Uyuni and the Salt Flats

Trip Start Apr 10, 2012
Trip End Apr 06, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  , Northern Argentina,
Wednesday, September 5, 2012

After our all day bus ride we eventually arrived in Uyuni. Our first impression was that it was another typical, poor Bolivian town and we were right. Upon getting off the bus we were besieged by people trying to sell us salt flat tours. As SJ was tired this made her a bit moody! They are only trying to make a living but they don't give you a second to think as they all shout at you. There was one lady who was a bit calmer than the others and although she was trying to sell us a tour she was giving us enough space to get our selves together and retrieve our bags so we decided to go with her to the office. After some discussion, haggling and decision making AK & SJ decided to do a 2 day tour while Hayley decided to do a 3 day tour with a German girl we met, called Freda. Included with the price was a night in a hostel so we headed of to drop off our things.

After a quick freshen up we all headed out to the Internet cafe and to get something to eat. After trying unsuccessfully to get access to any website (the Internet connection was really poor) we decided to just head out for dinner. SJ tried to take out cash from an ATM but the machine kept her card. After failed attempts by AK with several different cards we gave up and Hayley kindly offered to borrow us some money.

We had dinner in a cheap and cheerful chicken & chips type place and then headed back to the hostel to pack our day bags with lots of warm clothes, charge all our electronics and get an early night. We had decided to get a shower in the morning as it gets flipping cold at night so neither of us could face it!

Our alarm went off at 8am and AK, as usual, got up first. He headed into the bathroom and with in 2 minutes was back out to deliver the good news to SJ that there was no hot water! Now we have grown accustomed to getting showers that make your teeth chatter and spy our skin slightly blue but in these sub zero temperatures we really couldn't face it. We got ready and met up with Hayley and Freda for breakfast which we had in a little cafe round the corner from the hostel. Uyuni is a funny place and the people who work in the cafe's and restaurants are not at all friendly. Everywhere else we have visited people have been very friendly, you are after all spending money in their establishment, but we got the impression that anything, including getting your order correct, was just a bit too much for the grim faced Uyuni employees!

It was over breakfast that SJ realised that Hayley and Freda had steaming hot water in their room so while AK went off to buy a few snacks and supplies SJ hot footed it back to the hostel to have the quickest shower of her life! It was 10.15 and we were getting picked up at 10.30, although she figured she would have some extra time as we were in Bolivia and the Bolivian clock has many more minutes and hours in it than the rest of the world!

AK, Hayley & Freda returned and SJ had managed to shower, wash and dry her hair and be on the road waiting in time for the pick up that arrived at 10.50! We said our goodbyes to Hayley and Freda and met two of our fellow Salt Flat tour group. They were a German couple called Danny & Anya. They were really friendly and nice and we all headed out to pick up the remaining two people from our group, a dutch couple who were slightly older but very cool and friendly. Although we were all pretty quiet to begin with our little group turned out to be one of the best things about our trip to the salt flats.

We headed out in our 4x4 and the first stop was a strange and interesting place that was like a train grave yard. In the middle of the desert there was two lengths of disused train track than run parallel to each other. Each one had numerous old rusty train engines and other train contraptions. It was really weird that they were all just sat there and we couldn't help wonder why they were there or how long they had been there. Our guide told us they were 50 years old but from the look of the style of engine they looked at least from the 1800s! Another visitor told us that their guide had told them that they were 200 years old so who is right we are not sure. After lots of pictures we headed off across the desert and onto the salt flats.

We eventually arrived at the salt hotel and museum which was built out of 'salt bricks' and was all white. It could have been the home of father Christmas because of the landscape it was set in, it looked like snow rather than salt. We had a look around and after AK got some pictures of his Liverpool flag it was time for lunch. Our guide prepared a really nice meal of meat, quinoa and veg which we ate while sat on some salt bricks. After lunch we started out across the salt desert again and eventually stopped to take some pictures. The salt desert is an amazing place. The ground is made up of about 10 metres of salt crystals and beneath the surface there is water. Our guide dug a little hole and inside you could see the salt crystals and the water that was like an underground lake. The water was freezing cold and left white salt all over your hand when it dried. It would be difficult to describe how beautiful and amazing the salt desert is so we left it to the many pictures we took. We tried to get the predictable perspective pictures and although some of them were ok, they didn't work out quite as well as we hoped.

It was time to move on again and we had a fairly long drive across the salt desert when we eventually arrived at a large island at the foot of Tunupa Volcano which is home to the Coquesa people. As we approached there were a few flamingos so we stopped to get some pictures. Someone told us that they survive by filtering minerals and other particles from the salty water that surrounded the island. It seems hard to believe that they could survive in that way but there was certainly nothing else living in the water for them to eat. The island was very remote and basic and there was a volcano at the top. The colours of the side of the caldera were beautiful and the late afternoon sun was shining on it and lighting it up.

Throughout he day AK had been unusually lethargic even though he had a good sleep the night before. SJ kept telling AK he was coming down with something but AK wouldn't have it. We arrived at our hostel and dropped off our bags. Our rooms were small and made from salt bricks. It was pretty cold although not as cold as people had made out! Our guide had asked us if we wanted to walk up to the mirador that night or the following day so after discussing it as a group we decided to do it that evening, after all it was still only 3.30. After waiting for our guide to finish checking the car and by the time we were all ready it was slightly after 4pm.

