Pass the salt

Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Hotel Avenida

Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Monday, July 18, 2011

Its the largest salt flat (Salar) in the world we are talking massive and Bolivia´s biggest tourist draw.  Tours normally include various coloured lagoons, geysers and wierd shaped thingies.  Sadly, part of the country is having its worst winter for 10 or 20 years so only the actual salar is accessible.  Luckily for us it is the highlight so we´re not missing too much.

The bus journey there is memorable for the bus skidding off the road a few times, though we do better than others we met who broke down and arrived 16 hours late.  All of this talk is later stopped in its tracks by our fantastic guide, Roberto, who tells of his recent bus journey when it drove over a cliff  - he`s lucky to be alive and still sporting a few injuries.

The salar is a  huge draw so at times you´re sharing the vistas with many others, up to 20plus 4x4s parked up in the same spot. Ah, the isolation of it all.  The Salar is a surreal, hallucinatory experience . When dry, the view stretches to infininty, when there´s surface water the reflections feel like you´re driving through the clouds.  Luckily there´s been snow in the last few days so we have a bit of both.  Who needs LSD?

When asked, the 3 lads in our group fancy sitting on the roof as we drive through the salar, but its very short lived.  We get back in the car freezing and covered in wet salt which later dries to a flakey crust - not an attractive look. 

Isla Incahuasi once a coral reef now an incredible island in the middle of the salar is covered with giant, ancient cacti, planted by the Incas (yes they were here first and made it their own).

We overnight in a hostel made of salt in Coquesa, a hamlet underneath Volcan Tunupa.  We´re in luck yet again, we´ve a great group of folks along for the ride ( we´ve heard many nightmare tales of people not talking, even fighting when away on a trip), so its rum  tales and card games all night.

Next morning we climb to the volcano crater, visiting a cave full of mummies - all less than a metre tall with elongated heads, no-one nows why.  The views at the top are stunning, but better is the sight of so many llama hats in one place.  However, all feelings go on hold as we´re informed that a 4x4 has crashed and rolled, several folks injured, some serious.  Our car is comandeered to take people off the salar to hospital, so we wait a while for a replacement hoping no one is in a bad way.

Then its another drive for the "perspective shots" on the salar.  We´ve spent the best part of 2 years avoiding these sorts of photos like the plague. Guess what, we loved them.  Roberto seems to have been to photo school as he orders everyone into position.

There´s lots of other fun stops along the way - a salt processing village, the train graveyard (really good fun, despite our sneers), a salt hotel actually on the salar.   Suitably salted we return to town.

Its truly a unique place in the world , one of our favorites.  We´re delighted that we´ve left a few really big hitters ´til late on in our trip.

Up and out at 5a.m. for possibly the coldest bus journey ever, layer upon layer of clothing and a blanket over our heads providing scant protection, the 3 Irish women sat behind us taking it in turns to jump up and down to boost their circulation. 
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