Published: April 12th 2008April 7th 2008
I appreciate that I may have said this before, but I mean it this time (honest!)...the landscape on the trip from Chile to Uyuni in Bolivia is the most amazing I've ever seen. The trip was also one of the most uncomfortable I've ever been on, too, but some things are worth putting up with.
We started out bright and early in San Pedro de Atacama, before heading to the Bolivian border for breakfast and passport formalities. There we swapped from minibuses into 4WD jeeps. There were six of us in the jeep, plus the driver, which made it pretty crowded. The common language in our group was Spanish, as we had two native Spanish speakers (Gregorio from Spain, David from Chile), two people who couldn't really speak English (Tiffany from France, Tiago from Brasil) and then me, and a Finnish girl called Maria. So it was a good chance to practise my Spanish!
The fantastic scenery started pretty much stright after the border, and carried on thick and fast throughout the day - Laguna Blanca, Laguna Verde, some geysers and a thermal pool. That was great, as the temperature in the water was around 30 degrees and bloody
freezing outside of it (we were at around 4,000 metres!) The rest of the time we were in the jeep, gaping out of the window at the amazing scenery.
The first night we stayed at a lodge on the Laguna Colorado. We had been warned that it would be basic...and it was. No running water, rock hard beds and no heating - and it was absolutely freezing cold. I can't remember how high it was there, but it was still very high. We went for a walk to a mirador overlooking the lake, and it was so exhausting it felt more like I was climbing a mountain! After dinner (for which everyone wore all their warmest clothes) we played cards for a little while before calling it a night at the shockingly late hour of about 8.30pm. I don't think anyone managed to get a decent amount of sleep that night, a combination of the cold, altitude and the beds.
The next day was more of the same as the day before. Having been freezing cold the night before, I kept my thermals on underneath my trousers and then ended up sweating in the back of the jeep
the whole time. Unfortunately I can't remember anything specific about what we saw on the second day! On the second night we stayed at a salt hotel on the edge of the salt flat. After the discomforts of the night before, this was positive luxury. The whole hotel was made out of blocks of salt, including the beds (thankfully not the mattresses), and the floor was covered in salt. There was also hot water and showers, although these at least weren't made of salt. There was still no heating, so it was another evening shivering in all my layers. Dinner was a little more extravagant than the night before, and even included wine. We had a late night that night, not making it to bed until sometime just after 9.30pm.
On the third and final day of the trip, we crossed the Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flats. They're formed (I think) from the leftover salt from an ancient sea that used to cover the area. It's surreal and spectacular....just sheer whiteness stretching as far as the eye can see. Our guide stopped at one point so we could have a little football game with the people
from another jeep. It didn't last very long, as running at that altitude is practically impossible. At least for us. The guides didn't seem to have so many problems! The final stop before arriving in Uyuni was at the Train Cemetary, just outside of town. It includes the remains of the first trains to arrive in Bolivia from Chile, that have been sitting there rusting for about fifty years. It was good for a few photos, if nothing else.
After three days of such amazing scenery, Uyuni itself was quite disappointing. It basically seems to exist as a tourist centre for backpackers heading off across the salt flats. We only stayed there for one very cold night before getting the bus the next day to Potosí.
There are more photos below