Oruro. Uyuni and Salt flats tour

Trip Start Jun 15, 2008
Trip End Jun 04, 2009

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Friday, August 8, 2008

We left La Paz by bus after some serious hastle to get to Uyuni. We ended up having to travel first to Oruro which took about 3 hours so we got in at around 4pm, and by chance we were able to book a bus to Uyuni for 9pm that night so things were looking good or so as we thought!  We took a taxi to the centre of town and started walking around looking for a place to have dinner before taking the 10 hour overnight bus. NOWHERE was open, at first we thought maybe it was siesta time but soon enough it came clear why. The shops all closed for safety!!. Protests were taking place on the streets with very angry protesters marching down the streets converging on the main square (where we were!) the crowds were firing automatic weapons in the air (I had to tell Sarah they were fire crackers to try and calm her down) The crowds were angry because the day before the police had shot dead two local miners that were protesting due to the presidential election recall which was due next Sunday. Well Sarah and I kinda got the hell out of there as we were the only 2 gringoes in the whole town so far as we could see.
About 4 or 5 blocks away we found a pizzeria that seemed to be opening so we ducked in their for cover and food. By now it was around 5pm, we ordered pizza and some Coke, the coke came quickly but the pizza arrived at 7pm! Bolivian service with a smile. At around 6ish the rioters that had been in the main square were making their way towards our street so the pizzeria closed itīs doors and shutters for 20mins to keep everyone safe inside. (Lovely town eh!)

As far as we were concerned the bus journey out of this hole could not come quick enough so by 9ish we were on the move.
At midnight the fun started. Protesters blocked the road to Uyuni so no traffic could pass. The bus turned back and tried to take a different road but it too was blocked. The driver along with other vehicles then proceeded to travel across fields then scrub land like desert for an hour or so until we came to the river ( there was no bridge, the river was about 6-7m wide and maybe a metre deep in the deepest spot) and we had to cross it. The driver ordered everyone off the bus as the load would hinder our chances, so there we were at around 2am standing in a desert in the Bolivian Altiplano in about minus 20 degree centigrade watching the procession of vehicles trying to cross this river. We were able to cross on foot as there were some large rocks sticking out and we just jumped from rock to rock.
The stupid driver in front of our bus was driving a pickup truck and the Muppet could not make it up the bank on the far side of the river, the truck kept skidding and sliding back to the lowest point so all the men had to push the truck and eventually we got it out but the ignorant prick of a driver never acknowledged our help.
Thatīs where we met some new travelers Matt and Pippa and some other New Yorkers who were planning on doing the same tours as us. While we were waiting to get going the guys were filling us in on how they too had  been told to leave Bolivia straight away for safety reasons as Sundayīs elections recall could end up starting civil war. That was enough for Sarah and me we figured if possible as soon as we got to Uyuni if we could get a salt flat tour for that day instead of the next we would just to get out of Bolivia before Sunday.

No matter how i describe this next section no words will ever  best describe the coldness of the remaining bus journey to Uyuni. Lets just start with the bus had no heating and the windows just about kept out the flies. We had two layers of baselayer socks, thermal clothes all over, jeans, overtrousers, four layers of top clothing, thermal ski gloves, scarves, Alpaca hats and an alpaca blanket on and by god were we freezing. We have never seen cold like this ever before. The condensation on the inside of the bus from earlier  froze. It wasnīt possible to sleep for fear of dying from hypothermia. we had to keep wriggling our toes and stamping our feet to try to stop frostbite.

The bus pulled into Uyuni at 6.30am and it too was bitchin cold. The hostel we were supposed to be staying in that day wouldnīt open up for us, so thankfully there was a restaurant in the lonely planet that opened at 7am which were able togo to. Pretty much all the gringoes from our bus journey ended up coming to this restaurant which had heat! Precious sweet heat.
After brekkie the town started to wake up, it was Bolivian Independence day and the stage near the main square was being prepared for the festivals/protests later. We had got advice from other travelers a few days previous to book our salt flats tour with the company Latitude as not all companies offered the same things and the standards varied greatly. After breakfast we wandered round the town in search for Latitude. We bumped into Matt and Pippa again on the street and they seemed to think we knew what we were doing so they tagged along with us to Latitude and we all booked our tour together for 10.30am.

Our salt flats trip had 6 people + driver+cook and a good Toyota 4x4 and from the start you could tell we were getting a better deal than others because the 2 others that were in our car had booked through another company who subcontracted the tour to latitude but had promised the couple everything from hot water bottles and sleeping bags at night to border transfer tickets and then delivered on none of them.
On the first day we visited the train cemetery and saw a load of old trains and wrecks, we visited the salt flats and got some cool photos.

We then visited the one remaining salt hotel , which is a museum, which is still on the salt flats (all the others have been removed off the salt flats and relocated for environmental reasons). We continued to an oasis in the flats where there were loads of giant cacti.Had lunch there then a long drive to where we spent the night. It was one of the relocated salt hotels and the place was amazing,see photos attached.

Day 2
Up at 5am and after breakfast we hit the road for a long days driving with stops at Boliviaīs only active volcano for photos, then some different lakes and lagoons that were different colours due to the minerals in the ground.  We saw loads of flamingos. Then another long drive to where we spent the second night. In the day time the sun was strong but it was freakishly cold but at night cold got a whole new meaning again. the tour guide, Saul, though he couldnīt speak English was able to convey that for us to survive the cold we needed to drink some alcohol .. so we had a bottle or so of wine between us and slept through it.

Day 3
Up really early again and we hit the road so we could get to the gysers early then onto the hot springs where there was the option of jumping in for a hot dip if you were nuts enough. It was about mins 10 degrees C with a severe windchill factor. not too many opted for that option needless to say. We had breakfast there in the jeep then onto Lake Verde (Green lake due to the copper in the water and ground). After that we made our way to the Bolivian-Chilean border where we had to pay the Bolivians to leave their country 21 Bolivianos. - We then re-entered civilisation! 
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