Sunday 4 May 2014

Salar de Uyuni and the Altiplano


I didn't exactly expect to be waking up to my 40th birthday at 0500 in a freezing shed at 15000' in the middle of nowhere high in the Andes Mountains.  But it was awesome.  Especially as by 9AM we were smugly simmering away in a thermal bath up in the clean mountain air... Bring it on!

One of the main reasons for visiting Bolivia was to get to Salar de Uyuni. The biggest salt flats in the world located high in the Altiplano of the Andes at exactly 3656m altitude. I had read numerous stories about tour drivers being reckless and often drunk in their vehicles and had no idea which tour operator to choose. In the end we decided on the gamble of rock up in the morning an hour before you are about to leave and book on! With 4 other friendly punters- we were on our way. The first day consisted of a short trip to the train graveyard, followed by mounds of salt, a llama lunch, Isla Inchuasi (an island in the salt flat full of cacti up to a 1000 years old) and then finished with silly forced-perspective photos. The white hexagonal tiles of salt glistened in the sun and there was not a cloud in the bright blue sky- it was beautiful. The final stop was a salt hotel which was pretty cosy, basic but quite chic. That night we stargazed in the clear Antiplano sky and woke early the next morning to see the sun rise.

On the second day we saw various different coloured lakes in the Eduardo Avoroa National Reserve which is on the border between Bolivia and Chile and home to beautiful flamingos.The landscape was quite arid and dusty here and non active and active volcanoes were the backdrop. Each day our journey was accompanied by our driver Rudy's huge collection of Latin and western music. Some of his selection was better than others. We particularly enjoyed the 'Eye of the Tiger' and music from Rocky which had most of us air boxing. The final night was in a n extremely basic hotel where we all slept in the same room. The temperature was around -10 indoors and I felt pretty smug that we had brought sleeping bags as there was no heating or hot water! Snug as a bug. 

The final day was a 5 AM wakeup and Ty's birthday!After grabbing some lukewarm tea and a cold pancake we jumped into our vehicle. Luckily for him we saw the sun rising as we drove over the beautiful landscape to some steaming geysers. It was absolutely freezing and we reached a height of nearly 5000 metres here, the highest I had ever been. A great antidote to this was the natural thermal baths that we visited after. Some people stayed in the bath for over 2 hours. This was too much for me and I felt pretty light headed after 30 minutes, but it was blissful! finally we drove through verdant landscape with creeks and lots of llamas to make our way back to the town of Uyuni. What an awesome experience!

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