After we had all climbed down from the Pringles tube, Sharon passed the addictive snacks around, Lewi grabbed a pinch of salt from the floor, sprinkled it on the crisp and munched. This is how to get extra salty pringles in Uyuni...The Salar de Uyuni to be precise.
The Salar de Uyuni is the worlds largest salt flat and was once part of Lago Minchin, a huge prehistoric saltwater lake that used to cover most of southwest Bolivia. Now its dried up remains only covers a mere 12,106 sq km, and most of that was under about 7cm of water when we visited. This gave the scene a surreal tropical island feel as our Toyota Landcruiser surged through the intensly salty water, shimmering ripples fanning out beside us seemingly as far as the blue haze on the horizon permitted our eyes to see. It was very beautiful, but did remind me of our 4WD trip to Fraser island where even a slight splash of salt water was a big no no and incured a huge fine...no such issues here! We cruised through the stunning scene, passing workers heaping the salt into mounds, and staring out the salt splattered windows in
amazement. In all this massive space about 20 or so 4WDs congregated at 'The Salt Hotel' a technically illegal construction out on the salt flats. It was here that the obligatory perspective bending photo shoot began. Due to the blindingly white saline surface stretching to the horizon, it is relatively easy to set up crazy shots that make it appear as though I am holding Lewi in my hand or balancing on a spring. We had fun with this (for as long as was permited by our driver), ate lunch and then it was off for the rest of the tour.
This three day two night trip doesn't only show you the wonder world of sodium chloride, it gives you the chance to bathe in a thermal spring at 4900m altitude. It shows you the natural force and smell of fuming steaming geysers, spewing gases and mud bubbles into the air. It takes you through landscapes that are out of this world, more akin to the Moon or Mars than Earth. You encounter llamas, alpacas, vincunas, and emus along the countless bumpy miles that your jeep traverses... and stare hypnotised at mirror perfect lakes of red, blue and green
where flamingos in their thousands wade. All these incredible sights were located on the Bolivian altiplano and so although it may look warm it is in fact bitterly cold at a dizzying altitude of up to 5000 metres. It was an amazing trip, we had joined a group of 4 others and been very lucky in our allocation of Edwin as our driver. Lewi and I had met Charlie, Jason and Sharon on our bus from Tupiza where a road blockade had forced us all off the bus and into each others company and together we had booked the tour into this unreal environment. A last minute addition of Aussie Michael and the team was complete.
During the three days we spent a lot of time in the car, listening to a mixture of Edwins Bolivian popular music, Lewi's ipod mixes and Michael's spanish audiobooks. I took literally thousands of pictures, in awe of the remote and beautiful land we were crossing. We watched the sun rise above a snow capped volcano, saw it sink into an orange lake, and a gigantic full moon elegantly ascend to take its place in the enormous sky above our heads. Great conversations
were shared over the copious breaks for agua caliente (hot water) and tasty meals. All in all it was a brilliant trip, well worth the bargained for price!
The only down side to this amazing few days was the ruggedness of the terrian, normally this wouldn't bother us but two days before we set off for this excursion we had been horse riding in Tupiza and the still present bruises on our bottoms had us wincing at every rut in the road.
Tupiza truly was a cowboy country, full of red dust, cactii and canyons. The town itself didn't quite have tumble weed bowling along the streets but it was getting close. There was no where better in the world for Lewi to spring into the saddle for the first time and as ever he accomplished it with ease. Clad in chaps and with Stetson's on our heads we set off on our faithful steads for a seven hour trek.
It was a beautiful day, the sun shone and ahead of us spread a barren land of jagged red sandstone canyons broken only by muddy brown rivers, and the occasional arable field. We soon settled into the
rhythm of riding and by the end of the trip we were galloping along the train tracks, a service carriage chugging and tooting behind us. It was an exhilarating day, great to re-learn my equestrian skills and to do so in such beautiful surroundings. The horses were calm and strong, striding across the fast flowing rivers and nimbly traversing the hot dry canyon lands with equal ability and agility.
Seven hours however is a long time for one to spend sat upon a ridged saddle, knees locked in position, and by the end of the day the two of us could barely manage to hobble, John Wayne style, back to our hotel. We were partially revived by a sorching hot gas shower, a real luxury in South America, but only rest could return our behinds to their original state and that took quite a few days!!
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