(Day 33 - 37)
24.12.2009 - 28.12.2009 20 °C
We left Sucre in the morning on our 10 hour bus ride to Uyuni to start the salt flats tour the next morning: Christmas Day. The landscape we crossed to get to Uyuni was amazing, not what I expected to see at all. From Sucre which was hilly with lots of vegetation, followed by flat plains, then to mountainous semi-dessert with rich red soil, cacti’s and wild Llamas roaming the dried river beds.
We arrived in wet & cold Uyuni just in time to have dinner, get drenched on the way back, and get to bed!
When we got up on the 25th, we swapped presents (a slab of chocolate each, hey we are backpackers..) had a quick breakfast in a nearby café whilst watching an 80s music special on tv, which had the whole restaurant soflty singing along, quite funny (full of tourists of course).
In our jeep, we were joined by Elan (New York), Dario (Venice), Candy (Cuzco) and Matthias (Frankfurt), a nice mixture of nationalities which proved to be a good combo, and a great bunch to spend the next few days with.
The Salar de Uyuni, covering some 9000sq km is the largest salt flats in the world.
The weather still wasn’t great, cloudy and had been raining all night. I thought this would ruin our photo opportunities on the salt flats the first day but as you can see from the pictures (which haven’t been edited in any way!) it made the scenery more intense. I was always hoping for a bit of water on the salt as it acts like a gigantic mirror, wow, what an amazing first impression; it felt a bit like we were travelling between the sky and the earth in a separate layer, really strange.
Our first day was spent driving over the salt flats, visiting an old train cemetery, having lunch on a make-shift stone table on a small “island” (covered with huge, 1000 year old cacti’s) and taking some fun perspective photos. Because of the extremely bright light we got some really good shots, well at least we think so!
Our second day was met with a setback, again.. We had a 5am wake up call (followed by the luxury of a hot water shower – which we had to pay for) and an early breakfast, but due to the rain and all the salt from the day before, our car decided to take a rest and refused to start! This meant that we would have to wait in our “salt hotel” (where everything from the bed, chairs, walls and floor are made from salt bricks) until it got fixed. Our poor driver tried everything he could all morning and I guess being stranded in a house was better than the last time on a street. He finally got it going at around 1pm but by then we had all agreed to rather wait for the next day as we would have been rushing the sights big time to get to the next lodge in time. The evening brought us the most incredible thunder-storm ever seen; because of the openness of the scenery – no obstacles/ mountains/ buildings – the lightning just went on endlessly and lit up everything. Very special.
We set off the following day to continue the tour, driving through the high-altitude desert seeing numerous James flamingos at each of the different coloured lakes and lagoons, and nearby sometimes small herds of Vicunas (related to the llama).
These salt lakes have high concentrations of sulphur and salt due to the volcanic activities in the area, and take their colours from minerals bleaching from the mountains into the water, and/or reactions that algae or lichen have on the water. After the luxury of a private room and hot shower the night before, this night was spent in a room with the 6 of us together, and no showers at all.
On our last day of the tour, we had a 3h30 wakeup call, and left at 4h for Sol de Mañana. The main interest here is the 4950m-high geyser basin, with its boiling mud pots and sulfurous fumaroles. It was quite surreal seeing this at sunrise but the cold was INTENSE too! We had to tread carefully when approaching the site; as any damp or cracked earth is potentially dangerous. After this stop we made our way to some hot springs (30 degrees) where we could take a morning dip, but the outside temperature was just way too cold to jump in, even with the reward of the hot water waiting. After breakfast we set off to Laguna Verde then we were dropped off at the Chilean border to carry on our trip south, whilst the others made their way back to Uyuni.