Flamingoes, lagoons, geysers

Saturday, January 21, 2012
Laguna Colorada, Potosí, Bolivia
Day two and what's installed for us? A joy of this 3 day trip is that I don't know too much of what is installed ahead so each hour reveals new surprises.

Looking at the map we are about to drive through the "Route of the Jewels": lagunas Cañapa, Hedionda,
Ch'arkota, Honda
and finally Ramaditas home and sanctuaries to 3 different types of flamingoes.

As we headed off in the distance Montana Calkeya which looks like our snow capped Mt Ruapehu.

A stop by some wind carved stones and in the distance was the still smoking and snow capped volcana Ollague at 5,868 m or 19,252 feet asl.

Montana Canapa which looks like Mt Ngaurahoe / Mt Taranaki / Mt Fuji and next to it was
Laguna Canapa with our first flamingo sighting.

With the snow capped mountain in the background, around the swampy foreshore I trekked trying to keep my feet dry (and managed to) and capture the birds feeding and their reflection along with the mountain mirroring as well in the still lagoon water.

The rising sun was at the right angle.

Occasionally some would fly (no, I didn't chase them) and again with the camera on continuous shooting mode, their reflection in the water was what I was trying to photograph.

Up and over the next ridge and to Laguna Hedionda with even more flamingoes. These ones were more cunning and kept their distance no matter how quietly we tried to creep up to them. Oh for my 70 - 300 mm lens but the 18 - 200 mm was really fine.

After passing Laguna Honda (deep lagoon), I am glad that we stopped half way up to the view point overlooking the lagoon to capture the reflection of the mountain in the lagoon. This angle was so much better than from the top view point ... I didn't even take a photo from the top!

Across more plains and finally some animal life with I presume mother with her young ostrich.

By now it was getting hotter and onwards we drove through the Siloli desert.

The lack of any greenery and soon we just had to stop to take in the 360 degree vista that surrounded us.

For what felt like hours we saw no man made structure like cell phone towers, buildings and even the roads were effectively just tracks without any road signs that we followed.

The photos just don't do justice to this truly awe inspiring bleak yet stunningly beautiful scenery. The fine weather with blue skies and occasion clouds certainly helped. Remember it was rainy season but you could have fooled me. My opinion of course!

Next stop was the famous stone tree or isolated rock formation sculpted by the wind into the shape of a stunted tree, Arbol de Piedra, is surrounded by equally impressive rock formations. Famous in that this one rock is one of the main photos that the advertisers use to attract visitors to this region. But what a long and at times rough bumpy journey just to get out here!

Finally just a short 18km drive to the Laguna Colorada (red lagoon) 4,278 m asl. The rich red colouration is derived from algae and plankton which thrive in its minerals. The shoreline is fringed with brilliant white deposits of sodium, magnesium, borax and gypsum.

The lagoon is inhabited by numerous flamingos. Three species breed there. The Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus Chilensis) reaches a height of just over one metre and has a black-tipped white bill, dirty blue legs, red knees and salmon-coloured plumage. The James flamingo (Phoenicopterus James) is the smallest of the three species. The Andean flamingo (Phoenicopterus Andinus) is the largest of the three and has pink plumage, yellow legs and a yellow and black bill. To see these pink posers strutting through icy mineral lagoons at nearly 5000m makes me abandon timeworn associations between flamingos, coconut palms and hot steamy tropics. In fact you can change the colour of flamingo over two years by the type of food (colouring) that you feed them.

This was also the entrance to the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve. They had changed their admission procedure and no, we did not want to go all the way back to Uyuni for the right paper work!

Nearby was our lunch stop and also our tonight's overnight accomodation.

After unpacking and a feed, it was off to the volcanic zone and Sol de Manana geyers (Morning Sun) 4,850 m asl. The geyser basin with its bubbling mud pots, hellish fumaroles and thick and nauseating aroma of sulphur fumes was just like Rotorua in miniature. But it was really nothing like our Rotorua area or Yellowstone NP. In fact I was quite disappointed. Again OSH - health and safety would have a field day with the lack of fencing and minimal signage warning us of the unstable ground beneath us. Being windier, we didn't stay here long.

Next stop was several hours away. Passing Laguna Salada before crossing the Dali Desert (named after the scenery reminiscent of one of his paintings) and going over a 5,000 metre mountain pass to Laguna Verde (green lake) at 4,350 m which is near the Chilean border. The green colour of this lake arises from high concentrations of lead, sulphur and calcium carbonate. Behind the lake rises the cone of the Licancabur Volcano with an altitude of 5960 metres. Its summit is said to have once sheltered an Inca crypt.

By now it was windy as anything so not too much time was spent here. With no shelter it was time to turn around and retract our steps and with the setting sun the mountain colours proved brilliant. The stark hillside resembled a freshly raked Zen garden dotted with the enormous Rocas de Dali.

I wish that we could have stopped more than we did but alas we had to get to the Termas de Polques hot springs at the foot of Cerro Polques before the sun dropped behind the hills.

With no showers available that night, after a long soak in the 29.4C water reputably good for arthritis and rheumatism, it was time to leave. A short 45 mins drive later with the long shadows chasing us across the desert landscape, we returned to our dinner and night's sleep.

BTW - AC - don't know how you looked so perky considering the way you felt today? Don' t worry, I wasn't far behind you.
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