Atacama Desert - Salar de Uyuni

Trip Start Dec 27, 2011
Trip End Mar 04, 2012

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Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Sunday, January 8, 2012

We were picked up in the morning around 8am by a small mini-van to take us through San Pedro to collect all the people coming on the 3-day Landcruiser tour with us. Once everyone was onboard; we went to the Chilean border crossing to leave the dry, dusty country once again. In true Chilean style; the process took freakin' ages and Dave was suitably unimpressed by the pointless delays haha. We got back in the van and headed to the Bolivian border. As we climbed in altitude; we quickly retrieved and put on our new stylish Llama jumpers and beanies. At the border there were countless numbers of Landcruisers waiting to collect everyone from their vans. Toyota must have had a clearance sale in Bolivia as there is no other car brand in sight!! We arranged for 6 people and 1 driver for each 4WD. We selectively pounced on a German couple (Klauss and Frouka) who spoke great English to come in our car. The others were a cool Chilean guy (Maurice) and a nice Swiss girl (Silvia). We were now officially in Bolivia after the extremely stern officials stamped our passports (they are massive on military stuff in Bolivia - uzi's, 12-gauge shotguns, assault rifles and balaclavas are standard issue it seems!). Our driver (Alfredo) loaded the backpacks onto the roof and put a tarp around it as we were expecting some bad weather (especially through the high altitude mountains where the clouds full of rain ike to chill out regularly!!).

After setting off in the Landcruiser we soon realized we had a great driver with an awesome sense of humour. We travelled up through a mountain range very close to the border lines of Chile and Argentina and made our first stop at a mud hut to pay a National Park fee. In the building was our first encounter with Bolivian restroom facilities (eloquently put; as the toilets are on a whole new level of disgustingness... On these trips it is great to be a guy let's just say that!!). Soon we reached the first (of many) lagoons; and it was incredible! It was the 'white lagoon' and had a snow mountain range directly behind it. The water was so incredibly clean and clear - it was like mother nature had perfected every detail in this area. To top it off, perfect pink flamingos were wading through the water and loved the tourist attention (craning their necks and posing for the cameras - how nice!).

We arrived at the second ('Blue') lagoon and similar story to the first. Amazing scenery and even out first llama sighting!! The third ('Green') lagoon was next up and it is crazy to see how the sufferer elements in the lagoons change their colour (for instance, blue lagoon has lots of copper soil surrounds). The rain soon set in and we came up to a massive geyser bellowing steam out from the earth. We have seen stacks of geysers before in New Zealand; but the vast quantity of steam emitted from this one was hectic! At around 3pm we had risen in altitude back up to around 4000m and we arrived at our accommodation for the night. We hadn't had any lunch by thi stage and everyone was starving... Lunch was soon served (some strange sausage which Dave though was 'gato' (cat), some mashed potato and light vegies). Adel was starting to feel pretty bad from the altitude sickness (mainly a pounding headache and lack of breath) but we jumped back in the Landcruiser and went to the last ('Red') lagoon. The sunset reflecting off the water, combined with the countless flamingos and picturesque mountain range was truly amazing. We went back to the accommodation and inspected our facilities for the night. We had 2 toilets between 24 people and 1 shower (that only had cold water - remember it's around 5 degrees here!!). On a positive note though, the toilets were clean and very first world standard (they even flushed toilet paper). In our room we had 5 people in the beds. Adel was captain paranoid about more bed bugs (after her petrol station mud hut bed bug saga) however the bedding was fairly decent considering how isolated this part of the tour is from any form of civilization. We had dinner (more 'gato' sausages) and were feeling pretty tired from the first day. However, we did notice a few people from our group starting to look pretty crook. One guy from Norway had purple lips and a few others looked like they were on deaths door due to pounding headaches. Dave jumped straight into his bed first and feel asleep instantly before anyone else had even gotten ready for bed (typical - would sleep through a riot going on!!). 

Upon waking the next morning Dave learnt that Adel had had the night from hell. With no sleep, massive headache and even a few cheeky spews to top it off. We had some pancakes for breakfast, loaded up the Landcruiser and were back on the road. Alfredo asked if we could use our iPod so we could pump some tune all day. When 'Duck Sauce - Barbara Streisand' came on; he knew it and loved it!! Alfredo was bopping away all day to Triple J's hottest 100 and it was a nice change compared to his Spanish flute orchestra CD's. We soon arrived at the first stop for the day; a large rock formation in the middle of a desert. Pretty cool rock formations caused by harsh wind in the area. We had caught up to the group in front of us by this stage (through some other tour agency) and were subjected to typical loud, annoying American tourists climbing all over the rocks and ruining the photos of the landscape for all others!! Around lunchtime we arrived at Lagoon Honda and watched the clouds roll in across the mountain range, approaching us at a rapid rate of knots. The lunch we had was pretty ordinary... Dodgy looking tuna and some rice with a side serving of corn and stale bread. Still managed to eat a fair bit of it and quickly jumped back into the Landcruiser just as the rain started. We started to get into some really rough, rocky 4WD terrain and we were glad we had a good driver. We saw some more cool wind swept terrain, more lagoons and more flamingos. Llama sighting were now frequent and around 4pm we pulled into our small village for the night. The facilities at this accommodation were much better; good bedding, proper food and warm showers (which cost 10bs to use - well worth the investment!). 

