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Travel Adventure - Backpacking Latin America's Gringo Trail Backpacking Latin America starting in Cuba, then travelling from East to the west coast of Mexico before making our through Central and finishing in South America.

Salt Flats Tour through the desert and otherworldly landscapes to Chile

BOLIVIA | Thursday, 3 September 2015 | Views [325]

Day 1

A lady from our tour company was waiting at the bus station with a sign with our names on it. Soon a car came to pick us up and take us to their office. Here we freshened up, brushed our teeth and got changed etc. we then grabbed breKfast from a pretty cool place around the corner which reminded me of looking like a snow dome but it had a solid fire place etc in it. We had pancakes with dulce de leche which was so yummy and also an oats with milk and cinnamon which we had had on the trek, but wasn't as good as the chef's on the trek. We waited around for a little bit at the office before we were ready to go in a 4WD. Our driver packed the top with our bags and picked up 4 other people who were going to be on our tour with us. A Romanian couple, a guy from Potugal and a girl from Spain. We were the only ones who couldn't speak Spanish but luckily they all (apart from the driver could speak English) so the Romanian couple translated some things for us. Not that he explained much, pretty much was just telling us how long we had at each place. 
The first stop was at a train cemetery. Old rusted steam train abandoned near the town of Uyuni. It made for some cool photos. Next we stopped at a place where they sold local handicrafts and there was a small museum with salt statues. We then started driving across the landscape to the salt flats. The area was so expanse with nothing for miles and in the very distance you could see some small collections of mountains. Sometimes with the way the sun reflected, it looked like there was water on the horizon or some parts of the landscape would disappear and maybe the mountains looked like they were floating. Wasn't sure what caused it but it looked pretty cool. Once we got on to the start of the salt flats we jumped out of the land cruiser to look at the salt flats up close and see the mounds of salt which they apparently dig up and leave as mounds so they dry out until ready to be taken to the nearest village for salt. The ground was hard and the salt earth glistened in the sun. The ground was also shaped like hexagons. We then stopped at a place were there were small waterholes which were bubbling. Not sure why this was, maybe a reaction of the salt on the earths surface. Will need to google that one after the tour. Don't think I will be learning that much on this tour without speaking Spanish. We stopped briefly at a place where they do the rally car driving and also a salt hotel which is no longer in use but some groups were eating here. It looked like an igloo melted in to the snow. We continued on and stopped 'on the side of the road' to have lunch which was packed in the 4WD of salad, quinoa, an omelette for me and another vego girl and meat for everyone else. He stopped at a place where it was just us and the never ending salt flats and it was a bit more white and we took the classic salt flat photos. It was actually a lot harder than I thought it would be but a few of the pics turned out pretty funny and distorted. This is where some of the group would have had a good driver who would have helped set up and take their photos, considering this is one of the main reason people come to the salt flats. Instead, our driver seemed uninterested and seemed to want to hurry us along. 
It seemed as the roads led to nowhere on the salt flats, they were incredibly huge expanse of nothingness. But soon we would arrive at our next destination, which was a random island thing in the middle of the salt flats with these huge furry looking cactuses on it. You could pay to go to the top but Matt and I already got some cool pics staying below so waited for everyone else. We got a little bored here as we had to wait another 20minutes before the driver wanted to start driving again as we would watch the sunset and it would get cold so wanted to stay in the sun as long as possible. We started driving again and stopped when the sun started setting. It was freezing out of the car, so we layered up. The moon rising behind us with the purple, blue horizon above the never ending salt flats actually looked better than the sunset. After we took a few photos we jumped back in the car to get warm again. We drove for a while in the dark, but the driver knew the roads well and we got to our accommodation which was pretty basic but also pretty cool coz it was made from salt bricks and salt on the ground! They were private rooms, so Matt and I had our own room which was nice, I feel like we haven't had a private room in ages, although we were tired so fell straight to sleep after dinner (which was also pretty basic) in our single beds. You had to pay extra (not much) if you wanted a hot shower, but it was so cold Matt and I were just going to stink it out for the next couple of day. Not that we were using much energy and not that we hadn't done it before!
 
