Laguna Colorada, a lake that is home to bioluminescent algae, shines red when the light hits it just right. We ended here on the first day of our tour through the Atacama desert on our way to the Salt Flats of Uyuni. Watching the sunlight slink down the side of a mountain, we listened to flamingos cooing in the distance. The pink birds glided across the water and we laughed at their goofy way of walking.
The four of us dispersed for a moment to look around and noticed our tour guide, Liroy, at a lookout point taking photos. Considering how often one must frequent the same sites as a tour guide, we were intrigued to see him taking photos. Janelle asked him if he ever gets sick of visiting the same places over and over again. He said that nature is always different and always interesting. For example, he had never seen the light hit the path along the lake in quite this way. We turned to see the shadows of the rocks along the path creating a striped pattern on the ground.
Desert formation, Quechua (indigenous Bolivian) culture, and constellations are among the topics we had never anticipated learning about over the course of our 2 night, 3 day journey. Liroy taught us about the belief in Pachamama (mother earth) and some of Bolivia's history and how it is today. Below is a piece of art painted on an old train at the train cemetery in Uyuni with Liroy pointing out the Andean calendar in the center of the intricate design.
The desert stretched before us. Our car bumping along the road as the driver, Jose Luis, carefully maneuvered around ditches and rocks, using only the view of the mountains and a bit of memory as guidance. We took stops to see more lakes, to swim in a hot spring and to take photos of dali-esque rock formations. At night we stayed in a hotel made completely of salt. Grains of salt crunched under our feet instead of floorboards. You could lick the wall for an extra dose of sodium.
We settled in for dinner and a girl brought us silverware. She noticed I was drawing and asked if I was a painter. She said that she draws and she asked if I could draw her. I said yes, thinking back to when I studied in Italy. My friend Jasmine and I made a project to draw strangers without them noticing then giving them the post card sized drawing as a memento. Jasmine would capture their reaction with a photo. It was a way to connect with people through art without having to worry about a language barrier. Because Ingrid was working, I took a photo of her and drew her portrait from my phone.
I gave her the portrait and asked to take a photo of her with it, in my typical broken Spanish. She smiled and laughed before the photo then went right to the kitchen to show my interpretation of her. I continued to paint, wanting to leave our guides Liroy and Jose Luis with something special as a thank you for giving us a warm welcome to Bolivia. For Jose Luis, I painted his favorite spot, the red-glowing Laguna Colorada. For Liroy, I painted his favorite part of the trip, flamingos.
Over 3 days we made stops to places I never would have imagined: the wet salt flat perfectly reflecting a fresh sunrise, cacti growing from a mound of ancient coral. We took countless photographs and wrote extensively in our journals. There is still more to be written and painted to capture what it was like to be introduced to Bolivia in this warm and beautiful way.