Salar de Uyuni

Published: July 20th 2006
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17 July

After a few hours sleep due to our rather late arrival into Uyuni we were up with the idea of spending the day organising a trip into the area around the town. Our first job was to be booking our room for an extra night but we found out that we could book a trip at the reception and promptly did (I´m purposly being vague about the trip here by the way). Anyway, we booked our trip which was due to leave at 11am which gave us a little over an hour to sort ourselves out. This left us getting a rushed breakfast, changing some US dollars into Bolivianos (far too many thanks to me despite Alex protesting), getting some food and getting our passports stamped to exit Bolivia as we would be crossing into Chile at the end of our trip at a remote border crossing. All this left us with no time to shower before 11am but we were left waiting around until about 11.45 for our transport to arrive.

OK, I´ve been vague long enough. We were setting out of Uyuni, which is towards the south-west of Bolivia, towards the Chilien border into an area called the Salar de Uyuni. This is a huge salt lake, the largest in the world in fact, covering some 9000 square kilometers. We were also to visit the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa (a national park basically). Anyway, this was all to occur in a huge Jeep, big enough to carry the group of seven that we had been put in and the driver/guide. I should point out now that our driver/drive didn´t deserve the second half of his title as he would only give sketchy information when prompted. Our group also consisted of Alex and myself, a Japanese guy and four Koreans. The Japanese guy was 40, although he looked very young for his age, was a doctor and has travelled a lot. He also seemed to have a burning ambition to be a professional photographer (no Japanese sterotype there then!) as he got through four films in three days and frequently asked our driver (I´ve dropped the guide bit from here on for ease and accuracy) to stop to take photos. The Koreans consisted of one woman who was really nice and who we got on well with, two guys who were a good laugh and their tour guide who was overly energetic with a laugh that can only be described as ear-piercingly shrill. Overall a good group who we got on well with. There was also another Jeep filled with more Koreans that were travelling with the guys in our group so we basically had an extended family over the two Jeeps.

Anyway, I´d better tell you what we got up to. I´ll try to keep it short but I may get carried away!

We were picked up, late as I said and minus the Japanese guy who we collected later (if you´re wondering why I´m not using names then you should try to remember three Korean and one Japanese names!) and set off for our first sight. This turned out to be different and not greatly interesting as it was a train cemetry. That´s right, a load of rusting trains just out of Uyuni. Enough said about that. We were back to Uyuni, picking up the Japanese guy on the way, and we were off proper.
The first stop was a village called Colchani on the edge of the salt lake. This is basically a stop for the village´s sake to see if we would buy some trinkets that you could buy in any city we visited previously for a cheaper price or a big lump of salt. Naturally we declined both. Thankfully we were soon on our way again and onto the salt lake. This is probably the most bizare place that either Alex or I have been to (see the photos). The salt was very hard and apparently 6-7 metres deep and gave the feeling that we were at the south pole as it just streched out for as far as the horizon. We also saw a hotel built entirely of salt, tables and chairs included. We didn´t go in as you had to buy something but you can get the impression from the outside and staring through the windows like we did. The second stop of the day was Isla de Pescado, or Island of Fish. The island part was very apt as it looked like an island in all the salt but I´m not sure about the fish. A small entry fee here and we were free to explore. The island was covered in huge cacti and gave us some spectacular views of the surrounding salt lake and mountains. Thankfully this was followed up by lunch (albeit rather late) followed up by a long drive over the lake and back onto dirt tracks to our lodgings for the night. These were by no means five star and basically consisted of a lot of concrete rooms with minimal furniture to distinguish between the dining room and bedrooms. After a good dinner and chat with our group we hit the sack, thankful for our sleeping bags as it was freezing.

18 July

Not a too early start thankfully, which was delayed even further by the driver having his breakfast when we should have been leaving. For the second day our first stop was five minutes down the track, just when we had got comfortable. Obviously it was too early for someone as we were meant to pay to get into the site but no-one had turned up yet so we got in free which was a bonus as the site wasn´t great. It was described as Mummies and consisted of skelletons which had been placed in large holes in rocks. There were a few piles of bones and one fairly complete skeleton which was a bit disturbing but we weren´t amused for long and were soon on our way. The day basically consisted of beautiful scenery and wildlife on our travels. All the roads were ruts where previous Jeeps had been in the past and it was good just to relax in our seats and enjoy the view going by. We saw plently of lakes, mountains and also Ollague, which is Bolivia´s only active volcano. This was not due to the driver though who just stopped the Jeep and gesticulated wildly with his arms to make sure he covered everything in site without being specific. Thankfully Alex had read that you could see steam coming from one of the side vents of the volcano and we soon spotted, and photographed, the target. We were also treated to viewings of Flamingoes on a lake, a fox (although it seemed rather tame and the reason became apparent as the driver hurled a biscuit at it), llamas, vicuña (local deer type things) and a possible Condor sighting although we didn´t really get close enough to confirm this. We would also have had a great landscape photo at lunch of a flock of birds on a lake. This opportunity was ruined
The red lakeThe red lakeThe red lake

Speaks for itself.
by one of the Koreans from the other group marching Terminator like straight at the birds causing the inevitable outcome of them flying off before we could even get close to taking a photo. We were not impressed. The day´s touring was finished with a stop at a red lake. No idea why it was red seeing as the driver wasn´t going to tell us but it looked incredible.

A similar evening was had in a bit more cramped conditions as there were more groups sharing the same lodgings. After tea we were treated to a rather strange Korean ´tradition´. Basically they had bought a couple of bottles of cheap rum (four pounds for both bottles) and they insisted on the two of us joining in. Alex got away with mixing her rum with coffee but I was given a cup, told to hold it in two hands, and was poured a fair share of rum. Needless to say I did the decent thing and put it down the hatch in one. This then left me with the mug that I could then pass onto someone else in the group that I liked (or maybe didn´t like) and I could pour them a shot. The second part of the activity was a bit strange. Not liking the taste of the rum, they would follow it with Spam. That´s right, dodgy meat from a can. Very intersting idea and a good night before hitting the sack.

19 July

A rather rude start to the day at 4.30 as we had to set off at 5. Thankfully no breakfast to slow the driver down and we were soon on our way. Not long after it soon started to get light we came upon a field of steam emerging from the ground with one particular jet strong enought probably to launch a harrier jump jet, it sounded like it anyway. There were numerous other sites and we kept ourselves amused until we were frozen through. The phrase ´freeze the balls off a brass monkey´ was very apt. Anyway, back in the van and it was not long until we were stopping for a much needed breakfast. This took place besides a frozen lake but it had a huge bonus of warm streams running into it. This allowed some of us to go paddling to warm our frost bitten toes. Thankfully a warm breakfast was had and we started the last part of our tour. More beautiful landscapes of mountains and lakes before we were dropped off at the border with Chile to be taken over by another bus to what seems like the tourist centre of Chile in the little village of San Pedro de Atacama.

Not to bore you further, we had a great trip and should have some great photos. It was nice to be driven around rather than walking like on the Inca Trail but it is good to be back on paved roads. I hope most of you have made it this far in the blog!! Relaxing night planned tonight to catch up on some much needed sleep.


27th July 2006

dudes, I'm muchly exhausted just thinking about all this travelling! v jealous still as I'm sure it beats the train trip between the sticks and london....bored stupid at yet another dull temping job so am v grateful for all blog entries as they keep me entertained!! Have a delightful time children xxx
28th July 2006

Thank you
I am really enjoying "the tour". When will you be in Australia. Hope you can come and stay for a while. I will be in Queensland August/September. Love Robin

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