8th October 2015 by emmadurnford

8th October 2015

5.00am - a pre-dawn alarm and a cold shower. I was not in the best of moods for our 6.30 am pick up. There was no one to be seen in the hotel and we found a bill for drinks and a customer satisfaction form on our breakfast table (unsurprisingly no one else was up).
Our driver and guide had stayed elsewhere in Villa Mar but were ready and waiting for us outside. Despite the high temperature of the day before, over night the thermometer plunged and a little river next to the hotel had thick ice at the edge, especially as the sun had only just risen as we left and so had not yet warmed the ground.

This was to be our last day altogether before we crossed the border to Chile at lunch time. With this in mind the guys had planned a full morning. First we crossed a massive borax ‘lake’ where the mineral is collected and dried before being transported around the country. I had not realised how many minerals and valuable resources that Bolivia has, but so sad that the present regime does not find it possible to exploit this is a positive way to benefit the country rather than just certain high powered individuals. Our 1.5 hour drive continued to Laguna Colorado, a high altitude lake (4,600 meters) where the water is bright red, coloured by unusual algae and literally thousands of James flamingos gather to feed and to lay their eggs. We then continued onto a high altitude area of geysers and bubbling mud. With the strong smell of sulphur it reminded me of Yellowstone National Park or the parks in Rotorua in New Zealand. Yet again the country surprised us as we had no idea that there are so many dormant volcanoes and geothermal activity in Bolivia. At this altitude, because there is very little vegetation the only colours are provided by the volcanoes and the coloured ash.

We stopped for a snack that Francisco whisked up from some deep recess of the back of the car (complete with plates and table cloth) at a hot spring where many people just stripped off and got into the hot water. It was at this point that Francisco decided to try out the zoom facility on Colin’s camera which was really funny - our guide looked so embarrassed. Onto strange rock formations, then Laguna Blanco - a white lagoon coloured by the borax in the area and Laguna Verde (which was actually a beautiful topaz blue) coloured by a highly toxic mix of arsenic and sulphur (no wildlife at all here). This photograph is an example of how great Francisco our driver and our guide were (left to right - Gulliver Bear, Francisco, Me, our Guide - it was blowing a howling gale as well!)

At this point we presented our guide and driver with envelopes with tips and very badly written notes in Spanish - I called them ‘regalos’ (presents). We began a mutual appreciation of each other assisted by our guide’s translation before heading for the Bolivian border with Chile which managed to be even less impressive than the one we crossed from Peru into Bolivia! Time to say our goodbyes which was actually quite emotional and see the guys off as we met our transfer guide who was to drive us to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and to take us through the umpteen forms and bits of paper which we have not had to fill in anywhere else on our travels.

Footnote - You may have noticed that I have not called our guide by his name. Obviously we know his name but there is a good but sad reason why I have decided to protect his identity. He is an excellent tour guide but is actually a fully qualified Doctor who specialised in dermatology. He trained in California but has been refused the right to practice his profession because of an incident many years ago in his student days. The government will not authorise his papers so he can work in his chosen profession so he has to do his best at being a tour guide. He loves his country so much but is frustrated at the corruption at high levels and the seeming inability to make investments where they are needed most in the community. He is a really nice person and I realise how lucky we are - despite some moans from people - to live in a democracy where generally you have the freedom to do and say pretty much what you want if it does not harm others. I really wish him and Francisco well for the future.
Love the hat. Yes saw a programme on Bolivia on the TV, amazing.
October 10th, 2015  
@padlock I'm not normally a hat person but it is so bright and the top of your head gets burnt easily as the sun is so strong.
October 10th, 2015  
I can't imagine red water! Great capture of you all Emma
October 10th, 2015  
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