We had a look around the village and had a great time taking photos of the buildings and mud huts the locals live in. We started to see traditional Bolivian people; mainly old ladies wheel-barrowing food from house to house. We saw some fresh carcass wheeled towards our accommodation and assumed that it might be dinner??! The old ladies scoot across the mud at blistering speeds to avoid people taking photos of them; however, their efforts were in vain as Dave got some good photos of them. Adel got some great shots of buildings with multi-colour windows/doorways and surprisingly we were approached by a old lady telling us she had a souvenir store we should visit. We took a look in her my hut and were extremely surprised to find exceptional quality llama wool jumpers, scarfs, etc. The old ladies in the store were all very shy and timid; I think they see so few tourists that they are genuinely unsure what we were like! We soon figured out that the apparel was sorted by which little old lady had made the garment. They had their names on a piece of paper next to their llama products which they seemed incredibly proud of. Adel bought a pair of grey llama gloves (to use on the Vespa) and the lady was then kind enough to take us out the back to show us where/how they sew the llama wool products. She showed us all the machinery use to weave the wool and was incredibly shy/humbled when Adel asked to have a photo with her. It may have been her first time in a photo as she was amazed when we showed her the picture review on the camera after the photo. After the shopping, we went to the other side of the village and found a Bolivian military base! Dave got the camera out and took a photo only to find a guard jump up on the mud perimeter walls and looked at us as if to say "we'll take you hostage if you don't put the camera away". We kept our distance an walked around the perimeter listening to the mega-phone speakers blasting our Bolivian propaganda. By now we had attracted the attention of more soldiers who jumped up onto the roof of each building to watch us walk by. Bit to close for comfort!! We went back and had dinner and hit the hay. 

The last day of the trip arrive and around the front of our accommodation were some llamas grazing around. We were able to get some get closeup shots of them and even a baby llama! We drove past the mining village of San Cristobal and soon arrived at the town of Uyuni. We unloaded some of our luggage at the Atacama Mistica tour store and then set off to the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats). Before we arrived at the salt flats, we stopped at a local market for people to by more llama crap. We thought we should probably go to the "baņo" (toilet) before we hit the salt flats; and found a lady charging 1bs for the use of her baņo. It was an epicly horrific stereotypical Bolivian toilet; but we saw the funny side of the situation and had a laugh at the putrid conditions we were forced to use.

The salt flats were absolutely, positively the most insane part of nature we have ever seen. They continue onto the horizon to a point where you can't actually tell the difference between the salt flats and the sky. It is like natures most amazing illusion!! We had lunch on the salt flats (best meal if the trip - chicken schnitzel, pasta salad, etc) and then started to capture all of the photos you see where the people are tiny and jumping into a Pringles container, holding up a massive bottle of water, etc. At first we didn't realize how to take the pictures properly (as they were always out of focus); soon one of the German guys (Jonas) informed us that you get the small person in focus first; then move the Pringles packet into the picture frame and then take the photo. Once we knew this we got stacks of great photos! We checked out the Salt Hotel in the middle of the salt flats and then headed back to Uyini. 

Luckily we had pre-reserved our bus ticket out of Uyuni to Potosi; as the others on our trip went to book a ticket and were told that there were no spaces available. We left our big backpacks in the tourism office as the lady said the bus would leave from there at 6pm; and we headed to the main town square area to have some afternoon tea / dinner. Upon getting back to the office we found it to be locked up and closed... with our backpacks sitting neatly on the other side of the glass. Adel went into panic mode and freaked out thinking the worst.... We knocked on the door but no answer.... We asked the store beside if they knew a mobile phone number to call but they didn't... Just when despair had fully set in; the lady from the office came walking across the street - yeahhhhhh!! We were so glad to see her and she opened up the office and then walked us to the bus terminal (even though she said it would leave from the office?!). We found our bus, which turned out to be a 25 seated mini bus with no air conditioning, no windows that opened and minimal seat room. Greaaaaat, just the conditions we wanted for a 5hr bus ride with a whole bunch of local Bolivian locals. We set off and the trip went surprisingly quickly (thankfully) and we arrived in Potosi around midnight. After fending off a few dodgy/persistent 'taxi' drivers we found a good taxi that took us to our hostel, Koala Den. The hostel was basic, but ok. However it did have a small manhole opening right above the beds... We wondered if a possum or even if Ceiling Cat might make a celebrity appearance through the night..!
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