On a sunny Tuesday morning the adventure began. The 4x4 comprised of Wendy, myself, Nilla (Australian) and Neil (anglo-australian). Joining us were Eduardo, the driver, and Agustina, our cook. Off we zoomed on a 4 day trip which promised volcanoes, flamingos, hot springs and a multitude of llamas.
Our trip started promisingly – the car started – and off we went out of Tupiza, following the by now recognisable river bed and dirt track. The scenery as we went into the mountains was spectacular. Red sandstone reaching up nearly 4000 metres. To the joy of everyone, I was pointing out areas that appeared to be where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid was filmed. You can imagine their happiness being tuck in the car while I quoted every line I know from the film – which happens to be most of it !!!
We went past gold mines and the deepest antimony mine in the world. To save time I suggest that my dear readers Google this word, although by now I could have explained exactly what it is. Eduardo kept pointing things out and explained them to us in his best Spanish. We responded with our best blank
looks!! The road continued to climb higher into the mountains, and coca leaves were being munched aplenty.
With llamas to the left of them and llamas to the right of them, into the tops of the mountains drove the six. It was at this point that your correspondent noticed that the bright, sunny and warm day had been replaced by a freezing cold white one. The snow had arrived with a vicious bite. The tracks wound round the mountain (a mere 5000 m) and driving was becoming a trifle difficult. The most terrifying moment came, when instead of moving forward, the vehicle was slipping backwards and to the right. Sadly, there was no track here, only a sheer drop down - I jest not, the back wheel was gripping on to the edge of the track and it looked for a brief moment that we were going over – for situations like this, I always carry a small puppy or kitten as a suitable replacement.
I am not going to tell you if we survived, but a few hours later we arrived in a small village in the middle of Bolivia, covered in snow. The drivers of cars
had a high level summit (about 4500m – sorry couldn’t resist that one) and decided to head across country towards the salt flats as the mountains ahead were blocked. As we had no other option, we all agreed.
Several hours later, we turned up in a small mining village just as the miners were finishing their shift. To be greeted by a group of men at dusk who were wearing balaclavas was a trifle disheartening, but Eduardo broke out the guns and after a short but fierce shoot out we decided to stay the night.
Sadly because of the snow, we missed out on the big volcano, flamingos and the other things mentioned above. The only thing left was the salt flats themselves. Will they live up to their reputation?? read on…
The next day was Wednesday and not worth reporting, as the main purpose was to reach our salt hotel. It is one of these places where upon arrival everyone licks the wall to see if they are made of salt – don’t they Wendy? Anyway it was. We explored part of the mountains behind, looking at 9000 year old cacti and watching small jumping wallaby
type things jumping around the rocks. They would pause for a few moments and look at us curiously. Obviously they had never seen people from Parkstone before. The rest of the night passed without incident apart from the English girls we had met fusing the whole hotel with their hairdryers – well done Emily and Lottie.
Thursday. 6am start. Drive out on to the salt flats for sunrise. I doubt if there is a more amazing sight on earth. There is a film of water on top of the salt about 5cm deep. This provides a method of reflection that convinces you that you are walking on the sky. Even I was quiet as we got out and splashed around. Imagine walking on a mirror, and you get an idea of how it looked. Mind you, this is a 10500 km2 mirror.
There are no roads or tracks here. There is nothing apart from sheer beauty and splendour that will stay in the mind of anyone fortunate enough to see it forever. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes reflecting on the surface, you could stand and stare, and truly not know where or when you are. There are photographs
attached for you to look at to try and get a sense of what I am rambling on about.
There is also another salt hotel at the end where people try to take amusing photographs using the perspective of the radiant blue sky and the whiteness of the salt desert, for here the water had dried up and no reflections to be had. We tried to get a few of us and the English girls.
Dear readers, this is the one place you have to visit in your lifetime. Remortgage the house, sell children (not necessarily your own), rob banks – do anything to get the pennies together and visit. Like me, you will stand looking at the raw, staggering nature around you for ten minutes, before realising you have stopped breathing.
Finally we were dragged away to the town of Uyuni. This is a one dog, one street place, but just outside there is a marvellous place called the Train Graveyard. What happens is that all round South America, trains when they get old start to travel towards this one place, Scientists do not know why this happens, or how they know exactly where to go
– oops, too many coca leaves, that’s elephants . Anyway, this used to be a big train depot and many have been left to rust on old tracks there. Worth a look though.
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