A figment of our imaginations or was it?

Trip Start Nov 15, 2012
Trip End Jul 10, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  , Antofagasta Region,
Wednesday, April 10, 2013

You realise that when you are faced with drunken drivers, speeding lunatics along crazy dirt roads, toilets without seats, no toilet paper, one cold shower in four days, minus 4 degrees inside your hostel and an altitude of 5000m at times, and you still return saying it was the most exhilarating, fabulous, wonderful, amazing, incredible time, that something special has happened in your life. You will tell the story a million times over, each time remembering something different, something funny, something that bought a tear to your eye, for years and years to come. Here's our story...

As said in our previous blog entry, there was much deliberation on wether to head into Bolivia and do the four day 4x4 trek through to the Bolivian Salt Flats in Uyuni. Well...if there was ever a case of "you may regret it if you don't do it" this was it. Knowing now what we were to see ad the time we were to have we would have forever regretted not going.

After lots of research by the six of us: Chris, Hannah, Adam, Rosie, Neena and I, we decided to go with the tour company Estrella Del Sur. They seemed to be the one with the least amount of negative reviews on websites like trip advisor etc. With tickets in hand, hired sleeping bags, a large 5l bottle of water each (after being warned we couldn't drink the water in Bolivia), our backpacks, and a mixture of apprehension and excitement, we were picked up at 7:45am Saturday morning from our hostel in San Pedro and driven by bus to the Bolivian border where we were to meet our guide and driver for the next few days.

On arrival at the Bolivian border and after requiring the entry stamp needed we had our first insight into what our food would be like for the next four days as we were served a breakfast of ham, cheese, rolls, cake, milo, tea and coffee...not too shabby. We were also given a sneak preview of what the toilets and hygiene are like in Bolivia. Our toilet at the border was behind an old burnt out bus, where you needed to squat (if a girl), wipe and leave toilet paper in pile on top of others, you can imagine the smell.

Whilst we did encounter a few actual toilets along the way, it was only the last night we had a toilet seat, soap and a flush that worked. The girls became particularly good at squatting and all six of us have mastered the art of holding thy breath at altitude when necessary. For those of you who've been higher than about 2000m you will know the affect altitude has on your breathing and the way your heart beats!

Whilst we were eating breakfast our driver arrived and we helped him to pile our packs on the roof rack - there home for the next four days. I have to say here, and have mentioned this on tripadvisor too, our guide Jaime (ga-me) was wonderful, he drove slowly, he stayed away from the other five million 4x4 tour groups racing along the dirt roads thus stopping us from having sand and dust thrown in our faces and not being able to see more than a metre ahead of you, he didn't drink, he told us the history of the salt flats and various other places in great detail and he even took us to his little family house to meet his granny the evening before our day in Uyuni. We certainly lucked out for this trip and have thanked anything, everyone and everything we do and don't believe in.

Or first couple of stops were lakes: Laguna Blanco and Laguna Verde. The white of Laguna blanco looks like snow and gains its colour from the potassium. Laguna Verde, my favourite, is a rich green colour, surrounded by beautiful red, orange, green and yellow colour mountains that look like ice cream. It was then on to Aguas Termales (thermal pool) stopping along the way to see Desierto Dali, rock formations in the desert which the surrealist painter Salvador Dali painted once upon a Monday.

Adam, Rosie and Neena were ballsy enough to brave the freezing cold and jump into the thermal pool, rewarded by the heat when they did so. The rest of us took pics and shivered on their behalf when they had to get out. The view here is over another lake and also surrounded by mountains and beauty. Once the kids were all dressed and warmed up again it was a drive by the Geisel sol de Mañana, a natural geyser which is used to create electricity for the north of Chile and the south of Bolovia. It was spurting like crazy so we decided not to get out the car and get too close. Also this was at the 5000m mark and we were struggling a little for breathe. The boys a lot more so than the girls ;-)

Off to find our first nights accommodation where the temperature would reach at least minus four degrees that night eeek! We were served a delicious lunch of sausages & mash, and given coke and water to drink. Coke is apparently a really good thing to keep the tummy bugs away so we were gulping it down like no tomorrow. The six of us had a dorm room to share, six beds on concrete slabs, solid concrete floors and a mesh type ceiling...no wonder it was so bloody cold. We kept snug though that night with layer upon layer of clothing, gloves, hats, scarves, sleeping bags and the body heat of six people in the room.

