Much still remains to be learned about the extent of the contribution of the Tiahuanaco Civilisation to the Huari Empire (sometimes called Tiahuanaco Empire) that dominated most today's Peru and Bolivia before disintegrating into several Aymara speaking states around 1100 AD. In the 15th century the Aymara were conquered by the Inca Empire that moved large numbers of Quechua speaking people into their territory to prevent their rebellion.
With the advent of the Spanish Empire, the Aymara and Quechua provided forced labour for the exploitation of the rich silver mines of Potosi and Oruro. By the middle of the 17th century Potosi was the largest city in the Americas and Upper Peru (Bolivia) had become a major source of wealth for the Viceroyalty of Peru in Lima until it was attached to the Viceroyalty of La Plata in Buenos Aires in 1776.
When Upper Peru was liberated by Marshal Antonio José de Sucre in 1825, the local white elite convinced Simon Bolivar and Sucre to let Upper Peru become independent rather than be joined with Peru or Argentina and it became Bolivia. Bolivia initially had access to the Pacific Ocean but it became land locked when it and its ally Peru lost the War of the Pacific against Chile in 1883. In 1838 it also lost a large territory in the south-east after the Chaco Wars with Paraguay.
Bolivia is now one of the poorest countries in South America and the one with the greatest disparity between the wealthy elite and the impoverished indigenous populations. It is also one of the least stable having had 189 military coups in the 173 years of independent existence.
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This is the eastern part of Laguna Verde immediately north of the Juriques and Licancabur volcanoes seen here. Licancabur rises to 5916 meters next to the laguna at 4350 meters. The colour of these salt lagoons comes from the various micro organisms that have become dominant in each one. The people we see were all off the bus that brought us here from San Pedro de Atacama. Physical exertion at this altitude quickly leads to breathlessness.
The border formalities were carried out here on the shore of the western part of Laguna Verde a few km inside Bolivia. Here, the busload of tourists were distributed between the four wheel drive vehicles of the various tour operators. Luckily, there were only two other passengers (Barbara and Peter) and the driver Doro in my vehicle. Most 4by4's were crowded with five passengers.
I had a good detailed map and tried to identify as many of the features as I could but our Bolivian driver Doro often gave us erroneous indications. When confronted with the map he would claim that the map was wrong since it was Chilean. Bolivians don't like Chileans much since they lost the War of the Pacificin 1884.For that reason I unfortunately cannot identify the range of mountains in front of us
A thermal spring flowing into this lagoon gave it the name of Aguas Calientes (hot waters) and attracts tourists who stop for a quick dip. There were no facilities whatsoever. Were Bolivia a developed country, there would be a fancy spa here and tourists would complain that the incredible scenery was ruined by hot dog stands. Well, that's not the case so look carefully and enjoy the pristine beauty of this isolated place!
The Toyota Land Cruisers belong to the tour operators but it appears that each expedition is the private venture of the drivers who are paid so much per passenger. Consequently, they are tempted to provide the bare minimum of food along the way.
Here, our driver Doro, in the red coat is selling some fuel to another driver of the same company, Colque Tours.
Moving north we come to Cerro Negra Muerta which we will pass on our left...
... to reach an area called Pampa Volcancita where a dozen wells were sunk to test its geothermal potential. They were abandoned and my driver obviously did not know why. Neither did he know why this area is called Sol de Mañana.
I understand that the tour business being very competitive, the tour operators can only provide drivers and not trained tour guides. That is perfectly alright considering the level of education of the local manpower. I think however that a big tour operator like Colque tours could provide answers to the most obvious questions on a simple four page leaflet with a map showing the route the driver should follow.
Moving north we come to this peak which I would identify as the Cerro Pabellon according to my Chilean map..
And finally we get a first glimpse of the Laguna Colorada, one of the highlights of our trip, where we will spend the night. A mobile panoramic shot follows.
The red colour is due to a red algae that has become dominant in this lagoon. The same phenomenon can be observed in the high Canadian Arctic islands where isolated lakes, or rather ponds, take on a wide variety of pastel colours that depend on the dominant species of algae in each one.
From here we will drive around the lagoon to the camp on northern shore.
Here is where we spent the first night in an unheated dormitory. It got quite cold but enough blankets were provided so that was not a problem. That's Barbara loading her gear on the Land Cruiser as we were getting ready to leave the next morning.
This great mountain should be the 5703 m Cerro Apagado on the border with Chile. I like to know the name and height of the beautiful mountains I see because I can't help thinking of how I would attempt to climb them if I were still twenty!
The 5478 m Cerro Ascotan del Jardin, also on the border, is lower and easier to climb by the long eastern slope but the Cerro Apagado is much more beautiful.
I know it is ridiculous for me to think about climbing mountains at my age with my bad knee but I enjoy dreaming sometimes.
This extraordinary rock, sculpted by the sand laden wind that can get quite strong on the high puna, has been photographed by thousands of tourists from all angles. Here is my modest contribution...
A hill and a rocky stretch are welcome distractions from the featureless open spaces we have been traversing. Doro grudgingly informed us that this place was called Paso del Inca. I could not locate it on my map and neither could he.
Here are some guanacos running ahead of us on the road. This lasted awhile until they smartened up and veered off to one side.
By now, Doro only grunted when one of us dared to annoy him with a question. The Laguna Honda and the Laguna Chan Khota that follows were easy to identify for signposts provided that information. If you look carefully you will see Barbara and Peter who, at more than 4000 m, had the energy to run down the hill to get to the shore. That will give you an idea of the size of this salt pond.
The fantastic scenery made the trip worthwhile but I felt like a parcel in a FedEx delivery truck. I did not complain because Doro drove fast and well and because he had not started drinking yet. He was saving that for the last day.
We stopped here for a few minutes but Doro couldn't tell us where we were nor identify the volcano on the other side of the valley.
I gave up trying to identify mountains, even beautiful ones like this one.
Same comment about the name of this distant peak.
It was a pleasant surprise to see a dozen llamas grazing around the rocks seen in the previous photo.
We finally reached the village of Copacabana which I could locate on Rio Potrero on my map.
We stopped to eat our usual ham and cheese sandwiches and I took this photo of the Copacabana church
Flocks of sheep and llamas were being herded into the deserted village as we left.
We then went by San Augustin but did not stop as Doro was in a hurry to reach Juliaca,
It would have been nice to meet some of the people living here to hear them comment on the hard life in the altiplano.
Doro did manage to tell us that these plants were quinoa, one of the staples in the Andes along with potatoes and, at lower altitudes, maize.
These caves looked invitingly cool in the heat of the day. Maybe that's why people settled here? There would have been so may questions to ask had we stopped!