Uyuni: Salt, Salt, Salt
After having quite some unexpected adventures, that were not supposed to be adventures but turned out to be adventures we wanted to have finally a planned adventure. I guess that was quite a lot of adventure already in one sentence. But nevertheless 2 days later after spending an exciting time including a robbery in Sucre we left for Uyuni in order to see the salt flats. A cap from the center to the old terminal (exterminal) were the buses leave for Uyuni cost 5Bs per person and the bus to Uyuni is at 25Bs.
After a moderate 4 hour drive we arrived in Uyuni a city in the middle of nowhere. Uyuni itself looks a little bit like a city from a Wild West movie as it is basically surrounded by desert and obviously salt as well. Hostels are very easy to find as there a plenty right at where the bus stops. We checked in mañanero in a three bed bedroom for 35 Bs per person, which is as always in Bolivia a pretty fine price if you ask me. The hostel contained a warm shower but besides that it was as plain as the salt flats itself. Neither wifi nor a breakfast were and are probably still available.
As Bus rides make extremely hungry our first stop was a pub called extreme fun pub which had a pretty cool interior, one room had a bar on a salt beach and there was (surprise,surprise) and probably still is also free wifi available. After a quick stop there, the most difficult part was waiting for us. We had to find a tour operator for our 3 day trip through the “Salar de Uyuni” ending at San Pedro de Atacama. We decided according to condition of the jeeps, impression of the agency and price. Eventually we decided to go for “know Bolivia tours” that seemed to be a serious tour provider. The tour itself includes food, accommodation and guide and cost 750Bs. Additional costs are the park entry + cost for hot showers and an entrance fee for the hot springs. People from other blogs can tell you what they want at the end of the day finding a suitable/ safe company is a game of chance and nothing else. Expensive or cheap they can be equally good or bad.
The tour agency/tour guide
A quick heads up, our tour provider was pretty much ok apart from the fact that our guide never really spoke which some people might see as a negative aspect, but I took it as a good thing as I don’t like people talking too much. Another thing were one could deduct some plus points is that our driver/guide was a little pervert or rather voyeur and enjoyed filming girls in Bikinis using the hot springs. This one I didn’t really mind too much either but I can understand that the filmed ladies did. I thought for a moment of trying to google “Fernandos hot spring videos” but no, of course I didn’t.
Start of the tour was 10:30 in the morning and first stop was the train cemetery which is pretty cool apart from all the tourists climbing the old rusty trains and making it almost impossible to take a good picture. Then we continued to the market artesanales which is a totally useless stop and just a “Tourists empty your wallets spot” but for people who like spending money on useless stuff it is probably great. They even managed to grab a little of my hard earned cash as I had to use the bathroom.
Then we proceeded to Colchani were the salt is processed. The 4 stop was eventually “el salar de uyuni” the salt desert and it is really a highlight in South America. The white salt flats look indeed surreal and are fairly amazing. And even though us boys are usually way too cool to take these kind of posed perspective shots that everyone takes in Uyuni (google Uyuni pics and you will know what I mean) “el salar” made us do it too and act like 14 year old girls. You damn Salar you! But you probably go there once in a lifetime and it is kind of contagious. Last stop for the day was Inca Huasi (Fish island) to see some giant cacti but climbing up the small little rock will cost extra and I believe it is not really worth it.
Surprisingly the 1st hostel that we stayed after the first day of the trip was quite nice and food was more than enough. Not so surprisingly, as we were already informed by the agency, was that we had to pay 10 Bs extra for a hot shower. The result was that we did not take a shower at all.
We really had a great night as you would never expect to hear Aviici-Hey brother at a 100 decibel in front of your bedroom window in the middle of the desert where people barely have electricity. But as it turned out 2 driver of one of the other agencies decided to get wasted before getting up at 7 in the morning and have a little fun time. But after I went out and screamed a little at them and one girl took the drivers keys and turned of the music everything seemed to be settled for a good night sleep.
At 7:30 after the best breakfast I had in Bolivia we continued our trip.
The first real stop was at the border to Chile at a train station which was actually pretty cool because of some old trains and no other tourists in sight. The break seemed to be pretty good for some business in the bushes or in this case behind the trains.
The second stop was Chuguana in between some Volcanoes one of them even semi active. There you have the chance to look at some stoned lava currents which I rather found a little less interesting.
After driving for quite some while through the desert, where we even spotted two pretty trusting foxes and plenty of vicuñas we stopped at a place to see the “arbol de piedra”, which literally means the stone tree. Afterwards we headed further to two different lagoons which are also inhabited by plenty of flamingos. Then we drove further to a 3 lagoon the “laguna colorada” a lake which impresses through his pinkish or reddish color (I can`t really tell, might be I am color blind) and inhabits 3 different kinds of flamingos (Flamingo in Spanish is Flamenco). One of them was apparently Chilean flamingos. Who knows what these illegal immigrated Chilean flamingos are doing in Bolivia but this is none of my business. I don’t think they are looking for work though as they seemed pretty well off doing nothing but picking in the water.
After paying the entrance fee of 150Bs for the park and finding once again a bill of forged money in my pockets (happened to me in Peru and Colombia as well and in Colombia I even received the bill from an ATM) we were heading to our 2nd night accommodation, which was very basic and only dorms were available. After eating the worst spaghetti with tomato sauce I have ever eaten in my life, no offense to the people who prepared them, I was preparing myself for death through freezing. But after putting on 4 layers of clothes it felt like I might be able to survive and I just end up deaf through the snoring of several roommates. But I wouldn’t be a travelastronaut if I hadn’t had a solution for this as well in my bag. The solution is called earplugs and they should always be at hand on your journey. For your information I am not the biggest fan of sleeping with several people in one room especially if the majority hasn’t taken a shower for 2 days.
After a night with some difficulties finding the bathroom due to a lack of electricity we got up a 5 o’clock in the morning deep frozen and left for the geysers (“Sol de Mañana”) where everything is pretty smoky and the mud is bubbling. Please do not jump into the geysers as you might end up a deep fried dumpling as our guide told us happened to a guy from Israel (the guy fortunately survived). Then we continued to the hot water springs where you can take a nice bath for 6 Bs between plenty of backpackers, that haven’t taken a shower for now the 3rd day and used this as a great opportunity to get clean and save the money for hot showers. Afterwards off to the Chilean border from there you can take a transfer to San Pedro de Atacama. You can either include the transfer in the price you pay for the tour or pay the transfer on arrival at the border.
All in all the tour was pretty cool and worth the money but afterwards we were glad to be back in civilization.