Friday, July 06, 2007

Salar de Uyuni

So, from Uyuni in Bolivia, the thing to do is to go on a tour of the salt flats and lakes of Salar de Uyuni.

For fans of my amazing photography, you can have a look at all the photos from this adventure here.

The day started off in Uyuni with the now classic act of being taken by the tour operator that we had booked with to a completely different tour operator. However, this turned out to be completely fine with a fun driver, a land cruiser that wasn´t on it´s last legs, and a fun group of fellow backpackers - quite an international group; French - Richard, Australian - Jeremy, German - Cristina, Swiss - Leli (sp?), and UK - me (taking the photo...).

First stop was the train graveyard just outside of Uyuni, not entirely sure what these trains were used for, but it was probably something to do with minerals and salt.

After a quick stop to pick up the guide´s son (to help with the cooking and general odd jobs) we set off. Stopping at a local village that is heavily involved in the salt processing industry. Here we were able to buy various things made from salt, including a set of dice - enabling us to play a French game called "Yams". Salt is not the best material for dice, but it´s good enough for a couple of games.

Driving a bit further we came to the salt flat. A truly strange place. It really feels like snow underfoot, and the cold gives the impression that it must be a snow field.

A quick taste confirms that it is salt. And very salty it is too.

The piles of salt are drying in the sun and will be collected when they are ready for further processing. All the salt from here is used within Bolivia, none of it is exported. Apparently there is a lot of international interest in exploiting this area because of all the minerals.

After some more driving we are away from the exploited area and on the real salt flats. The weird hexagonal shapes are all natural, probably to do with the way salt crystallizes.

After a few hours driving we stopped off at an "island" in the desert.

This was used as a stopping off point by the Incas when the crossed the flats and they planted many cactus plants to help them find the place.

Some of these cacti date from the 1200s

After some more driving we reached our lodgings for the night, a hotel made entirely from salt!

After a quick explore of the village it was time to head back indoors. Sunset comes pretty quickly here and it´s damned cold at night!

After a reasonably enjoyable meal (my stomach has been giving me hassle for the past few days) we were treating to some local children demanding money with menacing music and dancing.

Into bed early under a pile of blankets and a sleeping bad. The next day we were up a 5am to grab some quick breakfast and head out again. First stop, an active volcano!

Following this was a sequence of five lakes, all different colours depending on the minerals and algae growing in them.

Living out in this desolate wilderness are lots of llama like creatures called pequeñas.

And some great landscapes:

Also, some pink flamingos. Sadly I don´t think any of us are ever going to make it as hunters, the birds took off for the other side of lake as soon as we approached.

so we took some group photos instead.

More lakes, the white stuff is a mixture of minerals and ice. This lake contains borax (I think...)

Next stop, the stone forest. Lots of rocks in funny formations. It was really cold so we made this quite a short stop!

Maybe this is the one with borax in...

Finally some decent shots of flamingos - borrowed someones tripod for this shoot and the pictures are surprisingly good. Investing in a camera with a decent optical zoom was really worth it, just need to buy my own tripod now.

More driving and we are at our evenings accommodations. We are now at about 5000 meters altitude...

Despite the lovely covers, these beds do not have enough blankets for -20 degrees C nighttime temperatures. We managed to rustle up a few more blankets and slept in sleeping bags and thermals this night. It was still cold. The cold actually seemed to seep up through the bed´s mattress!

Another crazily early start (5:30 in the truck!) to visit some geysers. It really was quite remarkably cold here, but interesting nevertheless, very noisy and very steamy - but still fricking freezing!

Finally the high point of the day, after being cold all night and we got to bathe in the hot springs as sun rose. Beautiful.

This is near the border of Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. What a great place.

And here´s the border post. We´d got out exit stamps in Uyuni - for three days we´d been officially nowhere.

A nice warm bus was waiting at the border post and after about 20 minutes on Bolivian tracks we reached the road that joins Argentina and Chile, I think this is the first sealed road that any of us had seen for some weeks!

I´m now in Chile, we spent a day and a bit in San Pedro de Atacama - which is a town in the middle of the worlds driest desert (it still cold!).

Chile has been a real shock to the system in terms of costs. Everything is amazingly expensive compared to the rest of South America.

However, it´s still good fun. Finally got to do some cooking (the cost of eating out is prohibitive for people on a budget) - first meal, the good old student standby of pasta, sweetcorn, tuna and mayonnaise; second meal, my own speciality, chicken in mushroom sauce. Lovely grub!

We also took the opportunity of doing some sand boarding here. Fantastic fun, but my body is still hurting from falling off a bit too much. (Must remember that although I might be travelling with a bunch of 20 year olds, I´ve still got a 35 year old body...)

Got the overnight bus last night to Iquique in search of a bit of warmth and some beach time. Tomorrow we´ll visit the ghost town on Humberstone and then head north to Arica and finally up the coast of Peru.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, these pictures are really fantastic. What a beautiful place!
Amy Y.