Sunday, March 25th, 2012
La Paz, Bolivia
For our last day in La Paz - at least until our return flight - we checked out of our hotel and finished up some last minute sight-seeing before the Salt Flats. We browsed the markets, discovering both the Witch´s Market and Black Market. The Witch´s Market contained your usual ¨run of the mill¨handcrafts found in most other markets, but also had dried llama fetuses (just in case you were looking for some, go here). The Black Market - which pretty much looked like a Home Depot expoded- is the market containing goods smuggled from Chile. While we didn´t see any, our book noted that the occasional Bolivian law enforcement officer could be found shopping here as well.
We opted on purchasing some super cheap, kitcsh, sunglasses and baby alpaca sweaters. The sweaters passed the authenticity test too! Our bus departed at 7pm, so we took a taxi to the bus station where we wandered the station till leaving the city. Word of caution- there are 3 main bus lines that take you directly to Uyuni from La Paz. At the time of this writing, the cheapest costs 100 BOB (about $15)
and go to 150BOB and 200BOB. The 100BOB gets you there but for some reason they shut off the heat at night, makes tons of stops at the beginning and none elsewhere.
Monday, March 26th, 2012
We arrived early (7am) and cold. In fact it was warmer outside than inside the cabin. The sun was blinding and we were attacked by tour operators for the Salt Flats while trying to unload our bags. Eventally we went with one company that offered the two day, one night tour we wanted. As a bonus, it was a private tour whereas most others are with groups of six.
After settling our business, we found a cafe and had breakfast. We seem to have found pizza alley out here in the middle of nowhere since there were about five places that offered it within one plaza. After breakfast we loaded up and were off on our Salt Flat adventure! Train Graveyard
This was the only time Jen was a little doubtful of her safety as we drove through a very sketchy area (thanks Dan for all the Hostel, Tourisa, etc.type movies). The train cemetary is where Bolivia sends
trains to die. Upon arriving, we saw the train Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid shot up after fleeing to Bolivia. The trains were covered in graffitti, including a most eloquent argument between two trains on Newtonian and Einsteinian theories (i.e. equation graffitti). The stop proved not to be the highlight of the tour, but nonetheless entertaining. Colchani
The last village before entering the Salar, is Colchani. The town boasts nothing spectacular but as a passage for last-minute baño breaks and purchasing toilet paper and agua. The villagers are poor and seemingly ungrateful their village has become a spectacle for tourists. Crystal Hotel & Sunset
After leaving Colchani, we drove straight to the border of the Salar, literally where the salt meets the dirt. Three hotels made of salt reside on this border. From our understanding, there existed hotel on the salt itself but due to environmental damage, they were decommissioned and others were erected here. Our driver and guide, Ivan, dropped us off at the hotel for lunch and the rest of the evening. We were put off by how early day one ended but in retrospect, the relaxation time was great after that bus
ride from La Paz. The hotel was awesome. If you didn´t know any better, you would think the building was made of snow. The building and scultpures in it were made of salt which is as impressive as it sounds.
After a quick nap and the best hot shower ever (after being without one for a while you come to appreciate them more), we ventured to the salt flats on foot right before sunset. We took some amazing photos right before and after. When the sun was completely down, the stars and moon came out and gave us quite a show (Jen is pretty sure there was a planet right under the moon but Curtis disagrees...Jen will prove she is right just as soon as she remembers to look it up, or will use a Curpon, whichever comes first).
When we came back we were fortunate enough that dinner was ready and waiting in the 360 degree view restaurant. It may come as a surprise to you but food on the edge of a salt flat is...well...salty. Of course Curtis thought it was just right. Being out in the middle of nowhere we were really surprised to have
such a tasty meal of quinua soup, lamb, roasted veggies and butter and salt with a little potato added for some substance. With the lack of electronics it was nice that they had the oldest form of entertainment, alcohol (get your minds out of the gutter....).
After dinner and a quick star gazing trip it was off to bed. A building made of salt is quite warm, contrary to how it looks.
Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 Salt Mounds
After breakfast, our guide met us out in front the hotel and took us out to the Salar. The Salt Flats are more than a natural wonder and tourist destination, but also a quarry for raw salt. Ivan, our guide, took us to the western outskirts where salt is shoveled into piles to make collection by dump truck easier. Salt Hotel
The last remaining building on the Flats is a hotel completely made of salt, with the exception of the roof. Due to the environmental damage the hotel caused, it has since been decomissioned and now only remains as a dying museum. Several guidebooks suggest its only a matter of time before Bolivia has it removed completely.
Jen and Curtis took the time at the hotel to make some of those popular perspective pictures. Haku, her dragon travel-mate can be seen in enlarged form... also being scolded. "Mummies"
The last stop on our trip were some caves with skeletons in it. The nomadic caves could have been a neat experience if not for the lack of care and respect Bolivians and pevious travelers had given them. Each cave was littered with beer cans and liquor bottles. The cave with the supposed mummies, actually contains decaying skeletons of a family propped up for photographs. The skeletons had beer cans and bottles around them while someone had the clever idea to place cigarrettes in their mouths. I wonder if those nomadic people thought that one day their remains would be descrated in such a manner. On the wall above the door was a mummified bobcat. Really cool but also scary. Jen was not amused when Curtis startled her when she first saw it.
Back in town, we dropped our bags off at the tour office and explored the tiny, tiny, tiny town. Curtis had his first Pisco Sour which
we were a little leery about since it did contain crushed ice but his invincible stomach took it like a champ. Since we were burned so bad we decided to get some aloe gel to help soothe the pain. BE WARNED: Aloe gel, as well as suntan lotion, is very expensive. We paid more for it in Uyuni than we would have paid in the states so even though you're probably not planning on getting burned, bring a little just in case if you plan to visit. Right before we boarded our bus back to La Paz we returned to the tour office to collect our belongings...minus Jen's jacket, which seemed to have disappeared along with her drivers licence (which wasn't that bad because the picture was awful), debit card, and credit cards. With great sorrow, we boarded the bus. As we drove away Curtis took Jen's hand gently and waved goodbye to her belongings.
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