Salar de Uyuni trip - (4 days)

Trip Start Apr 05, 2008
Trip End Aug 07, 2008

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, June 4, 2008

On the first day of the salt flat trip we got up at 8ish and had some fruit for breakfast and finished packing our stuff. Then checked out of the hostel and walked the short distance to the tour agency where we would be leaving from. We met the lads and were told which jeep was ours, we met our driver Samuel and he packed our bags away in a water proof cover on top of the jeep. We had just gotten into the jeep when a local woman came to the passengers side of the jeep, we thought she was going to be our guide and cook and began to get a bit worried because she didn't look like she could speak much english if any. Thankfully she was only putting some food into the jeep and our real guide came over shortly after, his name was Archie, the person we booked the tour with and he had excellent english.

We set off at about 9.30am. Our first stop was at Quebrada de Palala which is a spectacular formation of red rocks that resemble needles. About 15 minutes later we left to go to our next destination, after being on the road for about 2 hours we needed a toilet break, we were in the middle of no where and had to go on the side of the road. This was fine for the lads but wasn't so good for the girls. There was a tiny hut that they were going to go behind but just as they were about to go all the rest of the jeeps passed. Shortly after the toilet break we stopped for our first lunch on the road. We had some local food called Tamales (a pool ball sized ball of corn with lama meat and vegtables inside all warpped in corn leaves and tied with string to keep it all together) which were lovely. We also had rolls with ham and salad, fruit and drinks, we were all very pleasantly surprised with the food.

After lunch we made our way to a small village called Nazarenito. This is a small gold producung village and has the deepest antimony mines in the world. We then continued onto another small village called San Antonio de Lipez where we would spend our first night, this village only has about 250 inhabitants. The hostel we stayed in was very very basic and resembled a shed more than a hostel. Shortly after arriving we got tea, crackers and biscuits. After tea we relaxed and read a little until we got dinner 1.5 hours later. The dinner was lovely, we had vegtable soup first, then mashed potatoes, vegtables and llama steak. We played cards after dinner for about 1 hour before the generator powering the lights was switched off just after 9pm. It was time to go to bed as we had to be up at 4.30am the following morning.

We got up at 4.30am on Thursday and packed our stuff. Archie had breakfast ready for us at 5am with plans to leave at 6am. When we set off it was still dark and cold, the temperature was about -10 C during the night. Our first stop of the day was at the abandoned town of San Antonio where once slaves and their wives and children lived, they were forced by the Spanish to exploit the nearby gold mines.

Our next stop was the hot springs in Rio Amargo. On our way to this we crossed an area surrounded by volcanos. The land had massive lava bolders all around it. We also passed through two small owns where the locals are responsible for the maintenance of the national park. Once we got to the hot springs we were told we would have 15 minutes in the water before lunch. We bared the cold while getting into the water which was so nice, it was between 35-40 C.

When we got out we had another lovely lunch and set off again, our next stop was Laguna Verde (the green lagoon). The lagoon was lovely and covers an area of 17km2 and has a volcano in the background which is at a height of 5865m above sea level. Our next and last stop was to the geysers, the geysers are 5000m above sea level, the highest we would get on our trip. We walked in between the craters which really stank. Hannah started to feel sick at this point mainly due to the altitude so when we got to the hostel she went to bed for a few hours. Archie set up the table for tea and the rest of us walked around the village and got some beer and wine. For tea most of us drank coca tea (hot water and leaves that are used to make cocaine) to help relieve the head aches and upset stomachs from the altitude. Once we finished tea we started drinking and the lady that ran the hostel lit a small fire with 3 meangy bits of wood which we all huddled around. A short while later dinner was ready, we had chicken, vegtables and chips and something that we thought were aubergines so we ate all of it including the skin, it turned out these were banannas!

After dinner we drank some more and played cards, at this time the fire was starting to go out and it was getting really cold and the woman refused to give us more wood for it. James one of the guys from a different jeep went out in search of wood and found some on a building site which kept the fire going for a few more hours. When it was getting to cold to play anymore we went to bed. During the night Mairead woke up a few times to get sick, it could have been the alcohol, the bananna skin or the altitude nobody knows for sure. This was to be the coldest night of the trip with temperatures dipping to -15 C

We were supposed to get up a 6am on Friday but we all slept in and Archie called us at 6.35am, everyone was up and ready with bags packed at 6.55am. Mairead got sick again so had very little breakfast. We left a little behind schedule at 7.15am. Our first stop of the day was Laguna Colorada which is red in colour due to the pigments of algae and sediment deposits at the bottom of the lagoon. The lagoon is also the breeding ground of different types of flamingos.

Our next was to the Desierto de Siloli, which is a desert with cool rock formations. This desert contains the famous "stone tree". While in the desert we ate some left over pancakes from breakfast, climbed some of the rock formations and chewed some coca leafs. Mairead needed these the most as she was still feeling sick and had to keep them in her mouth for almost 1 hour.

We then drove along the route of 5 lagoons stopping at two of them. The first was the deep lagoon, called so not because it was a deep lake but because it was the lowest above sea level of the 5. The next lagoon was another one that contained flamingos and we could get a good bit clooser to these ones. After the lagoons we made our way towards our lunch stop, on the way there the road got so bad we all had to get out of the jeep and walk down while just the driver stayed in it and met us at the bottom. After lunch we passed a small salt plain, our next stop was just a toilet break in a small town on our way to our final hostel in San Juan. This hostel was made of salt blocks as were the beds, it also had a hot shower our first for the whole trip. Once we had all showered it was time for more coca tea. We all rested a little before dinner and played some more cards after dinner. We went to bed at 9.30ish before the generator for the power was shut off at 10pm.

Saturday was the last day of our trip but it was also the highlight. We got up at 6.15am and were in the jeep for 6.30am ready to see the sunrise on the salt flats. This is the worlds largest salt flat and covers an area of nearly 10,000km2. The sun rose at 6.55am and was beautiful, after taking some pictures we were all freezing and returned to the jeep to make our way to "Isla del Pescado" (fish island) where we walked around for about 1 hour while Archie was organising breakfast.

After breakfast we continued our trip onto the salt flat where we took some funny pictures and looked at the salt flat pores, where you could dip your hand into the cold salty water and get salt crystals. Our next stop was the salt flat museum but on Archies advice we kept going without going in. We stopped in a small village called Colchans for lunch and bought some hats and scarfs made from llama wool. After lunch we left for Uyuni where our trip would end, our final stop was to a train grave yard which was basically just a dumping ground for old trains.

We all wanted to go to Potosi straight away but Archie told us the bus didn't leave until 8pm and that we would arrive at 2am. We decided to stay the night and Archie and Samual dropped us at a hostel he recommended where we relaxd for the afternoon. After showers we went to buy bus tickets where we met James, Tom and Carolyn who had been on the tour with us but in different jeeps. They had bought tickets to Potosi with a different company for 6pm but when the found out they would arrive at 12 or 1am they decided to stay until the next morning. So all 8 of us went back to the hostel changed and went out for dinner and drinks, we met two others from the trip who were going to La Paz at 8pm so they drank with us until it was time to leave for their bus.

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