The Salar de Uyuni

Trip Start Apr 06, 2010
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
A hostel built from salt

Flag of Bolivia  , Potosí,
Saturday, November 6, 2010

The bus ride from Potosi to Uyuni took 6 hours and was mostly on an unmade road through bleak altiplano...the closer we got to Uyuni the more barren the landscape. Uyuni is a dry and dusty town 3675 metres above sea level that sits right on the edge of the world's largest salt flats. After an unproductive scout around some of the tour agencies to book a 3 day tour of the salt lakes and desert, we decided we'd have another day in Uyuni tomorrow and sort out a tour then. We joined the hordes of backpackers who were eagerly waiting for their pizzas in the raved about Minuteman restaurant, and whilst we were waiting for our spicy chicken thin crust to arrive, 5 irish girls walked in that we'd bumped into a couple times in the last few days and who we'd got chatting to in La Paz. The girls were keen to get a tour booked up for the next morning, and making the most of the fact that we had some good company guaranteed for the next 3 days, we joined them after dinner to get a tour sorted. We booked with Cordillera in the end who had exactly what we all wanted - a 3 day trip that ended in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.

Well, the pictures do the incredible places we visited and things we saw far more justice than words can do. The 3 days basically involved us 2, 5 irish girls (Aoife, Donna, Norita, Rachel and Sinead), a dutch couple (Kim and Sven) and 3 french girls (don't know their names as they hardly spoke for 3 days) cruising around in 2 toyota landcruiser jeeps and seeing some of the most awesome and surreal scenery in the world. The trip started with a visit to the eerie train cemetery - a very random collection of decommissioned bolivian trains that were once used for mineral transportation into Chile. Some of the trains are nearly 100 years old and are now sitting there in the middle of nowhere rusting away to nothing and waiting for people like Dan to come along and excitedly climb all over them. Needless to say some of us enjoyed this part of the trip more than others. From here we went on to the Salar de Uyuni - a 12,000sq km salt flat left behind after a pre-historic lake dried up. We stopped by a small community called Colchani - there was a hotel made entirely of salt, lots of artisan stalls selling all sorts of things made out of salt and colourful knitted wares for the freezing cold nights to come (very fetching knitted hat purchased by moi to keep the blistering sun from my ever-wrinkling face) and much to the irish girl's delight some chocolate. There were huge mountains of salt scattered around, ready for the next batch of llamas and jewellery boxes to be made, but also perfect for us to climb all over and take photos. We stopped for lunch at Isla Pescado - a beautiful island covered in huge cacti situated right in the middle of the salt flat. From the top of the island it was easy to imagine the entire area being underwater thousands of years ago, and it was really unbelievable that these cactus plants not only survive out here but live up to 1200 years old. After lunch we had great fun with the cameras - making the most of the very flat and very white landscape to take some funky snaps. We spent the night in a hotel made of salt (beds and everything) and had a couple of drinks before hitting the sack (or salt - ha ha).

Day 2 was spent driving through the desert and mountain ranges visiting different beautiful lagunas. The lakes are full of algae which give them bright, vivid colours, especially in contrast to the surrounding landscape of volcanoes and desert. Another big fan of the algae are the thousands of flamingos that flock to the lagunas to feed...apparently it's eating the bright red algae that makes the flamingos pink. Despite the stench of the algae / birds it was a stunning sight and there were wild llamas and vicunas (related to the llama) dotted around that didn't seem to mind the smell. We passed through mountains referred to as 'the mountains of 7 colours' that have different shades of sand running through them, and stopped at some weird and wonderful rock formations, most notably the 'arbol de piedra' - a rock that looks like a tree. It was great fun being with the irish girls, sharing the delights of the inca toilets and their ever-lasting bag of snacks...they didn't take the advice to bring some extra food lightly and dished out chocolates, sweets, crisps etc for the entire 3 days - deadly! That night we were 6 in a room, once again on beds made of salt, in the middle of a desert and at nearly 5000 metres above sea level. It was absolutely freezing and we all went to bed wearing a ridiculous amount of layers. Donna wins this one donning a pair of leggings, PJs, two pair of socks, 2 jumpers, an alpaca cardie with hood pulled up over an alpaca hat, and all inside a thermal sleeping bag. Dan donned his usual boxers and pushed the boat out with a t-shirt (just in case). Good job Sven warmed the bed up for Kim, and Dan didn't even snore (but someone did?).

The alarms went off at 5.15 the next morning for an early start of cold pancakes and a misty look at some geysers spewing out sulphur induced steam and bubbling mud. A few people keen to get their kit off after 2 days with no hot shower braved the thermal springs, but we gave it a miss and took some pretend fart photos instead. Last stop of the tour was Laguna Verde, a 5000 metre high lake full of bright green algae, but the wind wasn't blowing enough this morning to give it it's full effect. At the lake the group said it's goodbyes and split, with Kim, Sven and the anonymous french girls heading back to Uyuni, and the other 7 of us packed into a jeep heading for Chile.
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