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South America » Bolivia
September 14th 2013
Published: September 14th 2013
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Bolivia is an incredible place. When we travelled from Sucre to Uyuni, it was the landscapes that captured my attention. I was surprised at how quickly the scenery changed and how different they felt from each other. It was like we were travelling from planet to planet in a bus like spacecraft - one minute driving through a dry mountain range then, in what seemed like an instant, we were looking at a desert with yellow and green tufts of grass growing out of the black sand and further along the road it changed again, this time to a barren rocky landscape that made me wonder if anything could survive in it. Our time in Bolivia was coming to an end and although we had spent a month in such a small country, I felt an enormous sense of sadness, I was not ready to leave as there was still so much to see. I pushed the thoughts aside as we drove down the smoothest road we had experienced so far in South America and replaced them with thoughts about the dusty town of Uyuni and what we might discover there.

Uyuni is the gateway to Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) and to one of the most amazing places I have visited in my life. The salt flats were as I expected. I had spent too long on the internet and looked at too many photos for it to be a surprise. The vast expanse of salt stretched into the distance held together only by the cool blue mountains that, in places, disappeared by an illusion spewed up from the salt. The crust had small ridges shaped like hexagons and pentagons and, although there are many four wheel drives that venture out onto the salt every day, there are no roads to speak of. After we finished our hilarious and original perspective photos, we drove to a rocky island on the salt flats filled with giant cacti (ok, maybe that was a surprise) where we hiked to the top which gave us an incredible view of the salt – in EVERY direction, a flat white spread as far as the eye could see. As we drove towards our home for the evening, a salt brick hotel, we watched the sun throw fire into the sky as it moved behind a mountain, the cool air filling our lungs and the beauty of the place washing over our minds.

Over the next two days we travelled through the south west of Bolivia and through some of the most beautiful places I have seen. Bloodshot desert plains rolled into coloured peaks of yellow, black and white, lakes of turquoise and deep red filled with pink flamingos, the Dali desert, named because of its likeness to the landscapes the surrealist painter immortalised. The place was multi-coloured, windswept and desolate. We crossed the national park past geysers and mirrored lakes to the border crossing to Chile where we said our goodbyes to our tour group and to a country we had grown to love.

The first thing I noticed in San Pedro de Atacama in Northern Chile was the sheer number of tourists. To be fair, San Pedro exists solely as a base for tourists to visit the Atacama Desert, in particular Valle de la Luna, or the Moon Valley, so of course it would feel like the place was crawling with shants, back packs and bucket hats. It is a small town with mud brick houses, the centre is laid out in a grid which makes it impossible to get lost and the streets are lined with cafes, tour operators and gift shops. The accommodation her is very expensive but luckily for us we made friends with two English travellers on our tour of Salar de Uyuni so we were able to bunk with them for a couple of nights to make things a little less expensive. A stark contrast from travelling in Bolivia where everything was cheap.

Aside from the tourists there are a couple of other things to note about San Pedro. The first we found out the afternoon we arrived when we were turned away from a restaurant when all we wanted was a beer. You can’t buy an alcoholic drink at a bar or a restaurant without ordering food. Later that evening, we stumbled into a bar after stuffing ourselves with salmon and delicious Chilean wine and were presented with a basket of bread and some cutlery. The waiter told us if the police arrived then the cutlery would indicate that we were waiting for our food. As crazy as that sounds, I at least understood the logic. The second appeared to have no logic at all. It is illegal to dance in the bars. There was much discussion about why such an absurd rule would exist with absolutely no conclusion. I guess they just got tired of watching a bunch of drunken gringos trying to bust a move to funky Latin music.

We took an afternoon tour of Valle de la Luna so we could watch the sun set over the valley. The valley was named because of its likeness to the surface of the moon, although it was named in the 50’s when they didn’t actually know what the surface of the moon really looked like. Massive sand dunes and rocky cliffs occupied the majority of the park, but it was obvious that the name originated from the layer of salt that settled on the surface of the ground that turned the otherwise brown earth white. I had to have a laugh when the guide told us that many years ago the salt was mined from the area until they found out it was poisonous to humans! Whoops! I wondered if it was after they realised that they could not use the minerals that they decided to turn it into a protected area.

For me, one of the best activities we have done in South America was also the biggest accident. I wanted to visit the Atacama Desert for Valle de la Luna, what I didn’t realise was, it is a great place for astronomy. Apparently San Pedro is the perfect place to gaze at the night sky because it has enough altitude, doesn’t have humidity and has minimal light pollution. What it also has is Alvaro. Alvaro is a local hotel owner whose hobby is studying astronomy. He has studied at university and has two very large telescopes and one incredible laser pointer at his disposal. He also has an amazing attitude and passion about the universe which draws you in and makes you never want to leave. He talked to us about the creation of the universe, our solar system and about various different stars and galaxies and planets. He showed us the moon, double stars, the rings of Saturn, an emerging galaxy and so much more. Most incredibly, he showed us a galaxy that is 80 million light years away which meant that the light that we were seeing left that galaxy when the dinosaurs were walking the earth. My mind was officially fucked!

The one thing that Alvaro kept saying was how lucky we were to be here, how so many elements had to be just right for the world to evolve as it did and for him, having knowledge of just how incredible the universe is makes him truly appreciate his life, making him a better person. Meeting people with such a fantastic way of thinking is rare and beautiful thing and we all walked away with a little bit of his enthusiasm. It was the most glorious way to spend an evening.


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15th September 2013

Again I say WOW
What a fascinating place to be, had no idea of the beauty that lies in lands far away from my little universe, thanks for the tour and the amazing photos you both look after yourselves and look forward to your next tour entry. lots of love Mum xx
15th September 2013

No dancing in bars?!?!
Thanks for another rad blog. Bringing back so many amazing memories!! x
20th September 2013

great blogs!
Hi Emma I've just read your south american blogs and enjoyed them very much! Looking forward to reading about your next adventure. Cheers Ren
1st October 2013

Thanks, I am glad you enjoyed the blog!!
22nd September 2013

No dancing??????????
Thanks Em, keep \'em comin\' whenever you can. had heard about countries where you can\'t order a drink without order food but no dancing? Maybe they just made that up because my reputation for dancing (lack there of) has spread far and wide and they know you\'re my daughter. Sounds about as logical as \"no dancing\". Can\'t wait for the next blog. Love Dad and Clare
25th September 2013

I think I just stepped outside and saw your world for a moment ....... and it was very good!!!!!!
Em you just keep getting better at these and you continue to blow me away with your descriptions of places, people and experiences. NO WONDER YOU\'RE BLOGGER OF THE WEEK!!! I feel like I too just saw the light of when dinosaurs walked the earth and I too can taste the salt underfoot just as you described it all. Thanks so much for giving us boring types (stuck behind our desks in our miniscule insignificant little office-style Universe\'s) a little taste of your amazing adventures. Love Jayne & Eric XXXX
21st October 2013
Random dog on the salt flats

Fantastic photo
A loner
19th April 2016
Salt flats

Follow that Road
What road? Ain't any street signs in that place!
19th April 2016
Random dog on the salt flats

Andean dog
Great shot Emma. I reckon it's listening to the incredible silence of the Salar...or can it hear something we cannot?
28th April 2016
Random dog on the salt flats

Thanks Dave. I love that photo too. He stood there for so long looking into the distance, I am sure he knew something we didn't!
28th April 2016
Random dog on the salt flats

HA! Just pick a point in the distance and drive towards it. I am sure that is what they did!

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