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Published: January 23rd 2013
We've been back almost 3 weeks now - been putting off finishing the blogs. But the story must be told!
So at last it is time for the second installment of our Tupiza-Uyuni tour, this covers day 3 and 4.
First stop of day 3 was the "arbol de piedra" (tree of stone). I think you can see where it gets its name:
The stone tree was off limits for climbing, but all the surrounding rocks had some nice bouldering opportunities. The cold and high altitude were an issue though, my fingers and lungs were hurting after scrambling up a few rocks.
The next hour or so of driving was pretty barren, save for a few vicuñas and emu things (whatever they are called). It's hard to believe things can survive in these landscapes but they do.
Eventually we made it to our first of 5 lagoons. Flamingos! We'd seen a few the day before, but we could get closer this time. Many pictures followed.
A few more lagoons, and we came to one where you could get within 20 feet of flamingos. Many many more pictures, here's just a few:
I don't think the flamingos are obeying this sign:
Another lagoon... with more flamingos. And llamas! Flamingos and llamas, living in harmony at last.
So by this time it was flamingo (and llama) overload. We drove on to a rocky area for lunch, so we could get our fill of these little guys:
This is 1/2 squirrel, 1/2 rabbit. In Bolivia they call them viscachas, but I think squabbit is more appropriate. These ones are pretty tame.
The remainder of the afternoon was mostly driving. We were in a wide valley that seemed to slope slowly downward as we approached the salt flats. We did stop at an old lava flow with some moon looking rocks.
There was also an active volcano, althought it was really just a mountain which had a piddly waft of smoke coming out of the top (small peak on the left).
The road continued to slope slowly down until we approached the edge of the salt flats, Salar de Uyuni. They cover 4000 square miles, the biggest in the world. We approaced at the edge though, so we didn't get a sense of the scope until the next day.
Our destination for the night was a salt hotel. The floor, walls, tables, chairs, bed frames... all salt. The roof wasn't salt, but pretty impressive nonetheless. The joke at dinner? "Pass the salt!" hahahaha.... it got old quick.
I found a spot on the wall above our bed that I thought was safe and gave it a lick. Yep, salt. Even the filler between the salt bricks is salt. How do they do it?
We woke up early the next morning (4:30am I think) so that we could watch the sun rise. We threw our bags on the jeep, ate a quick breakfast and headed out onto the salt. For the first time we got a sense of how vast the place is.
The sun came up and provided some good photo ops.
Crazy place, nothing like anywhere else we've been.
We piled back into the jeep and headed into the distance. A small spec on the horizon became an island as we got closer. Thousands of years ago the islands were actually islands (you know, islands), before the water dried out and left the salt flats.
Once we got on the island it didn't take much imagination to see how it would look with water instead of salt. The coastlines had beaches and coves. You could almost imagine a boat marooned on the shore.
The way the light hits the salt looks a lot like water too.
Here's a panoramic video from the top.
From the island we drove out into the middle of the salt flats. We passed other tour companies, but the place is so big that you can easily find your own piece of the action. Salty salty action.
We finally got our fill and made our way towards Uyuni, the town on the edge of the salt flats. A big part of the economy is harvesting salt. Makes sense.
Our last stop of the tour was the "train graveyard". Not sure the backstory, but there are a bunch of old rusted trains in the middle of nowhere. With swings!
We finally pulled into Uyuni and said goodbye to our friends we'd shared the past 4 days with. It took a while to decompress after the trip. Physical exhaustion, mixed with overload of experiences crammed into such a short amount of time. Luckily we had a room waiting for us in Uyuni, and we were able to relax for the rest of the afternoon.
Now that it is 3 weeks later, reflecting back on the trip, it is safe for me to say this tour is one of our most memorable experiences of the trip. This, and the Inca Trail. But that is for the next blog... until then!
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