Coming over the brink of the hill, you see below the distinctive white expanse of a salar, or salt flat. Bare mountains and iced volcanic peaks Liscaya (5,616 m / 18,252 ft), Arintica (5,597 m / 18,190 ft) and Chiguna (5,317 m / 17,280 ft) surround the lake. Dirt devils rise high in the wind whipping the land. Near the western end of the salar, trucks load up the mineral being mined, as they have for generations. This is Monumento Natural Salar de Surire. Establshed in 1983, this 11,298-hectare reserve, which includes not only the salt flat, but also many wetlands, protects important flamingo nesting grounds. All three major species of these rose-colored birds are seen here: Flamenco Andino or Parina Grande (Andean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus andinus), Flamenco de James or Parina Chica (James's Flamingo, Phoenicopterus jamesi) and Flamenco Chileno (Chilean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus chilensis). Other birds find a home here, such as the CaitÃ (Andean Avocet, Recurvirostra andina), Pato Juarjual (Crested Duck, Lophonetta specularioides alticola), Perdiz de la Puna Perdiz de Puna (Puna Tinamou, Tinamotis pentlandii) and the parkâ€™s namesake Suri or Ã‘andÃº (Puna Rhea, Pterocnemia tarapacensis). On the altiplano plains, covered with tola (Baccharis spp) and paja brava (festus, Festuca spp) live three camelids: vicuÃ±a (Vicugna vicugna), llama (Lama glama) and alpaca (Lama pacos).
At the eastern end of Monumento Natural Salar de Surire, 16 kilometers (9.75 mi) away is Aguas Termales de Polloquere. The pools of blue waters are lined in white. On the shores are picnic tables and two campsites (no latrines).
The climate is very dry. Summer rains and winter snows amount only to 250 millimeters (less than 10 in) per year. In winter temperatures reach 5ÂºC (41ÂºF) during the day and -15ÂºC (5ÂºF) at night. Summer temperatures range from -5ÂºC to 5ÂºC (23-41ÂºF). The altitude is high. Donâ€™t do hard physical activities. Watch for signs of soroche. The sun is strong; use sunglasses and sunscreen. Bring plenty of warm clothing, including hat and gloves.
There is a carabinero post on the northwest side of the salar, near the salt mining operations. Along this side road are many flamingos. The Conaf ranger station is on the shores of Salar de Surire, 129 kilometers (78.5 mi, 3 hours) from Putre and 48 kilometers (29 mi, 1.5 hours) from Guallatire. The station has lodging. Make reservations with Conaf in Arica (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. VicuÃ±a Mackenna 820, Tel.: 058-20-1206 / 25-0750, URL: www.conaf.cl) or in Putre (Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-1 p.m., 2:30-5:30 p.m. Teniente del Campo, between Latorre and O'Higgins).
Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...