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Published: October 6th 2008
Taxi'd to the Bus Terminal with all my gear (now growing larger by the day) and sat around waiting for the overnight bus down to Uyuni where my 3 day landcruiser tour of the Salt Flats & the Bolivian Desert would begin. At around 3 am it appeared we weren't driving on a road anymore, as we furiously shuddered along. Would've been more fun having someone grab you by the shoulders and shake you for several hours. Met a Bolivian guy from Santa Cruz named Javier, who was telling me all about his family and especially his brother, who was a cosmetic surgeon. The poor bloke had the unfortunate task of performing a breast augmentation on his own mother. The things one does for their family....
Arrived in Uyuni at 7 am with another pounding headache and time to kill, as the tour wasn't meant to start until 10 am. Uyuni is very small, and extremely cold at that time of the morning, and is on the doorstep of the world's largest salt flat, at 12,000 square kms. I had been warned the weather would get ridiculously cold while out on the tour so went and bought alpaca gloves, scarf
and legwarmers and as the altitude was only about to get higher, some altitude sickness pills.
Sitting on the doorstep wondering who the other 6 people that i would spend 3 days cramped in a landcruiser with were, revealed 5 guys from the North of England, all mid 20's and a non english, non spanish speaking Japanese lady.
Now, from the outset i wasn't expecting a luxury tour. It was to include two nights accommodation, and all our meals and a transfer from the border of Chile into San Pedro de Atacama. Our landcruiser pulled up outside the tour office, and a very small old bolivian man jumped out. This was Octavio, our driver and non-english speaking guide for the next 3 days. God help us.
We set off around 11 am, heading 2 kms out of town to a train cemetry where defunct locomotives had been dumped 50 years ago and left to rust. Next stop was what we were all here for, the Salar De Uyuni, the Salt Flats. It honestly defies description... Blinding white salt, looking like ice, as far as the eye can see. We drove and drove and drove, stopping momentarily for
pics. One of the boys yelled from the back for everyone to take their sunglasses off. It was so blinding it felt like my retinas were being scorched! We stopped for a late lunch on a cactus-covered island.
We drove and drove and stopped at our accommodation for the night, a hotel made entirely out of salt. Beds, tables, chairs, everything... all salt! Can't say salt is particularly comfy. For 5 boliviano's (about 50 cents) we could have a hot shower and we waited, while it got darker and darker for them finally to turn the lights on at around 7.30 pm and Octavio came out and served us with dinner. Presented so proudly, i almost felt like we should've clapped! First course was vegetable & quinoa soup, which was lovely but extremely salty. Perhaps some of the walls had crumbled off into the soup? Second course Llama steak. foul. Without anything else to do for the evening we all retired early as we were to be woken up at 5.45 am to have breakfast and hit the road (or lack of). A long day of driving, we were promised.. And this was no lie.
The next day
An hour into the journey and Octavio is already hanging out of the bonnet..
we drove and drove, although not a road in sight, and stopped at a mildly active volcano, several beautiful lagoons with pink flamingoes! So cool! By late afternoon one of the English guys and i had hit the wall, both suffering in our jocks with the altitude. By now we were at 4.2 km's above sea level. We stopped at our accommodation for the night, at Laguna Colorada (Red Lagoon). So beautiful i only saw it from the car, as i lurched straight into the shitbox we called our dorm (us all being lumped in the one room), and promptly became at one with my bed. This place made the salt hotel seem like a palace! A shell of a building, with a tin roof seemingly held on by rocks. And it was coooold. Much much colder than the previous night on the salt flats. We had another wonderful dinner served by Octavio, then the boys bought a bottle of rum for about $4 AUD and we settled in for an evening of cards and rum until we were too cold to move, even with a fire going. We stole blankets from some of the empty dorm rooms and went
to bed. I had rented a sleeping bag from the tour agency, which was fleece lined and heavy duty, thank god. Add 6 heavy alpaca blankets and two bedspreds to the mix and i was just about warm enough. Couldn't move though, had great trouble rolling over with the sheer weight of it all! Heard some sort of commotion across the room, although it sounded like miles away as the blankets were over my ears. Two boys were snoring, one boy got the hump and went and slept in another room by himself.
Next morning, at the delightful hour of 4.30 am, Octavio appeared, proud as punch, to take us to some geysers and then onto some thermal pools. Goodbye red lagoon, i'm sure you were beautiful. I will have to take the other's word for it! We finished the morning at Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon), which was stunning as it changed shades before our eyes. We headed to the border where the Japanese lady and i had a transfer organised to take us into San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
We arrive at the border, we jump out and the landcruiser leaves to head back to Uyuni. I
am sitting on the floor of immigration (a small building in the middle of nowhere) rifling through my pack trying to find my passport. I couldn't find it. This time i pull everything out. Still couldn't find it. Bras, jocks, everything i own is strewed across the floor of immigration. My transfer to Chile had already left, just ditching me there at the border. The two Bolivian officials looked on nervously. Small meltdown ensues (read tears) long enough for me to ask "c-c-c-can i call the New Zealand c-c-c-Consulate?" before i snap out of it, start rifling through everything for a third time, only to find my FOOKING passport wrapped in one of my tshirts. Halle-goddamn-lujah! Could've pashed the two officials! They were both fab and quite calm, telling me to superglue the passport to my person. I promised i would!! Had to sit round and wait for another transfer, pay the fee all over again, to get myself out of this altitude and down into a much more civilised 2.5 kms above sea level, in the lovely desert town of San Pedro de Atacama.
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