San Pedro, Chile to Uyuni, Bolivia

My last few posts were published retrospectively. Sorry about that. Here's an update about what I have been up to for the last week.

After staying 2 weeks with Maria-Ines, my wonderful, random host, I finally left Vicuña in the Elqui Valley - though not before I stayed a couple of days at her place in Coquimbo. And on Thursday 2nd June I took a 16 bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama.

San Pedro is a small, oasis town in the middle of the Atacama desert in Chile with geysers, volcanic lagoons, hot springs, canyons, valleys, salt flats and rock formations. And therefore it is full of tourists. It seems like it's sole purpose of existence is tourism and hence everything is expensive. So I left as soon as possible - I did a couple of tours in the day after I arrived and left the morning after, beginning on a 3-day jeep tour through Bolivia and the Uyuni salt flats - the biggest salt flats in the world.

I arrived in the town of Uyuni yesterday, stayed the night and came to Potosí today with a crazy, Japanese friend who I met on the tour. Tomorrow we're going to visit the nearby mines here - where we have been promised a demonstration of dynamite - after which we will go our separate ways.

The day after arriving in San Pedro I had to be ready at 4am to be picked-up for a tour to the volcanic mountains (4,320m) to see the geysers bubbling with boiling water and fuming with smoke. At this altitude the water boils at 85°C. We start so early in the morning so that we can be at the site by about 6am, when there is apparently the greatest activity - although I suspect that the activity is constant and that the hot steam in the pre-sunrise, morning temperature merely makes them appear more active.

Before the sun pokes it's happy face over the horizon the weather in the desert is absolutely freezing! I was warned of this when I organised my tour the day before so I was wore pretty much all my clothes: a termal top, 3 T-shirts, a pullover, a wind-proof top, a raincoat, thermal leggings, jeans, 2 pairs of socks, woollen hat, scarf and gloves. And I was still freezing. The guide said it was -17°C. I checked my pocket thermometer - which isn't particularly accurate - just to make sure he wasn't being dramatic (below).

It seems like "freezing temperature" has been the theme of the last week. Driving though the altiplano ("high plane") of Bolivia I was constantly exposed to sub-zero temperatures. And together with the high altitude - between 3,700 metres and 5,000 metres - my body was having a hard time. The first night I foolishly over-ate and found myself frequenting the toilet to expulse digested and undigested food from top and bottom. Aside from that, I was having sharp, splitting headaches.

Now, after a week of high altitude, I am in Potosí. At 4,100 metres it is the highest city in the world, but I am feeling much better after acclimatising over the last week.

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