The salt flats are less impressive when underwater

Trip Start Jan 02, 2013
Trip End Mar 31, 2013

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Where I stayed
Tayka - Hotel de Piedra Uyuni
Read my review - 4/5 stars
What I did
Salt 'factory' in Colchani
Train cemetery, Uyuni

Flag of Bolivia  ,
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Breakfast at the hotel was average. Just the ubiquitous pink yogurt, and toast (with real butter at least) and jam, tea, and bananas. Our non-English speaking guide arrived and we loaded into the tour vehicle, which was a 4 x 4. His fiancee was coming along too; at first they said she was the cook, but it turned out she was actually just coming for a dirty few days away with her fiance. This plan was foiled when her father found out, who called our guide and made him return her by loading her into another vehicle bound for Tupiza, where they live, 6 hours back. Natalie had booked us a bespoke, private tour, so if was just us 3 in the vehicle, which was great. We had an itinerary of the salt flats, and then all the other things worth seeing in the remote Bolivian desert, which it turns out are quite numerous. Carmelo told us a lot of the flats were flooded so we could not go the normal route straight across them, but this was actually quite a small bit of our total itinerary so it didn't matter.We filled up with petrol and they did a little ritual where Carmelo and his fiancee were each given a glass of beer, which they sipped and then poured the rest over the petrol pump nozzle stuck in the car. The petrol pumps were also decorated with the streamers and balloons of the festival that was going on, so a nice fire hazard there.

We saw the flats and some amazing views and reflections. They are thousands of square kilometres and apparently there are land speed races across them (when they are dry). Then we went to a salt factory. It was very rough and ready, and we were shown round by a man with one ear. The salt is hewn into big lumps, dried over a furnace, milled finely, iodine is added and then it is bagged. It is only sold to Bolivia presumably because it is so unrefined. Natalie and I bought a bag for 1 Boliviano each ( less than 10p). 

Then we went to the train 'cemetery' just outside Uyuni, where loads of old British and French engines and carriages are from when they were in use in the 60s. It was quite steampunky and Steve would have loved it :-)

Then we set off into the desert. There were hundreds of farmed llamas roaming around, with brightly coloured woollen tassles attached to their ears and occasionally round their necks, to identify to whom they belonged. Llamas are farmed for wool and meat, but not milk. We saw some vicunas, which are wild and look more like deer. We also saw a few flamingos, though more were coming in later days. There were massive expanses of nothing apart from dramatic views and landscapes, and it was really beautiful. There were scrublands, strange lunar-looking volcanic landscapes, and tiny settlements. Our lunch was chicken, tomato and cucumber salad, rice and potatoes (because how could just one type of carb be enough?!) I bought an alpaca-containing jumper, some socks and some little finger puppets for our brand new niece Rebecca Lily. In the afternoon we saw more landscapes, a few donkeys, some wild chicken-like creatures, many cacti and more llamas. We were meant to be staying in the salt hotel, which is built of blocks of salt cut from the salt flats, but it was closed due to flooding so we went to the rock hotel instead. We got much nicer hotels than group tours as we paid a lot more for the private tour and for nicer than hostels to sleep in. The hotel was lovely; it was in a tiny village, with an amazing view of the desert. Our beds were on a rock base, and had many cosy blankets so we were really warm. It was just us staying there. Dinner was maize soup, chicken with at least 2 types of carb and a bit of broccoli, and then chopped apple with the ubiquitous pink yogurt. We had a half bottle of actually very passable Bolivian wine too. Then an early night, as we had an earlyish start the next day.
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