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Expedition: Into the Altiplano
Dispatch 4
Our intention was to pull the kayaks on our one-of-a-kind kayak cart from Lagunas Aguas Calientes, in the north of Chile's Altiplano, 6 miles (9.7 kilometers) to a nearby lake called Lago Tuyaco . . . but for one minor stumbling block: landmines.

Planted along the Chile-Argentina border during a flurry of unneighborly activity in the late 1970s, which resulted in a several-year border war, the Chilean army threw thousands of landmines into the nearby desert. The only indication we found that the explosives were still there was a round, rusted sign mounted in a cement-filled tire, reading: ¡Peligroso—Minas! To date, there have been four casualties and a couple dozen maimed farmers by the landmines. We opt to start on the other side of the wide sandy stretch.

Our pulling begins along a mesa of falling red stone. Our system for dragging the kayaks across the desert, from one high salt lake to the next, is of my own design—with help from the creative folks at Granite Gear and Roleez. It turns our team into quasi-sled dogs, with harnesses attached to the bows of the kayaks, which sit up on big, fat tires that are perfect for plowing through the deep sands.

Despite the uphill climb of about 300 feet (91 meters) it is rewarding for me to see the system that I experimented with in the forest surrounding my home in the Catskills at work.

But the ultimate reward is cresting the valley's ridge and seeing below us the wide, ultrablue water of Tuyaco, surrounded by a thick rim of salt, like a big desert margarita.

What follows our descent to the salt-encrusted lakeside is our highest (13,000 feet, or 3,962 meters), shallowest (18 inches, or 46 centimeters), and saltiest paddle yet.

Next: Read Dispatch 5 >>

Funding for this expedition was provided by the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council. For more information on the Council, its projects, and grants, e-mail ecouncil@ngs.org.


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  The Team
  Photo Gallery
  Dispatch 1
  Dispatch 2 (Audio - 1:20)
  Dispatch 3 (Audio - 1:31)
  Dispatch 4
  Dispatch 5
  Dispatch 6 (Audio - 1:45)
  Dispatch 7 (Audio - 1:40)
  Dispatch 8

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December 2003/January 2004

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