The salty approach to Uyuni in a 4X4
Trip Start Sep 22, 2011
36Trip End Mar 09, 2012
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A short drive later and we arrived at our first sight, Laguna Blanca with the first opportunity to photograph some flamingos, none of us were particularly convinced it was a white lagoon until we arrived at the second sight Laguna Verde, cresting the hill we were astounded at the vivid turqoise lagoon in front of us. The two lagoons are actually connected and the sight of the two together really does highlight the whiteness and greeness of each! The Belgiums, which we should probably refer to by name now as they do spend the next 4 days with us, Adriaan, Charlotte, Gaelle, and Caroline all of whom had just finished studies back in Belgium and were having a gap break.
Our next stop was a welcome hot spring, Aguas Termales de Polques, after changing in a disgusting toilet block with long drops (a particular type of toilet with a long drop and no water) we submersed ourselves in the water at 35-40 degrees C
The Morning Sun Geiser was next on the list, we had been told when we booked the tour that these Geisers weren't as impressive as the ones in San Pedro. They were fewer in number, however they did offer a completly different type of Geiser, with bubbling mud pools and deeper, noiser more forcefull jets. The smell of Sulpher here was as just as overpowering.
We were at around 4,500m at this point and everyone in our 4X4 seemed to be coping well with the altitude, the girls had taken prevenative tablets after feeling queesy on the bus from Salta, and Neil had opted for the local prevention of chewing Coca leaves. The same could not be said for the other 3 4X4's, the Aussies who did not stop talking during the boarder crossing were decidedly quiet and Alfred, a lone Canadian traveller was feeling particuarly rough. The first day was a short day so we headed to our refugee for the night, the numbers for lunch had dwindled with many headed for bed to try and sleep off the sickness and headaches. The rest of us were treated to frankfurters, mash and salad.
Back at the refugee we checked out our bedroom for the night, one double bed and 4 singles around the outside of the room, each bed built from stone with a mattresses on top and 4 blankets on each. We'd been warned about how cold it was going to be so we unpacked our sleeping bags and thermals in preperation. Numbers were still down for the evening meal of vegetable soup followed by spag bol with half a peach for pudding. Soon after, the sun had set and the temperature took a nose dive, card games and star gazing were the order of the evening.
After an interesting nights sleep, not due to the cold, more to do with altitude and Neil's impression of a steam train in his sleep
First stop today, the Arbol de Piedra (Stone Tree), the name says it all really, a stone shaped like a tree. The Aussie's still in national dress headed straight across the stone bordered area marked 'keep out' to get up close photos'. Neil headed for a sign in the sand 'Bano' (toilet) which we all thought was a joke it turns out there really was a stone toilet block in the middle of the desert. In the meantime the Belgians found a nice big rock to climb to get a good vantage for photos, Hannah swiftly followed suit and joined them. The whole area seem a little surreal with what could best be described as a rock and boulder forest in the middle of nowhere. After a short while it was time to head off to the next point of interest, the seven coloured mountain, which really wasn't seven colours, more like seven shades, but hey ho impressive all the same.
The drive to the next stop took us through a nearly dry river bed with huge boulders stopping to marvel at the strange looking wildlife, an animal which could best be described as a Chinese rabbit with huge whiskers and a long squirrel like tail
Arriving at the Salt Hotel we soon realised it really was all salt, the floors, walls, beds and dining table! Definately quirky but not all that practical after showering! As we were first at the hotel we also were first in the queue for the showers which we were promised would be hot. Gaelle and Caroline both shreeked with the cold water and waited for the hot water to be switched on, Walker, an America traveller, said he would take a cold shower so jumped in front, just as the hot water got turned on
Neil and Adriaan woke at 5.30am in time to see the sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni, the elderly gentleman who ran the salt hotel told them to climb the cactus filled hill behind the hotel for the best view. After an exhuasting 20 minutes the views of the magnificent sunrise were worth it. Charlotte was celebrating her 23rd birthday today so with no shops for the past 2 days we had to be creative in order to celebrate, the salt floor prooved useful for writing 'Happy Birthday' for the strangest birthday card ever. Neil had also managed to tell the hotel owner that in was her birthday so luckily we had a loaf cake for breakfast with a candle. 7.45am we were all full of birthday spirits and raring to go for the last day of the tour but we'd only seen one of the drivers so far. It was strange that the day before they had been busy preparing from 5.30am, Miguel, the red 4X4 driver appeared and headed straight for the bathroom
The sun was blinding reflecting off the salt surface with vague outlines of islands and mountains in the far distance. First stop, Cactus Island, was the most surreal place, with a couple of llamas and an abundance of cacti, some over a thousand years old. After a quick, well as quick as you can at altitude, walk around we headed into the vast expanse for the comedy photos we had all be looking forward to. Props in hand, a deck of cards, bottle of beer and Richard the Llama (Charlotte's birthday present) we started to prepare the shots. It was a lot harder than we thought, trying to get the perspective just right was a fine art, after a bit of practice we became dab hands an marvelled at the photos we'd taken. The Aussie's stopped next to us for their photo's and in typical fashion quickly de-robed and jumped around like lunatics!
