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Published: November 4th 2007
I got the litt'l fella
in the palms of my hand
Our dubious La Paz travel agent informed us that my longed for destination to the incredible Salt Flats of Uyuni, was not only a twelve-hour night bus to the destination but usually this is a full on four-day tour, four days that we don’t have spare. I looked at the distance on the Bolivian map, the salt flats were more south east of this country, possibly within spitting distance of Chile, basically bloody miles away. We arranged a one-day mega tour sandwiched between two twelve-hour night buses. The bus was luxury on the inside with full reclining positions, one complementary hot dinner and drinks. The standard Bruce Willis video made a nice change from Rambo 1-3 Demolition Man, Rocky 1-4. Around midnight I was getting very snugly in my reclining seat, tucked beneath my complementary blanket with head resting upon a soft pillow when suddenly it felt like we were all driving over the surface of the moon as the wheels on the bus seemed to have lost rubber, belting full throttle on pure metal as there was no tarmac on the road for miles and miles. It was the worst turbulent drive I think I have ever experienced next to
that of Delhi to Dharamshala India, that is the worst ever bus ride on this planet.
I could feel a bad mood surfacing, I had no sleep, the luxury bus turned in to a hell ride as we were sitting at the back of the bus, bad place to sit for motion sickness, the insides of the toilets were now all over the floor, the cubical door flung open with every bump in the road as the lock had broken. On one personal loo visit, mid pee, I was catapulted back inside the coach isles with my drenched trousers wrapped around my ankles, luckily everyone pretended to be asleep, and there was no loo paper, soap or mop available to clean anything up let alone clean my dirty hands. After arriving at 7am in Uyuani, 24 hours with no sleep and very dirty hands. We were wandering around the town for four hours feeling like complete Shaun of the dead extras.
The tour finally began at 11am first we went to the train graveyard where there were loads of old rusting steam trains that had been grounded in to the salty sand. We drove
for miles into nothing at all; the salt was getting whiter and whiter and more blinding, it truly was incredible. 40,000 years ago this was the pre historic Lake Minchin, but the guide said 10,000 years ago this in land salt-water lake dried up. But it’s sold to us as an old salt-water lake, hence all this salt, forgive me for being a girl and everything but I thought only the sea had salt in it, lakes are fresh water. One theory is when two tectonic plates collide one is usually forced under the other, if the sea collides with a continent then the water from the sea can get carried inland underneath the rock, which is super heated by the molten core then gets pushed up inland away from the sea, which explains the thing we saw called ‘The Eyes of the lake’ which was cold bubbling frothing salt water.
Ten billion tons of salt covers 4,085 sq miles of land, it is meant to be six meters deep with an altitude of 3.650 meters above sea level. The only living wildlife was the Andean flamingos, not even a random Llama or rambling ball of tumble
weed and of course there are bus loads of foreign tourists peppered everywhere. The SUV was driving at 100 mph but it was very much like looking out from an aircraft flying at 32000 feet at 500 mph, the speed made no difference to where we were going it was as if we were hovering above clouds with bad turbulence. One thing I did appreciate was the complete silence, something I have tried to find on my current travels and something I’m afraid the world seems to be running out of, Silent Places. The salt hotel was interesting as everything in it is made out of blocks of salt, even the ash trays but it was still noisy and crowded with many human people everywhere.
We stopped off en-route in the middle of pure whiteness to take some shots, which is why I came here in the first place. It was the most peaceful environment yet but it was also mid day and the sheer luminosity gave me throbbing eye ache, neither of us could see through our camera lenses as the glare was blinding. So we aborted taking photos and carried on to a dormant volcano
island that has real life dead mummies hidden in some old volcanic cave somewhere, our driver said we didn’t have time to see them, we were there only to wash hands, change our pants, have lunch and pick up some Ozzies.
That very evening we caught the same twelve-hour turbulent tummy turning night bus back to the city of La Paz. Returning at 7am the following day after 48 hours of no sleep. The hotel that had kindly looked after our bags while we were away at the salt flats, strangely didn’t acknowledge a room that was booked for us by me with the manager before we left, even though a memo written in their language and ours was stapled to all our bags confirmed a reservation for a room. A semi hoo haa situation commenced, believe me I did my best to stay totally Zen about the whole thing, but even with night shift experience enduring severe sleep deprivation and abusive members of the public, it didn’t work. I was still wearing the same clothes for a total of two and a bit scummy long sweaty days with another toilet leaking night of hell, my unconditioned
brittle hair had not been combed for days, the dark pink shimmy glitter chap stick I normally wear had now medicinally been applied beyond my dried lip areas up around my nostrils and half way down my chin as I couldn’t shake the de-hydration, I looked like a clown. I was totally filthy and had a bad migraine and icky stomach coming on all thanks to too much turbulent joy riding on the tourist bus sustained with many single packets of Oreos and Inca Kola fizzy pop drinks as there was nothing else to eat.
Suddenly by chance a room became available but at a spirit-breaking price. 3 hours since head hit pillow the hotel filled up with teenage kids on a weekend rampage through every floor for which there were eight, they were all calling each other’s rooms and our hotel phone extension was somehow included within all this excitement, so I yanked the socket clean off the wall and swore using the F word at least three times, at 11.22am the next room to ours had a six piece pan pipe band with full drum kit practising their two hour set which sounded repetitive, the
same tune over and over, I was sure the hotel hired them in just to spite us. My shamanic faith had been truly tested.
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