(P) Thurs 31 May
- To Uyuni town, ready to embark on a three day tour that would involve "being the coldest you´ve ever been in your life", "experiencing the most beautiful sight in South America", among other predictions. Settled on pizza for the pre-departure meal, ahead of the "very basic" hotel we would stay in while away. Fri 1st June
- Bundled our rucksacks on the roof of Alexandro´s 4WD and piled in with 2 fellow poms, and Aussie and later Iwao-san from a salt hotel along the way. We soon realised why the car looked a little less than pristine.. it would be 3 days before we would drive on an asphalt road again.
First stop a salt-packing village where one woman hand-packed 3000kg a day-believe me, there is A LOT of salt about - it´s what the ground is made of, stretches as far as the eye can see, and apparently replenishes itself in the rain. The sun was intense, but not the heat - it was as if the ground was covered in a blanket of snow. Seated on salt furniture beside the ´lake´at Isla de Pescadores, we lunched happily on meat and
veg prepared by our driver, though didn´t see any fish since salt was in the place of water. Highest point was 100m up from the salt lake level of 3675m. Lodged at a salt hotel on the salar edge - made with salt bricks and salt furniture inside including reception desk, dinner tables, stools and even beds! Sat 2 June
- Awoken for sunrise but felt better after a panqueque breakfast, and hopped in the jeep for off. At one point the "road" was so uneven we had to get out and walk so that the jeep could make it over a hill and across a railway track! Real lakeside lunch today, with many flamingoes, although it was so blustery their feathers were blowing everywhere! Stopped by a famous tree-shaped stone and 4 lagoons including Colorado but so windy that we could hardly make out the red hue that covers the lake and barely stepped outside the car - the llamas around it didn´t seem fazed though! Stop at Volcan Ollague (5865m) and made out a little smoke at the top - it´s considered active but last erupted 25,000 years ago... Passed through Silloli desert with brown
and rust coloured earth on all sides, also the seven-coloured mountain, so called because of the natural minerals´hue. Slept at Huallahara (the ´basic hotel´) where the electricity came on half way through dinner and went off at 9 p.m. Despite the dire predictions (as low as minus 10 C), wasn´t as cold as expected in the night due to donning about 5 layers, hat and gloves! Sun 3 June
- Awoken at 5! On reflection, a worthwhile move as we witnessed the geysers which only spout just before sunrise, then to a Bolivian hot spring - welcome warmth for our tootsies, though our towels and trouser bottoms outside the pool became frozen because it was still so bitterly cold. Trusty Alexandro had scrambled eggs and hot drinks ready and waiting for us after, bless him. Passed through more desert scenes, bizarrely with snow patches on the ground (not for the first time), 2 more lagunas (Blanca and Verde), the latter of which was dominated by almost 6000m of Volcan Licancabur, behind which Chile awaited us. Headed to the border and saw our sparkly new minibus as a sign that Chile was a step up in the development
Inside the salt hotel
Table of salt! Stool of dead cactus (R) and salt (L).
stakes. Felt great to drive along a flat road again! Got through immigration, including a step into a disinfectant bath to prevent foot-and-mouth (!), settled on Hotel Florida in San Pedro de Atacama, bought and consumed some Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate our arrival into Chile! Rude not to. Mon 4 June (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)
- Breakfasted at a local stall. Another sign that we were in a richer country was the little piece of paper on the string of tea bags (!). Hired bikes, stocked up on empanadas (big rectangular Cornish-type pasties) and headed out for some adventure in the desert at Valle de la Luna (Valley of the Moon), so called because the landscape resembles the moon´s surface. Roads almost deserted and views of stunning untouched sand peppered with red and grey rocks at every turn, but we worked hard on our bikes up and down hills to deserve it! Best thing was walking atop a huge sand dune, the view on the far side just like how I would imagine being on the moon. Some weather stations here have NEVER recorded rain. Dined with the locals accompanied by a showing of Godzilla on
the T.V. and went to bed very sleepy from the day´s cycling exertions! Tue 5 June - Bus to Salta, Argentina
Picked up empanadas for the bus journey (Nick: Llama meat and cheese, Paula: ´Tsunami´seafood and quinoa to satisfy the Japan cravings). Big comfy coach - a pleasant contrast to previous Andean transport! Inspiring scenery again as we climbed to the border point at 4230m, crossing from one side of the Andes to the other, finishing at 1187m in Salta: red peaks, the odd lagoon, small pack of vicuñas and even snow on the ground, looking bizarre against the sunshine. We enjoyed an obligatory stop for a meal of the Argentinian favourite, jamon y queso (ham and cheese) sandwich. After 12 hours arrived safely at 23h00 and despite the time were beseiged by good-natured hostel touts! Enjoyed a Quilmes local beer before retiring (it´s okay, Nick already has the beer glass from a past Argentinian escapade). Wed 6 June
- Local´s caff for lunch, where Nick was drawn in by South-American style shepherd´s pie on the menu and left a happy lad. Onto the main square, 9 de Julio (Louise´s birthday!) and did a
In front of Volcan Ollague
No eruption for 25,000 years, according to our guide!
Optimist - we´re safe.
Pessimist - we´re due.
lap, concluding that it was the most picturesque plaza and impressive Cathedral (inside and out) we had witnessed so far. Tried in vain to find a pub showing the England vs. Estonia match, but relieved to find out afterwards that we won 3-0. Splashed out a bit on dinner ($20 for two) and walked to check out the nightclub area (changing out of sandals/hiking boots beforehand), but nightclubs not only closed, but padlocked!! Oh well, settled for a beer inn a lively pub and walked back 40 minutes due to zero sign of taxis! Nick´s cultural highlight of the week
Seeing a French traveller with curly hair, a wispy beard...and a gallic black-and-white striped jumper...zut alors!
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