Friday, 2 August 2013

Adventure Jeep Tour Across the Bolivian Altiplano: Day Three

A landscape straight out of Dante’s ‘Inferno’…

We were up before sunrise on our final day. The old adage, ‘the coldest hour is before the dawn’, held true as we piled into our jeep to begin the race with numerous other 4x4s to the Geysers Sol de Mañana. In sub-zero temperatures this geothermal field of wonders, sited at 5,000 metres above sea level, boasting geysers, fumaroles and bubbling mud pits, is at its very best. The golden orb of the sun erupted from behind a ridge just as we arrived at this incredible landscape. We alighted to witness a geyser shooting its white steam vertically into the deep blue sky for what seemed like miles, the long shadows of the curious seeming to dance on the ground all around it in wondrous servitude. The hiss was almost deafening. 

Beyond lay a scene transposed straight from Dante’s Inferno: a series of hissing, bubbling, spluttering fumaroles and mud pits, sending their rank smelling steam and gases wafting high into the atmosphere. Silhouettes of people moved amid this surreal landscape, momentarily obscured by thick clouds of vapour only to appear seconds later etched in vivid detail against a background of brilliant steamy whiteness. As you pass by the churning chasms of boiling steam and evil smelling spitting mud pits, you can feel the very vibrations of Mother Earth as she heaves and sighs.

We then proceeded to Laguna Chalviri, steam drifting like silken scarves above its mirror flat surface. Here are much fabled hot springs, driven by the same geological process that has uplifted the South American continent to form the altiplano, the Andes Mountains and that also fuels the geothermal field we had just visited. It was cold, bitterly cold. Ice lay inches thick around a steaming pool in which intrepid bathers were clearly enjoying the warm waters. Common sense told me not to remove any of my clothing in the icy cold atmosphere, but the once-in-a lifetime-chance of bathing in a hot spring at around 5,000 metres above sea level got the better of me. I striped off and darted across the icy ground before I had time to feel the cold, plunging onto the pool. The instant warmth was incredible, seeping into my frozen bones, finally banishing the bitter cold of an altiplano morning! Martin and I languished in the balmy warm waters for as long as we could. But a jeep was leaving for the Chilean border, so reluctantly, we wrenched ourselves away, bidding farewell to our fellow travellers from France and Chile.

Our new driver sped through the remote and dusty Salvador Dalí desert, an endless expanse of sand fading into dusty nothingness and fringed with impressive multi-colour mountains, pausing briefly to refuel a la Julio (fuel pipe in mouth) before speeding us towards Laguna Blanca, overlooked by the conical volcanoes of Juriques and Licancabur, after which we approached the Bolivian border post with Chile.

I was sad to leave Bolivia with its hard working, silently strong people, proud of their indigenous culture, who welcome strangers to their midst with a smile. These noble people are the descendants of those with whom my Cornish family lived and worked during the late nineteenth century and I will always feel an affinity with the Bolivians, whose border I was about to cross. Passport stamped and with a lump in my throat, I boarded the Chilean registered bus to San Pedro de Atacama. But my heart remained firmly in the land of eternal snows, where the penetrating, awe-inspiring silence, the preserve of high places, reigns supreme; a land where clear and starry skies arc above mountains that have been towering for countless ages above Technicolor lakes where pink flamingos dance. Bolivia had truly touched my soul.

No comments:

Post a Comment