The Dust, Dirt and Dogs of Uyuni

Trip Start Aug 12, 2010
Trip End Sep 23, 2011

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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, November 6, 2010

After a very long, bumpy and cold (ice on the inside of the windows) journey we reached the barren town of Uyuni. It felt like we were in a war ridden country in the Middle East, not Bolivia. As we entered the town there was burnt out cars, remains of trains and not one building complete. We later found out that the reason for this is because if the building is complete the owner has to pay tax, so they leave the houses incomplete so they don't have to pay it.

Our reason for coming to Uyuni was to visit the world’s biggest salt flat, Solar de Uyuni. That afternoon we searched around for a tour company to do the 3 day tour with. Strangely the town was very empty, especially for a Saturday afternoon. Everywhere was padlocked and all the people had disappeared, we were just surrounded by loads of stray dogs. Where was everyone? We managed to find just one out of the 70 tour operators open. After discussing the tour and finding out what is included; 3 meals a day, a break down of the food, an English speaking driver/guide, and accommodation, we bargained for a reasonable price and paid for the tour to start the next morning.

That morning we had breakfast and waited for our driver to arrive. Guess what???? That’s right... he didn’t speak a word of English, great start! But no worries the 3 American boys we were with were pretty fluent Spanish so they could translate for us, problem solved. You think!

The first site we visited was the train cemetery. The rail lines were built by British engineers arriving near the end of the 19th century and formed a sizeable community in Uyuni. Our driver told us that the trains stopped running here because all the coal was supplied by Chile, and after an argument with them they stopped supplying Bolivia with coal. We have found that most South American countries have problems with Chile! Bit like the France of South America.

After taking a few snaps we got back in the 4x4 and made our way to the salt flats and to see "Ojos de Sal" to witness cold water bubbling up from holes in the salt before seeing a hotel made purely from salt. Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers (4,086 sq mi), and is elevated 3,656 meters (11,995 ft) above sea level. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes some 30,000–42,000 years ago. It is covered by a few meters of salt crust. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70% of the world's lithium reserves, which has yet to be extracted. The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano (where we would be heading) and is a major breeding ground for several species of pink flamingos.

We then made our way to Isla Incahuasi (often called Isla Pescado), a pre-historic coral island which is home to giant cacti. Here there were incredible photographic opportunities before having lunch. After lunch we had some more driving to do before reaching San Juan for an overnight stay in a salt hotel. The hotel was completely made of salt including the walls, beds, tables and chairs....very random as all you could smell and taste was salt in your mouth.

We then waited for dinner. We’re not sure it was worth it. Just a piece of chicken and a few roast potatoes; not quite enough to serve 6 of us. We looked around the room like vultures whilst everyone else with their other tour groups ate like kings compared to us! We didnīt even get a drink. We were promised 3 course meals and drinks with all meals. We went to bed hungry and not happy bunnies. The next morning it didn’t get any better as we were just given bread and jam whilst others were given eggs, pancakes and yogurt! We had paid the same as everyone else, what had we done so wrong?!? To make it worse our driver walked back out to the 4x4 with a large tray of 24 eggs, why hadn’t we got any???

With our belly’s rumbling we got in the 4x4 and made our way to the mountains, volcanoes and arid lands. After showing our passport at Chiguana military check point we headed towards “Pasa de Leon” for fantastic views of Volcano Ollagua. The rest of the day we visited the lagoons and viewed mountainous landscapes including the Dali-esque “arbol de piedra” (tree of rock). We then stopped for lunch and saw the flamingos feeding on the mineral rich waters of the lagoons and in the afternoon we arrived at the rich red colored “Laguna Colorada” where we will spend another hungry night.

This time everyone (again apart from our group) was given biscuits and crackers along with their hot chocolate, tea and coffee. We waited for dinner expecting a bit more this time, how wrong we were. We got some pasta and a tablespoon of pasta sauce to share between the 6 of us. What made it worse was the fact that our driver was no where to seen whilst all the other drivers were serving and eating with their groups. At one point we asked another driver where our driver was and he just laughed at us!!! He did finally turn up and he knew we were unhappy but he just told us that we needed to get up at 4am the next morning to reach the hot springs for breakfast.

The next morning we all agreed to keep him waiting and didn’t wake up until 4.30am, at this point he was revving the 4x4 up outside our room, like we really cared. We made it to the car at 5am and made our way to the geysers and hot springs. At this time of the morning we felt it was no time to get naked and take a dip into the hot springs as there was still ice on the floor. We were happy enough watching everyone else get in, well the boys were very happy anyway

After a better breakfast of pancakes we started the 6 hour trip back to Uyuni passing the bright green waters of Laguna Verde which are over looked by snow capped volcanoes. We stopped for another dismal lunch of a tin of tuna and some chopped up cucumber and tomatoes (not joking) whilst the group next to us eat pasta, salad and fried fish! At this point as a group we had to laugh it off or we would cry!!!

We reached Uyuni around 4pm and headed for the place that served the biggest pizzas. We then thought it was only right to complain about the poor service and lies we had received, so we headed back to the company office and Hollie lead the proceedings. We told them (well Hollie shouted at them whilst I stood there acting as a verbal bouncer) and demanded some money back. We spoke to a woman on the phone from La Paz who said she was sending someone around to talk to us. We complained that we only got little to eat and the man said that we were just greedy, cheek! Some of the stuff I wouldn’t feed my dog, even he would have turned his nose up at it!  We also complained that they had lied to us about having an English guide. We did explain that this wouldn’t have been a problem as the people on our group could translate. The problem was that for the whole 3 days all that the driver said was "15 minutes, take pictures then we go", he didn’t give us any information at all. You may then ask how I have written about all what we saw during the 3 days, its called Google and Wikipedia!!!

We continued stating our case before the phone rang again. The woman from La Paz was checking whether we were still in the office or not. Of course we were (we’re talking about Hollie here!) so to get us to go away they gave us some money back. We left the office justified and made our way to the bus station to get an overnight bus to Sucre. Good riddance Uyuni.

Apart from the bad experience we had we did see some great scenery and we will try to remember that more than the poor service we received....whereas Hollie thought it just sucked and would not recommend it to anyone! Total waste of time.

Love from both of us x x x
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