High in the Andes, the deep blue skies can be deceptive. This was mid-morning and the lake in front of me was frozen. At night, the temperature regularly dropped to -20 Celsius. It was also breathless here as I was standing at over 4,200m altitude.
If you like desolate, abandoned places, the Atacama Desert is the place for you.
I was standing on the edge of Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake at a dizzy altitude of 3,811 m, when the girl in this photograph approached me and asked if I would take a picture of her. This was in 2003, so this shot was on 120 film, certainly well before the widespread usage of digital cameras. I doubt she will ever see this image, unless she somehow managed to find my blog.
If you ever decide to see South America, I strongly recommend that you visit Lake Titicaca, on the border of Peru and Bolivia. The lake is beautiful, with the Andes scraping the sky behind them in the distance.
High on the altiplano between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, the sky is an impossibly deep blue. The car pulling up was my driver, who played a prank and drove off when I was talking too many photos. It gave the scene a sense of scale, which was perfect. I ended up asking him to do this a few times over the 4 day trip, much to his bemusement.
High up in the altiplano plateau, within the Salar de Uyuni, there is a train graveyard. Rather than methodically removing locomotives and wagons, the local rail service instead runs them off the end of the line and leave them to rot in the salty desert.
The first time I visited this place, there was a simple yet eerie sense of otherworldliness. However, upon my return, all the trains had been graffitied and the whole area had become a huge rubbish dump, which was a real shame.
Strange shapes in the desert. Whilst crossing the Atacama desert in Bolivia, I passed through the Salar de Uyuni salt flats. In the vastness of the white desert, strange shapes were cut into the floor. Blocks of salt were extracted and left in the sun to dry before being removed and sold. The remaining angular shapes were gradually filled with the water that lingered beneath the surface.
In the wet season, the floor of the salt flats becomes flooded and the looks like an impossibly huge mirror, making it hard to know which is heaven and earth.
At the edge of the world is a place called the Salar de Uyuni, in the altiplano in Bolivia. It feels alien, set at over 4000m high in the Andes, close to the gods. With the exception of the cactus, it is bereft of life. This hostile, baron environment is one of my favourite places on earth. There is a brutal simplicity to existence here.
A few years ago, I went to the Dolomites, the Italian part of the Alps, to do some via ferrata and trekking. We had just descended form a glacier and were traversing along the mountain line, before dropping down into the valley below. Even though it was mid summer, there was still snow on the ground in places.
If I recall correctly, I think we were around 3000m altitude. We stayed in a large refugio a did day long treks. One key memory I have of this trip was that I did not know any of the group and spent much of the days lost in deep thought. Where better to have an euphony?
In the mountains of Peru, on the road to nowhere, I stood with a friend, surveying the eerie landscape in solitude. We ended up trekking up to 5000m and walking on the glacier you can see in the distance a couple of hours later, when the clouds cleared and the sun bathed the landscape.
I have fond memories of walking up to the glacier above, undaunted by altitude sickness or concerned with the cold. My companion had to remind me that a T shirt at that altitude and level of cold was not in keeping with an efficient circulation.
I will always have fond recollections of the mountains o South America, with Peru, Bolivia and Chile in particular. All were familiar but unique in their own special way.
Bizarrely, both images above is about the size of my negative (6cm x 12cm).
Moon Valley in Chile, close to San Pedro de Atacama, very much lives up to its name. Trekking in the heat of the day at 4000m altitude, in the altiplano, literally took one’s breath away.
I took this shot in the mid afternoon, as the shadows of the canyon cast increasingly longer trails across the exposed spikes of the rock outcrops, akin to the vertebrae of the valley jutting out of the ground.