After flying out of Tierra del Fuego, we land in La Paz, Bolivia, the largest community in the Altiplano. This desert area is extraordinarily dry, one of the driest in the world. The altiplano forms at the point where the Andes mountains are the widest, and is the most extensive plateau outside of the Tibetan plateau.
When we land in the morning, the temperature is quite pleasant, and as the air is so dry, there is absolutely no humidity. The Atacama will also be a point on our tour of the area, and this is, in fact, the driest desert in the world. It is actually 50 times drier than Death Valley.
We head out into the dry heat in cars; on foot, there is almost no chance of covering much ground. Moving toward the coast, we see nothing but scrub desert and cacti. The sun is beating down on us, and this heat is so oppressive that some of us show some symptoms of heat exhaustion. Fortunately we brought a large quantity of water.
Arriving near the coast, there is more vegetation, but still not very much. We also see the only large animals living in this area: guanacos: the South American camel. They survive off of the flowers of the cacti.
En route to the Andes Mountains, our next stop, we see the Atacama Giant. This is a large anthropomorphic geoglyph. It is the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world with a height of 86 meters and represents a deity for the local inhabitants around 1200 AD.
Eventually, we reach the foothills of the Andes mountains. The setting sun melts behind us in the desert salt basins.