Exploring Bolivia´s Southwest: the Lipez

The Salt Flat of Uyuni. This vast salt desert is one of those things that you just have to see when visiting Bolivia. Loads of different tours are proposed to visit this marvelous natural wonder. We opted for a four-day tour in a 4WD starting from Tupiza. This tour will first of all bring us in the Bolivia South-West to admire volcanoes, geysers, lagoons, and pink flamingos before bringing us Northward to the Uyuni Salt Flat, or Salar de Uyuni.

We are four tourists in our car together with our guide who is also the driver and our fantastic cook. Four other travellers and their guide occupy the second 4WD. As soon as the tour started, we are already flabbergasted by the surrounding landscapes. We first admire El Sillar, rocky formation worth a landscape on the moon.

El Sillar
On the other side of the road!

We are four tourists in our car together with our guide who is also the driver and our fantastic cook. Four other travellers and their guide occupy the second 4WD. As soon as the tour started, we are already flabbergasted by the surrounding landscapes. We first admire El Sillar, rocky formation worth a landscape on the moon.

Lamas
Isn’t that a cute little boy?

In the midst of these hundreds of lamas, we have the chance to encounter a small herd of vicuñas, close cousin of the lama that have very short but very effective wool. The quality of its wool is incomparable and is the most expensive wool in the world: 500$ per kilo! The insane price is due to that exceptional quality and softness of the wool and its rarity. Indeed, there is a very limited number of vicuñas and each vicuña can only produce about 300 grams of wool per year. This means that for a standard poncho, the wool of 5 vicuñas is required. In addition, all vigognes in Bolivia are wild and hunting them is strictly forbidden. To assassin one of these wonderful animals would cost you 5 years of your life in a Bolivian jail. Therefore, the wool is collected in summer, when the temperature is warm enough so that cutting the wool of a vigogne would not be harmful. They simply capture wild vicuñas, take the wool and let them go again.

Vicuñas

We stopped for lunch in a tiny humble village. Here, inhabitants get basic commodities such as electricity, running water, and primary schools. Kids that wish to continue higher education have to go to Tupiza for that purpose. Villagers live from the breeding of lamas and the extraction of various metals from surroundings mines. Unfortunately, the future of this village appears to be very uncertain. Indeed, the whole village economy was based on the will of a single Chilean company that took care of the mines and the herds of lamas. Unfortunately, this company left the place from one day to the next, letting the villagers alone, unprepared, and incomprehensives. Nevertheless, this terrible social tragedy does not seem to prevent them from cheerfully smiling.

Estrellita the baby lama!

We then head down to the village of San Antonio de Lipez. In addition to lamas and mines, this village surviveswith tourism by offering hostelling to travellers touring the Southwest and the Salar. In fact, the original village of San Antonio de Lipez is located a few dozens of kilometers away. As Potosi and so many other places on this continent, this village has a tragic history from the Spanish colonization. The small mountain next to the old village is rich in precious metals that the greedy Spaniards were keen to extract with the “help” of the locals’ hands. Putting thousands of locals to slavery in the mines, they forced the men to stay a whole month in darkness before letting them see the sun for a single day and return to hell the next day. Men died in the mines while women and children were beaten and raped in the village… It is believed that the spirit of the deads haunted, and still haunt, the town. It is said that it drove their assassins crazy, tormenting them in their sleep up to the point that the village was abandoned and rebuilt at its actual location. Despite the beauty of these ruins, they smell death, suffering and injustice…

San Antonio de Lipez
Ghost town…
Most recent building in front of the rich mountain

On a more positive note, we admire later the sunset on the Laguna Morejón with our group. In our 4WD, we are accompanied by a French girl living in Australia and a German girl living in Santiago de Chile. In the other car, there are two British that will soon go to live in Singapore and a French and his Finish girlfriend that are currently doing a wonderful tour around the world. We end up our first day in a little village named Quetena Chico. It is actually a larger village than its neighbor named Quetena Grande. As we are sleeping at about 4000m of altitude in the beginning of winter season, the night is freezing and our lodging does not have heater of course…

The team in our 4WD!

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About nbeuchat

I am currently traveling South America to discover its culture, landscapes, and fascinating people. I am passionate about photography, scuba-diving and dancing.

2 responses to “Exploring Bolivia´s Southwest: the Lipez”

  1. tracykastania says :

    Hey Nicolas!
    You are clearly not a native English speaker! Do you blog in another language as well? I like following your trip!

    • nbeuchat says :

      Hi Tracy!
      Indeed, I’m not! I guess 6 months speaking Spanish made me lose my English 😉
      In fact, my original blog is in French, this one is barely a translation of the other. I still have to translate aaall the way from Buenos Aires to the Salar de Uyuni.
      I’m glad you like following my adventure!

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