We stumbled off a nightmare ten hour bus journey overnight from La Paz and fell right into the arms of waiting tour promoters in Uyuni. There were no English tours left, so we joined a tour with some Chileans thanks to a very persuasive lady and tried to improve our Spanish. Before we left we stopped off for some breakfast in Uyuni centre, a tiny town with not much to do, and had the best orange juice ever in a small bar/restaurant in Plaza Arce. It didn’t look much from the outside, being on the far right hand side of the square and covered in cheesy signs and posters for food, but the delicious eggs we got were all we wanted after a freezing rattling jolting bumpy ten hour ordeal we went through to arrive to Uyuni (although the sunrise in the desert through ice covered windows was almost worth it).
Our guide Victor drove us off into the desert in a battered jeep (we watched the cracks in the window extending every day) billowing plumes of dust behind us which managing to enter through the slightly open windows (no air conditioning) leaving us gasping for air with every wild swing around a bend. Luckily we didn’t go far, the first stop being the railway graveyard just outside Uyuni, an adult playground of dreams with lots of rusting train parts to clamber over and swing from.
From there we entered the salt flats (stopping off at a small market for trinkets etc.) hurtling across the flat salty surface, pausing to take photos along the way and at the little lunch spot where they have a lot of flags fluttering in the breeze (but not the Irish one?).
We raced off in a rush, our driver determined to overtake all the other tours (a little alarming at first, but then it meant we arrived early at every spot and got to take some photos of uncluttered landscapes). The tour then stops at isla del pescado, a rocky outcrop covered in large cacti which you can choose to climb around for an extra few bolivianos, worth it for the panorama alone.
From there it was a shorter drive to the edge of the salt flats where a small house made of salt bricks was nestled in a hillside of cacti. We crunched our way over salt pebbles through salt brick hallways lit by salt crystal chandeliers to salt tables for some tea and coffee to warm up since the heat of the day disappeared with the setting sun. There was one other group on the hotel whose guide came by to take them to the salt flats to watch the sunset. Since our guide was not returning the six of us on our tour scrambled up the slope behind the hotel to try and catch the last sun rays on the other side of the hill. Except the top just seemed around every corner and while we reached various plateaus along the way where we could see the moon rising we never quite made it to the top! The view was spectacular all the same and we climbed as high as we could before the darkening skies sent us scurrying down the hillside to a warm dinner which was waiting for us in the hotel. We had requested sleeping bags which the company had forgotten so Ananya and I ended up sharing a bed which we piled high with all the blankets we could find.
After a cold nights sleep we squashed back into the jeep and headed off down more dusty paths to old train tracks, rocky outcrops, blue lagoons, mushy sludgy grey lagoons (with some flamingos in the far distance), a picnic at another lagoon with plenty more flamingos, more rocky outcrops (great for climbing around and inspecting the mosses).
The last stop of the day was the most spectacular, arriving at a national park where the mountains were mirrored in a red lagoon which was dotted with hundreds of clusters of gorgeous pink flamingos. An hour of admiring the flamingos passed quickly and from there it was a short drive to our last hotel of the trip where the six of us squashed into a room. There was no hot water again and the showers werent working but thanks to one of the guys who had brought everything but the kitchen sink we heated some water in a small pot on a tiny gas stove for tea, washing and warmth!
We stumbled out of bed early the next morning, grabbed breakfast and headed off into the dark dark morning to stop off at some geysers. We hopped out of the jeep into the rising steam, framed on one side by a yellow full moon, and and orange haze meeting lone stars on the the other. The cold defeated us too soon so we zipped on down nearer to Chile to wallow in the hot springs for a relaxing morning.
From here we said goodbye to some of our tour family (happens despite the language barriers when someone has uno cards which you all can play and bond over a shared love of tea!) who were going to Chile and we returned back to Uyuni, a four hour drive through amazing landscapes. My favourite was descending through the moss covered valley and stopping to spy on all the alpacas and llamas drinking from the clear streams, but the rocky outcrop we stopped at later is a close second. Lunch was at the side of the road beside a herd of llamas (our guide must have realised how fascinated we were with them earlier), ice-cream was in the little village of San Cristobel and the last dust inhaling laugh was when the drivers playlist which until that point had been a lot of Laura Pausini (it got tiring pretty quickly) changed to a song about “taking girls back to the loving hut”. We tried to keep the laughter discrete, but Viktor noticed and quickly changed again. We arrived back in Uyuni, stopped for dinner back in the same restaurant where we began our tour and thankfully got on a much more comfortable night bus back to La Paz – the 7 extra euro was so worth it!
So that was an awfully long blog post, but when the places you visit are that amazing its impossible not to take photos! In fact we took so many, the pictures in this post are a mix of mine and my friends. We may have developed a slight obsession with flamingos after the trip, but if you happen to be in Bolivia you can’t miss it.