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Published: July 13th 2008
Hello, I'm in Bolivia now and absolutely love it so have decided to spend most of my time here rather than in Peru - it seems to be the places you have the least expectations about that turn out to be the best!
I went on a 3 day jeep tour of the world´s largest salt flat and surrounding hot springs, coloured lagoons and volcanoes in the "Eduardo Avaroa" National Andean Wildlife Reserve. The reserve ranges from 4,000 to 6,000 metres in altitude so the temperatures went from about -10, absolutely freeezing cold, to reasonably warm in the middle of the day and it took a little while to get used to the altitude so most of us had headaches at some point and felt really exhausted!
I met up with the 10 people who were to be like my family for the next 3 days and we set off in a minibus to the Chilean border. We crossed the border into Bolivia which was very straightforward and well organised and then split into 2 groups and loaded up the jeeps. I knew there weren´t any English people on this particular trip but i hadn´t quite prepared myself for
how difficult it was going to be as everyone collectively spoke Spanish rather than English - being in South America i probably should have guessed this!! I felt very ashamed that my Spanish was so limited and most of the group spoke at least 2 or 3 languages. I felt completely out of my depth as we set off on the first day as Spanish conversation was flying around me in the jeep, I could understand some of what they were saying but by the time i´d worked out a sentence to say they´d moved on to the next conversation!!
Ruben our guide drove us miles and miles over mountainous, rocky terrain, through the desert and across the salt flats. There weren´t any proper roads just tracks that everyone follows so we were thrown about a lot which was quite funny. We´d drive for hours and hours and then stop to take in the landscapes, lakes and rock formations. The first morning we stopped at the "Laguna Verde" (the Green Lagoon) which kept its colour all year round just changing shades in each season, the "Piedras de Dali" rock formations and then on to the natural hot spring which
was 35 degrees and very much needed in the freezing temperatures! We then went on to the 300 degree bubbling geyser basin which smelt really badly of egg from the sulphur like the Wai-O-Tapu place we visited in New Zealand. We eventually came across a brick building with concrete floors and no heating, where we had lunch, which was to be our home for the night. It was still quite daunting with everyone speaking Spanish but a few of the group could speak very good English so i actually got to have a proper conversation at last! We then set off for Lake Colorada which is a beautiful red lake with flamingos in it where we spent an hour or so walking around and watching the sunset, it felt like we were on a lazy Sunday afternoon walk!
We drove the hour or so back to our home for the night and all sat around the fire thawing out and having drinks and dinner. Max from Belgium and Romain from France (who was in the other jeep) were really fluent in English so i sat with them so i could actually have another conversation! Each jeep shared a bedroom
and we all put about 6 layers of clothes on before crawling under the blankets into bed for the night. We didn´t sleep very well because we had headaches from the altitude and it was freezing cold, i´ve never experienced anything like it before! When we woke up the next morning we couldn´t wash because there wasn´t a shower so we set off on the second day of our tour wearing the same clothes we´d just slept in - how pleasant!
I had decided i was just going to speak what little Spanish i knew and see if i could string a few sentences together and am glad i did because we adopted speaking Spanglish with a bit of French thrown in and i learnt so much more from everyone although have probably not helped them develop their language skills! We stopped at the "Arbol de Piedra" rock and surrounding formations and then at the Altiplanic Lagoons which unfortunately were mainly frozen over so there weren´t any flamingos on them and you couldn´t see the colours as clearly but they still looked pretty amazing. We drove so much on the second day for hours on end but the scenery
was stunning and we listened to some of Maria´s Spanish music and talked more Spanglish to keep us entertained!
We stopped at a really tiny village of about 600 people in the middle of nowhere and one of the locals made us lunch. We walked around and couldn´t believe how tiny it was yet they had a school and a church and just couldn´t imagine what it would be like to live there!
Our second night was spent at an equally if not colder building which was partly made of salt and had generators so the lights went out at 10:30pm. We climbed the Isla de los Pescadores at the back of the building which was covered in giant cactuses and checked out the sunset before heading in for tea and a hot shower which we were all desperate for by now! The hot shower was amazing and we all felt refreshed apart from a few people that decided they were going to do the whole trip without washing! Another group of 4 Portuguese boys and 1 English boy from Norwich (hoorah!) joined us for the night and we all had dinner. I sat down and tucked into
my dinner and asked what meat we were eating only to discover that it was lama!!!! It was actually quite tasty, a bit like beef, but a little chewy! We were given little terracota shot pots filled with red wine to have with our dinner and then a few of us bought a couple of bottles extra for us to have during the evening. It was again absolutely freezing but such a good night, we all huddled together in the one room and Max (Belgium) got his guitar out and we were all singing. Unfortunately i ended up doing a solo at one point as no one else knew the words to one of the Oasis songs but i clearly thought i sounded like Celine Dion after a few vino tintos so was quite happy to sing away and even got a round of applause for my efforts!
The next morning we couldn´t even clean our teeth as the water was completely frozen and there was an icicle hanging from the tap so set off with red wine breath for, sadly, our last day of the trip!
Our final day was spent driving across the amazing "Salar de
Uyuni" which is 3,653 metres high and blankets 2,000 km and is 9 metres deep in the centre. The contrast of the bright white salt against the clear blue sky and coffee coloured mountains was amazing! We drove to the Isla Incahuasi which is a naturally formed island in the centre of the Salar which is really rocky and has several cactuses growing on it. Apparently they grow at 1cm per year which is pretty amazing considering how tall they were! We slowly climbed up the island, getting very breathless with the altitude and spent so much time there taking it all in. We then drove on and took some cool photos of us which looked like we were standing on each other before heading to Colchani, where the salt is exported from, and had lunch in a random souvenir shop/cafe!
We reached Uyuni and our last stop was the Cementerio de Trenes which is basically just a graveyard for rusting trains. Us girls took 1 photo and jumped back into the jeep, think this was more of a boys thing!
6 of us out of the 11 were staying the night at Uyuni before moving on and
2 of the girls - Maria and Cristina were getting a train to Argentina at 2am so we spent the afternoon/evening walking around Uyuni and having a local meal of chicken, rice and chips and then went to the Extreme Fun Pub which had various funny drinks and glasses to drink out of. We were all so shattered and had planned on an earlyish night but ended up staying up until 2am when the girls had to get their train, it was definitely a brilliant end to a brilliant trip!x
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