Salar De Uyuni Tour Day 1

It wasn’t a terrifyingly early start this morning, we had to be at the tour office at 7.30am which isn’t too hideous. I’d even stopped drooling. Unfortunately the first thing they did was tell us that one of the other two people on the tour couldn’t make it as she was really ill and because they didn’t want her to lose her money, which is very nice of them, they wanted us to pay an extra Bs100 each so they could recoup some money.

Please accept this photo of us and Adrian as proof that we were there.

Yeeaahhh… no mate. I’ve never heard of a company that penalises other guests instead of charging the absent party regardless of the reason they’re absent. It’s no one’s fault she got ill, I’m sorry she’s ill, it sounds awful, but that’s the weirdest business practice I’ve ever heard. Then they said it was optional and they were doing the trip anyway. They didn’t even bother approaching the other guy who’d be in the car with us after we so thoroughly kicked off about it.

The road is long. And apparently peppered with lesbians.

The other guy turned out to be a very tall Swedish bloke called Adrian who, it transpired later on in the trip, had a terrible sense of smell which was perfect given he’d be sharing rooms with two farting lesbians. He also spoke a lot more Spanish than us which would help a lot given neither the driver or the cook spoke English. This is pretty normal, I think if you want an English speaking guide you can request one but it’ll bump the price right up. Bolivian Spanish is a lot easier to understand than Argentinian Spanish though. We’d be fine.

We saw loads of llamas today. They all have ribbons on their so their owners can identify whose is whose.
There were loads of young ones too. These weren’t even the tiniest llamas we saw.

Right then. First stop was another look at those insane rock formations you see around Tupiza. We pulled up just outside of the town for a good gawp. The driver, Bernaba, told us that they were formed by the rain. At least that’s what we decided he told us. He spoke slowly and carefully, it’s not his fault our Spanish is rudimentary at best. They look so fragile and porous, I feel like they’re going to collapse at any moment. If you look closely you can see the red expanse of rock holding thousands of smaller stones in place. Yeah, I wouldn’t go setting up a tent for a nice sleep too close.

Our first stop at Palala.

For a spectacular overview of these huge fingers of rock stretching towards the sky you want El Sillar. That was our next stop. We were deposited on the side of the road and we walked a short distance to where the car would meet us as we drank in the scenery. I can’t get enough of this shit. The fact there are cacti too just adds to the eyehole fodder.

El Sillar. Put that in your eyeholes.

It was a longish drive after that to a village called Cerrillos. You want to stay awake so you can press your greasy little face against the windows and make all the appropriate “oooohh… aaahhhhh” noises, and we did as much as we could, but we all did the nod-sleep thing. You know the one, where your head sags forward, contorting your neck into positions that necks aren’t meant to go, before you jolt awake and suck the drool back in just so you can nod off again three seconds later. There’s something about being a passenger in a vehicle that activates sleep mode.

The view from the other side of the road to El Sillar. Once again my camera absolutely refuses to replicate start I saw with my eyeholes.

We had a spot of lunch in the village. Porfi was our cook and she was very good at it. Lunch was a whole, proper filling meal. It was amazing! Absolutely stuffed full to the point of discomfort we rolled back to the car. This is going to be one of those tours where I burst a button on my trousers or something isn’t it. It was a fair old way to the next stop so we had plenty of time to slip into a food coma before we got to Pueblo Fantasma, which means Ghost Town, which is a dramatic way of describing an abandoned ruin. I’m very much a sucker for a ruin.

San Antonio de Lipez
Pueblo Fantasma. Sort of like a poor man’s Machu Picchu.

I’m also really enjoying this being dropped off so we can wander around then meeting the car at the other end. We’d been creeping up and up and up and by now we were at 4690 m.a.s.l. and my lungs were making me very aware of this with every step. I was out of breath just getting out of the car. Fortunately it was downhill to the ruins from where we were dropped and we had to walk past a bloke who had a table full of rocks, ceramics and powder. Silver, zinc, copper, fragments pottery from colonial times. It did used to be a mining settlement called San Antonio del Nuevo Mundo until the mining went to shit and the town was abandoned.


