Salt Flats Tour and Altitude Sickness!

Trip Start Jun 01, 2009
Trip End Dec 10, 2009

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Sunday, July 12, 2009

We left Tupiza at 9am on Sunday morning in our 4x4 jeep with Sebastian, the driver, Raul, the guide and cook, the 3 English girls in the middle (Lauren, Kayleigh and Lauren) and us in the back.  I was really looking forward to the trip.  Our first sight were natural mountains whereby the rain had formed what looked like stalagmites out of part of them.  The drive was all along the mountains and we were pretty near the edge - I was quite nervous at the start but then I just went with it.  There was even some ice on part of the road as we were so high up even though the sun was shining.  We stopped for lunch at some ruins where we had tamales with llama meat in them - can't say I was too fond of them but at least I tried them.  We also had chicken stew and bread which was really good.  Raul had coca leaves so I tried them by putting about 5-6 leaves in my cheek and I just swallowed my saliva.  They are meant to help with altitude sickness, tiredness and hunger.  They didn't taste too bad and I left them in for 45 mins.  The locals chew them like there is no tomorrow and never seem to spit them out, just keep adding more leaves so their cheeks are puffed out.  We arrived at a village called San Antonio which is only there for tourists we were told and 4300m above sea level.  Our accommodation was very basic - there was 5 beds in the room - ours were on concrete blocks.  The girls were on slats but some of them were broken and they had put cardboard down instead.  On of the Laurens bed was dipping down in the middle!  We were given tea and biscuits on arrival which was lovely - we had biscuits like polo biscuits at home - yummy!  We were told there was a shop in the village so we went in search of that but couldn't see it.  We saw some kids running around and I had pocketed 2 of the biscuits for later but I pulled them out and gave them to 2 kids.  They were shy at first and didn't want to come over but when they saw I had food they slowly came over, took it and ran away delighted with themselves!  It was so cute.  We found Raul and he went looking for the woman to open the shop (this village really does only operate for tourists!).  It was a tiny shop with sweets, alcohol and other provisions.  Ror bought a big bag of sweets and she tried to rip him off.  Raul said to her that it was too expensive so he got them for 15 bolivianos which is 1.50 - still a rip off if you ask me for Bolivia but we bought them for the kids so who cares.  We went back around the side of the shop and gave some more kids sweets.  The woman who owned the shop was actually in traditional dress which is a bowler hat, long plaited hair, an apron and a knee length skirt, tights and strappy shoes.  The men don't have any traditional dress that they have to wear.  We went back to our room and outside it was a stuffed fox and a condor - now they weren't there when we arrived so they pulled them out once all the jeeps had arrived lol.  They were disgusting but still it was cool to see a condor which is a huge predatory bird which can pick up baby llamas from the fields and eat them.  We were called for dinner which was soup, beef and fried eggs, smash and veg - it was quite tasty but I was starting to feel a bit ill so didn't eat much.  We went to bed really early at 8pm - we had brought drink with us but since we were both feeling a bit unwell we decided it would be wise to just go to bed as we were to be up at 5 the next morning.  There was no heating in the place so we all went to bed fully dressed and got into our sleeping bags.  I couldn't sleep so listened to my ipod for bit - I heard a noise though and turned around and Ror was coming back in the door from the toilet I guessed - he had just gotten sick and felt terrible so I helped him back into bed.  Thankfully I felt this point...

