Arrived at the tour agent on time, about 10 jeeps where all lined up on the side of the road waiting to load up. When they called out our names for the jeeps i wasnt with Barbara and the other 3. I was put with the La Paz people who she assured me whçould be here at 9am, it was 8.50am and the jeeps were getting ready to leave, i really wanted to go with my group but didnt speak spanish well enough to argue, luckily Barbara stepped in and had a rather heated disussion with the agent until she agreed to let me me go with them. So we packed up and left. Barbara was from the US but lived in Paris for 5 years, she had been travelling for 2 years now, through Africa, Nepal, Mogolia, China, Russia. She didnt have a date to go home. Then there was Hilllary and Mike, a married couple they lived in San Fransisco, and finally Chris from Poland and have been living in Dublin for a year before this trip.
We had a driver called Alfedro and a cook called Marlene (marley for short) The first day we drove for 8 hours there wasnt many stops but the scenery was beautiful, crossed over huge sand mountians, as we climbed in altitude again i got a headahce, Alfedro already had a cheek full of coca leaves, and said it would help to chew them. He handed them around and i tried it, you need to get about 10 to start, chew them a little then leave them at the side of your mouth, adding more as you go, adding bicarb soda help activate it. It was horrible, i nearly gagged at the first taste, i only managed about 15 mins and spat it out. Marlene gave my a lollipop to get rid of the taste, the other guys seemed to stomach them more. We climbed up to 4200m and i was really struggling, just running to the toilet and back was causing breathlessness, it doesnt matter if your the fittest person on earth (which im far from) it can affect you and you cannot prevent it, coca leaves help and tablets but thats it.
Our first nights stay was in San Antonia, a little sleeepy town made of mud houses, about 50 families. We were in the middle of nowhere, no electicity or proper toilets, but we knew it would be basic. We all had a walk around the town, Volcano Litunca was in the distance 6008m in high, snow peaked and with clouds hovering above it, we found a small shop selling beers, bonus. We took our beers back to the house. Alferdo was getting the car unloaded and ready for the next day. Marley was cooking. We had coca tea which was so much better than the leaves. Dinner was a suprise, Marley had made us veg soup for starters and Llama and potatoes for main, really nice, we were told to eat well as tommorow was a long day. Llamas were once wild but now domesticated, instead of branding them their owners put pompoms on there ears, sometimes scalfs on theirs necks, they look so funny.
We all settled down for bed before it was too dark, we all shared at room, really warm even though it was freezing outside.
Slept really well, but i was having some really weird dreams again, im told this is because of the malaria tablets. Hillary said i was talking in my sleep! We woke up at 4.30 and had breakfast, Marley had been up since 3am preparing all the food for the day ahead, they all work so hard. We had a 10 hour drive ahead of us and it was raining. We drove along side another jeep for safety reasons, theres no phone signals out here. the rain passed as we drove and reached the snow, i didnt expect to see snow but i guess we were so high up it was possible, it was nice to see the mountains covered in snow and made photos more interesting.
We stopped to take photos at a ghost town, this town was once thriving with people but was wiped out many years ago a disease carried through by a doctor of all people, the houses were still intact but only with no roofs were the thatch has disapeared. Alfredo started a snowball fight. I saw a vizcacha which is like a rabbit only bigger, it looked so cute covered in snow! In 10 hours we drove through so many differnt landscapes, Mountians, volcanos, desert and climates with Blasing sun, snow, rain and wind, crazy. We visited many lagoons, the most spectaclur was Laguna Verde, ever through named a green lagoon it was bright blue due to the arsenic and magnesuium content, In the background was Lincanbur 5818m in high. It was really windy and i already had windburn on my face, also a huge bite on my forehead, not attactive! The next drive was harsh there wasnt a real road and drove through desierto de dali, we stopped to look at the huge rocks the volcanos had spat out over the years, the were huge and so far away it seems impossible they came from the volcano.
