Michelle and Charlie's Around the World Trip 2004-2005 travel blog

salt, salt, glorious salt!

Michelle baking on salt. I cannot remember where did I find the...

The Fish Island is pretty thorny

mountains floating in the thin air over the salt

in the salt hotel

the puffs on th left flank of the volcanoe is smoke

The truck and southwest Bolivia

bird in water. Sorry, but I have to give it a title

more birds

The stone tree

can you spot the natural wonder in the middle (she is not...

Another cute one

There might be bigger geysires (sp?) at Yellowstone, but can you walk...

Laguna Verde only turns really green when it is windy, or when...

The boys in the thermal pool. It is nice to be clean...

Christmas did not hit Main Street San Antonio very hard.

who said that a christmas gift need to be fancy? He certainly...

Louis Miguel

peekaboo, tourist inside!

everyone needs to look pretty

even if you are a donkey

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

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Driving on the salt flat

(MP4 - 2.11 MB)

geothermal show

We took an overnight bus from Potosi to Uyuni and planned to try to organize a tour leaving that morning. It didn't start that well when our bus that was supposed to leave at 6:30 pm was a no show until about 8:00 pm, when it finally appeared in a cloud of smoke. It broke down within 5 minutes of starting and after several attempts to revive it it got going again, only to break down every once in a while. It was a bumpy ride on Bolivia's usual quality dirt roads, but we slept a little and it actually worked out ok since we arrived around 5:00 am instead of the scheduled 2:00 am. As we were canvassing agencies trying to get a deal on a tour ending in Tupiza (not the normal route) we coincidentally ran into an English couple from our mine tour who were trying to organize a tour on the same route. After some painful negotiations with various companies we finally got a 4 day tour starting that morning. We had a wonderful breakfast at the Minuteman Cafe, which is owned by a guy from Amherst, Massachusetts. It was really weird to run into a fellow Boston area person here because it's the furthest thing from Boston you can imagine. Uyuni is a very small town in the middle of basically a desert. Anyway, we all rejoiced at the American style breakfast with normal coffee, toast and pancakes.

After our trip to the pampas we didn't have high hopes for this tour, but we were soon pleasantly surprised. The scenery is definitely like nothing I had seen before. The salt flats are just huge expanses of white, well, salt, and the sky was the most sharp blue with mirages and volcanos on the horizon. I said this about a million times in the 4 days but the scenery looked like something prehistoric. We stopped at a small "island" on the salt flats covered with giant cacti. We spent the night at the Salt Hotel, which is entirely made out of salt (except for the bathrooms). It was actually nicer than I had expected. The next day we were out of the salt flats and the scenery was rugged and desert like. We stopped to watch an active volcano with smoke pouring out of the top. Next we saw shimmering lakes filled with different kinds of flamingos. There were several other trucks doing the same tour, but it wasn't overrun by tourists and our driver was good at timing it so we usually weren't at the same place with too many other people. When we were out on the "road" it felt like we were the only people for miles around. That day we also stopped by some of the bizarre rock formations in the desert, including one that looks like a giant stone tree (and called "tree of stone" or something like that). That night we stayed in kind of a yucky dormitory next to Laguna Colorada which is a big red and green and white lake at the foot of some small mountains. (Small mountains, meaning that they're small compared to the surrounding area but the whole tour was at about 15,000 feet above sea level so the small mountains on a map would appear to be very big -- Charlie). The 3rd day we started at around 5:00 am and drove down to Laguna Verde, you guessed it, a beautiful greenish, blue lake at the foot of a very cool looking volcano. We also saw geysers -- pits of bubbling mud that stunk like sulfur and made eerie whistling noises. Charlie and the English couple also did some soaking in the very shallow hot springs in the area. The tour was a huge success up until that point, but around 3:00 pm our truck stalled out while going up a not so steep hill. The driver was able to fix it, but around 4:00 pm it broke down again. There was another tour group behind us which was lucky because since this was off the normal tour route and hardly any towns around there was no traffic on the road besides us and them. All the kids in the other group and the drivers gathered around the engine and did all sorts of poking and prodding, including pumping some part in what looked like a CPR move, but to no avail. After over an hour they gave up and the other group got driven to the next "town" about an hour away with the promise to return to pick us up. As the sun was setting it was getting really cold, but as promised, the other driver returned in about 2 hours. The closest village was a tiny mud brick settlement with about 20 shelters, a church, some alpacas, and about 10 people as far as I could tell. It seemed like it was run by Louis Miguel, a 12 year old kid who was very bright and entertaining. The town's only form of communication with the outside world was a 2 way radio, so around 10:00 am on Christmas Eve day our driver radioed to Uyuni to the company. According to him they would send a replacement vehicle which should be there around 1:00 pm. This didn't quite add up so we didn't believe the time, but thought that another car would show up sometime late afternoon and evening. We did our best to pass the time, but by 4:30 when no car had shown up we were getting a little edgy. Our attempts to radio the town again were unsuccessful and really frustrating (I never appreciated phones so much). We were still trying the radio at 5:00 pm when we heard the first car of the day passing through the town. We all went running, but it was another tour group stopping in the town for the night after coming from the other direction from Tupiza. After long discussions the driver of that car agreed that if we paid him he would take us to Tupiza, about 6 hours away. Although we were annoyed that we would have to pay extra (about $100) to get to our original destination, it seemed like the only way out of the town. The drive to Tupiza was long and awful (While it was actually light it was pretty because it was driving through Badlands National Park in the US - Charlie) and bumpy and we had't eaten since lunch. We got there around 1:00 am, where the owner of the second company demanded more money. After more long discussions we paid the $100 and said goodbye to our driver and the other driver who would then have to turn around and do the awful drive back for 6 hours to the little village.

Other than that incident, we loved this tour and think that for anyone in the area it should not be missed (although we don't know what it's like during the rainy season). The scenery is unbelievable and the cost very reasonable. Our advice though would be to go with a more reputable company, even if costs a little more. Our company was called Playa Blanca and we wouldn't recommend them. Our driver, on the other hand (Edgar), was great and we hope he can work for a better a company in the future.

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