. So our options were to go back to La Paz or carry all our stuff across the desert for 90mins to the 2nd road block and catch a different bus to Uyuni. Thank god the sun came up as it was bitterly cold for the first half and then really warm towards the end of the trek. Then onto a bus for 4 hours, where the driver tried to hit every bump in the road possible. Very few roads in Bolivia are sealed, however there looked to be a pretty flat nice road running parallel to the one we were on but our driver was obviously a die-hard 4x4 man. Finally arriving in Uyuni and completely knackered we managed to find a hotel with the coldest room available. There were so many blankets on the bed it felt like a person was laying on top of you when you got into bed. We had booked up a salt flats tour with a company that afternoon along with a couple of people we met on the bus to Uyuni. We decided to test our Spanish to the max and not go with an English speaking guide however I was pretty sure our driver had had his tongue removed. This guy was useless and we resorted to learning anything about the salt flats area from the rough guide or lonely planet books we had between us. The first stop was an old train bone yard but there were some funny photos and so huge old engines left to rust in the desert.
A hotel made of salt was in stall for us on our first nights accommodation. It had an amazing main room where we had dinner and were entertained by some locals playing the panpipes and drums
. The old guy was playing the panpipes, whilst rocking back and forward like a crazy man. His son who was about 7years old, wearing a very traditional bright pink baseball cap, was bashing the drum for a completely different song that his dad was playing. Little sister was dancing on her own next to this crazy pair trying to keep the show going. I lost it half way through and had to bury my head in my hands to stop them seeing me laughing. The second night was not quite as upmarket and we had to create our own entertainment which was not too difficult as this place had a bar. All six of us from our group were in the same room on beds that had a stone base with a mattress thrown on top. There were at least 5 other groups at the hostel with us so it was a good night but a cold night.
The scenery was amazing during the trip, we saw coral islands situated in the middle of the salt flats that are now covered with cactus, some cactus as old as 1,000 years. The islands themselves date back to when there was salt water covering the area. After the white salt flats we moved into mountains and desert areas made up of pebbles. The landscape was completely baron and was made up of huge flat areas the size of Brighton beach as well as dried up gorges which we drove through with high cliffs each side of the truck. Lakes of all different colours, Flamingos and then when you get to 5000m and the temperature drops to almost freezing. A few meters higher and we reached some egg smelling geysers and a very inviting hot pool to have a bath in after 3 days without a shower.
Our tongue-less driver only seemed to smile when he was unloading the bags from the roof each day and he got to drop the gas cylinder onto the floor from the roof of the car. He got pretty close to a couple of us and I reckon he might have even cracked a smile if the bloody thing had exploded. The trip ended in San Pedro, Chile which is a nice place although very touristy and every time you leave the hostel you get mobbed by people trying to get you into their restaurant. We spent one night in San Pedro and then decided that a couple of days at the beach would go down well so we are heading to a beachside town of Iquique about 10 hours north of San Pedro.
From La Paz we headed to Uyuni, this town is described as pretty much a nothing place to go, however, it is the gateway to the salt flats in Bolivia. We packed our bags in La Paz and headed for the bus station, the combination of heavy bags and altitude are never good. Especially when you combine that with a bus driver waiting on the road with a knackered engine being revved, and thick carbon-monoxide fog engulfed us and at one point I thought I was going to suffocate. At least the equivalent of 200 cigarettes in the space of a few seconds managed to find there way into my lungs. On the 12 hour bus ride we were expected to arrive in Uyuni at about 7am, but this is Bolivia and rarely things go to plan. We spent way too much time picking random people up on our way out of La Paz, then at about 3am we completely stopped. Stuck in the freezing cold desert with a few crap blankets to keep us warm and a heater that was about as effective as a hot water bottle heating a whole bus. It got to 7am and the driver decided to tell us that the road was blocked due to a protest and the last protest lasted 10 days