The spectacular Salar de Uyuni

Trip Start May 01, 2010
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Trip End Oct 15, 2010


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Flag of Bolivia  ,
Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Salar de Uyuni was the main reason we came to Bolivia. The worlds largest salt flat located at 3,650 meters above sea level is a sea of white hexagons spreading out in all directions as far as the eye can see.

We left for the Salar from Tupiza, a more expensive option but as we found the rumours to be true, worth every penny. Six of us travelled in a 4x4 jeep, a Portuguese couple, us, our fabulous guide come driver Santos and the very talented chef Isabella. We toured with La Torre and had an excellent experience- could not fault our carers however, the jeep could have done with a new set of wheels.

We packed up and boarded our private jeep at 8am and set off on the 500 mile trip to Uyuni, taking in the most spectacular scenery you could ever imagine. The first day, we spent a long time in the car but stopped regularly to admire the steep drops and irregular rock formations that give Tupiza itsīreputation. We stood on top of mountains with the wind literally battering us just gasping at the colours and stark landscape that lay before us. Santos told us it only got better from there on! We had lunch in a huge plato field, about 4,300 meters above sea level, riddled with a dry river bed and dotted with multicoloured llamas with red tassles hanging from their ears. Very surreal landscape and our first real sightings of llamas! The people who farm them live a very very difficult life, there is little access to water so they rely on llama milk, and llama meat to eat. And if the bus for the nearest down turns up- once every two weeks, they trade llamas or fruit and veg. The sun was setting as we pulled up to our first hotel- well, a cold dormitory with four beds in, although it did have a power socket so we watched Hot Fuzz on the lap top- very amusing! We climbed the mountain behind us to admire the fiery sun, although, at 4,500 m above sea level, it was slightly painful to walk up hill! Dinner was tasty and the hot choclate set us up for a good nights sleep, or so we thought... it was the first of many sleepless nights for us. We were all suffering with the altitude, with it being so dry, our mouths and lips were cracking so we had to constantly drink water, even worse was the sensation of suffocating, not being able to get enough oxygen- just lying down! I felt better the next morning when everyone else said that they had no sleep either!

After a quick breakfast- at 5am we hit the road again. We had the longest distance to cover, but the most sights to see. We started by watching the sun set over a ghost town abandoned by miners a hundred years ago. With beautiful views down the valley it was the perfect start, and we had all had a chance to nap in the jeep first! After several more hours of bone rattlingly bumpy roads, we arrived at the first of the great lakes. This one was beautiful, and dotted amongst the ice burgs- yes, it was absolutley freezing, were bright pink flamingos. We had never seen them before so we were thrilled. There was only one group though and Santos promised us more to come. So we made a move, watching the extinct conical volcano reflect in the icy waters of the lake. The next lagoon was bright, bright green due to the chemicals inside being churned constantly by the wind. very toxic to swim in and drink, but a fantastic spectacle when viewed from above. The icy cold winds forced us to retreat back into the jeep, but for a moment, it was like being on another planet. The penultimate lake of the day was out of this world. Even though we were starting to turn blue with the cold, we could not take our eyes off the turquoise waters, frozen solid in places with borax- the component of soap lathering up the edges, and the thousands of flamingos who were within arms reach. There is a volcano behind the lake which reflects beautifully in the water, along with the indigo sky and the bright pink spots, it is the most beautiful place we have ever seen. Again, a very toxic lake, wafts of sulphur muxed with the oxygen sent us all into dizzy fits, so sadly, we had to pile back into the jeep and move on. But definitely a high light that we perhaps would not have seen on another tour. After lunch we visited a red lagoon, again populated by hundreds of flamingos and died red from the algae they eat, we had the chance to walk around the edge- more of a run or us because of the cold! The second nights accommodation was not far from the lake and we arrived early enough to have a warming cup of hot chocolate and admire the landscape. Situated at 4,500 meters again, we had a restless night of sleep but had the chance of a lie in so evened it out a little bit. The cold showers however, were not for us, although the Portuguese couple did brave them and came out the other side alive!

Our third day was spent visiting the desert that ajoins the Chilean Atacama, the driest place on earth. There were a few slightly less spectauclr lagoons en route to the Salar, but that did not matter as the pastle colours of the mountains, often described as painted by Dali, dwarfed our view. It was like another world, the colours caused by different minerals gel together to make the back drop look like a beautiful painting. Unbelievable is the only word we can describe it. We visited some volcanic rocks that had been eroded by the wind making them looklike trees. There was also a smoking volcano in the background whilst we stood on its field of lava- very surreal when you can see how many meters thick and for how many miles it stretches for! We visited a thermal lake which was a pleasant 30 degrees, we opted not to go for a swim in the natural pool though due to the temperature outside. No one was catching us in our skivvies at 0 degrees!!! We also saw some geysers which were very active and very smelly. Finally, the Salar de Uyuni was in sight, our hotel for the night, completely made of salt- including the tables, chairs and our bed albeit with a normal mattress on top! Even the floor was made of salt! Very topical! At 3,650 meters, it was a little warmer so Jamie and I braved a cold bucket wash as the cue for the one shower was a little silly. We all thought a glass of wine with dinner would help us sleep, apparently not. Poor jamie developed a bit of a bad tummy at 3am, so started popping Immodium at 6am. 4 tablets later, we were good to go and see the sun rise over the Salar.

As we raced towards the centre of the Salar, the sun was inching closer and closer to the surface, but we made it in time and watched as the pinks and purples flooded the white wonderland creating a feeling as if you were stood in the midle of a very cold pastel painting. The moon was still high in the sky, the mixture of all the light on the white hexagons of salt created a fairy tale land. The sun eventually showed its face 10 minutes later and the temperature immediately improved, and the colours changed from pastel pinks to a fiery orange. Santos sent us climbing up the catcus full hill so that we could admire the views from the top. the oldest cactus on the island was 1,200 years old- think of how many invaders they have seen in their years. As promised, the view from the top was unreal and we spent a very happy hour wandering between the cacti. Isabella called us for breakfast, hearty cake and lots of coca tea for Jamie before we hopped in the jeep for a drive out into the depths of the lake. Here, it is possible to take some unreal photographs- we were there for hours messing around with the camera! The time came when we sadly had to finish, we had an excellent time, the food was great, we just wish La Torre paid their staff better as we were horrified to find out that Isabella only earned 15 pounds for the whole trip! Thoroughly recommend it though, an unmissble experience!
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