The Dinosaur, Bottle, Spoon, Salt and Hat...

Trip Start Sep 04, 2012
Trip End Aug 02, 2013

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Arriving into San Pedro de Atacama in the middle of the day, we should have had ROARING HEAT as it is DESERT rained!! Brilliant! Stupid pretend desert!!! The rain put us back a day for the 'Salt Flats' tour we were pencilled in for, but that allowed for us to do a bit of stargazing the night before, which was excellent!
We got wrapped up because it gets cold at night here (you're always gonna get your token d@ckhead who goes in sandals, claiming that he's never cold and wears sandals in the snow back home..!!! Yep, we got one of them! Tool!!). Anyway, we got bussed 7km outside the town to a place with very little light so the view of the stars was enhanced! And WOW...!! We've not seen a sky quite like that before! A Canadian chap was our guide and, with the aid of a magic laser pen, talked us through what we were looking at. Distances of stars and planets, sizes of stars, the zodiac, constellations, the makeup and colours of stars and why they were at certain positions in the night sky were all explained to us, but the three highlights of the night for us were 1) We could clearly see the 'Milky Way' - the solar system in which we sit, which contains billions of stars - so many that the sky appears 'blurry'. 2) We saw about 6 or 7 'falling stars' (or shooting stars) which was great! They are meteoroids entering the atmosphere, thus becoming a meteor. Excellent viewing though and in San Pedro de Atacama, you can see then once every 5 minutes on average. Oh, and 3) Using one of 10 powerful telescopes set up around the site, we were able to quite clearly see Saturn - rings n all!! (Either that or someone had stuck a piece of paper with a picture of Saturn on the end of the lense!). It was so clear that it looked fake! But we were assured it was real.....and even though it is BIG (it has the volume equivalent of 763 Earths), it is 1,216,000,000 km away from Earth (roughly!!) WELL DONE telescope!!!
Oh, prior to this we also managed to squeeze in a visit to 'Valley of the Moon' where rock formations are said to resemble the surface of the moon. There were some weird and wonderful things to see. It ended with a trip to 'Death Valley', 'probably' named because a certain number of people were killed and buried there in a conflict many years ago (there are several theories apparently). A bit vague that, Paul! Anyway, the tour filled an evening.
So after that, and of course stargazing, we moved onto the 'Salt Flats' tour. This, for me anyway, was one of the most anticipated activities in South America. We were initially dealt a bum deal because of the storm which resulted in the Bolivian border crossing being closed due to snow. Instead of meeting at 7.45am and seeing everything on the tour, we had to meet the following day at 5am instead, did LOADS more driving to a different border crossing and were missing bits out! Great!! That said, we certainly couldn't complain. This tour was basically a 3 day, 2 night trip from the edge of Chile to Uyuni in Bolivia in a Toyota 4x4 (you can't kill a Toyota!) over the desert-like landscape, culminating in a trip to 'Salar de Uyuni' (the Salt Flats) which are spectacularly massive and flat! Anyway, one thing about this trip is that it gets SLATED in a lot of reviews because of the drivers - they don't get a good press at all and it can be quite dangerous because of this so we were sceptical. And when a young kid who looked about 15 got behind the wheel, there was a bit of eye-rolling!! He was top man though - he was careful when he needed to be and picked up a bit of pace when it was safe to do so so we were in good hands. There were 3 jeeps in total and we were in convoy for the 3 days. In our jeep was a Dutch girl, 2 Danes, an Irish chap and us two. It is worth pointing out that most Europeans we have met speak IMPECCABLE English....better than ours! The three in our jeep were no different. There's miles of nothing before the border, but we eventually got there and there's a tiny office.....and a football pitch!! Who plays their home games there..??!!! After crossing to Bolivia we were treated to all kinds of mountainous, volcanic and lake views throughout the day (one of the lakes was red, weirdly!) and even saw loads of flamingoes having a feed. "Denmark, stop telling me about the different types of LLAMA....I'm not bothered!!!" As the sun started to dip, one thing became gets COLD here.......SERIOUSLY -15 DEGREES COLD!!!! In the middle of a sunny afternoon, Kala had on some leggings, her combats, a vest, a t-shirt, a hoodie, a fleece, a coat, 2 pairs of socks, hat, snood and was NOT going to be her favourite night in the bricked building with a bed and NOTHING ELSE!! 'Sleep in all you've got and get through the night' was the worked......just, as the only thing not covered on her face were her nostrils he he!! The sunrise at a random geyser was an unexpected treat, as was a beautiful 'mirror lake' on day 2 that ended with us staying in a slightly warmer hotel made out of salt! A typical South American shower got a game too in the evening.....either you have a reasonable pressure and have it freezing, or you barely turn it on, have a bit of heat, but have to jump around to get wet!! Always choose heat though....always!!
Day 3 was why we came on the tour. Another bone-chillingly cold 5am start and we shot towards the 'Salar' for sunrise. Ot ohhhhhhh flat tyre!! Fixed in 5 minutes...these guys are pros!!
The 'Salar de Uyuni' is comfortably the biggest salt flat in the world and is 10,582 km square. It was formed as a result of changes in several large lakes and has a thick upper layer of salt (a few metres thick) and remarkably, the whole area of the salt flat varies in an average altitude variation of less than 1 metre. Interesting stuff....and stunning viewing! It's just miles of virtually nothing in all directions (with the exception of a couple of small mountains in the distance). Soon after brekky at a very random 'cactus island' in the middle of the flats, did the fun start! We got driven to the middle of the Salar and it is there that everyone gets their props out and starts taking very strange, 'perspective' changing type of photos, made popular because of the vast amount of space (which was brilliant fun actually!!!). We were prepared for this, and our cast included a toy dinosaur, a bottle, a spoon, a bag of salt and a hat!! Some worked better than others but in general, we got some good photos!!
The tour ended with us having a walk around a 'train cemetery' - a load of rusted old trains in the desert basically. A brilliant tour, and we were lucky enough to have a really good bunch of people to enjoy it with! That evening Kala handsomely won a game of cards, taught to us by Matt and Paula - a top couple from Ireland who were in one of the other jeeps. I came in second-last! Stupid game anyway ha ha!! Half our group stayed put in Uyuni for the night, in preparation for a bus tomorrow. A group of 5 of us got the night bus to La Paz. Plenty of leg room on the bus.......check! A meal served to us before it even set off.......check! A nice smooth road in order to travel on...........eeerrrrr.................
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