Salt Flats and Geysers

Trip Start Feb 15, 2006
Trip End Feb 14, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The group now faced its first vote - to take the local bus for a 7 hour journey to Uyuni with no toilet stops or to hire our own bus which we could stop whenever we wanted for photos, leg stretching etc for an extra cost of only 3 pounds per head. Now, you would have thought that this was a no brainer particularly as one or two of the group had a dodgy tummy, but we had also seen a note in the La Paz hotel advising against private buses which are more likely to be hi-jacked and all their occupants roberoed or even kidnapped as with a group of English tourists the week before ( only a 24 hour kidnap, I believe !)
Anyway, the toilet stops sounded more attractive than the risks so we set off in a clean bus, kept clean on these seriously dusty roads no doubt because all the windows were sealed shut.

There were, as the Australians would say, no worries, until after about an hour when the driver explained to our guide, Borat, that there was something wrong with the bus. Out he got with his mate and together with a normal first aid kit they both sat on their haunches staring at the back wheel. We had to wonder how they were going to mend the bus with the odd band aid - anyhow after a few minutes in they got in again and off we set. After another ten miles or so, the driver stopped and explained that he needed some soup and he and his mate disappeared into a road side hut - the only one we had seen all morning, by the way. Borat tried to find out what was happening when they both appeared with another man who was to drive them back along the road to find another driver because our driver had a "frozen hand". Off they went leaving us and the bus literally in the middle of the nowhere.

Gill started shifting some money into her boot, and as one or two others in the group saw this, they began to take similar measures. Why were the windows sealed on this bus? What if they come back with a gun? A little later I saw the car returning - I decided to hide our passports etc under a rock a little way from the coach. Again this caught on and we all stood there expecting the worst when this car returned. Borat was cool throughout, but he had been told some pretty big porkies so we were not so sure how safe things were.

We need not have worried, it turned out that the driver, along with the rest of Potosi, had been on the booze the night before and after about an hour he decided that he wasn´t safe to drive. A new driver had indeed been found in the middle of the desert and off we set once again. Unfortunately, the new driver was not too capable and the odd row broke out in the cab between the two of them on how to use the gears etc. Borat was brilliant, he sat all the time between the two drivers and managed to keep the peace until the first driver sobered up and normal service was resumed. All in a days´ bus travel in Bolivia !!!

We arrived late in the city of Uyuni. Right on the edge of the Bolivian salt plains, this city seemed to be the Cr ewe of Bolivia complete with its own train graveyard. However, it did do the best pizza so far on this trip. Beer and pizza and all the trauma of the journey was soon forgotten.

The next day was one of the best so far in Latin America. We transferred into three 4x4 land cruisers and drove onto the white stuff. It was like driving in the middle of a mirage. Smooth salt for as far as the eye could see. We found a little village where the kids seemed quite happy to spend the whole day stuffing 1 kilo bags with salt that had been scraped off the plain and after a little sieving was suitable to put on your chips.

We spent the night in a salt hotel. We had heard of the ice hotel in Sweden, but this was made entirely of salt. Our beds, the dining room table and chairs and of course the walls were all made of salt bricks. It never rains so there was no risk of "melt" down. It was fun and very comfortable and charades kept us going until the solar lighting began to fade.

The 4x4 drive continued the next day but now the scenery changed into Atacama desert. This day was too long and the overnight lodge left a lot to be desired. The girls and boys were in a couple of dorms and about 50 people were sharing one dodgy toilet. We were glad set off before dawn and the next stop made the previous day and night worthwhile.

We had found some natural geysers which in true Bolivian style had not been interfered with one iota to make them tourist proof. We were able to walk all round them, stepping over or even blocking up the smaller ones. They were gurgling, splattering us with boiling goo and of course steaming away as the sun rose. Borat thought they were more dramatic at dawn when the air is cooler and I took hundreds of pictures whilst making sure Gill did´t step into yet another hole to oblivion.

A nice soak (and wash) in some hot springs, some idyllic views of the multi colored mineral rich desert lagoons and we hit he Chilean border. We said goodbye to our three 4x4 drivers and the two cooks, Fanny and Nancy who had done us proud over the last three days and we checked out of Bolivia. The strange thing is that we then drove for about an hour dropping 2,000 metros until we came to where the Chileans could be bothered to put their border control.

Into our fourth South American country and some more funny money to get used to, 1,000 Chilean Pesos to the Pound - and boy did we need them. Chile is expensive - but with two consolations - you can drink the tap water and we were back in wine country!
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