Uyuni - The Salt Flats
Uyuni Travel Blog› entry 53 of 77 › view all entries
It was a fairly standard bus journey for me - not that comfortable and not too much sleep. At the halfway point, as I had been warned, the paved roads disappeared and the journey became a ‘right bone-shaker’. I arrived in Uyuni at seven in the morning, fairly tired. As a departure point for the salt flats, Uyuni is gringo tastic. If you closed your eyes and hurled a brick it would be a toss up as to whether it hit someone carrying a copy of The Lonely Planet or a local tour-agent with a clipboard. In my case it was Betty, a local tour tout. I apologised profusely for the brick (‘De nada’) and after a little haggling I got a three day tour for 480 Bolivianos.
It was a fairly standard bus journey for me - not that comfortable and not too much sleep. At the halfway point, as I had been warned, the paved roads disappeared and the journey became a ‘right bone-shaker’.
I arrived in Uyuni at seven in the morning, fairly tired. As a departure point for the salt flats, Uyuni is gringo tastic. If you closed your eyes and hurled a brick it would be a toss up as to whether it hit someone carrying a copy of The Lonely Planet or a local tour-agent with a clipboard.
In my case it was Betty, a local tour tout. I apologised profusely for the brick (‘De nada’) and after a little haggling I got a three day tour for 480 Bolivianos.
I had a few hours to kill and I was also entertaining a fairly serious call of nature. I left my rucksack with Betty and headed out on a toilet mission.
I saw a couple of old codgers sat on a bench, so decided to ask them directions…
Me: “Buenos dias. Una pregunta por favor, donde est el banos?”
Old duffer: “Banos? Como estas banos?”
Me - miming someone taking a leak: “Psssss. El banos?”
Old duffer: “Ah - el bano. No banos”
He then proceeded to squat and mime someone having the kind of shit you might have after a night on the beers and curries, whilst laughing, “El bano, hahaha, el bano…”.
After a bit more faecal pantomime I managed to get directions to the public toilets, finding myself a nice little cubicle that actually had a seat.
Whilst powdering my nose, my eyes scanned the graffiti on the walls. Interesting - the number for a local prostitute who will sleep with any man as long as he’s over the age of fourteen!, a bit of pro Evo (el Presidente) propoganda and… what’s this…?
There were a couple of written claims, in Spanish, about Betty. Foremost that Betty was ‘a whore’ and a further assertion that she ‘loves it in the ass’. And she seemed like such a sweet old lady…
I returned to the office for ten, made a careful appraisal of how Betty was walking, then met the rest of the landrover posse.
It turned out the group was to be me and five girls, a fact that the driver couldn’t stop creaming himself about.
Whilst a landrover full of women sounds appealing there was a downside. Two of the girls were French, speaking only French and Spanish. The other three were Brazilian, speaking only Portuguese and Spanish. The driver was a fat perv, who only spoke Spanish. I wasn’t going to be having any deep literary discussions over the next three days…
Day one took us to a ‘train graveyard’ and then the Salar - the salt flats - themselves. Because of the huge expanse of whiteness it is possible to take interesting photos by making use of the fact that there is no sense of perspective. Unfortunately I seemed to be the only one with an artistic eye in the group - net result, some good photos of other people, some comically crap pictures of me.
We had a tour of a salt factory and the unbelievable process the salt must go through. First a chunk of salt is pulled out of the ground, then heated and ground up into, well, grains of salt. Two women then scoop this off the floor into plastic bags (to be fair, with amazing speed), which are then sealed with a hot piece of metal.
There were also salt-carved items for sale - ashtrays, pots, candle-holders - but no salt-cellars, un-ironically.
In the evening we stayed in what looked like a smurf-village, with no hot showers and no electric points. Lights were limited until 9 pm.
The food was good and I found I could understand the bulk of conversations in Spanish or French, though my spoken contribution was generally limited to throwaway lines, such as ‘I like the soup as well’ or ‘In England it is colder than this’.
The next day started with a visit to some interesting rocks, then off to various lakes that were full of flamingos.
We then reached the red lake, which was also the point at which the park entry fee had to be paid - 150 soles. This is about 18 dollars - in 2005 it was 4 dollars. One thing you can’t say about Bolivians is that they haven’t worked out how to cash in on tourism.
After the red lake we reached our second hostel. I’d managed to chip in a bit more Spanish now, even making a few crap jokes just like in English.
The French, however, were a different matter. I’d had a conversation with one of them in bad French/Spanish, but noted that she would only use French then if I didn’t understand would finally resort to English, which she obviously knew well.
I could understand a lot more French than I could speak, which is why later when we were sat at the table and she was Frenching it up with her friend, I knew she was talking about me.
As I looked over, she looked back and we had one of those I know that you now know that I know what you’re saying things. She carried on nonetheless, just faster, until I chipped in verbally to let her know that I still knew. That she knew that I knew. That she was in the know. Know what I mean?
I think this is quite rude in the first place, but once you’ve been rumbled its time to stop. It happened on another couple of occasions in the trip, doing damage to the reputation of the French as quite decent chaps that had built up over my travels so far.
To add to the Francophobia an old French couple on a parallel tour had spotted the two French girls so at every opportunity would make a bee-line over to French up with them.
I then heard the old French bird moaning to the other two that I spoke in a mix of languages. Again with me sat right next to the conversation. Last time I buy Brie, I tell you…
The second hostel was cold. Wear two sets of clothing and pull the blankets over you cold - and it wasn’t any better at four in the morning when we had to get up.
‘Que frio’ were the words of the day as we all froze our nuts/tits off in the ‘cocha’ on the way to the volcano - altitude 5,400m.
The volcano was beautiful - chuffing freezing, but beautiful. There were plenty of fissures billowing hot steam and the rocky landscape, black, white and red looked like something from another planet.
After trying in vain to warm ourselves on stray bits of steam, we drove on to a thermal pool - 6 am and still brass monkeys.
The pool was actually hot and the first chance of a wash that I’d had in three days so I was definitely in. A quick strip to my cleverly pre-loaded shorts and straight in - ‘que lush.’
Once safely in there was a strong fear of getting back out. This fear was heightened by the fact that where my hair had got wet it was actually icing up.
The highlight was when the old French dude (in stereotypical club-med thong and flip-flops) started taking photos and asking all the girls to stand up for them. One of the Brazilians said to the others ‘So he can see our tits - puh-leeeeese.’ followed by no-one standing.
After that a few more interesting rocks, the white lake (which was kinda blue), the green lake (that was true to its name) a stop off at a little town for a lazy meal (a plate of rice, a plate of tinned tuna and a bottle of ketchup - knock yourself out) then back to Uyuni.
I could have got a bus but hadn’t had a decent nights sleep in ages so checked into a three quid a night gringo hotel - La Paz could wait another day.
I wonder if Betty’s got any plans tonight…?