Back in the truck and off to the infamous Salt Hotel for lunch, the Lonely Planet guide has this as a big no-no to stay in due to its pollution of the salt flats. Eating lunch out the back of the 4X4 was ok though. Another filling lunch of chicken and pasta was followed by some group photos and comparision of the salt flat photos.
Just two more stops and we'd be in the town of Uyuni, first off a small village on the edge of the salt flats that thrives on the salt and tourism industry. The salt is piled into what look like mole hills in order for the water to drain out before being shoveled onto trucks to be taken for processing
We'd arrived in Uyuni, and our expecations of a not very nice town were met, we drove through the town to reach the train graveyard. Again, a surreal place where over 100 trains and carriages were left to rust. The sky was blush red on the horizon with a huge sand storm brewing we quickly took the photos and jumped back into our 4X4 for the last time. The town centre was a slight improvement on the outskirts, after signing back into the tour agency we bid farewell and headed for our hostel.
After hearing about how awful Uyuni is we went straight to the bus terminals to book our ticket out. We had planned on heading to Potosi, north east of Uyuni but had heard that the miners were on strike and had blocked the roads. After asking in a few bus companies we were passed from pillar to post and were getting no positive response on heading for Potosi. Sat waiting for a bus to La Paz were some Australian's we'd asked to take the tandem photo of us at Mr Hugo's in Mendoza, they told us about the troubles that people we facing trying to get anywhere north of Uyuni
Feeling refreshed, and relieved we headed out to dinner trusting the Lonely Planet recommendations, not wanting to suffer Bolivia Belly on a 14 hour bus ride the next day, we found a great pizza and pasta place. Heading back to the hostel we stopped off at a pub/restaurant for a quick one and heard the familiar twang of the Belgiums and Walker who had followed a more updated version of the Lonely Planet for a dinner recommendation. As it was Charlotte's birthday she chose the 'Extreme Fun Pub' as the next stop, the title seemed to be a little misleading when Caroline told the barman that it was Charlottes birthday (in perfect Spanish) only to be greated with a grunt. The first round of drinks for the girls was a shooter of 'Llama sperm', Adriaan took up one of the challenges and drank a 'boob of beer' in less than 7 seconds. Soon after the death metal bar man came along with a birthday drink for Charlotte, the container alone was shall we say, unique! Those who know us on facebook will see the flicks, the censorship rules of parent and grandparent viewings prohibit the publication of said photos here.
We bid the Belgium's farewell and wished them luck on their trip to Potosi, they had managed to book bus tickets earlier in the day, we're not sure whether its their higher level of Spanish or just pot luck that they managed to get transport
The next day was spent lazing and surfing the net while we waited for our 8pm bus. The hotel we were in kindly said we could leave our backpacks there while we wandered around town. Late on in the afternoon a beast of a sandstorm hit the town, red sand being blown everywhere by ferocious winds, even inside the hotel the dust was appearing and the roof was ratteling away threatening to be blown off. When it was finished we headed out to grab a bite before our trip. We ended up in 'Minuteman Pizza' a raved about pizza parlour set inside a hotel on the edge of the center. Wow, awesome pizza and calazone. What a way to end the first taste of Bolivia.
We set off from the hotel with our backpacks to the appointed bus stop and discovered the monster that was about to take us to La Paz, it must have been 25 years old, and looked more like it belonged in the train graveyard rather than on the road, we just looked at each other and said 'Welcome to Bolivia'!!