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Jon Bowermaster
Explorer Jon Bowermaster

Expedition: Into the Altiplano
An international team of scientists, climbers and paddlers searches for water in one of the driest regions on Earth.

Beginning on Chile's Pacific coastline and then climbing the peaks of 19,000-foot-high Andean volcanoes that border some of the world's highest and driest deserts, ADVENTURE Contributing Editor Jon Bowermaster's latest expedition travels to the last place you'd expect to find sea kayaks—one of the driest regions in the world.

For six weeks during November and December, Bowermaster and a multinational team of five will travel from sea level to South America's Altiplano—a massive, elevated flatland spanning portions of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. The expedition is a study of startling contrasts and infinite variety: High desert temperatures that can change as much as 95 degrees in a single day, towering volcanoes that rise above the flat high plains, and, in a place labeled by a recent NASA expedition as "as close to Mars as we've found," Bowermaster and his team will search for, and write about, water.

The Altiplano was formed millions of years ago by sediments washed down from the mountains to fill a deep valley that formed between two Andean chains as they were pushed up from the seabed. When the sea eventually retreated, it left behind giant salt lakes and saltpans. But as dry as it is, the Altiplano is hardly devoid of life. Animals and birds thrive here: Condors, herds of alpacas and vicunas, gray foxes and vizcachas all flourish in the ochre desert, and the algae-rich salt lakes support formidable colonies of all three species of South American flamingoes.

During the six-week expedition the team will visit small adobe village oases that have been continuously populated for the past 10,000 years. The indigenous people—and their tales of what it's like to live off this high-and-dry part of the world—are an important part of the adventure. They, like the flora and fauna the team will discover en route, play an integral part in telling the story of water in the driest place on Earth.

Read Dispatch 1 >>

Look for Jon Bowermaster's feature article on exploring the parched lands of South America in a future issue of ADVENTURE. Subscribe now and Save 62 percent off the cover price >>

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.


Portrait courtesy of Jon Bowermaster
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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

Download RealPlayer to hear audio.

Related Web Sites

In the Field: Bowermaster's Trip to Tuamotu
Follow Jon Bowermaster as he paddles and dives some of the Pacific's richest coral reefs and deepest blue lagoons—before they disappear forever.

Photo Gallery: Castaway in Paradise
Witness one of our most popular photo galleries to date as Photographer Peter McBride explains the secrets behind his remarkable shots of the Tuamotu Archipelago.

In the Field: Descending the Dragon
Hear Bowermaster's dispatches from his kayak odyssey down the Vietnam coast.

In the Field: Birthplace of the Winds
See photos and hear dispatches from the 2001 expedition to Alaska's Aleutian Islands that inspired Bowermaster's new book Birthplace of the Winds.

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December 2003/January 2004

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