So what do you get when you mix up 6 Brits abroad, 5 dancing Brazilians, 4 gazillion flamingoes, 3 days in a jeep, 2 cold nights, a crazy Canadian, a forgetful Norweigan and one shower?- an EPIC salt flat tour in Bolivia!
Chris is now 30, not long til my 30th, but before that we signed up to a 3 day jeep tour of the south west of Bolivia, from Chile to see the largest salt flat in the world near the city of Uyuni. There are heaps of tour operators running these tours, so there was a lot of talk about which operators had the most sober drivers and the lowest accident rates- we went with Cordillera- no accidents in 13 years, so it seemed like a good choice!
We would be trapped in a jeep with our group for 3 days so we were happy to find some great people also on the tour, a mix of Brits: Becca, James, Dan & Jess, Tasha from Canada and Robert the sailor from Norway! In our jeep Becca, James, Chris and I were joined by the fantastically happy and bubbly Pia and Janet (Pia´s Mum) from Chile. We got to practise our Spanish with Pia, Janet and our super fab Bolivian guide and driver Johnny (Johnny-five), who was pretty chatty considering we´d been told that Bolivians are very shy.
Our first stop was a quick trip to the Chilean-Bolivian border which consisted of a hut, where all paved roads ended and the need for a jeep was obvious. We were told “there are no bathrooms, but in Bolivia everywhere is your bathroom.” Joy.
Then we were off towards the specatular Blanca and Verde Lakes. The white lake´s colour comes form borax and the green from algae stirred up by the wind. Small towers of rocks surrounded the lakes, one of which Chris kicked over before being told off by Janet who explained that they were offerings to the powers that be to make dreams come true! Oops!
Play time next as we got our bathers on for a dip in the hot pool at over 4500m above sea level, with flamingos in the background. It got even more surreal when the jeep of Brazilians got us to join in a dance routine to one of my favourite Zumba tunes! (hard work with very little oxygen).
We were shown our refuge for that night before being taken to another phenominal coloured lake populated with flamingos. The red lake was more orange, but straight out of the pages of the National Geographic magazine. The refuge on the otherhand, was not. No showers or heating, concrete bed bases, but flushing toilets at least.
Headaches started to occur due to the altitude, but probably also the cold. When we woke up I saw Chris hugging his legs, head on knees, almost rocking for comfort. There was ice on the inside of the windows and Pia was being nursed by her mum- I think we all wanted our mums that morning after little sleep, headaches, altitude sickness, cold and hunger. At breakfast it seemed the pill poppers (Acetazolamide) were happy as larry, and coca tea just wasn´t enough for anyone.
The second day featured more lakes, but also some rock formations that had been eroded by the wind for millions of years. At each stop we´d meet up with the other jeep and a couple of times, we had to help out Dan, Jess, Robert & Tasha´s jeep due to mechanical difficulties- it was nothing Johnny-five couldn´t handle, and meant we had time for rock jenga, bowls and time to build a dry stone wall toilet! Second half of the day was spent at more stunning lakes with flamingos, but by this time I´d been desensitised to the beauty of it all and wanted to see some salt flat!
Our digs on the second night were plush in comparison to the first night, we had one shower in the hotel, which would spit out hot water intermitently. The hot water was turned off before everyone got showers, but Tasha soon sorted out that situation! The hotel was made of salt bricks, with salt on the floor, which did not lend itself to dancing as we discovered after dinner when we tried to show off our skills to the Brazilians and ended up causing everyone to choke on salt dust.
The third and final day was the highlight of the trip, and the lowest altitude, so we were all happy bunnies with no headaches. We were just sleepy as we were up at 4am to see the sunrise over the salt flat.
The salt flat seemed infinite and other-worldly. Breakfast was served at the Isla de los pescados which despite the name was not populated by fish, but cacti. After which the day turned into a photoshoot on the salt flats with various props- of course all our best ideas came after we´d left the flats.
We wound things up by going to the train graveyard outside of Uyuni town and then saying adios to Pia and Janet at the Cordillera office. As luck would have it the rest of our group was all staying in the same hostel as this was the only hostel on Hostelbookers.com or hotelworld.com to have a rating over 30%.
Uyuni was teeny in comparison to where we´d been in Chile and Argentina and the reality that we were not in Kansas anymore was hitting home. The only internet we could find was a throw back to the 90´s and when we tried to book a bus out of town we were told there were strikes so we´d have to stay 2 nights before escaping!
With a day and a half before our chariot of unknown standard would be taking us to Sucre we made the most of our time in Uyuni and explored the local eateries which consisted of the lonely planet top choice pizza place where Robert discovered he´d been given Russian looking money instead of Bolivianos, followed by the Extreme Fun Pub the next day, which did live up to its name, and finally lunch at a mexican restaurant where the chef was called back onto the premisis to cook for us and the owner would pop out to buy ingredients or drinks when we ordered anything.
So we´d made it into Bolivia unscathed, made some great friends and were looking forward to moving on to somewhere else!