. Now in modern times, the homes are built with the more reliable cinder block. It was a quiet town, and it reminded me of the Spaghetti Western movies of the 1960’s. I could hear the music from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly playing in the backdrop.
The residents loved color in their homes and each doorway was brightly painted.
After lunch, we kept heading south nearing the Chilean border. Now here is where things get interesting. I took many pictures with my iPhoneX which has a GPS tracker that has tagged the location of where the images where taken. So far I’ve been able to retrace our steps well with the ‘Places’ folder in the photo album.
But the town we stayed in….I have absolutely NO IDEA where we were. In looking on the Google Maps online, the town doesn’t show up on the Satellite imagery. I know it exists. We stayed there. In fact, we drove through it a few times. I can find the road we were on, and some of the Volcanic mountains we saw along the way. But really, where we were is a total mystery.
But the scenes we saw along the way was spectacular. We stopped at our first high altitude lake which our called the “Black Lagoon” and I had a glimpse of the first Pink Flamingos we were to see on this portion of the trip.
The roads snaked from here to there, with branches that lead to who-knows-where. I was grateful that I had a local driver that knew the roads like the back of his hand as there were no road signs indicating what the road number was or where it went to.
We really were in no-man’s land, but we weren’t the only ones there. Ahead we saw several tour guide jeeps full of tourists that hightailed it through the stunning landscape. Join me on my next blog post to continue our adventure into Remote Bolivia.