A Travellerspoint blog

Salt, Snow, oh and some more Salt


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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 Crew

The Crew

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!

salty pyramids

salty pyramids


Obligatory Godzilla photo

Obligatory Godzilla photo

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!

Isla del Pescado

Isla del Pescado

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!

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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!

Posted by rcally 07:12 Archived in Bolivia Comments (1)

Beginnings

A new month, an almost new me. Forcing myself to be active in the face of my depression had seen me suddenly making time for tourist activities in La Paz. I took the free walking city tour, which was incredibly interesting, and I finally learnt the history of the place I had spent the past four weeks! I spontaneously booked another tour, unsure of the actual itinerary, and rather surprisingly found myself climbing a pretty huge mountain. Sometimes it does pay to research...

The morning had me struggling to a height of 5000m, with snow, the afternoon: stripping off my thermals in 'Valle de la Luna' or 'Moon Valley'. Hopefully the pictures below can explain its name better than my words. These two places, separated by only the city of La Paz, are so starkly different, it is quite hard to comprehend.

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Morning mountain climb- Chacaltaya

Afternoon moon landing

Afternoon moon landing


Spurred on by my activity, I booked my next night bus, tour, and made it out of La Paz, for good this time! As much as I wanted to leave, I was surprised by how sad I felt, mostly to be leaving behind the friends I had made, and who had helped me through my challenges. Jorge and Fernando kindly accompanied me to the bus terminal, no doubt hoping they could persuade me to change my mind, and plans, once again. But this time I was set. So with a rather sad heart, and a stomach full of butterflies, I waved them off, and began my journey again.

Posted by rcally 07:26 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Black Dog; part two


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When my black dog lifts his head
And looks me in the eye
I know I'll lose myself for a while
Forget to look up at the sky

Like a thief in the night he comes
To steal away my joy
To wreak havoc amongst my neat happiness
Seems to be his only ploy

Leaving his ugly black footprints
Behind wherever he treads
Removing all traces of goodness
Replacing them carefully with heavy dread

I'm pushed into a well
With sides so smooth and steep
Near impossible to climb out
When the light can't reach this deep

I'll close off my heart from life
And retreat into my mind
Once I'm lost in those dark recesses
The way out is hard to find.

Posted by rcally 06:57 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

Black Dog


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I debated for a while whether I should write this, or just skip a few days in my story telling. But, if this is to be a real account of my travels (which it is) then I want to include this excerpt of my journey.

  • I had returned from Coroico and popped into Loki to say hi to a few friends, and accidentally ended up staying a couple of days, unsure of where to go next.*

As those of you reading this may or may not know, I have been fighting with depression for the last four and a half years of my life. I won't go into any more details about that now but it has been a long battle, and this past nearly-a-year travel has been what I was fighting for: getting back to loving this life, and living in this world. I am not 'cured', I never will be, thus it was inevitable that at some point, my black dog would appear at my side again.

Today was that day. I'm not sure what triggered it, I never am really, it can be a combination of things, or something individual, but whatever it was, I woke up this day and knew I was falling. It is absolutely terrifying this feeling, I was scared beyond words, even more so, when you are the other side of the world with no-one or thing familiar to comfort you, reassure you that you are safe.

I followed that clichéd plan of action, and locked myself in the girls' bathroom, for nearly three hours, where I sat on the floor, cried myself dry of all tears, and generally exhausted myself. I was in serious panic mode. I seriously considered flying home, that very day, not because I knew that would fix me, but because I didn't think I could get through it on my own. I was scared of being stuck, and I was scared of doing something stupid.

My ever loving, and always patient siblings dragged me through those hours, from the other end of a phone, being just enough 'there' for me to hang on to. When I said I was coming home, Becky listened, gently questioning "But is that you who wants that? Or your depression?"

That was it. Those words reminded me why I'm here, what I'm doing (although I don't really know that!), what I've fought through, and who I am. Not a finger-click fix, but a gentle nudge in the right direction. I checked into a private room and gave myself the time, and space, to ride out the darkness.

