Last known location: London, England

Salt, Springs and Stars!

The primary reason most people visit Uyuni is to see the salt flats and the National Park to the South – the catchily named Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. The town itself doesn’t have much to offer, it’s a pretty small place in the middle of nowhere! There are a lot of backpackers though, the most we’ve seen since Buenos Aires. This means there’s plenty of European friendly food and drink and a large selection of accommodation on offer. Our hotel, Girasoles, was a nice enough place, with a heater for the freezing nights, although having a sink that was connected to the wall and a flushing toilet would have been the icing on the cake!

We had a Mexican dinner on the first night which was a bit different to our usual fare, then headed back to our hotel; it gets really cold here at night because of the altitude and the electric heater in our room was too tempting! The next morning was all about booking our jeep tour of the area. There are dozens of agencies all offering more or less the same three day trip, but the quality is said to vary enormously – we were forewarned of jeeps breaking down, drunk drivers and overcrowding so we’d done a bit of research and headed to the only place that we hadn’t heard any bad stuff about, Red Planet Expeditions. Successfully booked onto the next days’ tour we checked out Uyuni’s sights, which were basically a little square, a church and a railway station. Like I said, it’s a small place! We had a quick dinner. Llama pizza for Dan, which got a surprising thumbs up, and also popped into the Extreme Fun Pub for a drink, but it seemed the extreme fun was not to be had that night; we were back next to our electric heater by 10.30!

On Tuesday morning we were up bright and early. A bit too bright and early, actually. We’d failed to learn that Bolivia, despite being East of Chile, is an hour behind, so we’d been on the wrong time for the past two days. Good job it wasn’t the other way round otherwise we’d have missed the jeep! So we got another hour in bed and then headed to the tour office to meet the people we’d be spending the next three days with. Our group had 12 tourists, 2 drivers and a guide. We were quite a mixed bunch, some Israeli’s, a couple of Canadians, a South African, one Swiss guy, a French chap and an Australian couple.

Because of Dan’s height he was given the front seat and the rest of us had to squeeze into the back. Lucky sod! And we were on our way. Over the course of the first two days we were driven from one amazing sight to the next. The Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flats in the world, were the main attraction on Day 1 and they were out of this world. White for as far as you can see, and looking like a cross between snow and sand – all the remnants of a huge Atlantic bay that became cut off from the sea to form a salt lake when the Andes rose. During the rainy season the flats are covered by a huge lake, and when we visited they were still drying out, but spectacular none the less. I took my shoes off and had a wander round barefoot which apparently is very good for exfoliating the feet! I’ll try anything, it’s been a long time since the last pedicure! The salt crystals were really hard on the surface but once you sunk your feet in it was nice and soft! We also checked out a salt factory and watched a 10 year old boy bagging up half kilo sacks of salt. The village where he worked was very remote and our guide told us that because it’s a family business he stays at home to work, rather than attend the nearest school which is a good hour away.

We also visited the “train cemetery” just outside Uyuni which is where rusty old locomotives go to die. A lot of them seemed to be in fairly good nick. It was a bit strange to see a load of rundown trains in the middle of the desert but I guess they’ve got to put them somewhere. One of the trains was apparently the last that Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid hijacked before being killed by Bolivian police!

Our first night was spent in a little town called San Cristobal which appeared to mainly consist of basic lodgings for the tour groups from Uyuni. There was a bit of panic when we drove around for the first 10 minutes and everything was full (our agency didn’t seem to have booked ahead) but we did eventually find somewhere to sleep. Dan and I had been assured we’d get our own room on the first night but we ended up sharing with the Aussie couple. No complaints though, the extra body heat in the room was a bonus, it was very cold!

On day 2 we saw a plethora of sights, including several strangely coloured lagoons. The weirdest, Laguna Colorada, was a deep red colour due to algae living in its shallow depths, with bright white salt pools around it’s edge. The lagoon is also home to three species of Flamingo, which we tried to spot amid the howling winds before giving up and heading off for lunch!

There were also multi-coloured mountains, geysers with bubbling clay and steaming vents, Inca ruins, constantly changinglandscapes and, my favourite, hot spring baths! We arrived at the Termas de Polques towards the end of the day and it was beginning to get chilly. They were set in the bottom of a valley and as we climbed into the warm water (35°C) we sat back to take in the literally breath-taking views as the sun set over the mountains.

Our 2nd day finished at the Green Lagoon, a deadly lake coloured by arsenic and sulphuric acid bubbling up from under the surface. Our lodging was right by the lake but even if it hadn’t been poisonous there’s no way we’d have gone for a dip. Once the sun goes down the temperature plummets so all we wanted was to get inside, have some hot food and then snuggle up under 7 layers of blankets in our dorm. Dan and I did try to go for a romantic walk under the stars. They’re so bright out here and you can see a whole carpet of them thanks to the clear skies, but unfortunately the cold got the better of me and I had to abandon him after 5 minutes to retire to bed!

The third and final day of the trip mostly involved the 10 hour drive back to Uyuni. We did make one special stop at a lagoon where we saw hundreds more flamingo’s going about their business. It was really great to see them in their natural habitat. After stopping for lunch at Villa Mar, a town famous for it’s smugglers and an airplane crash, we finally made it back to Uyuni at 5.30.

Our overnight bus to La Paz was leaving at 7.30 so we had a couple of hours to wander around the market and get a hot drink before boarding. We were hanging out with the Canadian girls who were catching the same bus as us and we turned up to check in with them. By some cruel twist of fate our seats had been double booked with the Canadians, but because Dan and my names were on the list we were given priority. Bit embarrassing and quite awkward because obviously we felt bad but at the same time didn’t much fancy giving up our seats on the only heated bus in town. So, in the end, we gave profuse apologies and bade the girls farewell. The bus was warm, but not overly comfortable. I managed to get an hour or two’s sleep but Dan was awake all night. Suffice to say we were both pretty relieved when we arrived in La Paz at 5.30am. We’d heard varying reviews on Bolivia’s capital – would it turn out to be as crazy as the rumours suggested?!

1 Comment:
  1. Rose 7 May, 2011

    Llama pizza looks interesting! think Al would have tried that too!! Love the pics of the llamas and flamingoes and of you in the hot springs.

Post a comment
If you want your photo to appear with your comment (optional!), upload it at Gravatar.comOpens in a new window