As a photographer the Altiplano gives one a headache. The rarefied air at 4000metres+ gives everyone a headache but photographers suffer doubly because it can be extremely hard to know where to point your lens in the face of so much stunning scenery and wonderful wildlife. At a glance the Altiplano is a barren waste of rocks, nothing grows and nothing lives. However if you take more than a cursory glance over the landscape your eye is suddenly draw in every direction at once. Lakes are bright pink or vivid blue, mountainsides are stained iridescent with mineral deposits and the vegetation that survives these inhospitable conditions produces subtle hues that merge into one another leading your eye inexorably towards yet another stonking great volcano belching out great plumes of pure white water vapour. The fact the the landscape isn't cluttered with trees or boulders also makes it easy to see wildlife; where there's little to hid behind there's a lot to see. Juxtapose the fragility of life with this dramatic, hostile environment and you constantly find yourself in admiration for the plants and animals that thrive in a place where I certainly felt I was only just managing to survive. Altitude affects everyone differently. For me it was sleepless nights, headaches, breathlessness and constant tiredness. I was one of the lucky ones, others suffered much worse!
Mountain of minerals
The crossing from San Pedro de Atacama to Uyuni is rightly popular and passes numerous highlights of the Altiplano. Those wanting to make the crossing sign up with a tour company and then hop into a 4x4 with a number of strangers for the three day trip. The communal dormitories, lack of showers and constant high altitude induced emotional strain mean that by the end of the tour you either love or loath your car companions. What is not questionable is how you will feel about the terrain you ave crossed. The crossing begins in the Eduardo Avaroa National Reserve for Andean Fauna and the popularity of the trip has made the reserve the most visited in Bolivia. The first lake sees a flurry of people leaping out of cars and pointing cameras in every location. Within a few hours a mental overload of dramatic landscapes combined with the rarefied air can make even the most fervent photographer apathetic about anything other than a flamingo riding a vichuna into an azure lake.
It wasn't apathy that meant I almost left my long lens by the side of a bright blue lake. the lack of oxygen probably played a large part.