We had a comfort break of 15mins in Potosi where we could find something for lunch and use the local toilet as there wasn't one one the bus. I managed to get in and out without paying as there were lots of people around, but when Cat wanted to go there wasn't as many, and, as the toilets were disgusting she felt they weren't worth the money and didn't need to go so urgently. The roads from then on got rather varied, you'd get a section of tarmac then a diversion on dirt as they were fixing the next bit. The road is supposed to be paved all the way but with so many random sections including a new bridge and half a dozen part built ones across dry river beds it got bumpy in places. So much so that a window on the other side broke and the poor chap sitting next to it had to keep the curtain closed over it to stop any glass blowing into the bus. We finally arrived into Uyuni at a late (1 hour) 6.30pm, (yep we're back to old south American any time timetable) and as we hadn't booked, hunted for somewhere to stay
. We settled on a place that was small but half decent and would do for one night as everywhere else we'd tried was either too expensive or were taking the Michael. Nowhere here seems to have a usable kitchen, breakfast or internet included, so we walked round the corner to have a pizza for dinner. When we got back to the room and discovered that there was no water on our floor we changed rooms to the one below us and had a shower and then bed.
Got up at 8am and searched for another place to stay and booked into a hostel that had some good reviews called Piedra Blanca, (we couldn't stay last night as they were full) then checked out of one and into the other. The room wasn't quite ready so we stored our bags and looked for something for breakfast and by the time we got back the room was ready and to our surprise and relief was much better (but still no breakfast, kitchen or internet). Apart from a bigger, brighter and cleaner room we also could get my necessity, hot water for a cup of tea, and a TV room for DVD's and a nice place to relax with an open courtyard. After some breakfast we headed out to find info on trains and buses to our next destination Tupiza, and to book a tour for tomorrow to the Salar de Uyuni salt flats. Our tour booked we then had a rest in our room and then headed out to find something for lunch
. As we were having trouble getting the bus agency to understand what we were asking, Andreanna from the hostel came with us to book a bus ,but the lady that books our bus wasn't going to be there until 7pm so we'd have to go back later. We then had a chill out in our room. Later when we checked and got confirmation that our tour would go ahead, we went back to the bus agency and successfully booked our bus for 14th at 6am! Feeling happy that we'd now got a plan, we went to find something to eat, so we ordered a hamburger special that turned out to be a veggie burger, oh well it was tastyish. We then went back to the hostel and watched the Guardians of Ga'hoole (an animated owl beat 'em up) and then off to bed.
Someone's special day.
We had breakfast in our room, cereal in a cup with yoghurt, then at 10am we headed to the tour agency round the corner to join our tour group. They consisted of a French couple, 2 Brazilian guys, a Columbian woman and us making 7 plus the driver. First we headed to the train graveyard just out of town where we had a look round lots of rusting old trains. Then we drove out further to Colchani, the salt processing site (there's also a market there too) where we were shown how they break the salt down to finer grains and heat seal the bags with a gas blow torch
. From there we drove out to Isla del Pescado (fish Island) where we had lunch and an hour circuit walk over and around the coral Island. As it used to be under sea water the Island is covered in coral and has some amazing shapes, nooks, crannies and an arch of coral that was naturally formed. It also now has giant cactus one of which is 9 metres tall and is approx 900 years old. There was a 12 meter one before but it had fallen down and was half missing. Once back on the salt we had some time to make our funny photos where we had us diving into a cup of tea, Cathy reading a giant guide book, Cat standing on top of our water bottle, the two of us popping out of the book and a small me standing on Cathy's hand giving her a kiss. It was a lot of fun! Heading back we stopped at some small holes where under the salt was a pocket of water in which were salt crystals. They had edges that were perfectly square and the pockets were in salt that was 10-12meters deep. Whilst we were there we tried some more funny photos and we used the Jeep to look like we were playing with a toy car. Next stop was at the salt hotel which wasn't as interesting as we'd thought. And for the finale we stopped at some more holes that were bubbling caused by underwater springs raising to the surface. We arrived back into town around 5.45pm and we headed straight to the internet cafe so that Cat could Skype her parents, whilst I went back to the hostel to sort a few surprises out for dinner tonight. We then headed back to the hostel, showered and went out to find something nice for dinner
. Well we would have if any of the restaurants had anything other than pizza! We did find a place that did Tacos and a sort of spaghetti bolegnesa and before dinner I slipped out the surprise of the night, (drum roll please) a Twix with a normal size candle on it and me singing happy birthday to the birthday girl. All embarrassed Cat blew out the candle and gave me the biggest smile and giggle as she was only talking to her mum about whether she'd get a candle or not. After dinner we headed back to the hostel to get some sleep as we had an early 6am bus to catch in the morning.
Got up at 5am, dressed and loaded up to walk to the bus station. When we got there we noticed how small the bus was and had second thoughts and tried to change out tickets to a bigger bus next to it. We were told that we would only be travelling on the small bus for 2hrs until we got to Atocha and then change to a bigger one. So we watched our huge bags being strapped to the roof along with a big CRT TV and then climbed on board a little worried we wouldn't get there in one piece. When we got moving we got even more worried that we'd made a mistake as we were the only tourists on board, the local music was playing at full blast (even at 6am) and this bus was a real bone shaker
! An hour or so in, we felt a little better as there were lots of friendly faces from the cute kids on board and we thought that this was a better experience than going on a flash tourist bus. At one of the villages on the way, the driver and his helper were trying to get the massive CRT TV down off the roof, I stepped out with my camera in hand and was quickly asked to help, which I did. Whilst doing all this, one of the kids was just laying on the ground playing with his dog without a care in the world. We would often think sitting on the bus where all these people come from and how could they live like this, but they seem pretty happy so good on them. At 9am we arrived at Atocha were our bags were unloaded and we were told that the bigger bus would arrive soon for our departure at 10am and we should go get something for breakfast and use the local toilet. We waited for a bit and ate the sandwich that we brought with us and around 9.15 the bigger bus arrived, and would you believe it, it was only the bus that was next to ours in Uyuni that I tried to change my ticket for! With our bags safely on the bigger bus we had a quick turn of the village (it only took 5mins) and got on the bus where a couple from the Netherlands were sat. We quickly chatted about what was the point of our bus only going as far as Atocha and us having to transfer onto a bus that started in the same place. Not that we weren't pleased of a bit more leg room. The bus left around 10am (more local music blaring out) and we were soon winding our way round, up and down the mountain roads some of which were quite hairy!
11th Jan cont.