Immediately we left any trace of conventional roads and went for the scenic route on dirt, gravel and rocks. Not the comfiest of rides but at every turn there was a spectacular view. We were taken to view points on top of hills and where you got a feel for the sort of deserty territory we were in and the driver stopped at request for photos which was good. We didn't see a single person for a day and a half which was a nice change. Our first night we stayed in ultra-basic accommodation in a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere
but at the foot of a huge mountain. Mud floors and no showers were the order of the day but it was a great little place. There was a full moon that night and wandering around outside was like stepping onto another planet with a very lunar landscape on show.
The next day we woke at 5am to get started and entered the Parque nacional Eduardo Avaroa within which is a truly stunning collection of mountains, canyons, volcanoes, lakes, deserts and salt flats. We were driving through the Altiplano which is essentially a high-altitude desert that is fairly barren except for pockets of llama and alpaca. But in the national park there was hardly time to breathe between amazing vistas. We were taken to many different lakes and past many strangely coloured mountains and it was a lot to take in. A couple of the most spectacular were Laguna Verde
(very green lake and frustratingly close to where I needed to go in Chile but where I was then going away from) and Laguna Colorada (blood-red lake). We also found some hot-springs (35 degrees hot) to have a dip in and many a salt flat to cross. On the third night we had made it to the edge of the Salar de Uyuni and stayed in a hotel made entirely out of salt-blocks which was rather novel. It was also the only point on our trip where we could have a shower which was a very nice change!
The next morning, following something of a fiesta the night before, we woke up at 4.30 to go and see the sunrise. Amazing sunrise over the salt flats, although it was extremely cold.
The sun and the moon were both high in the sky at the same time. Once the sun was up, we drove to Isla del Pescado (or Fish Island) which is made of coral and was formerly a coral reef when the flats were part of an inland sea many 1000s of years ago. It is now the site for giant cacti, the largest of which was 12m high. Also had amazing views over the salt flats. Following a spell of taking the funny perspective pictures, we drove to the very centre of the flats where the salt is whitest. It was truly spectacular seeing just huge stretches of white going off in every direction to the horizon with not a thing in sight.
We were very fortunate with our driver being a sensible guy as we drove past a couple of crash sites where drivers have been drunk and stupid and flipped
the cars or collided with others, killing the passengers - unbelievable to think given the amount of open space there is. Anyway, I finally arrived in Uyuni and had to organise a jeep to go back exactly where I had come from to get to Chile. Very horrible, long and bumpy ride back and we even had to push start the jeep in the morning, having spent the night at a small town. It only made Chile that much better when I reached their wonderful tarmac roads!
From Tupiza I opted to take a 4 day tour of the South-West circuit in Bolivia, ending with the amazing Salar de Uyuni, the enormous salt flats. I travelled with 4 others, a driver and a cook. Our weapon of choice: a rather battered looking toyota land cruiser that was to be our vessel for the next 4 days.