Salt and beyond...

Trip Start Jan 19, 2006
Trip End Jan 19, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, September 3, 2006

I think we were up at 5.15 today but my memory has blanked it out as it was too early despite going to bed at about 21.30 last night! Its difficult to sleep properly at high altitude but we were out for the count last night. Highest altitude we have been at so far is 5000 metres.

We all grudgingly went out and got into the jeeps looking at the light slowly getting brighter above the horizon. Then on our way in the dark, no roads, no signs, nothing, just white. Somehow we got to our sunrise spot and all got out to watched it come up and blind us the colours behind us were beautiful pinks and it reflected off the pristine white salt. Was still cold though!

We were then to spend most of the rest of the day in the salar de uyuni or salt flats. The worlds largest salt flats which are about 12,000 square km. Hard to imagine. I was surprised that there are the several rock islands dotted around the place too. As it is actually a lake it does pretty much flood in wet season and now is a good time when it is all dry and white and you can see the amazing hexagonal formations where the water dries out and forms salt. Many photos later we went onto an island I think was called House of Incas. This was a rocky rugged island with a bit of a climb but had loads of tall cacti which were a great contrast to the salt flats. They were all also amusing and rude shapes. Had to walk up v slow as get so out of breath at this altitude (I am still trying to convince myself I am fit). We spent a while on the island taking photos of the salt flats 360 degrees around us. Then back down for a yummy break of pancakes!

We carried on driving through the salt flats onto another salt hotel which is the highest apparently and onto see the hexagonal formations. We tried to do some trick shots based on the white background and playing tricks with perspective but our imaginations werent that good sadly! Then saw the salt mines which basically consisted of piles of salt dotted around a few hundred metres and a poor woman with a pick axe hacking the ground. They get paid nothing for a kg of salt - about 2p. Without any eye protection from the glaring salt and sun and their skin is completely hard and dried out. Really is not fair.

We continued to drive through the flats and somehow Carlos got us to a small town for us to fill up on fuel however they had run out. A while later we reached Uyuni which is basically a desert town and pretty small and not as touristy or small as San Pedro but are a lot more locals here. We drove through onto the train cemetry where all the old locomotives and carriages are rusting away. Was great to clamber on them and get some arty shots of them all. After lunch it was the end of our trip and time to say goodbye to Carlos, the other guide and our cook. We were dropped off in town and spent ages trying to find the ATM we had been told about in San Pedro. It doesnt exist (yet apparently it will do in 2 weeks - believe it when I see it!) Stuck again with no cash, a really horrible feeling. We managed to have enough for food but paid for our tour and hotel on Visa plus commission of course!

The town is fine and had a nice street market where we could gawp at the local women with their bowler hats balanced on their heads and huge skirts and blankets tied around their shoulders which more often than not contained a baby in the back.

Visited the very helpful Ranking tourist office here to find out about our next destinations and buses and reserved some tickets for tomorrow for 6 of us to go onto Potosi. We had a nice dinner and a few beers - a bit of a treat after the last few days of no alcohol due to the altitude.

Slept well until a VERY loud siren went off announcing the trains arrival at about 2am and about half an hour later announcing its departure!
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