Sunday, March 7, 2010

Blue sky, vicuñas, and high-flying flamingos

After a relaxing sleep on salt beds in our salt hotel at the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, we set off early and spotted these vicuñas grazing in the early morning light.
Vicuña wool is said to be the finest in the world, and as such can command prices of up to $3000 per yard ($20, 000 for a man's coat!). In the last century, poaching decimated wild stocks, putting the vicuña at risk of extinction. Fortunately, after being declared endangered in the mid 1970s, the animals were put under government protection and their population is now returning to a sustainable level.

After passing through the very small town of San Juan, we travelled south through the smaller salt flats of Chiguana and into the Siloli desert, where we enjoyed views of sandy Andean mountains against a backdrop of impossibly blue Bolivian sky.

The strange yareta plant grows only 1mm per year (this one is likely over a thousand years old!). It is commonly used as a fuel source for cooking and heating by those native to the area, as there is little other vegetation able to withstand this environment.

Our lunch stop at Laguna Cañapa (4000m) provided a spectacular opportunity to observe the hundreds of flamingos that descend upon the lake every spring to feed in its warm, nutrient-rich waters. It was somewhat surreal to see birds that we had always associated with the tropics thriving in the harsh cold of this high altitude environment.

To be continued...

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