Three Day Tour Of Salt Flats, Volcanoes & Flamingos
24.08.2012 - 27.08.2012 5 °C
Man am I behind on this thing again! We've honestly just been so busy lately as we jam pack each and everyday with activities to end off this amazing journey. We're down to the wire now!! Only 11 more days till we arrive in the Dominican Republic. It's hard not to get reflective and sad about all the great moments and memories of past but to be honest as sad as that all is we're both pretty damn excited to finally be reunited with our family and friends... and to get married of course! And I'm not gonna lie... we're tired. This has been such a long journey and I know some of you may think 'a year off boo hoo' but remember for every blog post you read that's like 10+ hours of bus rides, hotel hunts, bad food, communication issues etc etc. We just got back from a 2 day tour of the world's deepest canyon and it was definitively the hardest thing I've ever done in my life! I'll just leave it at that for now cause it's time for me to dive back into the past and into our great Bolivian adventure of the World's Largest Salt Flats - Salar de Uyuni.
From Potosi we took a 6 hour bus ride south (you see... buses, buses, buses) which wasn't too bad although I did have to persuade the bus driver to stop once for a bathroom break... this time without resorting to threats of urination in the bus lol.
That was our scenic lunch stop. We ordered lunch cause we needed some hot food and ended up getting served lama intestine and rice. The smell was horrific but luckily it tasted better then it smelt lol. We arrived in Uyuni (the southern town where most tours start from) and were immediately put off by how dry and desolate it was. This small little town is completely isolated, dirty and probably only survives because of tourism. No internet, no heat and no hot water... good times (see this is why I'm behind on this blog). But we found a hotel claiming to have hot water and checked in.
To our surprise we arrived in town at the beginning of a 3-4 day festival... because our spanish is basically non-exsistent we still don't really no what the celebration was for but either way it was cool to watch.
You probably can't see in these pictures but everyone was hammered lol. Yep beer cans in hand while they're dancing in the street!
There were also lots of kids/adults dressed up as polar bears (how very Canadian of them lol).
Some old train tracks run through town which now features a great street market....
So after watching some of the parade we set off in search of a tour company to help us arrange a 3 day tour stretching from the salt flats all the way to the Chilean border. We had met quite a few other travellers that raved about the tour so we had pretty high hopes and were both really excited. Long story short, we found ourselves a reputable company that already had several other foreigners booked (we always look to see what other nationalities are booked onto our tours... nothing worse then being trapped in a vehicle for 3 days with people you can't talk to or have nothing in common with). We narrowed it down to two companies and we made the right choice (the other company had all Korean nuns booked... no joke... nuns... my construction mouth and nuns don't mix very well lol). And that's it! We were off! Our first stop was at the "train graveyard" just outside of town...
Uyuni does have a train station (2 separate lines) that has trains running every other day. It would have been nice to take one but our times didn't quite match up.
Then we made a quick stop at a local market to buy crafts... believe it or not they sold salt there... and people actually bought it lol.
Then we hit the flats... and man are they ever impressive! During different times of the year they can be quite wet. We showed up during the dry season. I still don't get how the Landcruisers aren't rusted to shit??
White as far as the eye can see. Looks a lot like snow back home doesn't it? Of course we had to partake in the classic picture illusions. This is something that MUST and WILL be done back home in winter time.
It takes some getting used to and tinkering to get it right... our group wasn't too enthusiastic about picture taking... we would have liked to take a lot more. Our friends Dan and Gen from England (met in Tibet) took some great ones which are on their blog (sorry not sure if they want me sharing the address) and they had a plastic dinosaur which made for some great quirky pics. After our photo shoot we stopped briefly for lunch at a hotel out on the flats (this is very controversial because their sewage is damaging the flats). Our driver already had the meal prepared and we ate out of the back of the truck... alpaca steaks...Mmmmm good.
Where's the Canadian flag??
Science/history lesson anyone??: So Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world at 10,582 square kilometres. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes. Apparently what happened was when the Andes were colliding with South America they trapped these inland lakes or seas and over time this led to the creation of the flats. Quick interesting fact: The Salar de Uyuni contain 50-70% of the world's lithium deposits.
Next stop was at Incahuasi Island or Cactus Island as us anglophones referred to it as...
It was pretty damn remarkable to basically be smack right in the middle of the salt flats on this island of cacti (is that plural for cactus?). They actually even used the cactus to build things... yeah like wood. Never knew you could do that.
A tasty lama head offering to the Gods. I put a straw in his mouth to make him look more like a hick lol.
We hiked to the top of the island and back down which was no easy challenge. Yes by this point we were getting fairly used to the altitude but it's still hard to breath at 3650 M (12,000 ft). And then we were off again.
We made a few more stops along the way... look at these cool formations.
There are differences between lamas, alpacas and this other species (ya ya I'm no zoologist)... but I can't remember which one this is.
Just before dusk we arrived at our accommodations. We were warned by others that the accommodations throughout the tour were lacking (just the basics like heat, water etc lol) but we had no idea our first hotel would be made of SALT!!! How freakin' cool is that! Everything was made of salt! And it was gorgeous.
