Got unlucky on my choice of bus to Uyuni. With buses leaving every 30 minutes, my sauna got overtaken by 3 further buses in the 7 and a half hour journey through a cactus filled desert landscape. However my fortune changed on arrival as we were welcomed off the bus by a tout for the company (Estrella del Sur) I´d been recommended to take on the 3 day tour from Uyuni to San Pedro. Didn´t bother checking competition as price was exactly what I´d hoped giving me time to relax and chill for a couple of hours after a hectic couple of days. Checked into Rough Guide recommended Andina which was cheap and clean and went to an Italian for spag bol for dinner.
Everything back on track. Contented sleep.
Up with plenty of time to get passport exit stamped for Bolivia ready for crossing at the end of 3 day tour. My tour group consisted of 5 Argentines and a German. Quickly established the guide didn´t speak a word of English so it was going to be good practise for my Spanish. Loaded up in a 4X4 banger, our 1st stop was to the Uyuni train graveyard. Strange choice for a tour but interesting none the less with dozens of rusting steam engines. Phill (German) and Paula (Argentine) proving to be obsessive photographers taking arty shots and late back to car for drive to the famous Salar de Uyuni.
Salar de Uyuni - the largest salt flat in the world (at 9000 square km) is a unique sight.
In dry season, great for perspective photos where you can look like your holding a person in your hand with the white canvas backdrop, or during the rainy season able to photo a perfect reflection of the sky. There was a couple of inches of lying water during our visit meaning a few mud tracks from cars spoiled the complete reflection but very impressive none the less. Wandered a little further away from the cars and salt hotels for more impressive shots, especially after the sun came out. The salt flat itself quite a bizarre surface as the salt shaped itself into equal hexagon fitting pieces - (post your scientific answers on a postcard !). With the vast expanse of salt flat, the sky looked equally impressive with views of a massive storm with lightning on the horizon whilst we were sun baked in blue skies.
Had a few hours before moving onto our hostel for the night in a very strange walled off military base. Several hostals which each tour took one each. Understood about 10% of the evening converastion but perservered and Phillip and Clara spoke a little English to bring me back into conversation. I had a beer so was quite happy to take what I could in and let the rest go over my head.
Day 2 - Up at 6 for some serious offroad driving. Drive started with the dirt road passing through a baron wasteland but surrounded by fantastic glacial mountains. Asked for a impromptu stop for 10 to take it in. However stopped 15 minutes further when hitting a very odd martian landscape of natural rock formations that dwarfed people and cars with the mountains still in the background.
Continued on through with great views until hitting several lagunas, each very different with various algae making lakes stunning greens, blues and reds. All of them had a generous helping of wild flamingoes that can only be found in Bolivia and north Argentina. Vast expanse meant bitter cold winds pounded through so had the place to myself in the 3rd laguna as the rest of the group sought solace in the car - I admit for once I was quite cold in my t-shirt but the views were worth it ! Continued on into a place called Pampa Siloli - a high altitude desert of volcanic ash that have been sandblasted into another odd assortment of outlandish rock shapes - the most famous of which is the much depicted Arbol de Piedra (Stone Tree) which is a 20 foot high stone with approximately 20 foot diameter top and 5 foot diameter foot defying how it remains vertical.
Stopped at 1 more lake that took in all colours with glacial capped mountain backdrop with grey lake but with bright brown mud flats with pink flamingoes and very green hillside (with a storm brewing off to the right). Just sat taking in the tranquility of the place with such contrasting colours. Hostal famed for temperatures regularly dropping to -20 degrees celcius. With lightning impressing across the plains, I stayed indoors and got taught Spanish cards (with 48 cards, only 12 per suit) - ended up being a very similar game to "shithead" so predictably lost to the girls entertainment. Powercut at 10 meant an early night and time to reflect on the fantastic scenery. Fortunately the building kept the cold out.
4am start to get to Sol de Manana geysers (apparently they're at their most active at dawn).
Very cold outside and wrapped up in 3 layers. Drove in the dark and were 2nd group to get to the geysers. Wandered around them with the stench of sulphur and they gurgled away with visible steam rising up but a little disappointing that there weren't any 20 foot eruptions that I'd envisaged. Got some sketchy photos of the mud pools in the dark before our guide decided our group would head off 1st to the thermal springs. Good move as we had the place to ourselves on the side of a lagunas with a mountain backdrop. Good place to chill out before the other groups arrived. The girls decided the privacy deserved a bit of skinny dipping which was mandatory for all - unfortunately I'm still waiting for the photos to be e-mailed !! When the other groups arrived, we left them to it and got breakfast before a quick drive to 1 final laguna with more flamingoes and then it was time to say goodbye as I got dropped off at the Chilean border to continue onto San Pedro de Atacama whilst the rest of the group returned to Uyuni.
Great way to see an amazing landscape whilst making up big inroads into my trip south.