We headed out up a very bumpy road and eventually came to our first stop, the cave with the mummies. We had to pay 10bs to get into the cave and when we got in there it was pretty sad. The 800 year old mummies were not well preserved and you could tell they had moved slightly. The cave was like a little dwelling and apparently the mummies, which included two small children, had perished due to cold and lack of food. We all left the cave and by this time it was gone 5pm and was getting darker outside. We set off for the mirador after being told it was a 45 minute hike.

It was a tough uphill hike and SJ and the Dutch couple found it tough. After walking for 30-40 minutes we asked the guide how much longer and he told us one and a half hours! That meant arriving at 7pm when it would be pitch black. The guide didn't speak English but thankfully Anya did so we eventually understood that the guide had failed to tell us the length of time it takes to get to the top. He also would not let the German couple continue up to the mirador while the rest of us returned to the car (he wasn't soft, he knew that some of us could not make it up to the top in the dark so by saying that we had to stay as a group meant he didn't have to hike up there for probably the hundredth time). So as we thought it was difficult and dangerous in the dark and also because the guide failed to tell us we needed to bring lots of water, we decided to turn back. SJ was very pissed off at this lack of planning and organisation and vented her anger at the guide. As he didn't understand English, or so he said, he didn't really have anything to say!

After returning to the hostel we all decided to head out and watch sunset. We walked a short distance toward the entrance to the island and stood watching the sun go down. The island is beautiful at sunset and there were a lot of stars in the sky.

We got back to the hostel and we all decided to set up our beds. AK and SJ had brought the big thick sleeping bags they had in the jungle so they knew they would be warm enough. We all gathered in the diningroom and chatted and got to know each other a little better. The Dutch couple, Maria & Peter, had spent lots of time traveling throughout their life and had two daughters who they adopted from Columbia. When the girls were little they backpacked through Mexico with them. They were really interesting people who loved to see the world and who loved their children and grandchild very much. The German couple also liked to travel and they saved up and came away as much as they could. The two couples were lovely and it was good to spend time with people from different countries and of different ages.

Dinner arrived and consisted of soup to start and spaghetti and tomato sauce. It was actually very good. After dinner we all headed off to bed, AK and SJ were in separate rooms as there were only two rooms each holding three people so they had volunteered to be the couple who slept in separate rooms (after months of sleeping separately in dorms they really didn't mind) We snuggled down into our sleeping bags with our two or three layers of PJ's and fell asleep surprisingly quick. It was not the best night sleep for either AK or SJ but for different reasons. SJ was just restless being in an unusual environment, the salt hostel. AK however was slowly making acquaintance with an old pal.....stomach upset and diorrhoea!

SJ awoke at 6am as we had all decided to get up for sunrise so after a few grumbles to herself she got got up, dressed and went to see AK. AK was looking a bit pale and his stomach was causing him bother. SJ thought it was just like Machu Picchu, poor AK always seemed to get ill when we were on sight seeing trips! SJ met up with the rest of the group and set off down to the edge of the salt flats to watch the sun rise. She was not disappointed and thinks that apart from the fact she has to get up out of bed, not her favourite thing in the world, sunrise is the best time of the day. She got lots and lots of pictures and then headed back for breakfast.

By this time AK was up and dressed but he was still not feeling well at all. We had breakfast and all set off for our second day of the trip. First stop was a short drive further down the island where we visited a museum. The museum was small and run by a little old lady who had lived on the island all her life. It had salt artefacts and old fashioned clothes but the weirdest part was all the stuffed animals! We also visited the garden outside the museum that had stone sculptures and plants including cacti. AK loved the garden too as it had a toilet so he promptly darted from the jeep, holding his stomach, and headed for the loo. SJ was a bit embarrassed at the noises emanating from under the toilet door....but if you got to go, you got go and on this occasion AK certainly did. Eventually we headed back to the jeep and set off back across the salt flats toward the the Island of the Fish (Incahuasi).

After a short stop for photographs and further rather unsuccessful attempts at the perspective pictures we arrived at Incahuasi island. The Island is set in the middle of the salt desert and is full of ancient (up to ~ 1000 years old) cacti. AK was still poorly and needed to stay close to the toilet so he decided to sit in the jeep while the rest of the group headed out to explore the Island. As soon as we started walking we came across two Lamas roaming the island and a little house built into the rocks with a wooden front. The wood that they use is from Cacti so it looks very different to the wood we are used to as it has holes all down it where the spines once were. SJ and the group spent 30 minutes hiking up to the top of the Island (the island is only small and easy to walk around) and eventually returned to the jeep for lunch.

Our driver had prepared another nice meal which consisted of schnitzel and salad so we all tucked in, everyone apart from AK! It was during lunch that the driver told us we would have to wait for another guide to arrive so that Danny and Anya could continue on their 4 day trip. We also had to pick up a couple that had been on the 1 day trip so they were coming back to Uyuni with us. We were told that we might have to wait an hour or two so we settled down to chill while our driver socialised with the other drivers at the island.

Nearly 4 hours later and after a few heated discussions with our driver the guy turned up so we said our goodbyes and welcomed the new couple for our journey home. We set off and we got talking to the new couple from Germany and found out that they were a bit unhappy with their trip. We all agreed that it could have been better organised and it was all a bit of a let down! They had not even had much chance to take pictures but thankfully our driver stopped again on the way home and we all took some more pictures.

We arrived back in Uyuni tired and not looking forward to the overnight journey to Argentina or the 5 hours we had to wait for our Tain but as we have found over the last 6 months you just have to go with the flow!

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