Salar de Uyuni - Bolivian Salt Flats

Trip Start Jul 25, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Chile  ,
Sunday, September 9, 2007

Right this was a 2 night/3day tour which we started from San Pedro de Atacama (Chile)and finished in Uyuni (Bolivia). We got bus to the Bolivan border (check out Enda at the very offical looking official border!) where we had breakfast with our bus driver and  checked into Bolivia. When you get your passport stamped you have to pay the police an entrance fee (totally illegal but wide spread practice) to get into their country. Mind you it was only 30 Boliviano (3euro) so its not too bad.
Then once breakie is eaten your bus driver leaves and you get into your jeep with your driver for the tour. Our driver was called Teo, our guide called Alberto, and our chef called Leonora. In our jeep was myself & Enda, the two Irish girls-Kim & Niamh, the driver Teo and Alberto. The other jeep had 6 other tourists, their driver and Leonora the chef.
The joury is over 500km but is broken up by stops at scenic sights and 2 over night stays. The sights on first day included:
Various differnt lagoons, blue, green and white lagoon. The Laguna Verde (green lagoon) was most intersting of all. It was joined to the white lagoon by a wee stream...but for only one hour each day, between 10am-11am the water in the Laguna Verde changes to green...all other times it is white in colour just like the other lagoon it is joined to. The phenomenon is due to the angle of the sunlight, the wind and the minerals in the water. But its only between 10-11am it turns green.
In the background of the Laguna Verde you can see a volcano which was the most respected of all the vlcanoes by the Inca people. Itwas tradition fro the Inca´s to build stacks of stones (largest stone at bottom, smallest at top) in respect of this can see what I mean from the photo of me & Enda building one.
We also stopped off to see Flaingos which were fabulous. There were Chilean and Andean flamingoes presnt, one has smaller legs (cant remember which!).

Going to let the photos do alot of the talking because i could type forever & bore you all terribley so I´ll try make it briefer from here.
1st night we had to stay in wee shack at 4,800mts altitude. It was baltic. No electricity or no heat. Leonora prepared fabulous food considering the very primitive resources she had...a single camping gas ring! And cooked soup and spagetti bolengese for 14 people. It was gorgeous. Ate dinner, played cards then off to bed at round 9pm.
The shed that was our accomodation for the night was seriously basic.We and nearly froze to death. The base of bed was made from concrete slabs, the matress lay on top with no plastic between concrete and everyting was damp...well more wet than damp! The roof was made from coal bags...yes u read rightly and the tempreatue was minus 20 degrees celcius! I honestly didnt sleep a wink...just prayed all nite the morn wud cum asap. To bed I wore...2 pairs legging, 1 pair heavy combats, 2 pairs socks, 2 string tops, 1 long sleeve thermal top, 2 tee shirts, 2 long sleeve North Face polar style tops (really tite thick lyrca style), a hoodie, a balaclava, a hat over it and ski gloves.... I swear on the Bible I was still freezin, couldnt feel my toes or fingers..nothin. I was then inside a sleeping bag suitable to tempreatures of minus 9, which was covered wth a sheet, 3 heavy wool blankets and a duvet!!!! U get the idea by now! Eveyone was awake all night...oh except Enda who within an hour of been in bed was snoring away. I am now clearly convinced he could sleep standing up!

Got up 5.30am due to not been able to sleep plus early start anyway. Had breakie & headed off in jeep again. First stop was bubbling mud geysers, totally different to ones in San Pedro de Atacama...they were water and steam.These were grey bubbling mud and smelled atrocious, really made you feel like pucking, breathtaking smell. You had to be careful of the bubbling was 85 degrees celcius and if burned you were 500km away from any medical help. Too curious of tourits had been known to get splashed or slip in trying to get the perfect photo!

Then it was on to the flamingoes again. This time we got much closer to them. There was another phenomenon with the sun attached to their lake. Before sunrise the water looks clear like any lake, but when the sun hits the water it reacts withe the algae on the bottom and the whole lake looks pink. One of the myths attached to the colour of the Flamingo is that the ´pink´ algae it eats, turns its feathers pink, but a myth of course.

Then the best part of the tour, which wasn´t scheduled AT ALL. Alberto, our English translating guide told us how there was a fiesta (party!) in his home town of ´Colcha K´. It was a 3 day festival which celebrated Saint Guacamole(dats what it sounded like, and no it wasnt the avocado mulch!). So he asked if we wanted to detour and see it, that his mum was in the parade. So of course we all agreed & headed for Colcha K. What an experience. Its a 3 day festival of drinking where all alcohol is free!! Yes free. There is beer and Piso (like our poitin) stacked up all around the streets and a bottle opener beside them and everyone just helps themselves. All shops  are shut and its just music, parades, eating and drinking. The funniest thing was that it was all the old `people who were pissed drunk and the younger ones were been the responsible ones...playing the music, lifting up te fallen drunk etc.

You can see from the video they had a very complicated dace routine. in the centre of the suuare were the musicans on panpipes and drums. Then around them you linked arm in pairs and literally jogged slowly around them in a clockwise direction. When the music sped up you had to change direction....which was when most of them started to fall over, so feckin funny. One of the 90+ old women (who hadnt a tooth in her head), was totally rat arsed, and kept asking Enda to dance. It was so funny, she was always eating bits of meat but because she had no teeth the food kept spraying out all over the place. As rude and all as it was Enda still refused to dance with her!
Then there were the old drunken men who came around with kettles of alcohol (which they filled from buckets) we think it was Pisco but were not sure. So when they came round with this kettle and a cup you had to take some or else you were disrespecting their saint. When you got the drink you first had to spill some on the ground (you are offering some of the drink to Pacha Mama, who is Mother Earth...the most important Inca God) then you say cheers and drink it.  The Catholic and Inca religion are strongly entwined here, with people believing parts of both religions. The phots from the part telll it all. Best cultural experience so far.

After 3hrs at the fiesta we headed to the Salt Hotel in which we were staying that night. Whole place made from blocks of salt at the photos show. Had dinner there played some cards then off to bed... up at 6am to catch sunrise on the saltplains. The rest of our final day was spent driving on the saltplains/Salar de Unyui and taking photos. We stopped off at ´Fishermans Island´...a wee small island of cactai in middle of saltplains, just sprouted out of no where. The oldest cactus on the island was 1,203 years old! They only grow 3cm a year. All cactai on the island are under preservation. Salt plains gave great opportunity to take some optical illusion photos as you can see. Last stop was a graveyard cemetery in town of Unyui itself....which basically was a dump where old trains were thrown. It was no musuem as it was made out to be!
We hung around Unyui that day, had the best pizza ever in place called Minuteman Pizza (just like Bistro Bianconi at home) then got bus to La Paz at 8.30pm that night. Enjoy the photos xoxox

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