November 1, 2006
Laguna Blanca Refuge, Bolivia
Today we left San Pedro and climbed up into the
altiplano (Spanish for "high plain"), ending at the
refuge by the shore of Laguna Blanca, in Bolivia. This
will be our home for the next week. The scientists
will collect samples from experiments that they placed
in previous years here and at the nearby Laguna Verde.
The altiplano is a broad sloping plain that climbs to
the base of the volcanoes that define the skyline of
this harsh and beautiful desert landscape. It spans
hundreds of miles north to south and is perhaps 50 to
100 miles wide. All of this terrain was created by
volcanoes and hydrothermal activity. As we climbed, we
passed through regions that were alternately barren,
then covered with desert scrub. Occasionally,
alongside the road we saw deep channels that were cut
by rivers that once flowed there.
Suddenly, right beside the road, we saw a pack of
llamas, about 20 of them. They were congregating
around a watering hole. We stopped to take some
pictures. They were apparently used to being around
people. We were able to get within 10 feet of them
before they lazily turned their backs to us and
trotted a short distance away.
Just a mile or two later, the bus stopped again.
"Everybody out," said Nathalie. It was time for our
first official group photo, with Licancabúr as our
backdrop. This was at 4,000 meters (slightly more than
13,000 feet) above sea level.
We continued climbing another 500 meters (about 1,600
feet) in elevation, and then turned left off the paved
road we had been traveling onto a fairly
well-maintained dirt road. And there, to our right, a
herd of vicuñas, goat-like animals with tawny fur.
They are related to alpacas and llamas.
A short stretch further down the road we stopped at
the Bolivian border, where we all filed in to a small
shack to present our passport and obtain Bolvian
Soon we were at the refuge, the wind whipping around
us and stirring up Laguna Blanca, giving it its
characteristic milky white color. We unpacked, had our
first taste of lunchtime soup, refuge style, a
delicious welcoming meal.
Sunset over the lake was a fantastic visual treat.