Atacama crossing and the Uyuni salt flats

Uyuni Travel Blog

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Immigracion

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.

Hot springs in the bitter cold
 The exertion made them light-headed and out-of-breath pretty quickly due to the altitude We were now at over 4,000 meters high and in the bumpiest car I had ever been in. With already light heads, Nicks head took a few more knocks on the roof of our Toyota Landcruiser 4x4 as we drove across the desert. However, the scenery that we were lucky enough to see over the next few hours included a stunning green turquoise lake set in a volcano strewn landscape and was well worth the sore heads for.

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).

Laguna Verde
Tonight we were staying in what Chad had warned us would be a very simple hostel. When we arrived however, it was actually a lovely building with a warm welcome of coco-leaf tea and biscuits. On the downside, there was no heating, no running water and a filthy toilet (hover mode was in action) and a flushing mechanism that consisted of taking a five litre plastic bottle with the top corner cut away, filling it with water from a vat and pouring it accurately enough and with enough force to leave no trace of anyting.  Lovely stuff. After a hike around the most beautiful iron-red lake that we were staying, the altitude (we had climbed to 4,700 meters) started to take its toll on some of us, including me, much to my frustration after bragging to Nick how Im not the 'type of person' to be affected by the altitude.
That's a boiling hot, iron-red pool.
With about ten layers of clothes on, it was an early night with most of us being tucked up in our thermal sleeping bags by 9.30pm.

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.

At the next tiny, dusty little town, San Juan, we stopped for a quick refreshment before heading onto our hostel for the night, Bellavista which was right on the edge of the salt flats.

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.

We spent 30 minutes driving along the edge of Salar de Uyuni in order to give us a straight ride across the middle. We soon found ourselves on the sheer expanse of the wonderful salt flats and the strange hexangonal formations they made in the salt. We stopped at an 'island' (Isla Pescado) with 10 feet cacti and I nearly peed my pants with excitement at the sight the first proper flushing toilet I had seen in days. With picturesque views of the salt flats all around, we hiked to the top of the hill to get some stunning pictures. It was during this hike that the lads indulged in some slap-stick photos, including the famous profile picture of Nick where he found himself with a 5ft prickly penis.
Lovely.

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.

Next stop was a very bizarre one. Right on the very outskirts of Uyuni is 'el cemetario de trenes', a huge expanse full of rusting locomotives. It has some distant connection to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid, who I think were finally apprehended in Bolivia.

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.

The problem was, dynamite can be bought on the street in Potosi and government buildings were being attacked. Best to leave it well alone. The upshot was (apart from the lack of heating - Uyuni is supplied with most things by Potosi) that we were to spend the entire next day, June 21st and Nick's 27th birthday, on a private coach for 24 hours going the long way around Potosi and straight to Sucre. So with this in mind we had an enjoyable evening in the hostel's excellent, and extremely cheap, pizzeria, Minuteman ('pizza with altitude - 3670m' read the t-shirts). Odd to find a pizzeria attached to a hostel in a very poor Bolivian town you might think. It was run by a Bostonian who was married to a local.
  The pizza, as promised, was fantastic and dirt cheap at 3GBP for a large 12inch and every traveller in town must've been there. The local brew - Huari - much to Nick's delight was also cheap and tasty and came in large bottles, and helped him see his birthday in.

Em...x

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Immigracion
Immigracion
Hot springs in the bitter cold
Hot springs in the bitter cold
Laguna Verde
Laguna Verde
Thats a boiling hot, iron-red poo…
That's a boiling hot, iron-red po…
Chad, always keen on a crazy pic
Chad, always keen on a crazy pic
Laguna Colorada at 4700m
Laguna Colorada at 4700m
Chad
Chad
Flamingoes
Flamingoes
Cinder toffee anyone?
Cinder toffee anyone?
What a bunch of posers
What a bunch of posers
The edge of the salt flats
The edge of the salt flats
Me and Walter
Me and Walter
Em and Rosemary
Em and Rosemary
A hotel made entirely of salt
A hotel made entirely of salt
Salt harvest
Salt harvest
Salt monsters...
Salt monsters...
Uyuni
photo by: razorriome