Hypnotic mirrors, flamingos and 5k mt high deserts

Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
Trip End Sep 27, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When we wake up in our nice hostel in nice-and-touristy San Pedro, we know we are up for something special.

After an efficient out-stamp at Chilean customs (computers, security guards, scanners, etc), we drive for 2 hours until we reach the Bolivian customs. Worth seeing: a shack in the middle of nowhere, with the rusty body of an old bus to do as "bathroom" (better not to go there unless you really have to).

After another quick in-stamp (forget the computers etc., here there is one man on his chair. I guess I could use a home-made passport and would be the same), we load our bags on our 4wd and off we go.

From then on, forget also sealed road (they are extremely rare in Bolivia) and be ready for a real adventure.

We share our 4wd with a couple of Greek craftsmen, a couple of techno music loving French, and Wilson, our Bolivian driver/guide.

Wilson loves Bolivian pop. Bolivian pop sounds like the demo mode of an cheap 80's electronic piano with some words in it. The songs are so repetitive within themselves, and Wilson has the whole thing on repeat! (Or they all sound the same...) After a day of Wilson’s pop, the French figure out how to connect their techno music to the car stereo. Not sure which one is more repetitive…

The way is impressive. We start from 3.5k meters above sea level, but we don’t stop climbing up. There are mountains, volcanoes, deserts, lagoons, flamingos (only in the lagoons), funnily shaped rocks. Colours keep changing dramatically. The altitude keeps increasing. I think my headache comes from being dehydrated, but it’s actually the fact that now we are at 5k meters.

My whole idea of deserts is blown away. It looks like it's going to be really hot, and it is, but only during the day. At night it is bitterly cold, and one afternoon it snows and there are galeforce winds.

We stop for the night in the most isolated, dry dusty, and cold place I had ever seen.

We ask for more coca tea, and they tell us it's impossible because the kitchen is too small - we have to choose between tea now or tea after dinner. We are not sure why the kitchen size has anything to do with it... so we protest. Rather than deal with the tea situation, they opt for sending us on a flamingo excursion. This blows my whole tropical flamingo idea completely away. They seem so surreal, bright pink on a red lake in a desert where it's freezing cold and the icy winds are whipping through us. What on earth are they doing here??? (And what are we doing here???)

Amazingly, despite the advice of our guides, many keep smoking even though they are debilitated by the altitude.

Some chicks are like zombies because instead of taking it easy the day before as suggested, they went for a big night out and are now terribly sick and will wake people up during the night with their sexy throw-up sound.

After another day of natural wonders, we finally reach our salt hotel. It’s really made of salt! Bricks of salt kept together with salt cement, salt tables, salt chairs, salt bed (with mattress…) and loose salt on the floor. It seems unreal.

The next day we see the ultimate wonder: the Salar. Problem is: it’s still forbidden to cross the salar due to too much water (but we will find this out when it is too late to go back).

So we start a slow cross of a salt lake with our 4wd in 1 meter of water, while around us it’s like being in a dream. Everything is double. There is this floating mountain and you can see clouds above and below it. It’s hypnotically beautiful.

As you can imagine, we make it out of the water alive, and we finally reach a little town literally surrounded by an open dump. Rubbish everywhere. Welcome to Uyuni, Bolivia.

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