After circling around a natural disaster that has crippled local infrastructure north of Salta, we had finally made it to the altiplano.
An early start in Tupiza, where we helped our drivers Don Clemente and Hector pack the Landcruisers for our four day trip into the desert. On day one we headed west and up into the Cordillera de Lipez.
The day's scenery bore similarities to the Quebrada de las Conchas between Cafayate and Salta, where arid desert-like landscapes are shaped by sporadic but dramatic wind and rain. Broad, empty river beds are surrounded by cacti and squat foliage and backed by rock formations worn by years of storms.
We stopped for lunch in the hamlet of Cerrillos, about 4000m above sea level. Having felt a bit breathless in Tupiza this morning, it was a shock to feel the thinness of the air at this altitude.
The buildings here are built up from ground level on stone footings, but the primary material is mud brick. Stacks and rows of these can be seen curing in the harsh sun and wind before being used for construction. While the climate and atmospheric conditions here are generally extremely dry, the big rain storms mean the buildings are in need of constant repair. The church (pictured above) was no exception.
No photograph I take will do justice to the vastness of the Cordillera de Lipez. The altitude and the scale of the place made it a very overwhelming place to travel through. The width of valleys meant we sometimes had the same view of the same landmarks for hours at a time. We put a temporary ban on the word, "Wow."
San Antonio de Lipez is one of many abandoned settlements from the colonial era. Situated at 4678m to serve the Spanish need for natural resources, such as gold and silver, it was deserted when mining operations here became impractical.
The day topped out at this Mirador, 4855m up. View across to the Laguna Morejon and Cerro Uturunco (6008m) beyond. This was a perfect finish to a day of big valleys of mineral rich lakes and extinct volcanoes.
We descended to 4200m and the village of Quetana Chico for our first night. After a nostalgic chat with Josh about British comfort food, we were served the closest thing possible to Cottage Pie that you could expect at over 4km above sea level! Morale boosted we turned in early for another long day on the road.