Salt flats, flamingo's and crazy driving
07.03.2012 - 10.03.2012 7 °C
After a short 4 hour bus journey we arrived in Uyuni town. The first impressions of Uyuni were not great. The road into the town was completely covered in litter. It looked like a rubbish dump! This was a shame as the scenery during the bus journey was amazing, so beautiful. But I guess as we are in the middle of nowhere, we can't expect a state of the art recycling plant!
Uyuni is the main location where the Salar tours start from. The town has a population of approximately 21,000. The streets are lined with tour agencies offering 3 or 4 day tours around the region. Having researched the different tour companies and read hundreds of reviews on the tours available (mostly negative!), we decided that we would book a tour with a company that came recommended. We were keeping our fingers crossed that we had managed to book a "good" one seeing as we we going to be spending 3 days in a jeep!
Well, so far so good. Janet from the tour company met us off the bus and showed us to our hostel. The guy behind the reception desk didn't look much older than 12! I guess they start work at a young age in Bolivia.
After a fairly good nights sleep and a broken mirror later, we headed to the tour company office to begin our tour, waiting with bated breath to see what our jeep would be like!
YES!!! Our jeep was indeed one of the nicer ones and actually looked like it would last the 3 days rather than looking like it wasn't fit for anything but the tip! We had been teamed up with two French ladies and were due to pick up two further people at the salt flats.
Day one was a trip to the salt flats and visiting the salt hotel. Nothing can describe the approach to the salt flats. Thousands and thousands of kilometres of salt lake partly covered by water. It is bright, bright white and it feels like you are walking on snow. The lakes are farmed for salt and this is definitively apparent by the presence of huge trucks and guys dotted over the place making salt mounds ready to be shovelled into trucks and transported back for processing.
We continued the drive across the lake arriving at the salt hotel. The salt hotel is built predominantly from salt bricks save for the roof and some other areas that do require a more substantial material to be used. Inside included salt made chairs and tables and where we would have lunch.
Our final tour mates, 2 young Japanese girls, joined us and after lunch and enjoying the scenery we left to drive back through Uyuni and to the train cemetery. This was weird! Lots of abandoned trains left to rust and turned into a tourist attraction. In between some of the trains, swings had been made from train parts. Although very strange, it was interesting to see and quite amazing to realise what some places will do to create a tourist attraction.
A further 2 hour drive across dusty roads and a blown tyre later, we arrived to our first lot of accommodation. The accommodation was basic (which we expected) and after a long wait for dinner (chicken and chips, not so bad), we went back to our room to settle down for the night. Wondering why the beds were so hard, I looked under the "mattress" to find that bags of flattened straw was the base of what we were sleeping on. Straw that didn't look like it had been replaced for a long time!
Day two started off early with a breakfast consisting of stale bread, jam and "dulce con leche". We had a quick walk around the village, laughed at some alpacas looking in the window of a house and acting strange at their own reflection and quickly noticed that the blown tyre from yesterday had been replaced with a tyre with no tread whatsoever. I thought the spare tyre was supposed to be better that the one being replaced? Anyway, we had to accept that this is how things are done and hope we would make it to the next town!
Today was a stunning drive through a variety of scenery. Huge rock formations, bright green valleys and desert like areas.
Out first visit to one of the three lagoons we were due to see. Approaching the lagoon we were faced with hundreds of flamingo's, well pink spots in the distance!
We enjoyed a lunch by the lake, a drive through further spectacular scenery to arrive very early at out next accommodation (tyre intact) for the night. The village had around 6 or 7 basic buildings. After driving into each one, we stopped at the last as that was the only one with a kitchen available to use. Our driver Rodriguez was not only the driver but a guide and cook as well. The surrounding mountains looked amazing as sunset came in. Accommodation this time round was a dorm room for all 6 of us.....thank god I had ear plugs!! The beds were concrete bases but at least we had more comfortable mattresses compared to the night before. Wake up call was for 4.30am.....ouch.
After our early wake up call, we were on the road (not on time - we could have had an extra half hour in bed!) for a 2 hour drive to the geysers. The geysers were very cool and smelly! It was freezing cold that day but an amazing place to see and experience.
A short drive and we arrived at the hot springs for breakfast as the sun was coming up. Some braved the cold and got into the hot spring. It was far too cold for me so I spectated and was kept amused by people running from the spring to grab their towels and clothes for warmth.
We then drove to another lagoon, Laguna Colorado which was another area for flamingos. This time we were much closer and had some time watching the flamingoes do their thing. Beautiful birds and it was fantastic to see them so close. We moved onto the Chile/Bolivia border to drop off our Japanese friends, pick up a couple of extras and start our long drive back to Uyuni.
The drive back was interesting. Our driver seemed to find his homing device as the driving got considerably more erratic and faster as the drive went on. Was this a result of his third day consecutive driving, lack of sleep or the readily accessible coca leaves he was chewing on? Probably all of it! I guess we should be pleased we would make it back to Uyuni in record time, but after sliding across gravel roads, through thick clouds of dust a number of times, I had hoped he would slow down a bit! Not to forget the bald tyre on one of the back wheels. Thank god we were due a lunch stop and a couple of sight seeing spots on the way!!
We made it back in one piece including the tyre. We had a few hours to kill before our overnight bus to La Paz. We thought this would be a good idea to have sme internet time and to book some accommodation for La Paz. After 10 minutes, a storm came through and wiped out all internet access. Helpful! Luckily Janet was to the rescue and let us use the phone in the office. A quick dinner and it was off on our bus journey. We had spoken with a few people about the bus journey and heard that apparently the bus driver stopped their journey early in the morning and made everyone get out to walk across the river......I was hoping and praying that wouldn't happen to us seeing as it was freezing cold and pitch black. Luckily the bus journey went without incident and we had a nice bus. Quite surprising for Bolivia!