The Incredible Journey!
Trip Start Oct 06, 2008
38Trip End Apr 18, 2009
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We had read that there was a restaurant owned by a celebrity chef in the area, so with nothing left to lose we decided to dine there. After ordering, it became apparent that the chef had long left the restaurant - it seems that no one stays long in Oruro! Iwan ordered lamb, and that is indeed what he got... the whole carcass! However horrific eating around eye sockets and earholes was, he still managed to eat the whole thing!
The morning couldn't have come any quicker. We decided to travel in style (since it was only 10 pounds!) and boarded the first executive train out of Oruro and to Uyuni.
Not wanting to waste any time, we woke early the next day in Uyuni in order to book our transportation though the salt planes and into Chile for the next day. We had heared a lot of horror stories about unreliable travel agencies in the area and, when the shops finally decided to open at 4pm, we began the search. After visiting a countless number of agencies, all offering the same basic 3 day itinerary, we decided to go with the first company we visited simply because the kind man showed Iwan the way to the laundry!
The following morning, feeling slightly apprehensive about the journey ahead, we set off in our jeep towards the first stop - a train cemetary. This was basically a scrapyard on the outskirts of the salt desert where old trains were retired to rust... this prompted numerous "jokes" from Iwan, including the immortal "RIP: Rust in Pieces"! Shortly after, we entered the salt plains. The whiteness of the desert was blinding and the rising heat made the surrounding mountains look as if they were floating in the distance. The scenery was unforgettable and the unique flatness of the land allowed for some interesting photography (see our pictures!). We learned that the salt plains were formed as a result of a giant prehistoric lake drying out and leaving behind the salt desert. Therefore every now and again, we came across remnants of the lake in the form of cactus islands and coral caves. Eventually, after a day of travelling, we arrived at our accomodation for the night: the salt hotel! As the name suggests, the whole place was made entirely of salt: the bed, the table, the chairs, even the walls! Although interesting, the novelty soon wore off after reality hit us that we would have to spend the night there, however, due to the quietness and the suprising warmth of the salt building, we all slept like logs.
The next day we left the salt desert and travelled South through Bolivian sand desert in order to visit the lagoons. Each lagoon (4 in total) were coloured differently due to the minerals in the water, and the mountinous backdrops along with the hundreds of flamingos and numerous vicunas (deer-like creatures) that flock to the lakes, made for spectacular scenery. During the drive, we also passed some interesting rock formations (including one that vaguely resembled a tree... the "tree rock"!) which housed chinchillas, and an active volcano which resided on the Chilean side of the border.
Our accomodation for the second night was dismal to say the least. The temperature had dropped significantly due to us being at an elevation of about 4400m (almost half way up Mount Everest!), the matress was made out of straw and the less said about the bathroom the better! However, taking just a glimps outside the window made the experience worthwhile at the millions of stars lighting up the dry, expansive desert. It was just like being in Star Wars!
We awoke early the next day in order to see the gaysers at sunrise. Our jeep was frozen inside and out and all our water had turned to ice overnight, as Mamgu would say "it was bitterly cold"! We arrived at the site just as the Sun was rising and watched as the steam errupted from the vents in the ground. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to stand in the clouds of warm steam, but when it was time to leave not only were we cold but we were wet too, and my hair slowly began to freeze! At our next stop, the hot springs, the last thing we wanted to do was get changed from our cosy thermals, dipping our toes in was quite enough!
After breakfast, we quickly made our way to the last stop, Lake Verde, a bright green lagoon, where we took farewell photos with our group. Soon after, we reached the Chilean boarder where, thankfully, our bus was waiting to take us to the nearest town, San Pedro de Atacama, surrounded by the driest desert in the world!Luckily, our water began to thaw... just in the nick of time!