Got up at 6:30, had cold pancakes and left by 8 am. There is such pride in peoples vehicles here in south america. Rudy was out washing the land cruiser, as were the other guides, this morning. Even if cars are lacking paint, as many were in N. Argentina, people scrub their cars as if they just had new paint jobs. We weren´t quite on the salar yet, but still in the desert. We went to cueva del diable, which was really cool. This was a natural cave, carved by the oceans tides millions of years ago, that the Incas used as a burial ground. The tombs remains looked like human sizedmole hills, with entry holes in the top of them that were from where the grave robbers had entered the tombs. The graves contained more than one body, with the most wealthy inhabitant being on the bottom, trying to fool grave robbers.
Entrance of the Cave of the devil, with the memorial to the missing girl.
The tombs were relatively large, and could fit a whole family as the bodies were placed in the fetal position. Local legend calls this cave, the cave of the devil, because a man riding by one afternoon saw the cave shut, but the next morning when he came back by, it was open. It was (and still is) believed that demons lived int he holes of the tombs and would shut the cave entrance in the afternoon. At the entrance, just inside the cave a white cross as a memorial stands. Legend has it that a girl went missing from one of the local villages and the people were certain that the cave had taken her. Our guide, Rudy, was the first guide to start taking tourists there in 1996, but still remains very superstitious and will not enter the cave in the afternoon, as his mother had always told him he would be taken by the demons.
Welcome to the cemetary
Rudy is very superstitious about a lot of things. Upon passing by an oncoming vehicle on a gravel road, he touches the windsheild to protect it from crashing in if a rock hits. His cook Aida also does the same thing. Right next to the cave was a museum of ice caves, but the proprietor wasn´t in, so we couldn´t go inside. We continued on and hit the salar de uyuni, a massive salt flat of 12,000 sq kilometers, which would change more than I thought was possible for a flat of salt. Rudy explained that the thickness varied from 100m to 3m, sometimes with pockets of water left from the rainy season it it that form salt crystals the size of giant snowflakes. the surface of the salr could be covered with water, completely smooth, bumpy, or cracked by the hot, dry, high altitude sun.
More artifacts in the cave
Yet the most interesting part about the salar was that it created an optical illusion where depth perception could be eliminated, allowing for very fun pictures. We made it to the Isla de Pescado, which looks like an island in the middle of the ocean. It is called fish island because it makes the outline of a fish, although we couldn´t see the resemblance. The island is more like a miny mountain, covered in very large cacti, the largest one at 12.03 m high, makeing it 1203 years old. A path winds up to the top of the island where you can look out over the blindlingly white salar and the bluish mountains as a backdrop. At the park entrance, there are a few buildings, including a cafe (with bathrooms) and staff living quarters.
One of the buildings on the Isla Pescado
A Quechwa mother with 2 children was the cook and the youngest girl took an interest in Tiago. We ordered drinks and sat at the salt tables outside. We continued on across the salar where we stopped in the middle to take some goofy pictures and then continued on to the hotel de sal, a hotel made completely out of salt. Everything from the walls, to the furniture was made from salt taken from the salar. Yet, every year during the rainy season, the whole structure is completely submerged in water. We had lunch here and took some more pictures. We headed back to Uyuni
, and on the way saw a salt cooperative, with square plots of the salar quadranted out, with large heapss of salt in the middle of the squares.
Doesn´t it look like an island in the middle of the ocean?
Women, children, and men can pay a small fee to harvest the salt and shovel the dried salt into little 2 ton trucks and sell the raw product to the processing plant located a few kilometers away. On the outskirts of Uyuni, next to the train tracks is a train cemetary, where trains from the early 1900s have come to rest in rusted glory. We walked around and took some pictures, and made it back into Uyuni. We pickedup our bus tickets and went to waste some time before our bus ride. The tour company told us the ride would be 5-6 hours on a heated bus. Yet, this turned into a freezing cold, 7 1/2 hour terrible ordeal. 5 minutes out of town, we stopped for almost an hour, and were never told why. We were concerned that someone was unloading our bags, but everything was accounted for when we got off.
Llama with the flowers in its ears to celebrate the birthday of the llama.
We continued on along a one lane, unpaved road, meeting other large buses, cars, and semi trucks. It was dark and we were traveling along a canyon, but the crazy part was that we were crossing through water. The only paved roads in Bolivia are toll roads. We stopped a few more times, once for hitchhikers, and once more for more technical problems. Finally got into Potosi
, where we went to the hostel with another girl from San Diego. It was almost 3 am, and at first the hostel owner said there were no rooms. He finally let us in, where we woke up our roommates at almost 3 am. We happily went to bed.