Uyuni and the Salar: Picture Perfect

Posted on June 7, 2011

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In true Bolivian style, my 10am bus to Uyuni unapologetically became an 11.30am bus, and I did not make it to Uyuni until 5pm. This was no great disappointment, since the town itself proved to be small, cold and interest-free, aside from the inside of the bizarrely-named Extreme Fun Pub. My achievements upon arrival consisted of booking my salt flats tour for the following morning, finding a cheap hostel, eating a pizza and drinking a pint of beer through a nipple-shaped glass in eight seconds flat.

The next morning I was up bright and early for an excellent buffet breakfast at Minuteman Pizza, run by a friendly guy from Boston. After obtaining my Bolivian exit stamp (my tour would leave me in Chile), I went to meet the company I would be keeping for several days. This proved to consist of a friendly Swiss couple, a German girl volunteering in La Paz, and the two most irritating Bolivian ladies I have ever met. More to follow.

The tour began with a brief visit to a “graveyeard” of disused trains, which I found less than impressive. Resisting what other travellers found an irresistible urge to clamber over the wrecks, I waited for the next stop, which would prove the highlight of the next three days. The expansive and beautiful salt flats, chilly but dazzling, were a fantastic setting for a stroll and lunch but also great fun when it came to taking ridiculous photos.

Accommodation that night was basic in the extreme, with a food simple and the wine supply unsatisfactory. I did not find the conditions as extremely cold as I had been warned they would be, and rose the next morning having slept well. Day Two saw us travel by jeep across fantastic scenery of multi-coloured lakes, mountains and rock formations. The day was only mildly spoiled by the fact that one of the Bolivian ladies insisted on punctuating the great scenery with soliloquies on her two favourite subjects: potatoes, and death. Needless to say these one-sided conversations had to be translated for me by my German friend. The lady survived by the skin of her teeth.

After another night of simple food and accommodation, this time rescued by my own supply of store-bought lagers and a game of poker that became humiliating for me, we were up at 5am the next day to drive to the edge of a lake for breakfast. Other gringos seemed to delight in the outdoor thermal baths, but the coldness and the wind put me off, and I huddled inside with my pancake. From there all that remained was to drop myself and the German girl at the Bolivian exit point, where we sheltered in a van for warmth before being bussed to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. The trip may have been cold, the local company may have been soul-destroying, but the scenery and the sense of simple adventure had made it thoroughly worthwhile.

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Posted in: Experience, Travel