That's all I ever can do really, acknowledge myself, accept myself, remember myself, and slowly slowly, I can climb back out of the hole.

Posted by rcally 06:50 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

An Unfortunate Series of Events


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So my planned departure did not go quite as according to plan. As you may have heard, I had a bit of a disastrous last few days in La Paz, which somewhat delayed my leaving. I had a couple of falls because I am a clumsy child. I fainted twice which I had put down to feeling a bit run down from the excessive partying and didn't take too seriously. All the staff seemed to get a bit sick, so I just ignored it and hoped I'd feel better once back in the fresh air. Ha. One night whilst working, and struggling to keep a level temperature, I developed a random eye infection, complete with pleasant oozing and demon-red colouring. This did not stop a lovely Argentinian customer telling me my eyes were beautiful (I had to disagree), forcing me to salsa, and then declaring his love for me from atop a table across the bar...Needless to say, his seduction techniques, strong though they were, did not work!

Eye drops were purchased the next day, and eventually, my friend persuaded me (forced with bribery) to go to the doctors with her to get checked out. Good job she was persistent, I had a raging fever of over 39 degrees, some kind of chest infection and needed a shot of antibiotics in my bum. That explained why I'd been strolling around La Paz in a vest top, sweating, and wondering why everyone was complaining about the cold... The next night I then had a horrible case of food poisoning or a stomach bug, which I was nursed through by my wonderful (tolerant!) friend Jorge. He insisted I didn't sleep in my bunk (I had the worst bed in the room, top bunk under a drafty glass ceiling, only high enough to crawl) and put up with me running to the bathroom every 5 minutes, wrapping me up in blankets in between. Life saver!! This lasted all night and day, until he insisted the doctors be called for me. I was prescribed a full course of super strength antibiotics, rehydration medicines, throat sweets, paracetamol, the works....Another couple of days to recover and then I was determined to stick to my plan, and get to Coroico!!

The journey to Coroico was bumpy, to say the least. The three of us, Jorge, Fernando and I, were crammed into the back row of the minivan bus, which is always the worst seat on uneven ground. Obviously seat belts are a luxury item, so we spent the best part of 2 hours being thrown around with nothing to hold us in place. I stopped trying to take photos out of the window, Jorge gave up his attempts to sleep, and at one point we headbutted each other...sorry about that!

The drive was beautiful though, when you could hold your head still enough to enjoy the view. We dropped a lot of altitude, and wound our way through lush, green, tropical mountains, crawling alongside a river, before climbing back up to the village of Coroico, perched on the edge of a mountain. As with all small towns and villages, life here centres around the main plaza, which we easily found and asked for directions to a campsite. We had been promised by a friend there was a cheap place, a little further downhill, which even had a swimming pool! We set off following vague signs ,and after about 1km found the few tents huddled around a rather brown pool. No swimming then. But for 5 bolivianos each (50p!) we couldn't really complain, and pitched our tents under some mandarine trees. It was so lovely to be back in the mountains, with clean air and green all around. The boys kept laughing at me, because I was floating around with a stupidly happy grin on my face. I was back in the nature!

Look at the nice brown pool!!

Look at the nice brown pool!!

Being a small town, there wasn't much to do, other than enjoy the surroundings. (Also befriending the owners of the pizza place is always a good idea). We climbed the hill above the town to hopefully take in the views of the valley. On the way up we bumped into two Canadian girls who had also been at Loki, and climbed the rest of the way with them. Unfortunately at the top, the clouds were so low, we only caught glimpses of the valley below. But it was still beautiful. This day was also the Aymara New Year, and we passed a celebration at the church, which had started at 5am, with the sunrise.

Climbing buddies

Climbing buddies

The view from the summit

The view from the summit

We spent just one more night here, before heading back to La Paz, where I was planning on catching another night bus to my next destination. I won't go into too much detail about journey back, including the mildly hair-raising incident where we nearly reversed off the mountain...

Posted by rcally 06:42 Archived in Bolivia Comments (0)

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