Uyuni and the Bolivian salt flats

Trip Start Jun 16, 2007
Trip End Nov 13, 2007

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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Tuesday 31st July 2007  - Saturday 4th August 2007

Caught another overnight bus from La Paz at 9:00pm to arrive in Uyuni at 8:00am the next morning (long bus rides only ever seem to go by night).  Pretty comfy tourist bus but nothing could be that comfy on Bolivian roads - haven´t seen any tarmac yet!  Most of the journey seemed to be off road across desert landscapes, and occasionally  appeared to be stuck in sand.  When we looked out the window at first light it looked like we were on the moon!

Uyuni was a dump but it was the place you had to be to catch a trip onto the salt flats, and across into Chile.  Everything here expensive for Bolivia anyway and so we checked into a ´decent´ hotel, paying 60 us dollars at the rare opportunity to have a plug in radiator in our room and hot water - have been dreaming about radiators!  Absolutely nothing to do in Uyuni and so organised our trip and then spent the evening sat on the radiator watching the only English speaking channel we could find on the telly (a telly!!!!) - Rolf Harris´s Animal Hospital!

The following day we met fellow trip passengers at agency office - a french couple, a bilingual Swiss guy and an hilarious guy from Barcelona! They were all good English speakers and so acted as unofficial translators for us - our Spanish is still embarrassing poor.  The 6 of us, plus the driver/guide and cook then set off in a jeep (2 hours late!) for our 3 day trip across south west Bolivia and into Chile. Jeep was a classic - 25 years old, 300,000 km on the clock and 1 careful owner!  To read the dashboard in the dark he had to use a torch!

First stop was the train cemetery just outside Uyuni where various old engines had been dumped from 1905 - 1950 and were rusting in the dust.  Bit random. 
01 Train Cemetry
Next stop was the salt processing plant on the edge of the Salar d Uyuni where they literally dug salt out of the lake, refined it and bagged it manually - all for 1 us dollar for 50kg.  lots of work for little money.  Here we had lunch in a building made entirely of salt.
03 Salt table & chairs at salt processing plant
We then drove onto the salt flats, these were blindingly white, and stretched as far as the eye could see.  We stopped off at an island in the middle of the salt flats which was covered in massive cacti - one cacti allegedly was 1200 years old.  It took 2 hours to cross the salt flat, and we stopped on the way when we came across a giant tube of pringles.  Lucky we were hungry!
04 Driving across the salt flats06 Giant pringles!05 Island of cacti in middle of salt lake
We stopped for the night, near to the edge of the salt flat in a hostel made of salt.  Our beds and the tables and chairs were all made of salt.  It was of course rather chilly! 

The next day was spent crossing barren landscapes, coming across the odd wild llama and a lone fox.  Amazing that anything can survive here.  We visited stunning lagoons with flamingos, gorgeous landscapes but bitterly cold. 

07 Pink Flamingoes
We stayed that night in very basic accommodation close to Lagoon Colardo (this was red due to the algae). On arrival at 6pm, the hostel owner kindly lit the shoe boxed sized wood burning stove for 1 boliviano each (about 6p) and we were so grateful.  Then the fuel ran out after 30 minutes, and despite being willing to pay 100+ bolivano each for more, there was simply no more fuel available.  The toilet was flushed manually by chucking a bucket of water down - difficult when it was frozen solid!  Temperatures that night reached -15 degrees, and we were kept alive in our beds by a hot water bottle.  Slept in every item of clothing possible in the 6 bedded dorm as we had to rise at 4:30am to visit the geysers!  Hot springs which shoot steam and water into the air, heated by volcanic activity below .  Amazing to witness, but could literally only stand outside of jeep to watch for 5 mins at a time because of freezing wind and stench of sulphur. We were at 4,900m and have never been so cold! 

As the sun came up we visited a shallow hot spring pool by a stunning, but frozen, lagoon, where if you were insane you could jump in for a ´warm bath'.  In the minus temperatures, this would have been mad!  Some crazy Aussies jumped in, only to find one of their trousers blew away into the freezing lagoon.  When hung up to dry, they froze solid in a couple of minutes and so a game of cricket began, with these jeans used as a bat!  We had breakfast beside this lagoon, with the driver scrambling eggs on a gas stove at the back of the jeep.
16 Our group beside Lagoon Verde
Next we visited the final lagoon which was probably the most beautiful we have seen.  This was Lagoon Verde and it was bright green, with a stunning volcano behind.  This was close to the Chilean border and next we headed to immigration control.  This was simply a hut and a barrier in the high middle of nowhere and we were transferred to a Chilean bus which we were relieved to see did not have a scratch or a dent anywhere on it,  and as it was not a 4x4 we were hopeful that there must be actual roads nearby.  500 yds later we were in Chile and on a tarmac highway heading down the Andes,  Within an hour we were back to 2,500m and in the oasis town of San Pedro in the Atacama desert. 
18 Border crossing - goodbye Bolivia!
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