After the horse riding incident I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and put a request in to Bret to postpone our four-day tour to Salar de Uyuni in order for me to enjoy the trip once the wounds began to heal. The request was approved and the next two days went something like this: Wake up, lay in bed for a very long time. Shower, eat breakfast, lay down for a couple of hours. Venture outside into the sun because the room was freezing, grab a quick bite to eat. Back to the hotel, watch whatever movie was on HBO, venture out for an early dinner, back to bed, lay down, watch one of two channels available in English, sleep.
After those two days, I was feeling much better and we were both more than ready to get on the road.
We met up with our tour group at the Tupìza Tours office and were introduced to the two people we would be spending the next four days with, driving across the southeast of Bolivia in a jeep. David, from Philly and Katja from Germany (living in LA) made up our group.
We left Tupiza around 9:30am and began our journey into the stunning surroundings, stopping off for a few photo opportunities along the way. Around noon we stopped for lunch in a large open space where hundreds of llamas were congregating. We hung out for an hour or so, getting plenty of photos of the llamas and the mother and baby donkey that wandered by.
Then it was back in the jeep and on our way to our first accommodations of the trip, stopping by a few small villages along the way. Once we arrived at the village of San Antonio de Lipez (4,260m above sea level), we unpacked the jeep and were treated to tea, coffee and biscuits. We were all settled in by around 5pm and it didn´t take long for us to realize that there was jack all to do in this small village and even if there was anything to do, it was too damn cold outside to leave our dining area. The crew from another jeep that were travelling along with us pulled out their drinking supplies. “Flu” (France), Donna and Dalla (New Jersey) were set. Bret and I eyed up their drinks with envy. We were going to use these four days to “detox” so to speak. That is until we spotted a little store with red wine for the bargain price of $2.17. Sold!
After dinner, the local kids treated us to a few songs and some questionable flute playing, followed by asking for tips. Once they were happy with their donations, Donna busted out her Ipod, which sparked and impromptu dance party – merengue, bachata and salsa kept us warm until we called it a night around 9pm (let me tell you, sitting in a jeep all day really takes it out of you)!
The day began with a 4:30am wake up call and we were on the road an hour later. We stopped by the abandoned silver mining town of San Antonio but seeing as it was still dark and about 20 degrees farenheit outside, no pictures were taken. From there we made our way through the Torreon, an eroded area with tonnes of volcanic rock and a couple more small villages.
Eventually we made it to Laguna Verde (Green Lake), with Volcano Licancabur (5,950m) in the background. This made for a stunning site and more photos ops. From there we moved on to the Rio Amargo (hot springs). Unfortunately because of my neck wounds I didn´t get to soak in the springs in case of infection. We were treated to a huge lunch at this stop before jumping back in the jeep for more driving.
Next stop was at the elevation of 5,000 meters (16,400 ft) at Sol de Manana geysers and volcanic craters with natural boiling mud pools. This was one of the trip highlights for me.
After admiring the volcanic craters, we made our way to Laguna Colorada, a shallow salt lake located within the Eduardo Avaroa Andean National Park. The lake has a deep red color, which is derived from the algae and plankton that are present in the mineral-rich water. It´s also a breeding ground for various breeds of flamingos. We wandered around the lake for a while before heading to our next hostel.
Upon arrival, we were again treated to tea and coffee and right after, out came the adult beverages. Bret was off to explore the area in the hopes of finding another little store. He was in luck! We found a place selling wine but for double the price we had been paying in the city. Bret refused to pay that so we left, him telling me that “it´s still only $7.25 but it´s the principal – how can they jack up the price like that, just because we are in the middle of nowhere! Actually, it IS only $7.25, f%&$ it, let´s just get it!” And that was that. We enjoyed the wine, another dinner prepared by our awesome cook, Bernie, with delicious soup, followed by many hands of the card game, Asshole.
We were lucky enough to sleep in a bit before hitting the road. First stop of the day was at the Desert of Siloli to view the many lava formations, in particular, the famous “Stone Tree”.
We continued our journey, passing by four small lagoons. We spent quite some time at Laguna Canapa, trying to get the perfect pink flamingo shot. After that, although the scenery was still amazing, we were lagooned out and stopped only for a quick snap out of the car window.
We stopped in the desert, near the semi-active Volcano Ollague for another awesome lunch prepared by Bernie.
Our last night on the tour was spent in the village of San Juan where we crashed in one of the few salt hotels in the area. This was a big night as we also had access to hot water and our first shower in three days! Heaven it was. Not so much for Bret whose water went cold right after he stepped in.
The final day of the tour we were up very early again to catch the sunrise over the Salar de Uyuni, the world´s largest salt flat.
After a quick stop for a few sunrise photos over the salt flat we made our way to Isla del Pescado (Fish Island), in the middle of the Salar. It´s a reef-like island with huge cacti, the first salt hotel and an iodized salt processing plant. We spent an hour exploring the island, trying to keep warm.
After breakfast near the island we drove out to where the plain stretched and there was no background, the perfect spot for some photo fun.
We spent a good hour having fun with various props and seeing what we could come up with for photo ops. Unfortunately it was freezing out on the salt so Bret and I lost motivation after a while and were ready to jump back into the warm jeep.
Our tour ended in Uyuni, a town, pretty much built for tourists and to provide tours to the Salar. We made a quick stop at the train cemetery before finishing up with a group lunch.
Although we spent the majority of our time in the jeep, the scenery was amazing and made up for the at times, uncomfortable ride. The tour was definitely a highlight of Bolivia for both of us.
Still doing my best to avoid night buses here in Bolivia, we crashed a night in Uyuni and jumped a bus to Potosi the next day.