According to their website, legend has it that the residents made a pact with the devil all they’d always have prosperous mining but they didn’t uphold their end of the bargain. I’m not sure what their end of the bargain was, it doesn’t say, but the focal point of the village seemed to be a fuck off great big church and I’m not entirely sure Lucifer would be entirely happy with that. He killed most of the inhabitants anyway, and the ones that were left started seeing ghosts and other inexplicable shit started happening so they quite sensibly noped the fuck out of there.

This guy is, apparently, a Viscacha. It looks like a fuck off great big rabbit and hops like one too.

Not long after the Pueblo Fantasma we pulled over for the Mirador de Laguna Morijón with the absolutely stunning volcano, Cerro Uturuncu, photo bombing every shot. We were at 4855 m.a.s.l. by this point, as indicated by a handy sign telling us so should the lack of oxygen at this altitude claimed enough brain cells that this information trickled straight out of an ear. There are also loads of those little piles of rocks that humans are obsessed with building anywhere that rocks have the audacity to not be in piles.

Mirador de Laguna Morijón

We trundled on over pretty horrific unsealed roads. Barnaba was an excellent driver though, very safe and always leaned on his horn going round blind corners. Whenever another 4×4 tore up behind him he just pulled over and let them pass. Good bloke. We got to the entrance to the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, registered our details and bought our tickets, then off we fucked to Quetena Chico. It was around 5ish when we rolled in, about 4200 m.a.s.l. We helped unload all the shit off the roof of the vehicle then settled down for some tea and biscuits.

These guys are Andean ostriches, or “suri” in Quechua which is the language of the indigenous people of this region. Obviously I only ever got photos of their arses as they fled.

Porfi stunned us again with a cracking meal of some manner of vegetable soup that appeared to be conjured from magic and joy, followed by the most delicious dead stuff. We were joined by a Dutch bloke who was cycling South America. He started in Bogota and now he was here lamenting the state of the roads. Poor bugger won’t have any bollocks left with the size of the corrugations he’s going to be bouncing over on this section of his trip. He’d offered Pofre payment for some food but I think she just told him she’d feed him if he washed up which was lovely of her. We had enough food for an extra person after all and we were still absolutely stuffed.

Plenty of this sort if shenanigans today.

Something else we were was absolutely shattered. The hostel was very basic and definitely not heated but we were provided with enough blankets to suffocate an elephant. It actually wasn’t bitterly cold, probably on account of it being summer, but you wouldn’t want to be running around without a jumper. It’s not that warm. You’d still impale a llama on a nipple.

Jump to “Useful shit to know…”

Tupiza to Quetena Chico, Potosí Department, Bolivia (4191 m.a.s.l.)

Stayed at: La Andino Lamphaya, Quetena Chico

La Andino Lamphaya. Very basic as expected. Bring your own bog roll. There’s a room where you can cook but you need to bring your own gas.

Useful shit to know…

  • The toilets in Cerrillos cost Bs2 each.
  • It cost Bs15 each to go to Pueblo Fantasma.
  • There are free toilets there by the car park.
  • It cost Bs150 each to enter Reserva Nacional de Eduardo Avaroa, valid for four days.
  • Keep hold of this ticket as you need to present it when you leave.
  • I had 4G on Entel for most of the time in Quetena Chico. Adrian had no signal at all on Tiga.
  • There’s a small shop that you have to knock on at to get in. They only sell snacks though, no beer.
  • The electricity went off overnight at La Andino Lamphaya. I don’t know if this is normal or if they’d just had a power cut but it was the Dutch guy’s second night and he seemed surprised that his phone hadn’t charged. I think a powerbank is an essential item.

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