Starting on the ocean at Antofagasta, Chile, we pulled and paddled our kayaks across northern Chile and into Argentina. Part 2 of our Altiplano adventure begins on the largest lake in northern Argentina – Lago Vilama – which surprised us by being just a few inches deep. From there we continued into southern Bolivia, crossing the 20 mile by 40 mile Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt lake in the world. Not long ago (12,000 years) the salt lake was covered by a lake 200 feet deep. Today its salt is raked and dried and sold as table salt.
The expedition ended atop 20,000 foot tall Volcan Licancabur, affording us an incredible view over the high desert and lakes we had just negotiated.
We went to South America’s Altiplano, the mountainous desert region crossing the borders of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, looking for water in the driest place on earth. We pulled our kayaks behind, which sounds either Quixotic or foolhardy, and during six weeks as we traveled from sea level to 20,000 feet we ultimately found more than just signs of water. After all, man has scratched out a living here for more than 10,000 years, longer than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere, suggesting there must be water out there somewhere.
Jon Bowermaster, Peter McBride, Alex Nicks, Wendy Madgwick, Patricia Valencia
This ongoing project from writer and adventurer Jon Bowermaster includes a series of expeditions to explore the world’s oceans from the seat of a sea kayak. Used as both transportation and as floating ambassadors, sea kayaks allow Jon and his teams – comprised of some of the world’s best photographers, filmmakers, scientists and navigators – to reach corners of the world rarely seen. The goal of each expedition is adventure and education through exploration of local cultures, histories, environmental issues and the future of these varied regions. Supported by the National Geographic Expeditions Council, the expeditions have taken Jon to the heart of the Aleutian Islands, through the Tuamotu Atolls in French Polynesia, across the high plains of Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, up the wild coastline of Gabon in West Africa, along Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, and around the rugged shores of the Australian island of Tasmania.