Where on Earth am I?
From Potosi, I longed for slightly more oxygen and embarked on a very rough and slightly scary journey south to the small mining town of Uyuni, gateway to the spectacular Salt Flats, which make this part of the country famous. Similar to Machu Picchu in Peru, I am sure that a large number flock to Bolivia, only to see this great expanse of salt, before heading on to a neighbouring country for another stamp, better transport and greater cost!
Strolling around Uyuni late afternoon, I soon discovered a town which offered very little than swarms of gringos, restaurants and an alarming number of Tour Agencies, many of which I had been warned against before even entering the country. I had heard many bad stories, including the odd drunk driver and egg based diets for three days.
Myself, my travel guide and a Brazilian nut, finally opted for a small outfit by the name Rali Tours, after meeting four satisfied customers leaving the shop. Good enough for us!
After a good pizza, a couple of beers and a good sleep, I met my guide and other travel companions outside the shop the following day and after somehow managing to fit all of our packs onto the roof, departed town almost a full hour late, something which just has to bee acepted as the norm in any Andean dominated country. I soon got to know the others in the jeep, three very nice German girls, Ricardo my new found Brazilian amigo and of course our driver and chef, both outstanding people, good guides and a good crack.
Our fist stop was at a train cemetery ( they were not buried ), where we wandered around various very old machines, that had gone off of the rails years previously.
To be honest, we were all quite glad when we finally left and headed torwards the place we were all dying to see, The Salar De Uyuni. En-route we stopped at a salt museum, where a scruffy old man attempted to charge me for using a toilet, which consisted of a whole in the ground and it was obvious that it hadn´t been cleared since the hole was dug. I didn´t pay, much to the annoyance as he followed me allthe way to the jeep.
Happy to leave him behind, we started the engine again and soon enough were driving across what seemed an endless expanse of white. The Salar really is quite a special place, with the blinding white salt contrasted against the deep blue rarified air of the high Andes. Judging distances is almost impossible as the dead level salt stretches out to the horizon in all directions and it is possible to play a number of games with the environment. In one picture I am holding our jeep in my hand!
We spent the remainder of the day driving around on the salt and visited a special island in the middle of the salt, covered in cacti of various shapes and sizes.
Just before heading to our Salt hotel, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset, but the temperature soon plumitted as the red sun sunk behind the deep blue colored salt. Our many photos look very much like the Arctic ( minus any polar bears of course!)
Arriving at our final destination that day, we were very pleased with the accommodation on offer, a small hotel made of salt including tables, beds and walls. A salt toilet would have been a nice thought I thought, but for practical reasons would never work!
On the second day, we spent the day exploring a number of lakes south of the Salr, where we watched Flamingos feed in the shallow waters. It was a nice day, but a cold one, as we climbed to an altitude of over 4500m.
That night was an extremely cold one, with the German´s themometer measuring -14C. Myself and Ricardo came close to hypothermia as we stood out watching the night sky for nearly an hour. It was without doubt the clearest night sky i have ever seen, with the very dry air offering some of the best conditions in the world. Stars hung in the sky and we witnessed 7 shooting stars in just under an hour. It was all quite soul touching and i thought of Poppie as the Milky Way stretched into the distance and knew he was up there somewhere. Despite shivering to the bone, I found it very difficult to drag myself away, although several blankets and a hot water bottle eventually won me over.
On our last day, we were due to visit some more multi-colored lakes and geysers, but to get the most from the day, had to rise very early indeed, before the sun himself, at the un-Godly hour of 5am. It was still absolutely freezing and concrete floors didn´t help matters. Within 2 mins of being vertical, we were wearing the very best of our cold weather gear, with mine not quite being up to the job.
By 5:30am, we were huddled in the jeep, bumping along unpaved roads, dimly lit by the sun, which was only just starting to show its colors from behind the distant hills. The road continued to climb and we eventually reached the geysers just after an hour of driving. At an altitude of over 5000m, patches of snow surrounded us and the wind was fierce and strong, almost taking my nose with it at one point. Bracing the cold, we spent a good 30 mins, watching our steps, smelling sulphur and watchingf bubbling pools, which were strangely inviting despite the fact that they were over 200C and would make a great cooking pot!