Salt anyone?

Published: July 25th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

The salt had a shrinking effect on Claire.  The salt had a shrinking effect on Claire.  The salt had a shrinking effect on Claire.

She reduced down to the size of a tennis ball...
Our night bus down to Uyuni was fairly comfortable thanks to our buying two seats each, one (by the window) for our bags for safety and one for ourselves but jeez was it cold! When we emerged from our blankets the windows were about 3mm thick with Ice and having stepped off the coach in Uyuni just before sunrise we walked to our tour office listening to Anne-Marie swear at the top of her Irish voice at her lack of gloves!

When we arrived at IncaHuasi our tour office, we thawed our feet on the heater and realised that America Tours had yet again made a balls up and failed to mention that Claire and I would be requiring a 2 day private tour of the Salt Plains as opposed to the full 4 day.

We watched and said goodbye as the other group and our friend Anne Marie jumped in their jeep and left for the Salar whilst we sat around and got the distinct impression nobody knew what they were doing.

Eventually a jeep turned up and we were driven around Uyuni while our guide picked up his bag and and cute old lady who would

No safety ropes were used in this death defying stunt...
be our cook for the two days. As we left Uyuni we entered a bleak landscape of baron dry land and after a brief stop off at the train cemetary,a collection of abandoned locomotives we could just about make out the blinding mirage on the horizon of the Salar itself.

Another 10 minutes on, we entered the shores of the Salt lake and saw the locals piling the salt into neat heaps so that it can be driven away at a rate of some 25,000 tonnes per year to be used on someones chips. The salt plain is just a remarkable sight. For as far as the eye can see the land is flat and blindingly white like snow and with an area of 4,085 square miles is the largest salt lake to be found anywhere on the planet.

At an altitude of 3650 meters above sea level and estimated to contain 10 Billion tonnes of Salt, the Salar de Uyuni was originally a huge land locked lake akin to Lake Titicaca. Some 40,000 years ago the former Lake Minchin began to dry up and left behind two small lakes, Poopo and Uru and two huge deserts of

I´ve found someone smaller than me!!
salt, Coipasa and the larger Uyuni. Interestingly the Salt over which we were travelling by jeep still sat on unevaporated water so in places, there are holes through which water can be seen bubbling to the surface and creating yet more salt under the intense sunshine.

Our first stop on the journey over the white landscape was at Isla de Pescado (or Fish Island). The Island is a bizarre sight as you arrive as it is covered with giant Cacti and volcanic rock spewed centuries ago from the nearby Volcan Tunupa. As walked around the island we strolled among the towering cacti and marvelled at the way the salt gathered at the shores of the island as if they were frozen waves in a bay. The ground everywhere beneath our feet was bulbous and porous giving away its volcanic origin.

After a leisurely stroll around the Island we returned to our jeep where our cook had knocked up a mean Alpaca T Bone steak served with rice and fried potatoes. Although we thought we had said our goodbyes to our friend Anne-Marie she too had been driven to the island along with countless other jeeploads of travellers so after we ate, we messed about by taking some obligitory "here´s my tiny friend in my hand" photos before this time finally saying our farewells.

As we drove away from Fish Island, we headed directly for Volcan Tunupa and enjoyed the way every mountain and volcano on the horizon distorted through the heat and left what looked like chunks of mountain floating in mid air. Distances on this vast plateau are simply mindboggling and the journey to what looked like a small Volcano was vastly longer than expected so by the time we neared its shores we were able to appreciate just how huge Tunupa actually was.

After a short stop at the shores to view some fairly far off Flamingoes, we drove around the eastern flank of the Island to the small town of Jirira and our stop for the night. In Jirira we stayed at a small hotel which was completely empty probably due to the rareness of people doing the shorter 2 day tour and after driving back out onto the salt to watch the sun set behind the volcano, we ate and went straight to bed at a ridiculous hour due to the freezing nightime temperatures and there not being a great deal to do!

Although we had booked a two day tour of the Salar, we awoke, had breakfast and seemed to head in a direct line back to Uyuni. Although there was a language barrier between us and our guide Claire and I on a number of occasions made it clear that we had all day to explore more of the salt. Our guide however seemed intent on making a crow´s flight route straight off the salt save for two brief photo stops.

By about 10am we left the salt plain and our guide seemed to aimlessley hurtle us around a patch of desert land before zooming us back to the tour office. Now Claire and I aren´t usually one´s to moan especially having enjoyed what time we had on the Salt Plain but having paid for a two day tour we were I think understandably annoyed at being back in the waiting room by 11.15am. On our arrival one of the tour guides mentioned that we were earlier than expected so Claire and I decided to let it be known that we were far from happy with the service.

In addition to our concerns, we were also told that the train we were due to travel back to La Paz on that evening had been cancelled because some friendly chaps had decided to steal a section of the tracks in protest at the governments refusal to re-nationalise the rail system! Eventually, after finding out that luckily there was a bus also leaving that evening and expressing our dissapointment the agency offered to pay for our tickets back to the capital and also for our Dinner that evening.

Satisfied, we sat around for some 7 hours and played cards before donning our rucksacks and walking to the bus station to load them on the roof. Although with the same bus company as our journey down to Uyuni, this time there were no blankets provided and as the bus left we realised that we were in for an uncomfortable ride. About 5 minutes in the bus ground to a halt to the sound of crowds shouting outside. As I peered out the curtain I saw a group of about 30 people shoving their way into the front of the bus behind the curtained partition. Several moments later the bus launched into action again only this time at breakneck speed over the rutted road.

We´ve been on some pretty uncomfortable journeys already but as we gripped our knees and tried not to put our heads back on the seat for fear of our brains rattling out of our ears, it was hard not to contemplate the fact that we had just been hijacked and we´re on a fast track to some rural holdup hotspot to get robbed! We were of course warned about the cold and not being able to get some sleep but for some reason for the next 5 or so hours sleep was the last thing on our minds!

After a 2am stop at Cafe Rosario in I don´t know where, we thought we had passed through the worst of the cold but sadly we were wrong. For the next 5 hours we clung onto eachother in a desperate attempt to keep warm and I tried in vain to lean away from the now thick layer of ice on the inside of the bus window!

Through chattering teeth we wryly cheered the rise of the sun as we entered the suburbs of La Paz and thankfully the end of possibly the worst bus journey either of us have ever endured.

Having dumped our bags back in Arthy´s hostel we set about enjoying one final day in La Paz to warm up again, go for a lovely meal at RamJam and get some laundry done before our 7.30am flight to Santiago Chile.

For those who thought we were off to Rio... we are, however our tickets meant we had to fly to Chile first, stay a night then fly to Rio the next day...rather like travelling to Brussells via Cairo.

Surprisingly with only one night in Santiago, we had a really good time staying in a lovely hostel "Bella Vista" in a really nice area and meeting some new friends whilst we were there. Anyway enough of Chile, we will talk about that later when we return but for now...Rio here we come!

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