Since I became a postie I’m much better at getting up at hours even the sparrows would raise an eyebrow at. The trick is to actually go to bed at a reasonable hour rather than cruising through on three hours sleep and expecting to function without drooling on your own shoes. The wine helped. It did mean my mouth felt like I’d been sucking a dirty sock all night but I did sleep quite well.
I think it must have been 4.45am by the time we got the van loaded and headed off towards the Salar de Uyuni. It was still dark when we pulled up in the same place that we watched the fiery skyball show last night, but this time we were putting a whole mess of stars in our eyeholes. The Milky Way galactic core was right above us. You could just about make out the brighter constellations in amongst the thousands of other stars. It was an absolutely magical way to start the day.
We jumped back in the car before we froze to death and Barnaba drove us onto the Salar de Uyuni proper to watch the sun make its entrance, stage east. It was still bastard freezing though so we huddled in the car until it got light enough to take photos. Because pics or it didn’t happen, right? It was a gorgeous morning though with all the pastels you’d expect from a sunrise. We enjoyed it until the fiery skyball finally launched itself over the horizon then we piled back into the 4×4 for a bit more salt flat driving.
Some parts were wetter than others. At one point when we were watching the sunrise a pick up truck belted past us at speed. Apparently the speed limit here is 70kph but Barnaba reckoned they were doing over 100.
“They’re not Bolivian, they’re from Chile,” he told us in Spanish, as if that were an excuse for driving like an absolute maniac. He also told us there were accidents on the salt from people driving drunk or driving too fast and aquaplaning when there was water. If that guy had hit the wet parts of this huge expanse of salt at that speed I’m really surprised we didn’t find him and his truck spinning upside down a bit further along.
Barnaba is a safe driver, he slowed right down and crawled through the water. He found us a dry spot where we could pull over for breakfast which was cake. Fuck yes, cake for breakfast! Then we continued on to an unbroken expanse of white where we could do some of those famous perspective photos. I wish I had more imagination when it came to things like this, I’ve seen some cracking ones. We were limited by the fact there was only three of us too but it was a lot of fun trying to line things up and work out what was going to look good.
There was one more quick stop to marvel at the Ojos del Salar, the Eyes of the Salt Flats, which is where water was being forced up through the salt thus forming bubbling pools. It’s actually quite cool. I don’t know if this is a rainy season phenomenon or not. Then we were off to Colchani for some lunch. Poor Porfi was up until 1am cooking the food for the whole of today so it would only be about ten minutes before it was ready. Barnaba told us there were artesenal markets if we wanted to have a look around.
Ah I’ll have a look but I don’t think I’ll buy… oh my gosh is that a magnet made of salt? Is that a lovely scarf? IS THAT A FUCKING FLAMINGO CARVED FROM SALT?? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!!! To be fair Tarrant was the biggest instigator here. I’d have been content with the magnet but it doesn’t take much to coerce me into parting with more money for souvenirs. I don’t even want to think about how much we’ve spent on magnets and trinkets, then the fucking postage to send them home so we don’t have to cart them around with us.
Lunch was fantastic again. I’m really going to miss Porfi’s cooking. Chicken and quinoa and vegetables was today’s delicious fare. Vegetables and fruit are seriously lacking in our day to day diet, I’m surprised we don’t have several medieval diseases, or scurvy at the very least. I could almost feel the nutrients coursing through me. My trousers are on the verge of bursting a button but it’s worth it.
We were nearly at the end of the trip which kind of made us a bit sad. We’d really enjoyed Adrian’s company too, he shares our sense of humour and he was so easy to get on with. We couldn’t have asked for a better travel companion. But there was one final stop; the train cemetery. Basically they’ve dumped a load of old trains on a plot of land and turned it into a tourist attraction. I’m a sucker for a rusting hulk. Definitely not going to climb them though, Tarrant and Adrian scrambled up one but I really enjoy not having tetanus so I remained firmly on the ground.
So that was it then. We were all dropped at the bus terminal in Uyuni. Adrian was heading straight to Potosí, and on account of the fact we prefer getting to places a little earlier we decided to spend the night in Uyuni. We found an alojamiento for a good price that also had a sink where we could at least attempt to de-salt our belongings after last night’s frolickings, then we just chilled in the sun. Then the shade. Then the sun. Oh it’s like that is it? Too hot in the sun but too cold in the shade? I’m also blaming altitude for this.
It was also Sunday so most of the town was shut apart from a small strip of expensive tourist restaurants. It looked post-apocalyptic. We considered wandering around in search of cheap eats but ended up taking the path of least resistance and throwing a whole £12.65 (try not to choke) at two meals and a 1.25 litre bottle of beer. So we’re at that stage already. When you spend any amount of time in a cheap country your idea of what’s an acceptable price to pay for food completely warps. To put that in perspective, we paid less for our room for the night.
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Villa Candelaria to Uyuni, Potosí Department, Bolivia
Stayed at: Alojamiento La Gran Estacion, Uyuni
Useful shit to know…
- The train cemetery was free to enter.
- I thought there was an entrance fee for the Salar de Uyuni but we were never asked to pay one.
- The toilets in Colchani cost Bs2 each.
- We only went to a few tour agencies in Tupiza and they were all asking Bs1250 per person plus entrance fees which are paid separately.
- Valle Hermoso did say they’d give us a discount as we were staying there but they didn’t accept card.
- We were limited by who would accept card and ended up going with La Torre Tours.
- They charged an extra 8% to pay by card which is a lot! But to be fair, given the withdrawal limits at the ATMs and the charges, even if we’d been able to get cash out we’d probably have spent that much in charges.
- They provided fleece lined sleeping bags which were a game changer.
- I think the quality of your tour ultimately comes down to your driver and cook and they were both great, I’m not too sure about La Torre Tours though.
- They didn’t tell us that Isla Incahuasi was closed, in fact they told us we’d be going there. They also tried to get us to pay extra money to cover a fourth person who had to cancel last minute.
- I think it’s possible to do this independently if you have a 4WD but you might need to carry all your food and diesel.
- We met a guy cycling it so that’s doable too.
- We also saw several motorcyclists, I’ve no idea where they were filling up with petrol. I didn’t see anywhere but then I wasn’t looking properly.