Fun in the sun, sand and salt!

Trip Start May 10, 2009
Trip End Nov 02, 2009

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Monday, August 17, 2009

Feeling a lot better after the kidney-gate experience we decided to move on sooner than later into Bolivia. Our first stop will be Uyuni town, best reached by a 3 day 2 night tour in a Toyota Land Cruiser. Going from altitude of 2400 to 4800 and back down again, seeing the desert like country side of south western Bolivia as we go.

At 8am we meet up with our fellow car and room mates for the next few days - 2 lovely couples, 1 German, 1 Spanish, load up the transfer van to the border and hit the road. About half an hour later we arrive at a lilttle hut in the middle of nowhere, swarming with Toyota Land Cruisers, this is the Bolivian border! The guard in the 1 roomed hut has no issues with our visa and we are stamped in and given breakfast before loading up the roof of our Jeep and zooming off into the desert nothingness. Thankful to hear that our guide, Augustino, has been doing this tour for 12 years so at least we can be sure he knows the way!

We ride and stop, ride and stop all along the way to our shelter for the first night. Some beautiful sights we took in include Laguna Verde (Green Lake), Termas Rocas Salvador Dali (thermal springs where we wallowed in the 37 degree water), Geyser Sol de Ma˝ana (not as impressive as el Tatio near San Pedro, but a whole lot stinkier!) and Laguna Colorado (pink flamingo and llama hang out).

It was at this point that we all began to feel the altitude...and we were still climbing. The air is thin and we are breathless, but I mean heaving and wheezing breathless, after a mere few steps. walking 100m took the better part of 10 minutes. Your heart beats hard and fast and with every beat your head feels like it will explode.

By the time we reach our shelter for the night (4800m) we are yawning profusely, battling to focus on things, dizzy and still wheezing for air. A nice hot shower and warm room will sort us out I┤m sure...but alas, none of the above are available! We were warned before that the shelter is basic but did NOT expect what we all. Basic I can handle, this was pushing the limits and crossing all lines ever drawn for dwellings fit for humans! Never mind hot showers, there were no showers, and you couldn┤t get within 20m of the toilets for the smell. If you were brave enough to enter, you would have seen that 3 seatless, flushless, basically doorless toilets available for up to 60 tourists that have been eating foreign foods and have altitude sickness, resembled a scene from ┤Trainspotting┤ and were a challenge for even the strongest of stomachs. The bedroom was better smelling but absolutely freezing cold, as thin matresses placed on concrete slabs can tend to be I suppose!

Dinner was good and warm - soup and spag bol. We dive straight into bed afterwards to warm up. The temprature is now -20 outside and -10 inside. NO JOKES OR EXAGGERATION, these are facts. Eventually we warm up but then the cold becomes the least of our problems, well, my problems anyway...having fallen asleep at about 11pm, I wake up feeling refreshed and happy that I┤d survived the night, only to look at my watch and see that its 12h05. AAARGH!!! and then I feel it, gentle at first progressing with every heartbeat to what i can only imagine to be a full blown migrane. From behind my left ear over the top of my head and into my eyeball it feels like someone has taken a chain saw to my head and another person is kicking the back of my eyeball with a pointed boot. I have never known such pain in my life. I writhe around for hours until everyone admits to being awake and we get up for breakfast at about 7am. The worst night of my life by 10 thousand miles. Ian was lucky to have missed the headache fairy┤s dust but didnt sleep much either.

Back in the car hoping to decrease in altitude asap my head is feeling a bit better...until the bumps start. Clearly nothing is done is small doses here and so the bumps are ┤head-on-the-roof-hitting┤ stuff. I am reduced to a ┤balling-from-sheer-pain┤ mess in Ians lap trying to hold my brain in place as some sights pass by without being seen and words not fit for a blog are said. Altitude is not a joke people, I repeat, NOT funny at all. I get moved to the bump proof front seat and take any kind of pill that people are offering. Luckily its time to go downhill and this definitely helps matters. One sight I did manage to see was an impressive active volcano at 5800m! Wow!

Night 2 was spent in the salt hostel! Everything is made of salt, the walls, the beds, tables chairs, EVERYTHING! Pretty cool and with a stunning view over the salt flats. Again very basic but not crossing the lines I spoke about earlier. So a hot shower plus warm bed equals good nights sleep equals happy campers and no more headaches.

The 5am wake up call to get to the salt flats for sunrise was well worth it! We feel like long distance champions at the much more desireable altitude of 3600m and go walking on the┤┤fish island┤ home to hundrands if not thousands of HUGE cacti. This island is in the middle of the salt flats.

A brief education on the Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flats). It formed millions of years ago, this 140km x 120km area used to be a lake of sea water traped inland when the mighty Andes rose from the sea in an earthquake. Over many years the water evaporated, leaving behind this vast expanse of 15m thick salt, enough to boggle the mind and more importantly, perfect to take all sorts of distance and size warped photographs which is the main attaction here and what we spend the rest of the time doing! Great fun, see some of the classics in the photos.

Last stop, just outside Uyuni, is the train graveyard. The final resting place for all the old steam engines that used to run proudly across Bolivia between mines. Now, with no further use, they are simply rusting away in the salt! Shame!

We get deposited in Uyuni town, a very very small dirt street town and book a bus straight away to get to La Paz that night.

Besides the headaches and freezing cold, it was a great tour and perfect way to experience so much of the country. A tough introduction to a tough country.

Next stop, La Paz!

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sablake on

Those photos on the salt pans are classic! Must say the altitude sickness doesn't sound too pleasant - glad you've recovered.

missbuck on

Yours photo's are fantastic and so great to read your blog all the time. Thinking of you guys loads and can't wait to see you when you're back!

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