Sunday, August 9, 2009

Day 32 - One Lake After Another

In return for a hotel in the middle of a salt desert we got no water for the night, or early morning. Wanting to freshen up, I saved the hot water the cooks gave us for tea. After a hearty breakfast of cereal with pureed fruit and a pancake, we were ready to head out, but the jeep wouldn´t start. I recalled the agent at the office mention that other jeeps had problems, but not the ones in her company. So much for promises.

The road for the next two hours was nothing more than a dirt path with tire tracks on it. The landscape was as flat as ever, but covered with arid shrubs and a few scattered llamas. We stopped by a small village called San Juan on our way. The Dutch couple bought bear. Nikhil got chocolate. A much better choice.

We must have been on the road for half an hour when our jeep suddenly stopped. It was a flat tire. Two more jeeps stopped to help our driver replace the flat. Some of us went for a bathroom break, others took a walk. In a few minutes the tire was fixed and everyone was back, except for Sucharit. We waited twenty minutes before he came strolling back. The driver was not happy.

Out next stop was at a lake, were we had our lunch. It was shallow, with cold winds swirling the water. And in that water were flocks of lean, leggy flamingoes. There were others birds as well - tiny brown things I couldn´t identify and majestic white seagulls. The flamingoes were the main attraction, their pink plumage standing out in the windy bleakness. I managed to get fairly close to some of them, a few feet perhaps. I kept my distance as I didn´t want to scare them away. These were Chilean flamingoes, because a dark red color ran down their pink backs. I watched them dipping their long necks into the chilly water, feedings as they awkwardly walked on their stilt-like legs. In addition to the birds, we also sighted bikunyas. While llamas and alpacas are often domesticated bikunyas are mostly found in the wild. Their fur is the softest of the three and hence the most valuable. These graceful creatures bore a striking resemblance to deer, but rounder bellies and the patches of fur on their golden shoulders gave them away.

The jeep stopped at a few more lakes and drove by many others. It was much colder today and an icy wind persisted throughout the afternoon and early evening. The plant-life on the flat scenery consisted of a bush that looked like a tuft of wheatish-blonde hair. The area was littered with these tiny shrubs that grew in large groups on the curvaceous mountains. It was a long, bumpy drive. At around 4 pm we reached our hotel. The modest place sat next to Laguna Colorado, called thus because of the changes in color it undergoes throughout the day. When I first saw the lake, it was blue with red blobs in between. It was windy by the lake, but I wanted to see its uniqueness for myself. There was a designated path ,but I wanted to get a closer look so I walked on the solid part of the lake. Some parts were frozen with ice, but there was also a white substance, calcium carbonate maybe. The white material was flaky and soft like chalk in some parts, and hard like coral in others- It broke like egg shells and crunched under my shoes. By the time I reached the peninsula of this lagoon, the whole lake had changed before my eyes. The water transformed into a dark pink. The sky was blue, the velvety mountains surrounding us were chocolate-brown. It was a scene out of a fairy tale, and I was the only one in it...until I looked around and saw other people having similar experiences. All this while, the wind was bone-chilling and my nose a leaky faucet. It was a great feeling, being amidst such harshness, and yet despite the constant cold, it was stunning.

By sunset, the lake had changed colors again. It was now a deep red, the water still rippling from the unrelenting wind. As we started making our way back to the shore, the water turned purple. When we reached the hotel, I took one last look at the color-changing lake. It was back to its normal color, a light blue mirroring the sky.

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