Uyuni and the salt flats

Trip Start Nov 20, 2006
Trip End Jun 27, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Thursday, May 17, 2007

The salt flats in Bolivia are an awesome sight and so unlike anything we've seen, they seem otherworldly. You could be forgiven for thinking that you were on another planet or at one of the poles. That is why everyone who goes there spends hours taking stupid photos, using the white backdrop and perspective to create optical illusions. As you can see, we are not ones to fly in the face of popular practices.

When we first arrived here, we had the cold weather warning ringing in our ears. The temperature was likely to be -10c at night and the hotel we were to be staying at had no heating. So briefed, we headed out to the markets of Uyuni to buy some long johns and thermals. We successfully managed to buy some thermal long johns from a salesman whose pitch was that they had a hole you could 'stick your tool through'. More useful to me I guess. I then fulfilled a lifelong ambition by purchasing a poncho. As you can see, it looks great and only cost me 5 quid.

Our first day in the flats started off with a visit to the train cemetery. This houses a plethora of train remains in various states of disrepair. Some of the train carcasses are ones that were robbed by Butch Cassidy and the sundance kid, which, to this day is the only film I've ever blubbed at. We took some photos and moved onwards and upwards to the main event which were the +1000km squared of salt flats. Not much to say about them really, other than the light is blinding, all you can see is white in all directions for miles and that the temperature is cold - further enhancing the illusion of ice/snow.

We stayed in our salt hotel that night and it turned out to be a lot warmer than we had feared. So much so we were actually too hot. The hotel is so named as it is made from salt. They have obviously cheated in part as there is timber and a limited amount of masonry, but, on the whole, it really is made of salt. Even the tables and chairs. We had an interesting nights sleep as a group of Israelis serenaded us with 'yellow submarine' at one in the morning. We are getting used to limited amounts of sleep by now though, so it was water of a ducks back.

Our second day was a bit more active and involved some long drives to fish island and a volcano. (The name of the volcano hasn't escaped me as I never knew it in the first place.) Fish island is a raised area of land in the vast sea of salt. It is so named, because, from a distance the island looks like a fish. Having seen it from a distance, I can inform you that it looks like a fish in the same way that the 'bear' constellation looks like a bear. No matter, having got there, it was a wonderful sight and it added the extra dimension that our salt photos had thus far been lacking - cacti. We had our first hike at altitude and we all beared up fairly well.

The volcano was a different matter as the altitude was around 4500m. I can tell you that walking up a steep incline for a few hours at that altitude is like talking to a Jehovah's witness - bloody hard work. The views were spectacular though and it did give us more of an appreciation of the vastness of the flats. To be honest, although the walk was hard work, the drive up the first part of the mountain was far scarier. At one point smoke was streaming out of the air conditioning unit. Our driver was genuinely piqued that we made him stop! As you know, I'm no gas head when it comes to motor related shenanigans, but we all read that as a danger sign. If equipped with a gas mask, I would have been genuinely intrigued as to when he would have deemed there to be a potential problem.

Being in the middle of nowhere, I was incommunicado for the sporting results of the weekend. Still, there's no way Forest could throw away a 2 goal advantage in their home leg so I wasn't too worried. Every time I think that my team can't depress me more they prove me wrong...

Next stop La Paz...
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