Uyuni salt flats tour and Potosí
Potosi Travel Blog› entry 57 of 99 › view all entries
Since leaving San Pedro, I have travelled across altiplano to Uyuni and then climbed again to 4000 odd meters to one of the highest cities in the world, Potosí.
The first day of the tour we climbed to 4500m to cross into Bolivia. Then we saw the Laguna Blanca (White lagoon), Laguna Verde (green lagoon) and Laguna Colorada (the coloured lagoon, which is red because of the algae that grow there). We also saw geysers bubbling away and stopped to take a dip in a hot spring next to a salt flat. At this stage the altitude was leaving me breathless, but I didn´t suffer from headaches or lack of appetite. Well, the food they served up killed my appetite immediately, but I can´t blame the altitude for that.
The second day we stopped quite soon at Piedra de Arbol, a tree shaped free-standing rock in the middle of the desert. More impressive for me was the colour of the mountains behind it, a mixture of reds, browns and whites. We also stopped at a village called San Cristóbal, which was moved by the bolivian government in its entirety just to allow a foreign mining company to explore and mine a vein of minerals below it. We arrived at Uyuni earlier than planned because the salt flats received rain a couple of days before and were flooded. Difficult even for our Toyota 4x4s to cross.
On the third day we did get to go onto the salt flats, which resembled a shallow sea with pyramids of salt dotted here and there, ready to be collected by the salt collectors.
In Potosí we took the infamous tour to the mines inside Cerro Rico, which overlooks the town. The miners work in primitive condtions, with ancient equipment and no safety standards, at 4500m. It also gets very hot inside the mine, up to 45 degrees celsius. So we brought presents of coca leaves, for the altitude, bottled drinks for the thirst and dynamite to help them explore the mine further. They earn only 50 bolivianos (roughly 5 british pounds) a day, which is half of last year, but at least when they work in their own little co-operatives they can keep working all the time. When they worked for the nationalised companies, they had much better conditions and salaries, but as soon as the price of the stones fell in London or elsewhere, these companies closed and they lost their jobs.
I was exhausted down there, especially with the heat, and felt rather dizzy trying to climb some ladders. As for claustrophobia, I can cope with caving, but I´m not sure I trust mine shafts built hundreds of years ago and so I was very glad to escape after about 3 hours. We watched a dynamite explosion, that didn´t exactly look to have been sanctioned by the miners themselves, and then went back to the hostel and collapsed for the rest of the day.