Day 2: Laguna Colorada -> Siloli Desert -> Laguna Hedionda -> Salar de Chiguana
The sun had barely risen as we departed the village to a nearby mirador overlooking Laguna Colorada. The familiar flamingos were now joined by llamas grazing on the edge of the lake.
Another fascinating type of vegetation is the yareta, which, from afar, looks like nothing more than a moss-covered rock. In fact, they are a type of flowering plant with very dense leaves, thus resembling a compact mat of moss.
From there, we sped back into the Siloli Desert, famed for the surrounding rainbow-tinted mountains and bizarre collection of rock formations. Climbing some of the more stable rock formations proved to be exhausting due not to our collective lack of fitness, but to the breathlessness that accompanies the extreme altitudes.
Speeding along, we next visited a string of lagoons along the Bolivia-Chile border, including Laguna Honda, Laguna Cañapa, and most notably, Laguna Hedionda. These lagoons all sit in the shadow of the majestic Ollagüe Volcano. The pungently sulphuric Laguna Hedionda is populated by tens if not hundreds of flamingos.
Of the six flamingo species in the world, three (the Chilean, Andean and James’s Flamingos) are endemic to the Altiplano and can be found in large numbers around the lakes and lagoons of the reserve. They have adapted to the extreme conditions in the region, feeding primarily on algae which thrive in these lakes.
Having been deceived by a sign promising Wi-Fi (which, as it turns out, is only available for guests of a hotel), we veered away from the Bolivia-Chile border, reaching Salar de Chiguana. A salt flat in its own right, Salar de Chiguana borders the much larger and more impressive Salar de Uyuni. A lone railway cuts through the salt flat and is used for transporting mined salt from Uyuni to the Chilean border.
A brief detour brought us to Gruta de las Galaxias, a prehistoric cave formed of fossilised algae. We also visited a nearby pre-Incan grave, dug from the bedrock of a natural cave. Sadly, colonial graverobbers had removed all of the treasure and mummified bodies from these graves.
As dusk drew near, we ended the day by travelling to a salt hotel, which was thankfully warmer and more comfortable than our previous night’s accommodation. Imagine our joy when we found out that warm water showers were available!