Another Planet Part 2

Trip Start Jul 21, 2009
Trip End Jul 21, 2010

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Where I stayed
Salt Hotel

Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Saturday, May 1, 2010

I (Carla) woke up yesterday with one of the biggest headaches I have ever had in my life. My head was pounding and I felt nauseous – I didn't want to move.  So I skipped breakfast and instead started drinking water furiously, thinking that I was probably severely dehydrated.  Most likely, it was a combination of dehydration due to the elevation and a bit of altitude sickness rolled in for good measure.  Fortunately, the Bolivians have a great remedy for altitude sickness, headaches, nausea and other pains: the Coca Leaf!  Yes, the organic and main ingredient in making cocaine!  Bolivians chew it like Americans do tobacco and we’ve been indulging as it really does help with the headaches and pains up where the air is thin.  Luckily for me, everyone was running behind schedule because of the weather – we woke up to snowfall!  Our first snow of the entire trip!  After Edgar finished checking the car we hit the road.  Our first stop was to Laguna Colorada, a red lake with white sediments of borax and sodium; interestingly there were lots of flamingos wading in the water.  It was kind of peculiar to see flamingos, a tropical bird to us, in the middle of this red water with snow falling.  According to Edgar there are 3 types of flamingos that call this place home.  We didn’t spend much time there because of the cold; we walked around a bit, took a few photos and got back into the car.  

I still wasn’t feeling good, although by this point I had downed 2 liters of water; so when we arrived at the Desierto de Siloli - where there are these weird volcanic rock formations that resemble different shapes: trees, animals, faces - I spent the first few minutes vomiting.  Afterwards, I felt a lot better, isn’t it odd how puking can actually be a relief?  At this point it was clear that it wasn’t just dehydration, but I was suffering from a mild case of altitude sickness.  Funny, but we have been in some high altitude places throughout this trip: the Himalayas in Tibet, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, but here in Bolivia is where I get sick.  I wasn’t the only one, last night a girl was taken to a clinic for oxygen because she was feeling horrible.  So, I took some drugs and in a hour or so started feeling more up to doing some sightseeing.   

Next up was a series of mineral-rich lakes which makes the water cool shades of turquoise, azure, and silver.  To be honest by the 5th one we had had our full of lakes – Yvonne and Kevin didn’t really want to get out, so we would just take pictures from inside the warm jeep.  Although our pictures weren’t coming out that great – it was cool being in this desert environment covered in white. 

The snow/rain/sleet wreaked havoc on the trails and the jeeps started to have problems.  Our car was fine, but we had to stop repeatedly for the other jeeps that were getting skidding, getting stuck in the mood, blowing tires etc.   The etiquette is that if one jeep is having problems, all of the jeeps stop, and the drivers help get the broke down car going again.  This makes sense, because if everyone just keeps on going, that one jeep could be completely stranded.  There is no cell phone coverage here, nor is there any traffic – the only cars around are the ones who are doing the tour, so if they leave you behind you’re basically screwed.   Although the right thing to do, it became tedious – for a couple of hours it seemed like we stopped every 5 miles.  We amused ourselves by playing "Disco Car" – turning the music up and dancing both inside and outside the car.  Gotta keep it fun!

The highlight of the day however was at the end – when we reached the Salt Hotel, the hotel is literally constructed out of blocks of salt – the floor is a bed of salt granules (like pebbles), the bed frame is made of salt blocks, even the table and stools for dinner are made of the blocks.  To test it out we scratched the wall – and yep salty!  What was even more important to us is that they had hot water!!  Showers at last!  And it made us feel more normal again.  Although electricity was again limited to 2 and a half hours – we enjoyed the time.  Dinner was standard Bolivian fare: llama meat with quinoa (a grain like rice) and potato soup – great warmth/comfort food.  Not sure if it was the salt, but it was much better insulated than the last 2 places we stayed at and the extra warmth made it easier to sleep.

Today we got up before 5am for the main event:  the Salar de Uyuni:  the biggest salt flat in the world which also holds the biggest reserve of minerals in the world!   We actually drove on the flats and although we didn’t have a mind-blowing sunrise because of cloud cover; it was incredible being in this stark terrain: white ground and nothing for miles – the horizon literally disappears.  The ground itself is alien.  For vast areas the ground is hexagon salt tiles; it looks like the ground is cracked and about to split apart.  There are several small islands in the Salar – we went to the most visited one, Isla Incahuai, an island covered with cactus.   The island had this desolate feeling, especially due to the cloudy sky so we decided to be experimental and shoot pictures in black and white.  Interesting fact: cactus can live to be over 900 years old

For the next several hours we had a blast taking hundreds of fun pictures – playing with our cameras to create outlandish shots!  The landscape demands that you do this – and we got very creative as you can tell!  After running through our memory cards and batteries we visit our last village Colchani, whose inhabitants work extracting and processing the salt.  The village, right on the outskirts of the flats, also is tourist-aware and there were several small shops and stands with locals selling their wares. 

Upon reaching Uyuni, we bid Edgar and Rudid goodbye (we gave them a good tip, because like most tour operators they don’t get paid much) and now we are in a pizza joint escaping the sleet.  Uyuni seems desolate, although the weather isn’t helping much, so we have all made plans to get out of town tonight.  Originally, we thought about going to Potosi, the mining capital of Bolivia, but reports on the freezing conditions and strikes there have turned us away – we’re ready to be warmer and plus it’s Mike’s birthday in a couple of days – it would be nice to be comfortable!  So we’re going to La Paz, Kevin - Potosi, and Yvonne - San Pedro, Chile.   Mike is making DVDs of pictures – so everyone has all the pictures.  For sure, this has been the most fun tour group that we have had and made this trip even more unforgettable!
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