Salar de Uyuni (Salt Flats of Southern Bolivia)

Trip Start Aug 27, 2008
Trip End Nov 20, 2008

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Monday, September 22, 2008

On Monday, August 22nd we hopped on a 12 hour night bus from La Paz to Uyuni in Southern Bolivia. We were told multiple times to wear warm clothes and bring a sleeping bag on board because it would be freezing. There was no heat or bathroom. Welcome to Bolivia! We were all a bit apprehensive about the ride but we just figured it would be another adventure for the memory book. The 3 of us and Angus (the Aussie from our Salkantay trek in Peru) who decided to join us all took a sleeping pill to get us through the night. With our sleeping bags it actually wasnīt too bad. The bus ride from Rurrenabaque to La Paz was much worse.

So we arrived in Uyuni at 7 in the morning where we went straight to a tour company to book a tour of the Salar de Uyuni, the worldīs largest salt flat (4,085 square miles!), leaving that same day. There were quite a few agencies, but the vehicles at this particular one as well as the price were all good so we didnīt do much looking around. Plus we were pretty tired and couldnīt be bothered. We had heard horror stories of people breaking down in the middle of the desert due to old vehicles or getting into accidents becuase the drivers werenīt as cautious. We figured this wasnīt the time to try and cheap out. The trip would be a 3 day journey in 4x4 jeeps through the salt flat and lakes of southern Bolivia that would end at the border of Chile.

Before we left Uyuni and began our trip, we went to the local markets for essentials.....water and alcohol. At night temperatures drop to -10 degrees Celcius! We figured we could use something extra to keep us warm at night or at least keep us from feeling the cold. Our group consisted of the 3 of us, our Aussie friend Angus, Summer (a fun Canadian girl we met at our hostel in La Paz and took the same bus as us) and Stefanie (a really nice girl from Germany). Our guide/driver didnīt speak any English and Stefanieīs spanish was really good so she ended up being our translater which was quite convenient.

We left Uyuni at 10am and headed out for the salt flats. We stopped at a small village where they harvested the salt from the flat and packaged it into table salt just for sale within Bolivia. We saw the men with their picks, creating piles to be picked up by trucks. In some places, the salt can be 8 meters deep! We then went to an island in the salt flats with giant cacti growing. From the top of the island you could see the great expanse of the salt flats for miles and miles. It really was unlike any place on earth Iīve every been. Completely flat with nothing growing. Almost like another planet. That night we stayed at salt hostel. The whole place was entirely made of salt - salt bricks made up the exterior and interior walls, salt tables, salt chairs, salt beds (with real mattresses), and the ground was just chunks of salt (almost like a sand floor). It was a really neat place. We were also the only group staying there that night which was a bonus. We had power until about 9, then we switched to candle light. We drank our wine to stay warm and had a fun game of catchphrase that Caitlin was smart enough to bring along with her. The place was actually pretty well insulated so we didnīt freeze the first night as we heard some people had.

The second day was full of lakes that were littered throughout the salar. We saw 4 in total all of which were full of pink flamingos. These flamingos were brave animals surviving in this harsh climate. It was very windy and cold. Part of you didnīt even want to get out of the jeep to walk around and take pictures because it was so cold. But we figured we had to. It was made easier by the fact that each lake really was gorgeous. One of the lakes was even red due to the minerals. The second night we stayed at a hostel where a few other tour groups were staying. This hostel really was freezing. We were over 4,500 meters in altitude. I had on practically all the clothes in my pack. We had another fun session of catchphrase with wine that night.

On the third day we woke up at 5 to go to the geyers and hot springs, the final stop on our tour. It was brutally cold that morning....well below zero. It was very difficult to get out of our sleeping bags. I had been given some very good advice from two Israeliīs who had already done the tour of the salt flats. They told me to put on my bathing suit the night before and sleep in it, because it was so cold the next morning that you didnīt want to have to change into it. I took their advice and was very thankful, because I crawled out of my sleeping and hopped into the jeep ready to go. At that point it was very difficult to picture yourself stripping down to just a bathing suit to get into some water. But the hot springs were so nice! The water really was warm and when the sun came out it was just perfect. We had breakfast at this spot and then went to the Laguna Verde (green lake), the final destination on our tour. The lake was a very bright green, with no flamingos. Our guide explained that the lake only looked green on days that it was very windy, because the water was choppy and it churned up the minerals that made it green. Fortunately (or unfortunately) it was extremely windy that morning, so the lake was very picturesque.

We then said goodbye to our guide and Bolivia and took an hour bus ride over the border into Chile!
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