Since I started planning my trip I have been excited to do the salt flats in Bolivia. In San Pedro we scoured the various agencies trying to find the best one for the best price. We had heard good things about the company Estrella del Sur and so bargained them down from 65,000 pesos to 58,000 and decided to go with them.
Then, the night before we were set to leave, we receive a knock at our hostel room door saying that the company had called and we were to go right away. They told us that the other people on our tour had cancelled and it was just the two of us, so we couldn’t go. They said they had called another company, Colque Tours, and we could go with them. We weren’t satisfied with this, though, because we would be paying the same price for a lesser company (base price at 60,000) and we had heard bad things about Colque.
So, annoyed, we went out onto the street trying to figure out what to do. Then a tour operator we hadn’t tried before, Tierra Mistica, was standing outside and asked us if we wanted to go to Bolivia tomorrow. He had just had two people cancel and needed to fill the spots. Lucky us! We had him in a spot and bargained him down from 65,000 to 50,000. On top of that deal, everything was included — entrance fees to the national parks and Bolivia, etc. — which was another 10,000 pesos that would have been added on to the price we would have paid for any other company. In effect, we saved about 18,000 pesos, or around $36US! Not bad!
So on Monday morning Natalie and I climbed into a van with our fellow tourmates for the next three days: Sven from Germany, Ray from Holland/Switzerland, and Michael from Australia. We crossed the border into Bolivia, loaded into a jeep, and our adventure began. We entered the Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa. Basically desert, mountains, and tons of lagoons. We drove past the Laguna Blanca to Laguna Verde, a beautiful lagoon in a gorgeous shade of green.
We stopped at a thermal bath in a gorgeous landscape, but cut our time there short when the jeep got a flat tire (just another day on the road in Bolivia!) and we had to go to the hostel early. We had lunch: probably too-old hot dogs, mashed potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers (an early indicator of how our food was going to be), then we went out to Laguna Colorada. This was by far the most impressive lagoon. The water was red, and there were flamingos everywhere! It was gorgeous.
I was truly fascinated by the flamingos. Normally you see them at the zoo and they’re kind of boring. But out in their natural environment, they’re really cool. Not to mention, it was strange to see them in cold weather…walking around ice and everything. And watching them fly is really incredible. Especially when they’re first taking off, they flap their wings and for a second it’s like they’re walking on water and then they’re in the air. I had never seen a flamingo fly before…we all tried to get good pictures, but it’s not that easy!
That night we stayed in a “hostel” by the lagoon. It was…interesting. There was a tiny fire stove (think circa 1800s) but they wouldn’t light it until almost eight at night, and it was freezing alll day before that. For dinner at first all they brought us was soup, which we weren’t too happy about after our paltry lunch, but finally they brought out some spaghetti as well. We were excited until we tasted the noodles — chewy, sticky, and all around not how spaghetti noodles should be. The sauce was alright though. After dinner we sat around the stove and drank some wine, then went out and looked at the stars for a bit, trying to find the constellations we’d learned about before, but it was too cold to stay out long.
The next morning I was the only one who seemed to sleep fairly well (we all stole blankets from the other rooms since we were the only people in the hostel, so we weren’t entirely freezing). Everyone else (except Natalie and I) had had trouble breathing in the night and/or woke up with headaches from the altitude. The entire trip everyone had on and off problems with altitude, and I never felt even the slightest difference. No headaches, lightheadedness, or trouble breathing. And I didn’t do anything they tell you to do — didn’t take my altittude sickness pills before ascending, didn’t drink that much water, and had coke at lunch and some wine at night, which you aren’t really supposed to do. But I never had a single problem! It was pretty nice. Even our driver and the people at our accomodation thought it was strange because no one in our group got really sick at all. Everyone else we met had at least one person in their group who got really sick from the atltiude and had to lay around and try not to throw up all day. I guess we were lucky.
Our second day was full of more lagoons, all filled with more tons and tons of flamingos. After a while we almost had to be like, enough! No more stops and pictures of lagoons and flamingos! We also saw the infamous Arbol de Piedra, or Stone Tree, and we had lunch (rice and tuna…) by a volcano. We climbed around there for a bit, then drove out to a small salt flat, then stopped in a small town to buy some wine for dinner, then were on our way to the hotel when we had another vehicle problem. Apparently the shock absorbers fell off a tire (the same tire that was still a spare from the first day) so I guess they just tied it up with some string and kept on! It’s all pretty normal for driving in this terrain, I gather.
That night we stayed in a salt hotel. Everything was made of salt — the walls, the tables and chairs, basically all but the bathroom and the mattresses! This was our “luxury” night. We all got to take showers! And hot ones, at that! So that was pretty awesome. Then we had a decently good meal of chicken and potatoes, with some really good soup and some wine. We played cards until it was late enough to go to bed, and all slept well. In fact, we had so many blankets, and the place was just that much “warmer” (or less freezing) than the first night, that I actually started to overheat at night and had to take off a couple blankets!
The last day was the salt flats. First we went to Isla de Pescador, or Fisherman’s Island. Very cool place. It literally is like an island in a sea of salt. It’s covered in cacti, and you can climb all the way to the top for some great views. Naturally we all took a ton of pictures, then did some fun ones on the salt flats surrounding.
Then we headed out into the middle of nowhere in the Salar de Uyuni. This is the place you see in pictures. The salt is blinding white and formed into strange patterns all over. We did our best to take some good “play with depth perception” pictures that are typical of here. Lots of fun!
Finally we visited a salt museum (basically an old salt hotel that they filled with some salt sculputres and called a museum), salt mine (basically just pyramids of salt), and a train graveyard in Uyuni. Then our tour was finished. All that was left was getting a visa (for me – i.e. paying lots of money) and getting a ticket out of there!
Uyuni is a tiny little middle-of-nowhere town that you would never want to spend more than a few hours in. It’s mostly locals – indigenous people selling things and schoolkids running around – and then tons of backpackers coming off or getting ready to go on the trip through the salt flats. Lots of tourist agencies and pizza places. We did come across some really cute, giggly little kids when we were buying our bus tickets (more on that later!) and played ball with them.
Basically it was a fun adventure, with some ups and downs. Probably not something I would ever repeat again, but worth the trip definitely. We saw some really cool stuff, and we got to have a bit of a “roughing it” adventure. Not to mention, any meal after that seemed quite incredible! And I’ve certainly found that it’s easy to learn new Spanish words when you’re here and they’re important to your life. For example, the word calefaccion is one I’ll never forget again. (It means heating!)