So here I sit in Puno/Peru after a 38 hour ordeal and I subscribe myself a rest day. After 3 weeks of constant travelling I think I deserve a day of doing nothing. Well, not completely nothing, but getting two updated done so I am not falling behind too far. This update is about the amazing salt flats of Uyuni, also known as the Salar de Uyuni. What a fantastic display of nature it was! But let’s start where I finished last - at the Silver Mines of Potosi….
After I finished my Silver Mine trip I spent one more day in Potosi, mainly to sort out my credit card issues. You see I tried to use the card on several occasions and it was always declined. So I rang the hotline and I was told that someone tried to use the card fraudulently so they blocked it. So far so good to see the security functioning. But that is where the nightmare started. As I am in Bolivia and they have to send me a new card they need an address to send it too. As the mail is not the best here in South America that
is a real challenge. I had mail sent from Australia that took 2 months to arrive. So where to send it to? Also the call centre operator was a bit baffled how someone can travel all the time and believed it would be easier for me to return to Australia, collect the card and then go back. Yeah man, that is a practical solution.
So after a frustrating day on the phone that cost me a small fortune, nearly a broken window at the phone centre and more than a few swear words (to me, not to the call centre personnel) I took the bus from Potosi to Uyuni. From about 4000 meters altitude to 3650 meters, so not a vast difference. I have heard and read a lot about the salt flats of Uyuni and they were always on my bucket list to visit. You see, these amazing salt flats are about 10,500 square kilometres big and are covered by a 11 meter thick salt crust. They are also the biggest lithium resources in the world and many international companies try to get their hands on this, mainly car manufactures that use lithium to make car batteries. But
the Bolivian government is resisting the temptation to give the mining rights to an overseas company and try to keep the riches in the country. One can understand that, but on the other hand the money could be used to help the poor population as well.
Anyway, after I arrived in Uyuni I set out to find a tour operator to organise my tour. But there where so many that I soon gave up, tired from my trip and still pissed off about my credit card. I thought that I will have a day in the dusty town and when I have a clear head I will organise the trip. I also have to watch my money from now on without access to the credit card cash.
However things changed rather quickly when I was sitting in a bar that night and I started talking to some people that booked a 3 day tour for the next day and they had one space left which was offered to me with a discount. Not hesitating, I took up the offer and the next day at 9 am I was at the tour office, ready to explore this amazing area.
At the tour office I was told that the group has swelled to 7 people and considering we all had to fit into a Toyota 4WD that was a rather big number. But I was lucky as I was the tallest and I got the front seat. We made some final shopping trips, mainly water and biscuits, and at 10.30 am we set off. The group I was with was a Brazilian couple, 2 young people from Denmark, and American, a German girl and me. So rather good mix. The Danish couple, the American and the German girl were travelling together for a while and were into music, which made for an interesting period during the tip.
First stop was a graveyard of old trains on the outskirts of Uyuni where one can find old rusting steam trains from around the 1900’s. It was a rather impressive view to see these old, rusty locomotives in these surroundings. Unfortunately they were full of graffiti and not looked after at all. A disgrace and total shame to see history rotting away.
After the trains we set off to drive to the salt flats and after a 30 minute drive
we had another stop at a small town to visit an artisan market. I personally hate these stops but I guess the tour operators have to cater to all sort of people as opposed to only to me.
Than we set off into the salt flats. And what an amazing sight it was to drive into it. From the brown earth of the mountains to the pure white of the flats. But first we had another stop at a building made out entirely of salt that was also a stop for this year’s Dakar rally. A huge monument was erected there for that occasion and as a big fan of the Dakar rally it was a real pleasure to be there (I always wanted to participate in this rally and who knows in the future what might happen). After a short lunch we took off again and this time it was into the heart of the salt flats.
Now it is pretty hard to describe how it was to drive into this area. Everthing was white as far as you can see and the mountains were so far away. Without sunglasses one was literally blind because of the
reflection of the sun. Other vehicles in the distance were just specs and the air was flimering above the ice. It was incredible and surreal. One has to experience this to really appreciate it.
The driver made many stops and we had the opportunity to take some really funny photos. My music friends took the opportunity to get really crazy and get half naked to run around and take some photos of them. Good on them; they are young and they let themselves go and had a great time. If I would have been a bit younger I might have joined them. But who wants to see an old body?
About mid-afternoon we stopped at an island within the salt flats called the Incahuasi Island. This island is covered in amazing cactus and in such contrast to the white surroundings it made for some amazing photo opportunities.
After the island we made our way to the first overnight stop which was a hotel made completely out of ice. I had my own room which was nice and plenty of blankets to keep me warm. You see as soon as the sun goes down it is bitterly cold
and I mean severely cold. We had a great dinner, which was unexpected, and as a smoker I had the great experience to see an amazing sky full of stars. I just sat there puffing away and observed this amazing cosmological display.
The next morning after breakfast we set off again and this time we visited different lagoons with flamingos, volcanos and other incredible landscapes. The whole day we drove around in about 4500 meters altitude and the views were incredible. No wonder the old Incas believed that the earth is meeting the sky in that area. The wildlife was incredible and it was just a magic day. My musical friends took the opportunity to play some music in the weird rock formations and videotaped it. Jake, the American, was actually very good and had a ball. Niles, the Danish guy, had bought a trumpet somewhere in South America and played his heart out.
The second night we spent in a dorm hostel and to say it was basic is an understatement. There was no electricity in the rooms, the bed were poor and I was glad as hell to have had my sleeping bag with me. The
others were freezing their arses off. And when we got up at 4.30 am it was so cold that the vehicles had ice on their widows and we were truly frozen.
Again we spent the day driving through some amazing landscapes. First stop were some hot thermal eruptions in 5000 meters altitude. It was still rather dark so the scenery was surreal. After that we went to some hot springs where my friends enjoyed a good bath. Then we set off again, this time back to Uyumi, driving through some mad rock formations on the way. And when we arrived in Uyumi at about 4 pm we all were a happy bunch of people, having be lucky enough to experience this amazing area.
The negative experience I encountered was that on the first day of the tour I lost a piece of tooth and the second day the filling of the same tooth. I have no idea if that was because of the altitude I was in and the decreased barometric pressure but it was what it was. So I decided to take the bus back to La Paz as I didn’t want to go to the dentist
in Uyumi. The last thing I wanted is a massive toothache in the middle of nowhere.
So as soon as we arrived I booked a night bus to La Paz. I really wanted to spend another day in Uyumi and explore this dusty small town at the edge of the salt flats, but my fear that the tooth will disintegrate totally was just too big. So at 8 pm I went on my way to La Paz, not having had a shower for 3 days and stinking like a sailor. These are one of the many things of the life of an adventurer.
So that’s it for this update. I think that my efforts to describe the salt flats do not give credit to this amazing area. So maybe the pictures will do. Have a look at them. Mind you the ones I post on this blog are all taken with my IPhone because of the size. But I hope they will give you an idea about how beautiful this area is.
I hope you enjoyed this update and I hope one day you will have a chance to visit this region. I promise you it is
worth it. This planet is an amazing pace so go out and explore it. It is not always easy, but certainly worth it.
Until next time my friends. Soon to come the update about La Paz and my adventures there so stay tuned.
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