4 flats in 3 days

Trip Start Jun 13, 2006
Trip End Jun 12, 2007

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HI Salar De Uyuni Youth Hostel

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Friday, December 8, 2006

Alex: We took the bus from La Paz to Oruro early in the morning and snapped up the last two seats (apparently!) on the train to Uyuni the jumping off point for Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flats). It did mean we had a whole afternoon in Oruro which can't be described as the most exciting town on the planet but with food to be eaten and emails to be checked we soon killed the time and it is a pleasant enough place. Uyuni can't be described as the same, we got in at about 21.00 and went to the local HI hostel - a safe bet we thought - wrong. We felt like we were inconveniencing them by showing up, there was only one shower for about 30 rooms which was only open in the morning. The rest of the town didn't turn out to be any better, there had been a graduation the evening before so maybe everyone was hung over, but everything closed for 4 hours over lunch, we tried one eatery twice at different points and they were just closing both times, we went to a pizzeria which didn't have any pizza....we were glad to be leaving for our three day tour of the salt flats.
We left for the Salt Flats at about 10 in a dubious looking 4x4, there were 6 of us on the tour; Nicky & David from Malta and Fred & Gilsen who live in Paris. The first stop was the train cemetery, a strip of track cluttered with rusting steam trains, which basically turned into a (slightly dangerous) adult climbing frame. Shortly after leaving we encountered our first flat - a tyre unfortunately. The inner tube had burst and due to issues with the bald looking spare the driver walked back to town to get help. It didn't take long before we were back on the road with just the dubious spare tyre and town no longer within walking distance!
Our second flat was what we came to see the Salt Flats, the first stop being the Playa Blanca Salt Hotel for lunch, it is literally a hotel made of salt, very appropriate. While our lunch was been made (by the driver, cum mechanic, cum chef) we explored the flats a bit more. They are absolutely stunning. Whiteness for miles and miles and then mountains, which, because of some kind of mirage, appear to be floating. After lunch we carried on through the flats for an hour to the Isla de Pescadores, a fertile mound in the middle of the salt flats covered in giant cacti. The views from the top we incredible, white, white and then more white! We continued for another hour to a part where the some of the salt had begun to be removed. Around this part seemed even whiter than the rest and was more crystalline, before it had be softer and made large diamonds on the ground, but this area was different, harder and more salt like really! We finished the day drinking wine in another salt hotel.
The second day didn't get off to a good start, Dean and I were both feeling a bit ill, although as the rest of the group were fine and we had eaten exactly the same things we don't know why (no, it was not the wine!). We moved out of the salt flats to see volcān San Juan, which, with its sulphurous sides and moon hanging oddly above it, looked like something out of Star Wars (although Dean couldn't really get a good view from the Jeep which he couldn't face leaving). We continued on to a lagoon with salted edges full of flamingos where we stopped for lunch. We carried on a little way before our 3rd flat, another flat tyre - dubious spare from here on in! We stopped at a few more beautiful lagoons with flamingos an salty edges and traveled through beautiful mountainous desert scenery much of which look like the scenery from Salvador Dali paintings, in fact on part of the desert is named after him! The highlight of the day was the stop at Lago Colorado, a bright red lake, edged with pure white salt and full of complementary pink flamingos with a perfect mountain back drop - wow. Once again Dean just caught a glimpse from inside the jeep. We carried on into the desert to our hotel and an early night.
The final day of our trip started at 4.30am (ugh) and a trip to some hot baths. This sounds more appealing that it was, we were at over 4000m meters above sea level, in a desert with beautiful clear starry nights, which means that although it is in the 30s C during the day it drops to well below 0 C at night. The hot springs are perched on the edge of a lake that, when we got there was iced over, and the changing rooms were the open space next to the pool. Getting in would have been nice - getting out hell, so we gave it a miss (although a lot of people didn't)!  We carried on a little way to Lago Verde, a beautiful green lake with another stunning mountain back drop, which apparently has a high arsenic content, this didn't stop one person we were watching trying the salt from the edge (he walked away you will be please to know). We then carried on to the Chilean border to drop off the rest of our group who were continuing to San Pedro in Chile rather than returning to Uyuni. We joined another group in a different jeep for the 8 hour drive back (yuck) and as none of the new group spoke English we struggled slightly and missed Gilsen and Fred who had been acting as our translators for the trip (Gilsen from Spanish to French and Fred from French to English). Half way through we had our 4th flat, yet another flat tyre, and another dubious spare. We got back exhausted, hot and dusty (the dirt tracks throw up loads of dust so you can't have the windows open, and this is Bolivia so air-con doesn't exist so you get hot but still dust inexplicably gets into the jeep so you are still covered in dust by the end of it).
When we finally got back to Uyuni we checked into a nice hotel ($30 a night, aren't we extravagant), showered (bliss), unwisely ate pizza (I still wasn't 100%) and bought our train ticket back to Oruro for the following evening (there are night buses but they weren't running and we aren't too keen on traveling by bus at night here anyway). Unfortunately this meant another day in the hell town of Uyuni!
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