3 Days in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

October 20-23, 2015

We arrived in Uyuni around 5 or so.  After getting our bearings we looked around the bus station, which was just an outdoor stretch of pavement along the street, for a bus to Villazon.  We booked a 10-hour overnight bus ride to Villazon, departed at 8pm and arrived at 4 in the morning—how shitty!  It cost us 100 bolivianos ($14.50).  Unfortunately the bus is not a cama, or even a semi cama, which means the seats don’t recline at all.  This is where Xanax and a shot of Vodka is the difference between sleep and a night of torture.

After checking out no less than half a dozen hostels we found one and dropped our bags off.  We enjoyed a drink in the town center, which was incredibly small.  Uyuni would be a ghost town if it weren’t for the Salt Flats nearby.  After our drink we had the best dinner either of us had eaten in a long time.  At first we split an order of beef from this local place that cooked the meat on a grill outside.  The dish included several cuts of Argentine Steak, a potato, a salad with beets, and rice.  For 40 bolivianos ($5.75) it was a good price.  Even though we weren’t too hungry after spitting the dish we decided on another since it tasted so good.  We ordered the llama, which included the same accompaniments but the meat with a smaller llama steak and quite a few llama ribs.  It was great, but not as good as the steak.  This dish was only 25 bolivianos ($3.60).  We have to split another order when we arrive back in Uyuni…before our night bus.

We got to our tour office at 10:00 in the morning but we didn’t leave until closer to 11.  We booked with Giselle Tours, but were somehow put on an Oasis Tour.  In our group were two Czech men and a couple that now lives in Barcelona.  The guy was from Venice and the girl was from Barcelona.

Day 1 of the Tour: The World's Largest Salt Flat

On the first day you we visited the salt flats. In the dry season this is a hallucinogenic white landscape. In the rain it is mostly submerged and will show a perfect reflection of the sky.  We did not see it in the rainy season however.

  • Train Graveyard - A place with a lot of wrecked old steam locomotives.

The Train Graveyard in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The Train Graveyard in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Scott goofing off at the Train Graveyard in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

  • Colchani, Bloques de Sal - A village 7 kilometers north of Uyuni that survives off of the processing of salt. Salt souvenirs are available, a salt museum that has carvings of animals created with salt (they make you pay the fee upon exit), some examples of furniture and home-building techniques using salt. Bathrooms available for a price, but Sylvie and I use nature for free!
  • Salt-Mining Area - An area where salt is dug from the plane into piles weighing a ton each, and left to dry in the sun before transport to a refinery then to your table.

Sylvie and I at the Salt Flats in Bolivia

Our tour group at Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

  • Salt Hotels - Several hotels made completely out of salt.

Salt hotel in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Isla de los Pescados in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

  • Isla de los Pescados, or Isla Incahuasi - The name originates from the fish-like appearance of the island's reflection in the wet season. There is a fee of 30 bolivianos (Sylvie and I pass on this) to visit this island of fossilized coral covered in 1000-year-old cacti in the middle of the Salar. These cacti (the highest of them being 9-10 m) grow at a rate of 1cm per year, so you can easily calculate their age. Sylvie and I take another free 'nature' bathroom break as we walk around the island.
  • Island Phia Phia - We seemed to be the only tour group (out of dozens) that stopped here.  Another island in the salt flats.  A cave that as used as an ancient burial ground.
  • Accommodation - Our hotel was basic and charged for the use of showers.

Our Salt Hotel in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Day 2 of the Tour:  Heading south past colourful lakes to Laguna Colorada

  • Laguna Hedionda (along with half a dozen other lagoons) - a lagoon full of flamingos and where we ate lunch.

One of the many lagoons we visited with flamingos in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

One of the many lagoons we visited in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

  • Arbol de Piedra - A stone tree that has been carved out of the howling, sandy winds.

Arbol de Piedra in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

  • Laguna Colorada - A lake coloured red by the algae that live in it. Also you will see lots of flamingos. A 30Bs (Bolivian citizen) or 150Bs (foreigner) fee to enter the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa is required to go any further.

One of the many lagoons (the Red Laguna) we visited in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

  • Accommodation - Laguna Colorada area has many basic accommodations in adobe shacks without heating. Beds and blankets are provided.  Sylvie and I share a bed to keep warm. There is electricity for a few hours, but usually no station to recharge batteries. Outside Temperature can is often below 0 degrees F at night in July.

Third Morning - Geysers and Hot Springs down to Laguna Verde and Back

We began at an ungodly hour (5am).

  • Solar de Manaña geyser basin - a collection of bubbling sulfur pools and a geyser, normally visited just as the sun is rising. There are no railings here, the ground can be slippery and cave in, and that water looks hot.

Solar de Manaña geyser basin in Bolivia

Solar de Manaña geyser basin in Bolivia

  • Laguna Verde - (coloured green by Arsenic, Lead, Copper and other heavy metals) with a perfect reflection of Vulcán Lincacabur.
  • Laguna Blanca - A white lake filled with Borax.
  • Termas de Polques hot springs - Adjacent to Salar de Chalviri - I went in, Sylvie still was feeling awful!