After lunch we had a wee nap, knackered from the altitude and all we had already seen, and then our driver took us to watch the sunset at Laguna Colorado. This lake is bits of red, white and green all the way along and depending on how the sun shines on it will depend on which colours show up where on any given day. It has a million pink flamingos, and this time they really were pink, that have it as their home. We took pics, hiked up a small hill and were very glad to be heading back to our hostel as it was starting to get immensely cold. We were served a yummy dinner of spaghetti and salsa, along with water and a bottle of red wine, which we gulped down quickly and headed to bed...lights were only between 7-10pm, no electricity other than that so makes for an early night.

Our latest start the next morning, only 8am, and we headed towards the Arbol de Piedra, or Stone Tree in English, formed by wind winds sweeping through the desert over centuries. The Stone Tree stands on its own and is protected, however there are a load of other rock formations around that you can climb on and have a bit of fun for an hour or so. Onwards and upwards through Desierto Siloli, stopping at a number of lakes along the way. All of which have their own unique distinctiveness, whether it be the colour of it, the type of flamingo that lives there, the mountain or volcano surrounding it. All beautiful, words fail me yet again. On day two we also visited an actively smoking volcano. We couldn't get up close and personal with it, due to obvious reasons, but still awesome to witness such a phenomenon.

That evening was spent in a hostel made completely from salt, right on the edge of the salt flats. It was a fair bit warmer due to it not being as high, around 3600m now, and we had a shower which was a bit of luxury along the way, albeit it cold! Lights out again at 10pm but no bother there as the next morning we had to be up at 5am to catch the sunrise over the salt flats...this is what this trip was all about.

Day three and the salt flats...I really honestly cannot even begin to explain what was witnessed here, the pics do some kind of justice but not enough. The vastness of the salt flats, the history of it, the fact it's 1200km squared and continues to grow, the cactus islands in the middle, the optical illusions you can create on camera, how small you feel in comparison, the beauty, it is totally unreal and worth every seatless toilet, cold shower, freezing sleep, altitude headache, shortness of breath you can every imagine.

We said our sad farewell to the salt flats and made our way to Uyuni town, stopping in Colchani for lunch. Once in Uyuni we had to say goodbye to Neena and Rosie as they were continuing up north to Potosi and on to Peru. A few tears were shed, we really had experienced something incredibly special over the last ten days of travelling together on both Pachamama and now this tour, not only in the things we saw but the fact that we could put six people together so have never known each other before and just make it work, laughing like old friends, bickering like brother and sisters. We will see them again, possibly in Cusco, definitely in London Town.

It was in Uyuni that we also had to change drivers and hop on the next 4x4 south towards the Chilean border again. Bye Jaime, you were perfect and we loved sharing this time with you.

A three hour drive to Villa Mar, which is a little town south of Uyuni, built into the side of a mountain, a good nights sleep, a 5am start, a four hour drive and we were back at the border. The trip back down was literally just about getting back to the border so no stopping to see sights etc, which is fine, it's all you want after the three days.

Safe and sound back in San Pedro again, feeling changed in some way, humbled by the beauty and touched by the Bolivian way of life and their smiles. We would do it all over again despite knowing the "difficulties".

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Paul on

I am so impressed that you have managed to keep up this amazing blog with all that you have done and seen. What a fantastic memoir of your travels. I am sure all who read it can't wait to get to see all these WOW sights ! xx

zandz on

wow shrubbil. what an amazing trip. eeww about the toilets - was the princess in you cringing the whole time? seems like it was worth it though - so jealous! xxxxxxxx

chrisnvicstrip on

Thank you :-) its so worth doing it cause we can look back in years to come and remember everything! Princess in me was very consciously put aside, had a good talk to her before we left and told her I'd spoil her when we are back in London again hehe xxxx

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