After a final night of sleep in a comfortable bed, James and I climbed into a pair of decrepit old Land Rovers with drivers who spoke next to no English, and had an apparent case of chronic sleep deprivation. Luckily, one of our group was a beautiful Argentinian named Karina who was fantastic in providing a running translation of what our guides were showing us.
After a quick stop at the Bolivian border for the usual formalities, we headed out into one of the most otherworldly landscapes I’ve ever seen. The colors in the rocks and mountains were some of the most intense possible, magnified by the bright blue sky, undimmed far from any sources of air pollution. We visited Lagunas Colorada, Blanca and Verde; a series of lakes whose water had been colored by minerals and extremophile microbes until they looked as if they could have come out of a Dr. Seuss story. At first glance you’d think that nothing could live in these waters, but each lake had a resident population of hundreds of flamingos, specially adapted for the altitude and environment.
After the first lake we had another couple of hours of driving, gaining altitude all the while. Eventually we stopped at a geyser basin called Solar de Manaña that had active steam jets, bubbling mud pots, and the constant smell of rotten eggs. The air was thin and cold (we were at about 15000 feet), and while there was a little hot stream we could have gone swimming in, no one really felt like braving the cold enough to get wet.
We stopped for the night at a ratty hotel where our driver fixed us a “traditional” Bolivian meal of spaghetti and tomato sauce. That evening we went hiking around Laguna Colorada (Red Lake) where we got even more photos of flamingos, and then retired for a surprisingly sleepless night due to the altitude.