Termas de Polques hot springs in Bolivia

Next we had a very long drive back to Uyuni

  • San Cristobal - A town with a 350-year-old church containing a silver altar.

Some more details about our trip:  On first night we stayed at a nice salt hotel where Sylvie and I shared a room.  We had tea and biscuits at around 6 and sat around waiting for dinner for a very long time.  Finally, at 8:40 we got our dinner.  We were served a vegetable soup first.  Then by 9:00 we finally received our entre, meat lasagna that actually tasted like lasagna.  Sylvie was ecstatic!  We talked for quite some time at the table.  We discussed various politics.  One guy told us about the Czech influence under communism and how it was a great time for them.  It’s funny how much propaganda exists in American history books.  We were taught how bad communism rule was, but that couldn’t be further from the truth!  The girl educated us about the political situation in Barcelona and how the region has been fighting for their independence.  Her ‘mother tongue’ is Catalan, but she speaks Spanish and English as second languages.

Sylvie and I have had it with tours for a while.  Although the scenery has been gorgeous the entire tour, just like the Sacred Valley tour, feels as if we are cattle being herded from place to place only to spend 10-20 minutes at each destination.  At each destination dozen(s) of Toyota Land Rovers wait patiently as the sheep from each pen take pictures of the same thing.  Sylvie and I decide to wait in the car at a few of the stops.  To me the story behind many of the attractions is far more impressive than the visuals themselves.  Seeing a field of petrified seaweed, or a hilltop with a petrified forest of sea cacti on top of petrified coral is much less visually stimulating than one would think.

Unlike at our first hotel, where we were the only group, there were at least 4 other groups at the second hotel.  Sylvie and I had to share a room with the 4 other people in our group.  The room had poorly insulated windows and it was quite cold (maybe 30 degrees?).  We slept together in a small twin bed.  Not a typical twin bed, I really mean a ‘small’ twin bed.  While we were getting ready to sleep and watching South Park on my laptop a group was singing and playing music just outside our door.  I rather enjoyed it.  They had a harmonica and a ukulele.

On our third day of the trip we had to wake up early, around 4.  Breakfast was at 4:30 and we left sharply at 5:00.  Sylvie hadn’t slept well the night before as she woke up throwing up.  Once again she had food poisoning.  Our third, and last day, of the Salt Flats tour was largely driving off road.  From 5am to 5pm we were in the cramped 4x4.

Sylvie and I both really hated our driver—even though he knew Sylvie was sick he blasted hit shitty Bolivian music and when I asked him to turn it down he opened his window all the way.  It was 40 degrees and windy outside and Sylvie was freezing.  I try to keep an open mind but so many of ‘these Bolivians’ behave like animals.  And I mean animals in the purest sense.  They spit everywhere from their toothless mouths.  I noticed once a guide preparing our food in the kitchen and he just spit on the floor…in the fucking kitchen nonetheless!  Many of them shove coca leaves into their putrid mouths by the dozens until their speech is slurred due to the balk in which it holds.  As they grin/speak white spit drips out from their lips.  It reminds me of cows grazing on grass.  Even native Spanish speakers have made comments about Bolivians not making sense when they talk.  A politically correct person may just say that they are socially-economically disadvantaged and that they are a product of their upbringing, but the scientist in me has to disagree.  I am convinced, at least in part that cultures evolve in somewhat due to our, innate abilities/desires (genetics).  I’m NOT proposing any form of eugenics, but one’s desire to plan for the future and aspire to further oneself be in part controlled by our nature (and not solely on nurture)!  But I digress…maybe I’m just too influenced the book, “The Bell Curve”.

We arrive in Uyuni and wait another 3 before getting on our overnight bus to Villazon.  Sylvie is a little frustrated with me because she half wants to stay another day and lay in bed.  I told her that if we did that we might have to bus 35-40 hours in a stretch of 60 hours, which means potentially 3 nights in a row on a bus.  Finding bus schedules online is impossible so planning actual travel is impossible.  For dinner we split a plate of chicken, rice and fries for (13 bolivianos $1.88)

The bus ride was something else.  The seats reclined minimally and the aisles were tight. Children were sitting on their parents’ laps and were yelling throughout the evening.  Just in front of my seat, in the aisle, there was even dog.  The bus was oversold and 8 or 9 people had to standing up.  Luckily Sylvie and I booked several days before and got to pick our seats.  I’m not sure how much this mattered—our bus tickets were never checked.

Sylvie had taken a Benadryl to help her sleep.  I had taken a motion sickness pill (because of how drowsy it makes me) and a Xanax.  I made sure to secure our money, passports, visas, electronics, etc. in our Pacsafe, which was very graciously provided to us by one of our sponsors.  The Pacsafe was synched closed and secured to a metal portion of our seats.

After our things were in order I bought another, small, entre from a lady selling food on the bus.  It was some type of meat and corn?