Saturday, May 30, 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015: San Pedro de Atacama to the Mountain Lakes & Salt Lakes.

What a day!!  It was still dark when a 15 passenger van picked us up at 7:10 am and I would describe the temperature at that time of day, as very chilly. We picked up a total of 11 passengers and headed out of town, driving south along the Andes Mountain range.  The drive was on a good road, the sunrise was beautiful, but as we climbed the temperature was definitely falling!  We were about 80 km. out of town when all of a sudden there was a tire issue.  Oops, the left rear tire only had two of the 5 lugs holding it on!!!  No wonder there was suddenly a lot of vibration.  The driver immediately called the tour company to send out another van. In the meantime, several older gentleman (older than us) in the group suggested he take 1 lug from the other rear tire (not front tire) so this tire would 3 lugs and the other tire would have 4, giving us a chance to go on to the only next town on the road where we would be having breakfast.  This worked!  By the time we finished breakfast a replacement van had arrived.  In the transfer of our stuff, tire chains were also put into the new van.  Tire Chains!!  What is this all about?  Well, in another 40 km we were driving on roads covered with newly fallen snow. It honestly was only a half inch, but when we entered a National Park, all vehicles had to stop and put on chains.  Well, this was not an easy process, especially when the chains are not in the best of repair!  All ideas were applied to the process – even an old rag was used to hold them on!!!!!(see photo). By the time we reached our destination there was approximately 1 ½ inches of snow on the ground.  Most of the other tourists had never been in snow. They were feeling it and taking all sorts of photos, but by now it was COLD. 

Sun Rise

Tropic of Capricorn Marker on the Inca Trail

Old Inca Trail

Snow Covered Road

Vicuna along the road

Putting Chains on to get to the lakes
From the time we left San Pedro we kept climbing higher and higher until we were at 13,000 ft. in the Andes Mountains.  We are at this location viewing 2 lakes created at the base of two mountain peaks.  These lakes are known for their birdlife – one of the birds builds its nest on the water to stay away from predators.  They use sea weed growing in the lake and somehow stabilize their nest to the sea weed but their nest is actually floating in the lake. While at the lake enjoying the view, mountains and lakes, it began to snow!  The other tourists went crazy taking photos in the falling snow! 

Oh and one other thing – the last 4-5 kms of the climb this replace van had transmission issues, but thank goodness they were able to fix it.  What a day regarding transportation.  However throughout the whole day we had wonderful views of the snow covered Andes Mountain in this part of Chile. At the elevations below the snow covered peaks it is desert, but not as barren as we saw around Calama yesterday.  Today there was some sage brush and other desert plants – some even had little pink flowers. 

Lake (Laguna) Miscanti

Laguna Miniques

More Vicuna

After being at the top, we began our descent.  We are now enroute to the area of salt lakes.  There is a large area with salt deposits.  Due to there not being rain, the salt deposits are not flat like we think of then in Utah.  (see photo)  There are three species of flamingo who love this area, as well as other birdlife. It was an extremely interesting area – however not what we were expecting. 

Flamingos at Salt Lake 


Salt Crystals

Salt Crystals near the Slat Lake

On the return trip we saw several herds of Vicuma – wild llamas. 

What an interesting day.  Tomorrow we are beginning our day at 5:00 am.  Again we have to drive a distance and need to be there at daybreak to see geysers erupting. Warm clothes will definitely be needed again.

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