|After spending about an hour at San Pedro getting our passports stamped we headed for the Bolivian border - climbing 2000mtrs in an hour. When we arrived I expected somewhere to change money, maybe a cafe, but it was literally a hut in the middle of nowhere.
They had decided the day before that from now one people would have to pay about $2 to cross the border. However, they wouldn't except my dollars only Bolivianos. So I found someone to borrow money off and then found out that there were no shops until Uyuni! I hoped they gave us enough food and water.
We had 2 Irish in our group, a Polish couple, 2 English, 1 German and too many french (although the family were nice). Our guide call 'Ever' was very friendly but a little mad.
On the first day of the tour we saw so much. Our first stop was at a lake called 'Laguna Blanco` (white lake) which is a frozen lake at about 4000mtrs above sea level. We could walk right across it. The lake was surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, the scenery was just stunning. Our next stop was a lake called `Laguna Verde` (green lake) at 5000 mtrs above sea level, which was just as nice but wasn't actually that green. They said in October the lake turns greener. Our third lake we saw was a lake called `Laguna Colorada` which was red!. We couldn't believe how red it was, the photos don`t really do it justice. There were lots of mounds of salt in and around it aswell, which looked like ice. We also saw 3 types of flamingos - one which is endangered.
We also went to some hot springs (4200mts). The water was only about 1 to 2 foot deep and was 30º, but felt alot hotter compared to the cold outside. You couldn't swim but we all dipped our legs in - it was so nice and must of done our skin good from all the minerals in the water. The views from the springs were stunning. It was crazy, there we were sitting with our feet in hot water and only a few meters away the water was frozen from the cold!. After the springs we saw the Gyesers. It was the most surreal setting I have ever seen. It felt like we were on a different planet. There were huge pools of bubbling mud that were different shades of grey. Steam coming up from everywhere and it was quite noisey and the smell was like eggs. It suprised us at how much activity was going on under our feet, it felt like the ground could blow up any minute!.
We got to our destination for the night - a stone building at 3600mtr above sea level. We slept in dorms - 7 to a room. We were warned that it would be very cold - it drops to about -20º at night, but we could hire sleeping bags for $5. When we came to ask for them they wouldn't accept dollars. We didn't have any other money, but after a lot of protesting they agreed to let us have them. They gave us a lovely 2 course dinner. We started with soup and bread - I just thought we were having soup so filled up on about 4 bowls of soup and 5 rolls!. About 20 minutes later they brought out spaghetti bolognaise! I have never eaten so much food in one day.
After dinner Karin and I decided to look at some llamas we saw in the distance. They remind me of camels, they stick there nose up at you and they can spit. They are every tame you can walk right up to some of them and touch them. We watched the sun set and immediately felt the temperature drop so decided to go to bed. It was cold for the first hour but then I managed to warm up and slept well, although I did wake up needing the toilet, but there was no electricity and you couldn't even see your hand in front of your face. So I lied there for about 2 very long hours until it got a bit light, then managed to find someone with a candle. As you can imagine, in a place where there was no water supply the toilets weren't that nice. If you wanted to wash all you had was a big tub of icey cold water - most of the time it was frozen. In the morning when we got up, there was ice on the windows - but inside!.
After stuffing my face again at breakfast ( I eat so much at high altitude!) we started a long day's drive which would take about 10 hours including stops.
We had only driven about 30 minutes when we bumped into another group who had broken down. So we were delayed for about an hour, and in the end they had to join us on our bus which was cosy.
We saw some more lakes, volcanoes and mountains which looked similar but were just as beautiful.
We stopped at some weird shaped rocks in the middle of a desert and had look around. They were obviously formed during the ice age, you could see where the ice/water had shaped them. We had fun climbing them and then left for another 2 course lunch in a little town.
That afternoon we and a long drive to our hostel. The scenery changed from a dry rocky environment to a nice green valley where people lived by the streams. Some of the rock formations I saw were different to anything I have ever seen. It was nice to see the Bolivians living the village life. They wear nice colourful blankets tied around there chest/shoulders, that are usually carrying babies, food or other things. They are quite shy, I waved to a women and she hide behind the wall!.
