Message from Kevin & Jeremy

November 3, 2008

Today we travelled from San Pedro de Atacama to the Refuge at Laguna Blanca. As someone that works in the desert, I thought I
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knew what the desert was, but this bleak yet picturesque landscape redefined my perception. The landscape was barren, no vegetation in site, scarred by activities of past and present mining. There were several stops along the way for photo ops, but the cemetery of an old, abandoned mining camp, remains etched in my mind as the reality of how harsh life in the desert could be on societies.

We continued to climb into thinner air and we were soon faced with a closer view of Licancabur and for a member of his inaugural expedition this view was as magnificent as it was daunting. After a quick team photo, we continued to the Refuge following stops at the Bolivian customs and the entrance to the national park. The Refuge, while rustic, offered the comforts of home at ~4,400 m. We were protected from the hard blowing wind and sub-zero temperatures; we had bunks to lay our heads; we had attached, working bathrooms; and we had hot, home cooked meal from Maxima (our refuge mother) that was a delight to our hungry, tired bodies. We arrived with enough daylight to walk to the edge of Laguna Blanca where we were welcomed by a flock of flamingos.

Flamingos at Laguna Colorada

The walk back to the Refuge, though short, was quite demanding on the lungs. All of the aspects of this trip were now in place; life in an extreme environment. Our goals for the next few weeks will be to better understand the interaction between the two, but for now we will rest and allow our bodies to acclimate to the conditions.

November 4-5, 2008

Over the past two days, the United States has elected a new president and the crew here has done its fair share of driving while exploring the Altiplano and Bolivian culture. We departed our home at the Refuge early on Election Day for a 400 km drive to the town of Ujuni, where we could pay the appropriate fees and get visas. The main road, in fact the only road, was a dirt highway exactly the size of two vehicles, but some areas would probably have tested the geometry of that statement. Although we were bounced around and covered in dust, the drive was a fulfilling experience both scientifically and culturally. We stopped at Laguna Colorada where we were able to observe and photograph the large flocks of flamingos that utilize this body of water for nesting before seeking warmer weather when the weather here turns harsh. The laguna offered spectacular photographs of Colorada’s red waters and volcanic landscape; however, the noticeable, shrinking water line brought as back to the stark reality of the impact of climate change on these systems, which for the flamingos means the loss of a vital habitat.

Throughout our drive, we passed the skeletons of former lake systems, which may offer a glimpse into the future of the shrinking lakes if the climate continues on its current path. We also passed many small towns along the way. In these, men, women, and children were going about their business in the driest place on Earth. Each of these small communities seemed based around some small, yet vital source of water. Water’s life giving properties were visible as the driest areas were also the most lifeless and it seemed like every drop was utilized in some functional way.

After arriving in Uyuni, we fulfilled our payments and spent the night in a local hotel to recharge our batteries before our 400 km drive home. We arrived back at the Refuge just as the setting sun was painting the distant mountains and volcanoes full with color and Maxima was setting the table with nourishing food. Our dusty bodies, tired from the baking sun and bouncing dirt roads, were now full and happy to quickly collapse into bed…

-Kevin Rose & Jeremy Mack