Published: August 6th 2007June 22nd 2007
A Bolivian "pick me up"
Carla and Mini Matt take advantage of the endless horizons and crazy perspective on the Salar de Uyuni
Bolivia makes many claims to have "the World´s highest...." for example; internet cafe, hostel, fat woman in a bowler hat, but its Salar de Uyuni, or salt flats, can lay claim to being not only the highest but also the largest in the World. Covering some 4,000 square miles the flats were once part of a prehistoric lake which has dried to leave an estimated 10 billion tonnes of salt making me wonder why Bolivia isn´t more famous for its white stuff, well the salty kind anyway.
We booked our 3 day salt flat tour the morning after we arrived with a lady called Fatima who informed us that we would be joined by a Dutch couple and possibly 2 others. The following morning we arrived to find no Dutch couple and no 4x4, "don´t worry" assured Fatima and 15 minutes later she had directed us to her friend´s agency where we were to merge with another group.
Our group was somewhat of a motley crue; aside from us we had Giom, a dreadlocked, smiling Frenchman who spoke near perfect Spanish but hardly any English, Laura from Louisiana and her Austrian boyfriend Jacob - there has probably never been
Handy sized girlfriend
Matt and his Mini Missus take advantage of the endless horizons and crazy perspective on the Salar de Uyuni
a couple with more unruly hair - and his friend Ooley who had a touch of the young Meryl Streeps about her and despite being over 6ft tall seemed to need looking after "who has toothpaste/hot chocolate/toilet roll for me?" and at one point on the trip flashed Matt her left boob.
Next we met our driver Marco and his wife Johanna, who was the cook, they were a nice couple who appeared to share the same shade of reddy/brown hair dye. Accompanying Marco and Johanna was Christian, their gorgeous 2 year old son, who at each stop would start cleaning the car for his Dad.
The 9 of us squeezed into Marco´s land cruiser (or whatever it was) our backpacks, food and kitchen strapped on the top and headed off on the circuit along with the 20 or so other vehicles leaving the same day.
It wasn´t long before we began to see a glistening white area to the left of the road and shortly after pulled into the processing area, I´m not entirely sure what happens there but did see the obligatory bowler hat digging at some salt.
Our first real glimpse of the
flats was incredible, they seemed to extend as far as the eye could see and were blindingly white. It looked like we were standing in a giant field of snow and it was only reaching to touch it, and it not being cold or melting, that proved it was salt. Amazingly Marco had no map and somehow seemed to know exactly which way to drive despite each direction looking exactly the same.
A brief stop at the Salt Hotel gave us an idea of our accommodation, there were apparantly several hotels on the Salar but environmental concerns have forced most to move to the edges. The one we visited actually operates as a museum now and from the outside it wasn´t obvious it was totally made of salt, stepping inside however it became clear, the tables, chairs and walls were all salt an even the bed bases. There was something a little strange about the hotel, it felt almost like stepping back in time. When we later arrived at the Hotel De Sal where we were to spend the night it was very similar and when walking on the salt floor it actually sounded like walking in snow.
Nipples like hat pegs
Located at the highest point of our trip, 5,000 metres above sea level, the Aquas Termales - hot springs. It was 8am, there was ice on the ground and the altitude was dizzying - but somehow this managed to be a really enjoyable experience.
Our first night was fairly warm considering where we were, after a dinner of chicken the 2 hours of electricity ran out and we drank red wine whilst playing cards by candlelight with our group before an early night.
Waking at 5.30am it was still dark and freezing despite long johns and multi-layering. Day 2 involved a lot of driving, around 450km, and took in several coloured lagunas which looked stunning against the bright blue skies and towering mountains, one even housed a flock of flamingoes. Driving between each stop across the Desierto del Silala showed just how bleak this part of Bolivia is, we literally passed nobody (except the odd tour group and even they weren´t that common). We did occasionally see Llamas though the absence of plant life and the extremely dry and dusty conditions make me wonder how they survive.
The second night was spent close to Laguna Colorada, we drove a short while and could see two possible ´hospedajes´in the distance, to the left looked finished, to the right didn´t even appear to have roofs so imagine our surprise when we stopped there. Actually the place was fine, a lot colder than the previous
night though the fact that all 6 of us slept in one room may have warmed us up a bit, or maybe it was the Whisky we had moved onto.
The final morning we were due to be woken at 5am, at 5.35 Matt woke up and we realised Marco and the family had slept in. Johanna emerged carrying a sleeping starfish bundled Christian and the rest of us piled into the car ready to visit the Aguas Termales. Before that we stopped at a geyser where we were warned not to get too close, putting some substance to the rumour Matt and I had heard about a girl recently falling in.
Aguas Termales is a natural hot spring, as we approached the sun was still yet to heat the air and the steam coming off the water almost rivalled the geyser we had just seen. The thought of removing my clothes in the freezing cold coupled with the fact that we only had half an hour and I would have needed most of that to de-layer meant I opted out though the others all got in. It´s pretty strange to see people outdoors and near naked when
Just taking it all in
The other worldly colours and scenery around the Green lake - Laguna Verde. The top of the mountain is the border with Chille
there is ice on the ground.
It seemed like all the tour groups had arrived at the water at once and the pool, unfortunately, included 13 loud, posh English ´gap-yearers´ that we had spent the last 2 days bumping into - typical quotations include....
: this is the actual towel my brother used in Prep school
: Yah I always get the Val D´Isere bug in ski season
: You get so much free time you can play a lot of croquet
: ...and so I said to Prince William
....ok maybe not the last but you get the picture!
After the gang dried, and Ooley flashed, we ate breakfast and headed to the final stop - Laguna Verde - we had seen about 4 the previous day but this really was the most beautiful.
The drive back to Uyuni was long, and for much of it as with the previous days there were no roads just tracks in the dirt. We had been lucky only to get the car´s back seat for day 3 and it was pretty cramped though the scenery out the window helped.
We were desperate for a shower by
Surfs up !!
Somewhere on Deepest Bolivia....I wiped out just after this photo was taken
the time we reached our hostel back in Uyuni, it had been 3 days since our last and in that time we had slept in our clothes twice, driven approximately 1,500 kilometres and been covered in dust. The trip to the Salar was fantastic, it´s funny to think that we never planned to visit Bolivia and knew very little about the country before we arrived but it has some of the most beautiful and bizarre scenery as this trip proved.
There are more photos below