We arrived at the hostel quite late but were all very pleased when we found out that they sold beer, chocolate and cigarettes!. We brought a couple of bottles of Chilean red wine for about $5 and had a very nice dinner of soup, bread, chicken, rice, potatoes and veg. They even had hot showers!. A few of us stayed up talking to the guide, but were forced to go to bed because the electricity went out at 10.30pm. So we had fun trying to find our rooms in the pitch black without waking anybody up. We were still at about 3500mtrs above sea level but I didn't feel the altitude at all. Some people were quite sick and had permanent headaches, but I had another good nights sleep.
The last day was what everybody was waiting for - Salar De Uyuni. The salt flats cover an area of 12121 sq.Kms(A third of the size of Belgium). About 10000 years ago there used to be a massive lake. The area has many volcanoes that deposited salt in the lake when they erupted. When the climate warmed up, the water evaporated and left a salt crust which can be up to 11 meters thick. All you can see across the horizon is a white blanket of salt. There is about 10 billion tons of salt here and 25000 tons are taken annually for sale.
The hostel was at the edge of the salt plains and we had to drive right across it to get to Uyuni, which is about 110Kms.
We stopped a few times to take pictures and to taste the ground, which was very salty - surprisingly. It was very blinding and when we were taking pictures we couldn't see if they had come out ok or not, so I ended up taking over 50 pictures using different settings and adjusting the exposure.
We visited a Hotel made entirely of salt. Absolutely everything is made of salt, the tables, chairs and the walls. You are not allowed to stay there anymore because there is nowhere you can go to the toilet. We also went to 'Fish Island', which got his name because from the air it looks like a fish. It is only small with a restaurant, toilet and information place, but it is covered with cactus. We did the 20min walk around it and again I took too many photos.
It felt very surreal being there, I never knew that this sort of place existed. A rocky island in the middle of the salt flats which was covered with thousands of cacti... I felt very strange - maybe the altitude was affecting me!
We had a delicious llama burger then headed for Uyuni which was at the edge of the Salt flats, but you could only see a few tiny mountains on the horizon.
In the wet season, there can be up to a meter of water on the salt plains. This reflects everything and you can't tell where the blue sky meets the water on the horizon. Even though there was no water you can still see the reflection in the distance and it looks as though the mountains are floating above the land.
We stopped at a small town where you could buy souvenirs made of salt and saw how they processed the salt. A local woman had fallen and cut her head open so some peole on the tour helped her clean it up with a first aid kit. We left and arrived at Uyuni 30 minutes later. The whole tour was amazing, it was the best 40 quid I have ever spent!
There wasn't much at Uyuni, there was the main road, some nice buildings and a lot of tour agencies. We found a hotel for less than 2 pounds per night and looked around town.
We met up with Chrissy, Christine and irish guy and had dinner, which took an hour to arrive. We were approached by a young Bolivian man who had just opened a bar. We couldn't believe that someone would open a bar in this small town, so we decided to take a look later that evening.
At night Uyuni was very cold - it is actually the coldest I have been on this trip or actually in my life. It is only 3675mtrs above sea level but felt colder than when i have been over 5000 mtrs. We walked for a while down a lot of quiet dark streets and finally found this bar which didn't even have a sign outside. The bar was very cosy with a fire and just had a group of Bolivian woman there and 2 other travellers who we had already met. The 2 young men who ran it were very nice and gave us a free shot, - well, it all went down here from there. The bar was made of salt so every time we drank tequila we scratched a bit of salt off the bar. Three hours and a lot of tequilas later we had everybody, including the staff, up and dancing in this small bar to the Prodigy Experience!! I don't know what the Bolivians thought of us and how they had come to hear of the Prodigy, but everyone seemed to be having fun.
We managed to get back to the hotel without dying from the cold in time for 5 hours sleep before our bus left for Potosi.