Salt, sand and… a hot shower!
Oh. My. God. I think the Salar de Uyuni excursion was the most incredible thing I have ever done in my life. I was looking forward to it so much and I’m delighted to say that it exceeded all my expectations! 😀
At the beginning of the first day, we split into groups of five and met our drivers. My group’s driver was a small, weather-beaten Bolivian man called Felipe. I was in awe of all the drivers, with their incredible skills driving over such tough terrain and the way they could so deftly jump up onto the roofs of the vehicles to strap down all our luggage. The day got steadily more thrilling as we all adjusted to life cruising through the desert in a 4×4, marvelling at the spectacular rocky landscapes and stopping at hot springs (which I didn’t jump into this time – yet again, I have a cold!), lagoons and geysers along the way.
As it got dark I started to dread slightly the thought of where we were going to stay for the night, as Chad had said that it was a really simple hostel with some beds, flush-them-yourself toilets and literally nothing else. When we arrived at the hostel, however, it was much better than I had expected. Sure, it was freezing and the toilets were indeed flushless (lovely!), but the food we had for dinner was just fantastic and hot drinks were laid out for us after we had explored the surrounding area a bit. Our cook, Rosemary, was a charming little Bolivian woman and we all agreed that we wanted to take her with us for the rest of our travels!
After a teeth-chatteringly cold night, we spent a day crossing more of the desert to the edge of the salt flats. On the way we stopped at Flamingo Lake, which was probably the most random thing I have ever seen: a stunning stretch of water in the middle of the desert, with these hauntingly beautiful creatures soaring over and around it. Tim summed it up when he shouted to the flamingos, “What the hell are you doing here? You should be living somewhere warm and inhabited!”
From the outside, the hostel for the second night appeared to be even more rustic than the first one, but again some of my doubts were eradicated when I set foot inside. Rosemary informed us that there would be hot water from 5.30 until 7.30 and electricity from 6.30 until 9.00… the prospect of being able to have a hot shower and blow-dry my hair was so exciting that I felt a bit light-headed, and not because of the altitude! OK, the shower I had was lukewarm and it was a bit disconcerting when the lights suddenly clunked out at 9.00 and plunged us all into darkness, but it felt great!
Today we finally reached the salt flats, and I honestly nearly died with excitement and wonder. I know I keep saying this, but I just couldn’t believe where I was and couldn’t stop marvelling at the never-ending, blinding whiteness all around me as the jeep sped onwards. After taking lots of customary funny photos on the flats, we all stopped at a salt hotel for lunch. It was a surreal experience eating from chairs and tables made from salt!
Just before we arrived in Uyuni, our driver stopped at an eerie train graveyard. My emotions were all over the place from the desert crossing epic and to see all these broken and battered trains sitting in the middle of nowhere was quite spine-chilling to say the least, but definitely a worthwhile experience.
Saying goodbye to our drivers and especially Rosemary was so sad! They have given me a flavour of how incredibly generous Bolivian people are, despite their often appalling standard of living. I think Bolivia is going to be intriguing, challenging and very inspiring, and I can’t wait to get stuck in.