After Potosi, we took a 6-hour bus drive to the city of Uyuni which is on the edge of the Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flat in the world, over 10,000 km2. We lined up a tour as soon as we got into town, spent the night as a hostel with great hot water (Piedra Blanca) and then started our tour the next morning. The first day of the tour we visited the train cemetery where all the trains from Bolivia’s past have been left to die. They were fun to climb on.
Then we headed to the salt flats (salar). However in Colchani, the city just before the salt flats (whose major economy is extracting and selling salt), the left back wheel fell off our Toyota Land Cruiser and we came to a screeching halt. A few other drivers stopped to help, or possibly jeer, it was hard to tell. Anyway, finally we got the wheel back on, moved some lug nuts around and were on our way. Here we are on the edge of the salar with the truck that we all grew to hate.
Since it’s the rainy season, the salt flats are slightly flooded and so it gives the whole place a ‘mirror’ effect. Also it’s easy to take pictures which trick your depth perception. So we had some fun.
These were our travelling companions: me, Tom, Gal (Israel), Chris (UK), Aneta (Norway/UK), Katie. And below, you can see the mirror effect well.
Anyway, the salt flats were really neat but we had to leave eventually (and most people were pretty sunburnt by then) so we headed back to Uyuni. We were supposed to go on to a another small village 2 hours down to the road to sleep but the truck had to get fixed that night so we slept in Uyuni. The next morning we got on the road and though we didn’t see any more salt flats, we saw volcanoes, lakes, rock formations and beautiful high-altitude deserts, very reminiscent of Mars.
And in all the fresh-water lakes, there were flamingos!!! Hundreds of them. Three different species: Chilean Flamingo, Andean Flamingo and James/Puna Flamingo all of which only exist is this area of the world! As you can imagine I was on biologist-overdrive with all this excitement.
Above: a James/Puna Flamingo, and below, me studiously annotating the species we’d seen.
We even saw an Andean fox that seemed to be hanging around the road looking for generous tour-goers with food to share.
We ended the second day at Laguna Colorada which is a beautiful red lake (due to its algal inhabitants) filled with all three species of flamingos. It was breath-taking. We spent the night at a rustic ‘campamento’ that had dorm-type beds in a basic building and despite warnings of extreme cold, it didn’t get much below freezing so we were fine. The next morning we woke up at 4am in order to get to the geysers and hot water springs by sunrise, which is supposedly the best time for them. Well we were all up and ready to go, our driver was up, but guess what wasn’t up, the truck. For 2.5 hours the truck would not start. Finally they soldered some wires together which made the fuel-pump work and it started. Tired and frustrated but happy to be on the road, we piled in and made it to the geysers.
We took a quick dip in the hot springs and then ended up at Laguna Verde near the Chilean border. Although I was assured only 5 hours, from here it was a 7.5 hour death march back to Uyuni. Our driver kept the coca leaves coming and we all bounced along in the back seat. The only ray of light on the drive was that we finally reached 5000m. We had had a celebration the day before at 15,000 ft and were holding out for the elusive 5000m (~16,400ft). Well we made it, and even jogged a few more meters up for good measure.
For the rest of the trip my theme song was “We gotta get out of this place” by The Animals. We were supposed to get out of the truck and right onto a 9 hour bus to Sucre but (thankfully?) the bus was cancelled and so we had to beg our way onto a bus the next morning, agreeing to sit on the floor for 6 hours in order to get all the way to Sucre that day. We spent the night in Sucre at the nicest place we’d been the whole trip, which we really needed since we hadn’t bathed in some days, only to find out that our flight was delayed multiple times, giving us another day in Sucre. I took advantage of the nice bed and cable, Tom used the internet and Katie did some souvenir shopping. Then finally(!) Monday night we got home. We showed Katie around the compound and Hogar, arriving to lots of big hugs from the girls that missed us. And then Tuesday at noon we saw her off at the airport as she ended her world travels. Really we couldn’t have asked for a better travel companion than Katie because she was so easy-going and unperturbed about all the crazy things that happened. Thanks for visiting Katie! The trip was amazing, but it’s good to be home.