“The end of the world. The most hostile, the most fascinating, the most attractive end of the world." Lost in this imagery, it is only the clumsy "CHILE" scrawled across the sign which brings us back to reality. This place is none other than the southern limit of Bolivia, reached only after days of trekking through a deserted and arid landscape, swept by icy winds and devoid of life but for the rare and scattered oasis. Only thousand-year-old volcanoes disturb the rest of this mineral world. We are at the Laguna Verde, at the foot of the Licancabur volcano in the South Lipez region. Here we find mixed deserts of salt, ochre and black mountains, all of which are magnified by the sunlight which reaches these highlands intact and burning. It is only the occasional storm which interrupts this play of light. Before reaching this true masterpiece, we must encounter other extraordinary landscapes and not very ordinary men.
From La Paz, the route is simple. We pass first by Lake Titicaca before turning South to Sajama National Park in Bolivia and to its neighbor, Lauca National Park in Chile. Here we find ourselves in the Cordillera Occidental, the natural border between Chile and Bolivia. The Cordillera Occidental is primarily the dividing line between the arid and desolate landscapes of the Pacific side and the (relatively) populated areas of the Altiplano. We cross the desert expanses and meet the people who have learned to tame an inhospitable environment. When we enter the kingdom of the alpacas and viscachas (rabbits with long hair and long tails), we may also observe herds of vicuñas, many varieties of birds, including ñandus (distant relatives of the ostrich) and even condors.
In Argentina, from Salta to the northwest, crossing the quebradas de las flechas and las conchas, we navigate between high peaks and arid or subtropical valleys, to meet the pre-Columbian history of Argentina.
We pass across one border to the other, through the Bolivian South Lipez, the Chilean Atacama Desert and the Argentinean northwest. We discover that we are not crossing one desert, but many, passing between lagoons and volcanoes, geysers and colored canyons.
To link our discoveries of the natural forces which shaped the great Altiplano, with the colonial force of the Spanish conquests, the next stops in our trip are to visit the Spanish settlement cities of Sucre and Potosi. The mythical Altiplano has nourished our childhood dreams of mysterious cities of gold in Latin America. Rendezvous in an unusual land, for a 4WD expedition in the great wild spaces from the great Chilean North to the South Lipez passing by the Uyuni Salt Flat, and the region of the Argentinean canyons.