Uyuni salt flats and more

Trip Start Feb 02, 2007
Trip End Aug 21, 2007

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, July 28, 2007

Booked a 3 day tour with Olivos Tours via Viacha tours in La Paz. Took the bus to Oruro (sat upstairs at the front of the bus in the panorama seats behind the most cracked and taped up windscreen Iīve seen in a long time!) and then took the train onto to Uyuni. The train went straight out of town into the middle of a lake with hundreds of birds on either side, especially magnificent flamingos. Really relaxing trip with films once it went dark including Spiderman 3 (but in Spanish) and Catch me if you can which at least had English sub-titles. 

The start of the tour didnīt look promising as there was no one in the office when we arrived and at 10.30 when we were supposed to leave there were no jeeps... The 1st 2 jeeps to leave also had distinctly bald tyres but when our jeep arrived it was 1 of the more modern Toyota land cruisers and it had no less than 4 new tyres :) As we had just been told about a tour when the jeep had 5 flat tyres over 4 days I was at least optimistic. Before we left we also sorted out immigration and used the ATM which we were told wasnīt there according to the La Paz travel agent!

Our start involved heading out to the train cemetery where we saw lots of locos and carriages that were pretty stripped as wrecks go, I even think Llangothlan railway would have flinched at restoring these! I tried to climb inside the firebox of 1 seeing as my dad has been interviewed on radio from one but I started to get covered in soot so abandoned that idea.

We then returned to Uyuni before more pfaffing around and then finally headed off into the desert. Our driver, Octavia, seemed very calm and drove slow and well which was a relief. It meant that we arrived everywhere last but were the most eco friendly as least damage to the road and least fuel used. The salt flats are huge with the salt being very white and hard, not what you would pour on your chips just yet.  Itīs good fun taking photos there as everything is white so itīs difficult to gain a real perspective of distance. We had a good hike on an island (isla de pescado) with huge cactus and strange natural rock formations that look like a really poor quality concrete.  The road was really smooth on the salt flats, we were doing 80km/h on an unmade road and it didnīt feel that different to tarmac, but once on the sandy rocky tracks it was usually rough going and sometimes very slow although it allowed us to get a better view of vicunas as we passed them (slightly skinnier version of a llama). Stayed at the Marith salt hotel overnight, which is surprisingly made of salt and quite novel. Also got taught a fun new game by the French / Spanish couple in our jeep which is a cross between yahtzee, poker and cheat using dice which went from 9 to ace.

The next day we had some great views along the way and saw lots of incredible stone sculpture by the wind. Saw lots of flamingos on windy icy lakes changing my previously held view that theyīre a delicate fair weather bird only found in sunny states. The most striking lake we visited was lago Colorado where the water is pink giving the flamingos an excellent camouflage. It was damn cold though and after seeing the mirador I decided to run the 2 km back to the hostel and the cold was enough encouragement to keeping jogging at a heady 4300m! Our overnight stay was in a basic hostel where we ended up sharing a single bed in addition to the clothes and multiple sleeping bags in order to stay warm.

Early start on the last day to get up and see the geysers at sunrise. It was freezing in the jeep, it felt like the air-con was on cold, however when we got out before sunrise we found it was even colder. My hands got really cold again (end of my thumb is still weird after Huayna Potosí) as we wandered around the steam vents, bubbling muddy waters and gloopy mud holes. There was only a slight smell of sulphur and a beautiful sunrise in the background.

We continued on at 7am to the hot springs dropping down to maybe 4500m. The air temperature was freezing but the water was heavenly at 38 degrees. The pool was really shallow allowing you to sit down in it and the grit on the bottom was perfect for rubbing in to massage hands and feet. The water was perfectly clear and the steam off it created an amazing vista - see the photos ;) After being freezing the night before and that morning, it was just what the doctor ordered. There were no changing rooms so we changed butt cheek to butt cheek in the freezing cold but by that time I had an invisible warm glow around me preventing the cold from getting through, probably helped by the 3 coca sweets that Iīd had that morning ;) 

After that we visited the Salvador Dali landscape, which, unsurprisingly, was surreal with
incredibly smooth landscape with large sculpted rocks emerging from it. We then moved on to laguna Verde which was distinctly not green and quite unexciting compared to the previous
sites. That was the end of the tour and we headed off to the Chilean border for a relatively
quick transfer but the actual entry into Chile was slower as they wanted to check all bags.
However once they had been through the 15 plastic bags that were stuffed into my daysack
they gave up on even opening my main backpack. Sariīs tactic was to wait until he picked up the leaking peanut butter jar that we had forgotten about and then he gave up on her too.

San Pedro de Atacama was so expensive after Bolivia that we abandoned any activities there, found a place to stay overnight and then bussed it to Antofagasta the next day.
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