Day 2
We woke up around 5 and the 2 of us felt like crap.  I had a BANGING headache - I felt so dizzy.  I got up for breakfast but told Raul we were unwell so he got us a herb to make tea out of which is stronger than coca leaf tea.  I drank it and felt sick so went to the toilet - nothing happened but I just had a cry as I felt so sorry for myself.  Went back into the room and was no sooner sitting down then I had to leg it out again and emptied all the fluids in my stomach and was empty retching.  Ror was holding my hair back and minding me!  We got into the jeep and sat in the middle to be near the door.  We got to a ghost village and I had to jump out and be sick again - well empty retch.  Ror came out and after a while he was at it as well!  The jeep had gone down the hill at the bottom of the village so we walked back.  Raul was explaining all about the village but we didn't care - I just wanted to get back into the jeep to rest.  I couldn't tell you what else we saw that morning - I think some lagoons.  Oh one was the green lagoon which was pretty.  We entered the National Park and the roads here were unreal bumpy.  We passed by a dormant volcano and a village where NASA have studied volcanic activity which cool as its in the middle of nowhere.  At the park all the jeeps stopped and Anthony and Siobhan (Irish couple we met previous day) came over talking to us.  They gave me some coco leaves and this black stuff made from bananas which makes your mouth numb and helps chew the leaves and they also gave me altitude sickness tablet so I was very grateful to them and tried them all.  The coca leaves did actually work a bit at making me more alert and less sleepy but the head pain was still there - I felt like I had daggers being driven sharply into my eyes, forehead, back of head and neck - it was horrendous.  We were driving through some ice then and our jeep got stuck so we all had to get out and they had to shovel the path clear.  After this we arrived at the hot springs which are heated from volcanoes.  It was quite disappointing at first as I thought it would be a huge lake but it was only small but I still said I would go in it.  It was about 30 degrees and I didn't feel too bad in there.  We only stayed in for about 20 mins which was recommended and got out-  You'd feel really faint going from the heat to cold but we got dressed quickly and went up for lunch.  Everyone from all the jeeps were in the one room and I was looking around at everyone eating and chatting while I felt like crap.  Our food came out and I didn't feel like any but ate a tiny bit.  Ror wasn't eating anything and Raul came over and told us we should eat but no sooner had he said it and I was running out to bring up what I had just eaten - it was so horrible.  I went back to jeep and Ror came out with sorojchi tablets - soroche is their word for altitude sickness so we both took one.  We got up to 5000m on that day to geysers.  I could see them bubbling and smell the sulfur but I couldn't get out.  Ror went out though so I'd say the tablets helped him a bit.  We eventually got to our accommodation which was slightly better than the previous night but still really basic.  There were no showers here either and it was so cold again we all just stayed in the same clothes.  That night I had veg soup which was gorgeous.  The main was spag bol but I couldn't stomach it.  We were all sitting in a corridor and later in the evening they lit an old style stove heater so we all sat around that.  Some local boys came in while we were eating and played some traditional music with pipes and drums - I stuck it out for 2 songs but the drum beat was going through my head so I made an exit into our freezing cold room and went into bed with my ear plugs in.  I came out after a while and everyone was talking around the fire - it was really nice.  I was trying to be as upbeat as I could! 

Day 3
I woke up on Tuesday and I felt a good bit better.  My stomach had settled - still had headache but wasn't as bad so I was delighted and was able to stomach some breakfast.  Poor Ror decided against the breakie.  I had pancakes and fruit which was divine and coca leaf tea.  Ror just had a few bits of orange and banana.  We had stayed right on Laguna Colorado which is the red lagoon and there are flamingos in it so we stopped off there first and I was finally able to get out of jeep and walk around.  We saw some more lagoons that day but they were pretty unimpressive I though.  We drove on some more and came across these really weird rock formations - one was in the shape of a tree.  As we drove on some more we were dropping in altitude the whole time and I started to feel so much better - I was singing away to the music in the jeep and enjoying the journey as we drove through salt flats to our salt hotel for the night.  All the jeeps were racing each other back as it is first come first served in the accommodations so we got the main salt hotel which was on the edge of the salt flats at 3600m.  I can`t explain how happy I was that the sharp headache was gone - I was like a child hopping up and down!  The salt hotel was class - as the name explains it is all made from salt bricks, the tables and chairs were salt and our beds were on salt.  It was actually quite warm in there as well so we were delighted.  There was a hot shower on offer here for 7 B which is around 70c so after 3 days of no shower we snapped it up.  We were the first ones in so delighted we didn't have to wait.  We went out to the main room and our tea was being served so we had oreos, those polo biscuits and a proper cup of tea instead of the coca tea which we didn't need!  Raul told us to put anything we wanted charged etc in the sockets in main room as electricity was due to come on at 7pm and he said there wasn'[t enough room for everyone - he was so good to us!  After a while these Israeli guys arrive and there were 2 hairdryers plugged in - 1 was the English girls which 4 of us were going to use and 1 was another woman's.  They picked up the other one and looked over at us with our wet hair and asked who owned it - I mean talk about cheek.  Lauren told them that they couldn't just plug it out and they walked away and kept gawking over at us - how flipping rude.  Lol IŽd hate to think what would have been said if the straighteners had been plugged in!  Anyway after all that commotion we only had light and no power points - there was something wrong with the power supply.  So we all ate dinner by candlelight or headlamps - very romantic!  We had lovely soup again for dinner and chicken and roast potatoes for main.  Usually they made way too much food but the one flipping night me and Ror were ready for a feast it was measly - oh well!  We had peaches for desert and Raul brought us out a bottle of red wine as a gift.  Siobhan and Anthony came up from their smaller salt hotel behind ours and we sat around chatting for while and I chanced a few glasses of the wine - I had not been in the mood up until then and had read to avoid if you have altitude sickness but was feeling better.

