Published: September 1st 2012July 17th 2012
The train from Villazon to Tupiza was delayed 2 hours until they finally decided to depart without a generator. That meant no lights and heating for the duration of the 5 hour trip which would reach a chilly -20 degrees for the people staying on passed Tupiza....luckily we were departing at Tupiza! After finding a hostel the 4 of us booked on to a tour of south west Bolivia for 4 days. The itinerary was fairly bespoke as the driver, Denisimo, gave us the choices prior to setting off each day. It took me a while to remember his name and I tried to call him “Den!” a few times which he was not too happy about. Denisimo had been doing these tours for years and knew everything about the sights, in Spanish of course. Day one was spend making head way through the dusty trails enroute to the lagoons in the south western corner of Bolivia, we passed through a abandoned mining village, which was literally a ghost town aside from a few Llamas and things like rabbits but with long tails. The lagoons are very rich in a mixture of minerals such as Sulphur, Borax, Arsenic and Sodium bicarbonate
giving the lagoons a splash of colour (red, green, yellow and black). Most of the region is volcanic and is still active, steam can be seen venting out of the cones in some places but instead of rough lava fields like in Lanzarote there are smoother ash fields with an occasional massive lava lump just stuck there, like in a Salvador Dali painting
The temperature here gets down to -15 on a night and up to a maximum of 20 in the day so the car was freezing when we set off in the mornings and it took us until lunch time to thaw our feet. One of the days we managed to squeeze in a dip in the hot spring, thawing us out nicely! It was surreal with the volcanoes and a frozen lagoon behind us, and the flamingos...we watched them comically slipping all over.
The afternoon was spent at the Geysers several more hours away, the place stinks like bad eggs with the sulphur but the bubbling ponds of mud and the jets of steam made it worthwhile. Before long we were all getting dizzy with the fumes
and it was time to go to the Red Lagoon for the sunset. After seeing quite a few Lagoons this one was the most spectacular, there were literally hundreds of pink and white Flamingoes stood in groups and flying about the place. Due to the chemical content of the water the only thing that lives in it is a red algae and the water is actually toxic. This is visible by the number of dead animals on the fringes on the lagoon, we saw Llamas, rabbits and other birds that must have drunk the red stuff. The Flamingoes gurgle the water and filter out the algae then they spit out the chemicals and all is well.
On day 3 Denisimo gave us the option of the standard tour or a place where we would not see may other people, in fact we saw no one all day and we visited some interesting rock formations, one which was like a city that had been engulfed in stone, another like the world cup and the last like an eagle. Big Den then took us up atop a ridge to see the anaconda stream, and yes it was
a winding little stream which looked a little like a snake, if you had defective eyesight! The place really was amazing though and we spent some time just sitting there and looking around.
This was our final night and we were staying in a salt hotel on the edge of the salt flats but we were late arriving and the place was full, infact 3 places were full. But to our advantage each time we arrived at a hotel it was a little better quality and by the time we found one that had room, it was quite plush and full of people who had paid loads more than us....bonus! It turns out that they have a set price for the tour and if they can get away with taking you to cheaper places they can keep the difference, this time it backfired though and our delay tactics worked!
In the salt hotel everything except the toilets was made of salt and yes we went around licking most things just to check (we were probably not the first either). The only annoyance at the hotel was a little girl called
Guadalupe who would attempt to extort 50p from anyone who needed the toilet or a £1 if you needed a shower, in the end she was playing cards with us so we were free to us the bathroom as we pleased unlike a German group who complained about everything! We were up well before sunrise for the drive on to the salt flats so we could get the best views of the first rays of light to creep above the horizon. Throughout the trip the altitude ranged from 3000 meters to nearly 5000 in places so the sky fades to a really dark blue. This made the sunrise on the flats quite spectacular, the place is so flat you can see the curvature of the earth on the white horizon. Once the sun had risen and we could start to feel the warmth again we went to a crazy little island that was full of Cacti, some 12 meters tall.
The terminus of the trip was Uyuni on the edge of the salt flats, this place is not the best and we could feel the unfriendly atmosphere from the outset. Dodgy looking dudes were just
stood about on the streets waiting for an opportune moment. We saw this first hand when after our bags were packed under the bus to Sucre a few late comers arrived so the side baggage door was opened again. I went to the door to watch the bags and I noticed a dodgy bloke slowly walk up behind the late travellers, he just milled about until the door was closed again and then he returned to the curb on the lookout once more. Needless to say me and Nat were then on shifts bag watching!
There are more photos below