02.07.2016 - 04.07.2016
This bus delivered me to the town of Uyuni, at the delightful hour of 5am. We were kept on board until 6am, presumably so we could get our prescribed eight hours! All early arrivees were rounded up and herded into a local cafe; they knew we had two hours until the agencies opened so they were taking full advantage (and making a small fortune) of having a ready supply of hungry, caffeine deprived tourists. Here I met Eliana, who hadn't yet booked a tour so decided she would join me. I knew we would get along just fine when she suggested we get a little something for the cold! After confirming her place, we headed out for essential supplies: toilet paper, wine, and a bottle of unidentifiable strong alcohol.
We were soon joined by Tomas, from Germany, who had cycled from Bogotá; Raven, Soyeun and Nancy, all from USA, the latter two celebrating their recent graduation. We squeezed into our 4x4, carriage for the next few days, chauffeured by the lovely, sixty-something Fernando, and joined the parade of similarly packed cars out of town.
This is my three day Uyuni Salt Flats Tour, summarised.
(Partly because I should have written this while everything was still fresh in my memory, but mostly because I don't think my words could do it justice).
The first day saw us exploring the journey of the salt. Stopping at a train graveyard, the old line from the salar down to Chile; a salt-processing village; the remains of a salt hotel; before parking in the middle of the salt flat for lunch. This was easily the most unusual/incredible/hard to believe picnic spot. White, blindingly bright, stretches as far as you can see. Snow blindness is an actual risk here, so sunglasses were donned, leading to the inevitable panda-eyes for me! Perspective is all too easily blurred, leading to the intensive photo shoots each group holds after lunch. Fernando quickly showed us his well-practiced skills at capturing the perfect group jumping/sitting in a hand/running from Godzilla photo. Sitting on the salt to eat lunch was unsurprisingly not the most comfortable, but as Fernando pointed out, we could easily season our own food!
The afternoon was filled with crossing the salt flats to an island of ginormous cacti, Isla del Pescado. Seeing an island in the middle of this nothingness was rather surreal, although the salt flat had once been a lake, it is hard to picture that now. Our final destination was our hotel for the night - made completely out of salt. (Thankfully the mattresses were not!) Everyone was worried about the cold night ahead, and opted not to brave the cold water shower! After dinner, we warmed up with a bottle of wine, and tucked up in bed. Despite the others piling on all their available clothes, plus extra blankets, I was fine in my shorty pjs...thank you Malbec!
The next day took us to completely different landscapes and scenery, and was probably my favourtie day. We passed active and dormant volcanoes, vast open desert plains and strange, rocky outcrops. We stopped at one point, very high, to look at a particular rock known as the Stone Tree. Getting out to brave the cold here to take photos was short lived, we were quickly chased back into the car by strong winds, and snow!!
We entered the national park of Lagunas Colorados, seeing several lakes, coloured depending on the present mineral. Here we saw flamingos too-yay! It seemed rather odd to see these birds strutting around the lakes, at such altitude and in such cold.
This night we slept not far from ´the pink lake´ in a tiny village. The temperature dropped to minus fifteen degrees and I happily climbed into my sleeping bag, under 4 blankets.
Our final day we were up before dawn, to see geysers under the sunrise. We passed the final coloured lake- purple, smallest in size but also the deepest, was my favourite - it was so beautiful. Just before we left the laguna park we had time for a quick bathe in a thermal pool. The most scenic bath I have ever taken! The only downside was getting out into the freezing air!
Once we had redressed in all of our clothes (seriously I couldn´t put on any more!) we began our long drive back towards Uyuni. We passed through more stunning scenery, squealing with delight at every furry alpaca face we saw. After stopping for lunch in another village, Fernando told us we were ahead of schedule and he would therefore take us to two additional stops. First up `Lost Italy` , no idea why the name! Interesting red rock formations in a patch of desert, which obviously we all immediately had to climb! Then onwards to more rock formations, these in the shapes of various animals...
After a few more hours driving, we arrived back in Uyuni, and had our final group photos taken, on top of the jeep of course! Before the rest of the group headed back to La Paz (I was the only one not returning) we went for pizza, the only food option with a pick of 20 pizzerias, and said our final farewells.
I checked into my (cheapest in town!) hotel room, and finally enjoyed a nice hot shower!