Day 4
We woke early again on the last day as we were going to see the sun rise over the salt flats.  We left at 6.20am and all the jeeps tore off across the salt flats.  In December the salt flats become a lake and it is sometimes not possible to go across them.  But they were totally dried out when we were on them - all 12000 sq k of them!  The sun rise was cool and they stopped the jeep so we could take some photos.  The salt is in the pattern of a hexagon which is natural.  We went out to Cactus Island which gave great views over the salt flats.  We could see roads into Argentina and Chile.  Raul told us that cars are much cheaper in the other countries than Bolivia so they are smuggled over the paying off the Bolivian guards!  We ate breakfast at the bottom of the island and it was gorgeous - the weather was sunny and we had yoghurt drink, frosties and cake.  The guides started up a game of football and Raul was unreal!  Some french guys joined in and it was so funny to see them totally puffed from the altitude but the Bolivian were grand of course!  After this we took off to take our pictures which was great fun.  Raul took the photos for us and helped to stage them.  We have some of us picking up the jeep, us climbing up 2 oreos, the 5 of us dancing to music on my ipod - I`ll upload the pics when I get a fast connection.  All the photos were done by one person being near the camera and the other person going a good bit behind so you look tiny in the pics like `Honey I Shrunk the Kids`!  They were fun to do.  After this we went to visit the Salt Hotel on the Salt Flats.  It is actually illegal but it is there now as a `museum`.  It was pretty small but salt sculptures in there.  We ended the tour by driving off the salt flats to have lunch in another salt museum and we were dropped back to Uyuni.

Driving into Uyuni we were wondering what kind of a backwards town we were going to - it was deserted with little houses.  We turned into the main street though and there was more action here so we checked out a hostel Raul recommended.  This was our first time turning up somewhere without a reservation.  The room we were shown was really depressing so we went in search of something else.  There were a few recommended in the Lonely Planet so we settled on trying Hotel Avenida and went to have a look at the room.  As we were walking up the steps Lauren banged on the window.  Turns out loads from the jeep trip booked in there as it was across from the train station and they were all getting late trains.  We met Anthony and Siobhan who said they were all going out for dinner at 7 so we went off on internet for a while and were a bit peckish so got a doner kebab on side of street which was only about 60c and quite tasty.  Now it was no KCs Vampire or Poly for Ror but it was chicken and some other meat (we didn't ask but it was brown so I think it was llama), lettuce, peppers, tomato and chips on top - quite tasty but I picked out the brown meat after thinking too much about what it could be!  I started to feel ill again so went to chemist and got the altitude tablets.  We left a note on Anthony's door saying we had gone out for an early dinner as I was feeling ill and just as we were going out we bumped into him.  He said they were all gone early so we said we'd go down with him and there was a group of about 12 people from the tour there!  It was so cosy in there and we got the yummiest pizza that I started feeling bit better.  We went back to hotel and went into their room chatting for ages.  We have an invite to Sligo and we've never been so thanks Anthony and Siobhan - see ye when we get home at some stage! 
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Kabweman on

As far as I know condors are scavengers like vultures and not birds of prey. It is, as far as I know, a myth that they kill small animals. This has occured because they are often seen eating small animals that have already died.

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