Even the tables and chairs... salt...
Walls... yep... salt lol.
The hotel was situated just at the edge of the flats in a tiny little village. We managed to find ourselves a store and bought some wine to celebrate a terrific Day 1.
The next morning we were off bright and early and heading south towards the Chilean border. No roads where we were going... not a great time to get sick Blair!!
Ya well for whatever reason that's exactly what happened. I caught the flu or something and was puking all day. Combine that with bumpy rough roads, dust galore and the worst heartburn of my life... ya good times! Still hard not to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
One of many volcanoes on the tour...
Still feelin' it...
Okay so to be honest with you pretty much the rest of the trip I was completely incapacitated. Sickness took hold of me and combine that with cold weather and I was in the truck most of the time (aka big sick baby). Stacey enjoyed the hell out of it though (should get her to write the rest). Our sightings of flamingos at our first lagoon stop.
Why they live here is beyond me. But I guess there are no predators (most are near extinction) and the algae is abundant. That's what they eat in the water and it's also what gives them their pink colour.
Pictures of our second lagoon stop....
And the flamingos that inhabited it...
On the road again...
The rock formations all along the tour were crazy! Not sure how they were all formed but my scientific hypothesis is that the volcanos had something to do with it. This one is referred to as 'stone tree'.
For our second evening we drove all the way to the 'Red Lagoon' which had quite a hefty entrance/conservation fee (150 B's or about $22). Never seen anything like it in my life though. Stacey and the others in our group hiked around the edge (winded of course because of the altitude).
It's actual name is Laguna Colorada and it's also a salt lake but gets it's pink colour from the algae. Inhabiting Laguna Colorada once again are flamingos but the ones in this lagoon are pretty rare and unique and are called the James's Flamingos. The James flamingo was thought to have been extinct until a remote population was discovered in 1956.
No pictures of our last hotel but trust me it was pretty rough and ready. Stacey stole me some extra blankets and I bypassed dinner and went straight to bed. It sure was cold that night and not a very fun time to be sick... but I survived. To boot the high altitude makes even sleeping a challenge during the best of times.
The next morning we left the hotel at 5am and made way for the Chilean border (most of our group was heading onward into Chile and not back to Uyuni like us... we really wanted to go with them but didn't have enough time left in our itinerary to tackle another country... well properly at least). Our first stop that morning was at some geysers... pretty surreal stuff!
It saddens me to say that I couldn't even leave the vehicle for even a quick peak... they sure looked amazing and Stacey says it was one of the coolest things she has ever seen! (Way to ham it up honey!!)
Just past the geysers was a natural hot spring... only the adventurous braved the 0 degree weather, stripped down and jumped in. Sure looked like fun.
By this point we were only about a 10 minute drive away from Chile...
I can't remember the name of this volcano but half of it sits in Bolivia while the other half is in Chile. There were even a group of climbers summiting it.
Pretty much the only time I left the car that day was to walk over the border and into Chile just to say that I was there lol. Don't have a passport stamp but I do have these pics as proof. Chile... I had an amazingly short stay there lol.
What a unique first glimpse of a country. A plateau covered with volcanos and arid desert.
Another one bites the dust! That's it. Most of our last day was driving, well more like backtracking the entire way back to Uyuni. The roads were just as rough on the way back but at least this time around I could stretch out across the bench seat in the back. To sum up the experience... by far one of the most unique places we've ever been/seen. The terrain is out of this world the entire journey and it's extremely harsh and very unforgiving... not a place you'd ever want to be stranded... or sick... trust me. We actually got two flat tires on our way back to Uyuni! The roads are that rough. This is why most of the tour companies follow the same route as break downs are not uncommon and maintenance on the vehicles is questionable at best (example: what's antifreeze? Water is what goes in a rad lol). We ended up spending an extra day/night in Uyuni just so I could recover and heal (the alternative was to take a night bus for 10-12 hours to La Paz... no thanks... not yet). But that's just what we had to do the following evening since only night buses are offered... great! We heard nothing but horror stories about this one too as apparently there is literally no road for the first 7 hours. Yep and that wasn't far from the truth. Picture a big tall bus vibrating and rattling like hell for 7 hours while driving on the worst road in the world (pretty much the equivalent to the roads in the Serengeti... pure gravel/dirt washboard). If you can believe it we actually slept pretty good on it lol. At first we both kind of just looked at each other in disbelieve... it was so rough even with headphones in and music cranked all you could hear was the bus rattling. I brought along some of our leftover pizza for the ride and we both couldn't stop laughing because you couldn't even direct the pizza into your mouth without getting it all over your face lol. That rough!! But we both just smiled and said this is a once in a life time experience... unless Greyhound starts offering a Saskatoon to Churchill Manitoba service (lol that probably would't even be that bad lol... trust me I tried hard to think of a Canadian equivalent and I keep coming up highway! God I miss the Western world lol!)