Salt Flats (Chile -> Bolivia)

Trip Start Sep 05, 2010
Trip End Apr 03, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Sunday, December 19, 2010


At 8am the shuttle bus picked us up from our hostel in San Pedro and took us to the Bolivian border, there we had another addition to our passport stamps, exchanged money, had breakfast, and met Javier our driver/tour guide who would be driving us in their Toyota Land cruiser.

We drove along the mountainous terrain stopping at points of interest, which included:

a sand dune called Salvidor Dalhi – as it looked like one of his paintings,

Hot springs - Termas de Polques (4400m) where we chilled, bathing in a nice hot pool looking out onto the mountains,

geysers – Solar de Manaņa geyser basin (4850m) smelt like methane but was really cool to see the steam and bubbles, and finally our first hostel.

During the day we climbed from approx 2400m to 4500m where I suffered huge altitude sickness. Javier gave us all coca leaves to help with this however this didn’t stop me from being nauseous until the following day, therefore it was an early departure to bed for me on this day with no dinner nor supper.

Day 2

On the second day we left the hostel at 8am. I was still too nauseous to eat and prayed that the ride would not be as bumpy. We seemed to descend which was a settling thought and went to our first stop to some rocks scattered along the desert floor. We then went to 3
flamingo lakes (laguna Blanca, laguna verde and another one that i can't rememer the name) where some of them stank of sulphur. We stopped for lunch at one that didn’t and then moved on to see a live volcano. As we descended further to approx the norm of 3500m the driver offered lolly’s to help with the air pressure. We stayed the night in a Salt hotel (not in the actual flats) where we were given soup, lama and rice and wine. In the hotel almost everything was made from salt – the floor, walls, chairs, tables and beds.

Day 3

The last day of our salt flats tour and we had to be up at 4am where we saw the stars in one of the most desolate place I’ve been. The stars were bright and plentiful due to the lack of interfering light and took away the cold and sleepy feeling of 4am. We put our backpacks onto the 4x4 and drove onto the salt flats (Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 square km). As soon as we hit the flats the drivers turned off their lights and navigated by some other means, constantly flashing or using hazards as indications to each other.

We stopped at a small island (Isla de los Pescados) on the flats which we climbed and waited for the sun to rise. The sun rising over the planes was a moment of true beauty, and also the moment that my camera battery decided to die. Still I got a few pictures and had to go the rest of the day with no camera. Whilst the sun was rising I was on the top of the island where i could see the rise and reflection of pure salt white in 1 direction and the shadows bouncing off different parts of the island too. The Island also has huge cacti that are over 1000 years old. The next stop was in the middle of the Salt flats which spanned out to the horizon in every direction we were there for about an hour, taking pictures, messing around and getting burnt with factor 50 on.

We had a few more stops on the flats were we saw a salt pool, small mounds of salt where it was explained that people work by gathering the salt into mounds ready for collection for our table salt, and then a village called Colchani where we saw women in traditional Bolivian dress and willies stamp on the salt – I can’t think of a more boring job than to do that all day.We finally got dropped off in Uyuni where we found an ATM and hostel, tipped our driver / tour guide who was absolutely amazing – although we couldn’t speak English and we couldn’t speak Spanish, he was always happy, full of enthusiasm and hospitable to the end.

Uyuni is described in the rough guide as a ‘would be ghost town had it not been for the tourism from the salt flats passing through’ which seems quite apt. The town itself is beautiful in its own way, with the plaza and market stalls however we are happy to use it as a stepping stone to go to Potosi tomorrow morning.
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