Uyuni Salt flats and southern Bolivia

Trip Start Feb 03, 2006
Trip End May 09, 2006

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, April 2, 2006

April 1
The Uyuni salt flats
A trio of 4-wheel drive vehicles (Toyota Landcruisers) arrived in the morning to pick us up and take us into the Uyuni salt flats, an area of 750 sq. kilometers that is, you guessed it, flat and covered with salt. The salt is several meters thick in some areas. The locals 'mine' the salt by digging it up and forming cones to let the salt dry. Then they fill up trucks and transport it elsewhere for processing. The salt is used in both industrial and food applications. With the Andes in the background, the sight is really spectacular, and hopefully my photos will give a sense of the colors. Rising out of the middle of this is an 'island' covered with cactus, some as old as 1200 years. It is a great place to climb to the top, giving plenty of time because of the altitude (about 12,500 feet), with great views as the reward.

Several hours of driving the 4-wheel drives over the roughest 'roads' (actually just ruts) imaginable, brought us to the little village of Villa del Mar, where we stayed in a hostal for the night. The houses here are all made of clay dirt formed into blocks, with tin roofs, and rocks on that to hold them down in strong winds. Very simple, very easy to build, and cheap. We stayed in one of these. Electricity was provided for a couple of hours, via a generator, enough to produce light to fix dinner and eat it. When we got there, we were all hungry looking for some kind of snacks, children appeared out of nowhere, and guided us to a 'store'. The store was completely unmarked, just an adobe house with a few shelves with supplies like bottled water, beer, wine, toilet paper, soap, and chips and candy. They had snickers bars! After our dinner that night, a few of the children came and played us some songs. Very cool.

OK, I'm going to start with the bad. Sleeping on a bed with a paper-thin mattress, waking before dawn, cold with no light or heat, sharing a community toilet that was less than sanitary, still in the same clothes as the day before. Breakfast was pancakes without plates and some pear juice. We piled into the 4-wheel drives, where we were treated to another several hours of bone-jarring travel. Soon into the journey I realized my camera battery was dead. No worries, I have a spare. However, a few nights back when I plugged this battery into the wall socket of the hotel, the wall socket turned out to not produce any power at all, hence it was dead the next morning, only I did not realize it. The hotels in the areas we have been staying at are not of the Hilton variety. Anyway, however it happened, no camera today.

Now the good. Wow, what a landscape! Geysers that have been blowing for 25 years straight, boiling mudpots, the Andes mountains.... We stopped at a lake (I need to get the name), where the water was red, and there were thousands of pink flamingos. A bit later we were traveling through sand dunes. At lunch we stopped in a forest of rock formations, some of them that literally looked like trees. These rocks stood up in the middle of the miles of sand. A few of us practiced our rock climbing skills to reach the top and create little rock pile structures to mark our accomplishments. More driving and we saw deer-like llama creatures, roaming grasslands. Then onto painted rock gullies and canyons. The scenery changed every hour or so, still up very high, surrounded by huge peaks in the Andes. And literally no one else there, we had every place to ourselves. We ended the day at a hostal very similar to the one before, and had llama for dinner. Turned out to be a great day!
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