Atacama crossing and the Uyuni salt flats
Uyuni Travel Blog› entry 35 of 93 › view all entries
Today we were Bolivia bound with an early coach pickup that would take us to the border. Within twenty minutes we were stamped out of Chile and onward into some sort of no-man's land. Another 40 minutes saw us pull up to what I can only descibe as a shed which we were reliably informed was the Bolivian border control. We'd climbed up from 2500m to well over 4000m and it was windy and freezing. The toilets, well there were no toilets, you had to wee behind the bus (wee behind the bus I said to Nick, I do not wee behind buses, I find it hard enough having a wee in public toilets!). Nick clearly thought this was cool, but panic had started to set in for me. There was definitely no princess treats to be had over the next few weeks.
After 20 minutes of Bolivian interrogration, the boys loaded our bags onto the roofs of three 4x4's that would take us on our three day journey across the salt flats.
The lunch stop was a hot springs where a half naked Nick braved the cold temperatures for a dip before digging into sandwiches and salad prepared by the lovely cook (Rosemary) who was travelling across the flats with us. After an hour, we headed onto hot pools at which point a stench filled the car (with no Max around to blame for his smelly farts, Nick informed me the smell was actually caused by the sulphur, I'm still not convinced).
An early start the next day, we were bundled into our 4x4's for the next part of our journey which involved seeing some very crazy rock formations and some very pink flamingos. Lunch involved some more stunning scenery and an impromptu footie match for Nick and some of the other lads against our Bolivian drivers. Five minutes later, with much huffing and puffing it was all over. Altitude, apparently. After driving though some more wierd and wonderful rock formations and a steaming volcanoe we pressed on toward Salar de Uyuni and thorugh a strange little army check point, where our cook and driver, Walter, gave the army some bread rolls to oil the wheels a little.
While Nick headed off for some lad time with a manly hike to the edge of the salt flats, I indulged in some much need girlie time Lots of nonsense chat, some cheesy music singalongs and hot tea with plenty of biscuits, perfect. A hearty spag bol dinner turned into a late night card game using Vodka, Pisco and Orange juice as social lubricant. Mercifully we'd dropped a few hundred metres and despite still needing thermals, jumpers etc for bed, it was a much better night's sleep, and no headaches...
Our third day through the deserts was one of the best days travelling yet.
Our next stop was slap bang in the middle of the salt flats. Hard to believe we were standing in the centre of what once was a prehistoric sea, annexed from the ocean by volcanic activity that had subsequently dried out. We drove on to a Salt hotel, made entirely of salt and the magnificant backdrop gave us the opportunity to take a plethora of amazing and some quite creative perspective photos on the seemingly-endless flats. After passing the harvesting of the salt, we had lunch in a salt hostel made entirely from salt, on tables made of salt chairs made of salt and beds made entirely of... well I think you get the picture. There was also a strange little museum with some statues of animals made of salt bricks. We bought some salt souvenirs and carried-on.
Uyuni was easily the poorest town we'd been to and we were a little uneasy having to head into town to get cash out. Bad news was afoot as we got back to the hostel and Chad told us that all roads to Potosi were being blockaded by strikes. That's the thing about Bolivia. The political situation (although much improved recently) is so changeable that strikes occur on a regular basis. This time, the miners of Potosi (who we were on our way to see) were striking as they didn't want to pay taxes on their already paltry wages.