Week 9: Uyuni, La Paz, & Copacabana

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UYUNI

I came to Bolivia specifically to see the Uyuni de Salar (salt flats of Uyuni). A geologist on my Antarctica trip recommended it to me and it’s been on my wish list ever since. When it rains, people take incredible photographs of the reflections, but since I was there on a very dry day, we took lots of fun optical illusion photos instead. Because there is nothing to help your eyes gauge distance (trees, houses), objects that are very far apart can be creatively arranged in such a way that they look like they are the same distance (albeit with different sizes)

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In the middle of the salar, there are islands covered in slow-growing cacti and fossilized corals. The salt flats were once giant saltwater lakes that slowly dried out over many years because their link to water was closed. Remember these salt flats are at almost 12,000 ft in an area that gets little rain. The islands that stick up now would have been seamounts in the old lakes, covered in marine organisms. Over time, as the sea level dropped, these landmasses emerged out of the water and new life forms gradually colonized them.

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view of the Salar de Uyuni from Isla Intahuasi

After the salt flats, we spent most of the next day looking at flamingos. I always thought these creatures lived in hot areas, but these species like the high altitude. My favorite were the Andean flamingos, which have wide red stripes and black tips on their wings that can only be seen when they fly.

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flamingos, flamingos, and more flamingos (close ups are hard because they’re so skittish)

I was also excited to see a few more creatures I’d never seen before. The vicuña is a relative of llamas and alpacas (in the camelid family), but so far have escaped domestication. Because of this, their wool is the most expensive in the world. The Andean fox, like foxes everywhere it seems, is incredibly shy. This one was hovering near our lunch spot, just out of range, most likely waiting to enjoy some crumbs after we left. And last, but certainly not least, is the incredibly large rodent known as the viscacha that looks like a combination between a squirrel and a rabbit. It’s about the size of a jackrabbit, but in reality, is more closely related to the much smaller chinchilla.

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vicuña, Andean fox, viscacha 

Near the end of the trip we stopped at the Sol de Mañana, a geothermally active region near the border with Chile. It reminded me so much of Yellowstone National Park, full of steaming hot water, fumaroles, and a strong smell of sulfur.

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Sol de Mañana

Mud pots are just collections of dirt and boiling hot water. I tried out my phone’s slow motion setting and found the way the bubbles burst to be mesmerizing so I thought I’d share.

LA PAZ

I arrived on a night bus from Uyuni, not quite sure what to do with myself with hours to kill before I could check in at the hotel. I ate a huge breakfast and wrote tons of postcards before finally wandering over to the Iglesia de San Francisco, which included some great views from the roof. The tiles on the roof were made using people’s legs as molds which is why they are slightly different sizes and shapes.

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view from the roof, the tiled roof, me in the tiny stairwell

My favorite part of La Paz was riding the cable cars everywhere. For less that 50¢, I saw incredible views. Because of the tremendous difference in elevation between different parts of the city, cable cars make more sense than subways or bus lines. The president Evo Morales finally pushed through this amazing public transportation system that goes all over the city.  (In case someone forgot that he was taking credit for this achievement, his face is plastered on every single cable car.) Another unique La Paz attraction is the clock that runs counterclockwise on the Bolivian Congressional Building. Apparently, this was installed to represent how sundials actually move in the southern hemisphere and symbolically celebrate that difference.

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Mi Teleférico cable car, Bolivia’s “clock of the south”, street art

COPACABANA

No, not *that* Copacabana. This one is on the shores of Lake Titicaca. In order to get there, the bus had to go on a separate ferry over the Straight of Tiquina. I climbed up a big hill to see an Incan stone doorway that lets light through on the summer solstice and although that was a bit disappointing, I did get a wonderful view of the city.

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bus on a ferry, view of Copacabana from a nearby hill, Copacabana sunset

The next day, I rolled out of bed to catch an early ferry to the Isla del Sol, a small island located relatively close to the mainland. There is an ongoing feud between different communities on the island, so visitors can only go the southern part of the island. I hiked up to the top and decided it seemed like a beautiful place to read and enjoy the scenery.

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view from Isla del Sol to the mainland, view of another part of the island from the same spot

WANT A POSTCARD?

Here’s a reward for making it to the bottom of this blog post. 🙂 If you want a postcard from overseas, fill out this postcard form! At some point this school year, I will send you a postcard from somewhere outside the United States. I can’t guarantee it will be delivered, but I will send it.

One thought on “Week 9: Uyuni, La Paz, & Copacabana

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