Published: May 31st 2010May 27th 2010
We had quite an early start to our 3 day adventure across the Atacama Desert and Salt Flats of Bolivia. We arrived at the office charged and ready to go after removing the last of the sand from our bodies from the previous day´s sandboarding adventures (we still have sand falling out of our shoes now....a couple of weeks later!).
We piled into a mini van and shot out of San Pedro to the Argentinean border control and then to the Bolivian border control (small shack in the middle of nowhere).....and had some breakfast while we waited for our turn to have our passports bashed with yet another stamp. We had grouped up with another couple from Brisbane and needed a 5th member for our 4x4 so we scouted out the larger group and located the lovely Henrick - think it´s safe to say we had the best car!
We had heard some REALLY REALLY bad reviews of these Chile to Bolivia tours e.g. one group wrote in the tourist information book that they had to steal the keys off their driver one morning and lock him out of the car because he was still roaring drunk when they
were due to leave at 8am from the night before. We had also been warned not to expect our driver/guide to speak any english. So, needless to say we were completely delighted when our driver (Edgar) started talking about the lakes and the mountains and the different minerals etc in perfect english! He popped his Ipod into his stereo and started playing his favourite music - Bolivian wind pipe.....very lovely and added to our journey infinitely.
On the first day we saw 3 lagoons - white, green and red (colours driven by the type of mineral in the land around the lake). We also saw 3 different types of flamingos and different types of llamas (you'll see some are decorated with ribbons in their hair!). We also had some time at some lovely hot springs where the water was 35 degrees, so we re-energised our bodies after a morning of bouncing around in the 4x4.
There was one point when everyone in our car went very very quiet....we discovered this was at the 4,900m altitude mark.
On this first night we stayed in a little hostel that had dorm rooms and was freezing. Thankfully we had our
-9 degree sleeping bags to keep us toasty warm but none of us slept at all well at 4,500m altitude......there was lots of heavy breathing as we all tried to suck enough oxygen into our lungs to allow us to relax enough to sleep.
After a rough night´s sleep we all grabbed edgar and took an ealry start towards the rock tree (which now has to have a fence around it because stupid tourists were climbing all over it). This rock/tree was incredible and so were the surrounds. The rock got it´s tree like formation from the wind beating sand against it for who knows how many years.
Today we started off in rocky areas, then snow (where we got bogged) and then we saw our fist salt flat and a train line that didn't seem to go anywhere. We also went through a valley of 7 colours which for me was probably the most impressive moment of the trip. We saw some more lagoons and stopped by one for lunch which of course had many many many flamingos nibbling on the algae and other delicious items in the lake. We also saw (from a distance) the volcano
that the top gear guys tried to drive up in the Bolivia special.....didn't look that high so not sure what all the fuss was about :)
Tonight we spent the night in a Salt hotel. This is the second salt hotel that has been built in the salt plains. The first was closed because all the (human) waste was allowed to seep back into the salt flats that we were all there to admire! Thankfully our car was the first tp arrive so we dove into the hot shower before all the other groups arrived and washed our dirty bodies. This hotel was made completely from salt....the walls, the chairs, the tables, the beds....all salt.
As a group we had decided to take the hit and set the alarms for 4.30 the next morning to go and watch the sunrise at the largest salt flat in the world (in some places this salt was 7 metres deep and the salt plain covered 12,000 sq Km). We dragged our freezing cold bodies out of bed, wolfed down some breakfast and took an hour long drive to the middle of the salt flats - how our trusty driver Edgar found
this salt flat I have no idea and there was no road or compass or GPS....just his years of experience to guide him.
When we reached our first stop to admire the sunset the sky was very dark and slowly changed colour through every shade of orange and red and purple. It was truly spectacular and the long shadows created by our bodies were fun to play around with as well.
After watching the sunrise we headed to a very random island in the middle of the salt flat which was like a mini mountain covered in cacti. We climbed up the path to reach to top of the mountain and admired the view - lots and lots of salt scattered with a few mountains on the edges.
The next stop was what Edgar called "the funny photo stop". This is where I attempted to jump (very unsuccessfully) as high as the rest of the group to get my feet above the horizon in a photo. In the end Aaron performed a physical miracle and took a flying Dirty Dancing leap towards me....
After we had had our fun we jumped back into the trusty old
4x4 and spent a few minutes admiring the old Salt hotel, the salt farming (the locals pile the salt up using nothing but their hands and tools they have made themselves) and then finally reached the very bumpy road to Uyuni.
We say goodbye to Edgar and dumped our bags into the tour agency office and set off to explore for the next 9 hours or so. Uyuni is a very small place so we covered all the streets in about the first hour, then we spent some time admiring the local traditional dress and exploring a food market that contained whole baby llamas that had been skinned and were stood up on the floor ready for carving or sale as a whole.
After a couple of hours of wandering around we had a mouth watering steak sandwich.....tried to buy another one but the little old lady in the food cart had run out, so she cut a very dodgy looking sausage in half, chucked it in her piping hot vat of oil and made us a Salchicha sandwich. Now while this was delicious I did have some concern about what exactly I was eating but still managed
nice plummer's crack!
to wolf down half of it.
We managed to kill a couple more hours and then the boys decided it was time to eat again....Aaron had his first taste of llama steak (I was very exciting and had pasta) and he thoroughly enjoyed every mouthful.
So with our bellies full to overflowing we hung round a bit more, bought some snacks for the bus, had a wet ones wash and finally headed to our bus ready for our 540km journey across Bolivia. Now considering we had just spent 3 days in a bumpy 4x4 we were delighted to find our first 150Km of bus ride was literally climbing over rocks and going along the bumpiest road ever. I somehow managed to fall asleep after about half an hour even though I felt my head was going to fall off my shoulders.
Arrived in La Paz at 7am....but that´s a story for another day.
Love to you all.....
Catherine & Aaron
P.s. We know there are lots of photos here so we apologise, but we´ll be adding some more photos of us from this trip to a separate blog that were taken on other people´s
cameras......picking up the CD in Cuzco in a few days.
There are more photos below