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Living the South American Dream

Uyuni, Bolivia

BOLIVIA | Monday, 5 April 2010 | Views [402]

Im not sure how to report our experience at Uyuni. It was mixed to say the least and not the nicest introduction to Bolivia but we were afforded some great experiences. The main reason we came here was to see the massize salt lake, the largest in the world. Picture yourself on a boat (or in this case a 4wd crammed with 3 loud and obnoxious brits, a polite Argentinian and Uruguayan and a well spoken and likeable gay couple ;) with nought but water on all sides. Now change the water for salt, white and respledent, glorious in its majesty and dominance of the landscape.

We arrived by bus, very dusty and bumpy bus leading me to first recount the story of our journey accross the Bolivian border. Buses in Chile are comfortable, plain and simple. Tolerable for an overnight journey and adequately heated and outfitted. Buses in Bolivia are not... In order to avoid certain taxes passengers are required to change buses at the Bolivian border, literally in the middle of the desert with broad sweeping mountains on all sides (and a smoking volcano to add to the scenic drama.) We left Calama at 6am and tolerated a cold ride to the border with everything but the clucking chickens and goats accompanying us. The indigenous population in these parts is very pronounced and the women can easily be spotted for their colourful shawls and unique habits for carrying goods (slung in a ruck sack accross their back and tied accross their chest, typically carrying food stuffs or children ;) As if the journey (and smells) were not difficult enough to bear the little boy in front of us decided to return that mornings meal all accross his mother and floor, the smell of which dominated the confines of the bus. This part of the journey passed without much more to remark aside from the dramatic landscape and hairaising corners on precipeses. We reached the border where we disembarked and switched buses with other tourists and locals travelling in the opposite direction. We also found that our bus ride would be cheaper if we payed for the second leg of the journey in Bolivianos and promptly changed our remaining chilean pesos for Bolivianos with a man offering change services.

Clearing immigration without affir we climbed onto the second bus and were severly disappointed... The dust was the worst, pervading every aspect of the bus whilst the seats were worn and uncomfortable. What little rest could be had was taken until we reached Uyuni and cheacked into a ridiculously overpriced local hostel with no amenities (not even running water. Have you ever tried to wash yourself out of a tub of freezing cold water, not the nicest experience). That being said we passed the afternoon with a pleasant experience as a travelling market (yes a market that travels around Bolivia selling just about anything you can imagine) was in town with food, sights and sounds to be experienced. We enjoyed out first taste of llama, cooked by a street vendor with potatoes on a stick (called pincho in Colombia). It was deliciously tender and salty and a great way to satisfy our appetites after snacking on dulces (sweets), fruit and buñuelos (or at least the local version of buñuelos) deep fried batter tasty in all its deepfried goodness. We managed to score some local knowledge from a local tourism operator and booked ourselves in for a day tour of the Uyuni salt flats and Isla del Pescado (island of fish).

When the photos are uploaded they will describe the scene more adequately than I could ever hope, even with an expansive and expressive vocabulary such as mine ;) Whilst the ride was in a Lexus it was cramped and difficult to enjoy esècially with crass and vulgar Brits talking about their perverse sexual habits and complete incapacity to deal with the lack of modern conveniences encountered in Bolivia. Salt on all sides was the feature of the landscape and ran some 120m deep in all directions. It was also a principle export of the region with salt miners dotted around the rim of the flats. The Island of Fish was amazing, a humped monstrosity erupting out of the salt flat to command sweeping views of nothingness but luxuriouly smothered in grand and elegant cacti and, curiously, home to (what I think) a rhea, a large flightless bird not unlike an ostrich. The Brits in this case couldnt believe their eyes that an ostrich was to be found in South America and I certainly wasnt compelled to correct them nor enlighten them lol...

The trip back was thankfully quick and restful,two hours accross the featurless expanse (as I had managed to snag the front seat BOOYEAH) and upon our return we indulged in some more street vendor food before waiting for the overnight bus to Sucre. Bolvia, we would soon discover was marvelously cheap with a lot to offer to both the budget travaller and spendthrift alike.

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