It was really hot but couldnt open a window because of the dust from the sand. Stopped at a cluster of Geysers, water and hot sir would spit out, the smell of sulphar was like bad eggs, it was like being on mars looking around, really strange. I didnt stay out of the jeep for long, but was having a constant struggle with my bladder, i needed to drink lots of water but that meant i needed a pee, and it was getting to the point that every 30 minutes i was in need a a bano natural, it was easy for the boys but there was nowhere for my to hide, Mikes bladder was nearly as bad as mine so i didnt feel too bad. The final drive back i felt really bad, really bad headache and stomach cramps, we had assended to 5000m and was not going back down until the morning. I went straight to bed and Marley came in with some coca tea and strong tablets, i slept for a while and then joined the group i felt a little better but didnt eat much, loss of appitite was common but not for me, i found it hard not wanting food, ha.
Alfredo joined us to let us know about the day ahead, he was so informative and spoke about his past, he wasnt originally from Tupiza
and was one of 12 sons living in the mountians, their family was very poor and he saw maybe people die through starvation, his father still lived there but all his sons left to various places for a better life. Marley have already mentioned she had a son called Dylan and when Alfredo mentioned the same we realised they were a couple. They were both lovely, really hardworking and they are away from their son for long periods, but feels the money will give him a better life. Throughout the drive we would listen to music in the jeep. It was so funny, some of the cds were of traditional bolivia music which Alfedro seemed to like but Marley prefered really old dance music "Rhythm of the night" was her favourite and was played an average of 10 time a day.
She also like the megamix of Elvis and beatles songs, So we flipped between classic bolivian and old tunes. Funny!
I didnt realise they had no atms in Tupiza or throughout so had no Bolivian currency, i had a few dollors but only enough for a few can of coke and of course some beers, i dont even drink beer at home but i think ive drank the local beer in everytown so far though my travels. Before going to bed i took a cup of coca tea outside with me and looked up at the stars. I have never seen anything like it, the sky was clear but sparkling with so many stars, hillary joined me and pointed out Arians belts and the southern cross (i think) it was completly silent and pitch black, we really were in the middle of nowhere.
This morning was a later start at 8am.
Marley made us pancakes with Dolce leche which is a caramel sauce, delicous. We set off for the drive it did get quiet tiresome, only stopping shortly for photos and toilets. Alfredo and Marley only spoke Spanish and the rest of the group did so sometimes i was fustrated not knowing what they were saying but it was really helping me with the language and was more and more confident saying things. This day was short but we did visit a place in the desert where huge rocks of stone and lava had created maybe unusual shapes, the most famous being the tree stone. We climbed up some of the huge rocks and took photos. We drove to our nights accomodation passing huge fields growing quinoa, this is really popular here as it can grow without much water and soil. We drove to the edge of Salar de Uyuni
We stayed in a hotel completely made of Salt, even the tables and chairs, we had an amazing view over the salf flats i was so excited be go there tommorow.
Our last day was all on the salt falts. We woke up and skipped breakfast in the hotel so we could catch the sunrise over the salt, unfortunetly it was raining and cloudy and 10 mins into the drive we got a flat tyre! We waiting outside whilst Alfredo fixed the tyre, the sunrise wasnt good so i didnt feel too bad. This place is very hard to descibe, layer after layer of water then salt, water then salt, you could hear it running under your feet, in some place very thin but some really thick. Its 4,000sq miles and would provide enough salt to the whole world forever, no matter how much is shipped, twice as much comes back.
We joined the rest of the jeeps and had breakfast. It was good to catch up with other people but it did feel touristy. We drove out on our own, Marley then asked if anyone had a ipod because she had a connection in the car, i couldnt believe after 4 day of listening to the same music she tells us that now, ha. So the last day Marley flicked through my music collection, she picked out her favourites, which were all pretty much dance. Alferdo found some holes and Dug out salt crystals for us to take home. We took some crazy photos like everyone does here, the place is so huge you can take photos so you look really small in someones hand, it was cool. The clouds had cleared and it was really bright and hot. Many people have come on the flats without a guide some driving and got lost, some walking and been blinded by the sun on the salt.
I couldnt imagine being dropped in the middle and trying to find the edge it would be impossible. This final day was meant to be the best and even though it was brilliant the rest of the trip made it, coming here for the one day would have been cool but im glad i decided on the 4 days. Alfredo and Marley dropped us at the ATM in Uyuni and say our goodbyes, they were such a lovely couple and we gave them a huge tip. I promised Marley i would send here some cds when i arrived home. This trip was amazing, the best thing ive done since ive been here and i think that was all because of them. I was really sad to leave them and my group.