Our driver gave us an option at the end of day 2: Stay up high and do the original tour. This would mean sleeping and freezing at 4300m, then passing an almost uncleared stretch, where we’d surely have to push the car to look at a few more frozen lagunas OR go down, sleep at a warm and cozy 3900m altitude and go on to see the stone formations of “Lost italy”, the “laguna negra” and “the anaconda”. Our decision was further facilitated by the fact that my guide book (well not mine, I have the habit of hijacking other people’s guide books to find the best of the best by comparing all the guide books) said one should ask the driver to please make a detour to see the laguna negra. As well as the fact that a few of us were feeling the effects of altitude sickness and all of us were feeling the effects of the cold. So we went down. Our guide announced that only the right side of the room had wifi, then started laughing, when we actually believed him. I guess we should’ve known that a place that doesn’t offer hot showers won’t have wifi either. Dinner was a nice local meal, but still no peanut soup. After the dinner we opened a bottle of wine and learned that the altitude affects you there too. I’ve rarely seen five people this drunk from a single bottle of wine.
The next morning we were woken by the smells of pancakes! While not traditional Bolivian food, they definitely were exactly what we were craving.
We left, not before fixing the flat of the car in front of us and set out to discover Lost italy.. or Italy lost, as our guide had written on the windshield of his car to help him remember the English name. Italia perdida is a bunch of crazy rock formations in a lovely red hue. We drove and stopped at many formations, the camel, the turtle and finally Italy lost, where our guide confided in us that it was originally named “Lost city”, but renamed into Lost italy to make it more attractive to tourists.
From the top of Italy we could already see the next laguna, where we were supposed to catch flamencos for lunch.. Or that’s what our guide said. It turned out not to be true. Of course. We also figured out that lamas don’t lay eggs as he claimed. Over time he really warmed up and tried to see what he could get us to believe and what not. He would’ve totally convinced us that lunch was donkey meat, if the guide next to him hadn’t broken down laughing as he said it. (Still no peanut soup, by the way).
After the flamencos we continued on to the laguna negra, an absolutely beautiful and peaceful place. We were quite happy that the swamp leading up to the lake was still frozen, so that we could reach it with dry feet. We spent an easy hour there, just enjoying the serenity of the place. Until some scary red-eyed ducks started acting up. We returned to our cars to find a lovely lunch set for us.. No donkey meat involved.
From there on we drove to the anaconda, which turned out to be a river winding itself, like an anaconda, through the canyon. Quite impressive and a definitive test for those scared of heights. After that we set off for the salar.
A quick stop was done at an abandoned train station to try out the local beers, made with quinoa, coca or cactus. Cactus probably won, quinoa most definitely lost.
We were going to spend the night in a salt hostel. I had been imagining an igloo made out of salt.. Boy was I wrong. The salt hotel looks like any other house, only that the bricks are made of salt. Totally crazy. And no of course we didn’t lick the stones, we’d never!