Thursday March 19, 2015 (Bolivia, South America)
What an incredible tour!
From what I’d seen of Salar de Uyuni pictures before we left, I expected some large white expanses of salt. I wasn’t entirely sure why a “standard tour” of the salt flats was three days long, but our group were looking to book for that length of time and we weren’t too particular so we went for it!
In the morning, we had a bit of a mad dash to pick up things like water. We also had to re-pack our bags to bring a minimal amount of “stuff” on the tour with us. I grabbed a couple of quick shots of Uyuni (including some local dogs) along the way. Our tour group of Henri and Tuure was augmented by an awesome couple by the names of Robert (Netherlands) and Sonia (Russia). Six passengers is what the Toyota Land Cruiser we were taking could hold, if not overly comfortably! Along with our tour guide/stone cold playa Alex, we were off! You’ll notice a nice shot of the various objects hanging from the rear view mirror, including sexy playmates Louisa and Demi. Nice work, ladies!
First stop was the train cemetery. The country of Bolivia used to be larger and have access to the sea. Ask Chile about that! In those times, many Bolivian exports would be shipped via train to the sea, at which point they would be loaded on ships and moved around the world. Unfortunately, once Bolivia lost its access to the sea, it no longer had a need for the trains. As such, just outside the town of Uyuni you can visit a graveyard where many early 19th century trains have been left to rot.
Upon arrival, there were at least one hundred people milling about and a corresponding number of four wheel drive vehicles to hold them all. We were worried that the remainder of our tour would be overrun with these groups, but it didn’t turn out to be a problem!
The next stop was the salt flats themselves. Cue amusing forced perspective photos where you pretend you’re being eaten by giant dinosaurs, consuming a giant cup of mate, or holding your friends in the palm of your hand.
Next up: the salt hotel for lunch. It was a neat little venue constructed almost entirely of salt. The salt flats exist because the entire area used to be a big sea. Over the years, the sea has dried and refilled multiple times leaving a massive area of completely flat (and very salty!) land.
The really fun part comes when you visit areas of the salt flat where it has recently rained. The water sits perfectly still and generates incredible mirror images of the landscape above. We had the chance to wait around on the salt flats until sunset, which was an absolutely incredible experience! Thunderstorms were raging off in the distance, which added a lot of drama to the scenery!
After sunset, it was time to find lodging. We expected that the tour would already have something reserved for us, but it seemed a bit more open-ended. As a result, we ended up driving around in the dark for about an hour and a half in intense rain and thunder to find a place to stay for the night. It all worked out, and we ended up crashing in a small town called San Juan at a place with salt beds, salt walls, salt tables… you get the point. The floors were just granular salt — not great if you come out of the shower in your wet sandals…
We awoke at sunrise to continue our journey. We headed off toward the Laguna Colorada National Park, where we had the opportunity to spot tons of flamingos. This was unexpected for me, especially at the incredibly high altitudes and cold temperatures! Along the way, we managed to get our Land Cruiser stuck in a massive rut, but Alex figured out a method to extract the vehicle after a short delay.
Our last night was spent in “basic accommodation”. “Basic" means that electricity is available between the hours of 7 and 9 in the evening. No heating for us throughout the night, and with temperatures outdoors falling into freezing territory. Combine this with altitude sickness (constant headaches), people partying outside your door, having to wake up at 4:30am in order to get back to Uyuni on time, and (the icing on the cake) incredible Barbie bedspreads and you’ve got yourself a magical evening. Sandra and I each had sleeping bags, went to bed in multiple layers, hoodies, pants, and socks… and still ended up waking up multiple times in the night from the cold.
Rough morning indeed, but our first stop on the last day was the active caldera of a volcano! We drove through snow-covered mountains at 5 in the morning to get there, so it’d better be worth it. Lots of fumaroles spewing out steam, boiling mud pots, and zero safety measures. Classic! We got to watch the sun rise here, and it was pretty awesome to be wandering around in such a bizarre landscape.
The remainder of the day consisted of heavy driving through absolutely incredible scenery. I was blown away by the variety of landscape we got to experience over such a short period of time. The salt flats aren’t just a big flat lake of salt! Some short hikes and a detour into some relaxing geothermal hot springs and we were headed back to the town of Uyuni.
What a success — we got back in time to catch our bus onward to Potosi. Go team!