Day 2
My stomach wasn't feeling very well the next morning. I got ready and went to have breakfast with our group but felt worse. I started feeling nauseous and felt like I was going to pass out at the table. I thought I better lay down so got up to make my way back to our room. Falling into the walls, I thought I was going to be sick so went to the bathrooms instead, but was dry reaching instead. I laid down in bed. Maybe it was the omelette I had last night and I had food poisoning? Matt came in to check on me and asked if i wanted him to bring me any breakfast. I didn't really feel like eating so asked just for a tea and a piece of bread with butter. Which was a shame coz they had dulce de leche and pancakes which I would have much preferred! 
Feeling a little better we got in to the land cruiser to start our day. The scenery was a lot more interested today and we were the first car the leave so got many of the landmarks to ourselves before everyone else arrived. We crossed over old train tracks in the middle of the desert. This was the continuation of the old train tracks we saw on the first day in Uyuni at the train graveyard. The train tracks led to Chile. We stopped to get some photos on here and the guide told us this road was used a lot of drug trafficking. We then stopped at an area where there was cool rock formations. I didn't feel very well so didn't get out to look. Matt wandered around with the others and took photos. We drove on passing through incredible wide open landscapes which was red earth desert and mountains and glaziers in the distance. It seemed like we were on another planet, I'm sure what resembles something like Mars. We arrived at a large lagoon which had flamingoes in it! At first we thought the driver was going to go straight past but he ended up driving further to a better spot where there were more flamingoes and the snow capped mountain behind the lagoon. I was excited to see the flamingoes so got out to take a closer look. As we walked closer to them they walked further away from us. I think they were a bit camera shy. I tired to get a few photos but they were pretty far away, even with the zoom or would fly away. The ground was quite white and salty here so the pink feathers that came off the flamingoes were bright and really pretty to see on the ground. 
Unfortunately I was still feeling sick. I wasn't quite sure what it was but was beginning to think it was altitude. I didn't realise how high we were coz everything was so flat but apparently we were between 4000-5000m throughout this tour. Just a general unwell feeling and started to get a bit of a head ache. I felt really drowsy and tired so just tried to sleep when we were travelling.
Our next stop was another site with some more rock formations. These ones were more of a light grey rock colour and scattered on the flat ground. They were large and one was a really weird shape, a tall thin bottom and flattened out larger at the top. I got out but just sat on the ground coz I felt like I had little energy and Matt took some photos. Next stop was lunch at a lagoon, which was pretty but I didn't feel like eating so just slept in the car. A bit of the shame I couldn't enjoy the nice lunch stop.
We continued on and had to pay an entrance fee to the national park we were entering. Here the scenery and landscapes were really impressive! We past a mountain with green shrubs at the foot and a pack of llamas grazing below. We drove through a small village and had to stop for some sheep to cross then arrived at this huge lagoon which was a rich red colour and flickers of blue reflecting from the sky. There were so many flamingoes here and they looked bright pink against the red lagoon colour. Again I thought the driver was going to keep driving but took us to the best spot to get out and take photos. This scenery was beautiful so I had to get out for a closer look. The flamingoes here weren't as camera shy but still a bit far away I had to zoom. But I think I got some better flamingo photos here. They made a pretty chirping sound and had long legs and lovely pink feathers. They were flocking about, drinking the lagoon water or flying mid height with their long necks jutted out. They were a bit smaller than I thought they would be but a pretty cool bird to see in real life.
When we arrived at our accommodation around 3:30pm, I was really not feeling well. We were in a dorm room with the 6 of us of our group in one room. I laid down and my head was pounding with the worse migraine/headache I've ever experienced. I thought my head was going to explode. It must be altitude sickness. I drank some coca tea to see if it would help but it didn't do too much, was just nice to drink a hot drink coz it became cold as the sun began to set. I laid back down and decided to have some Panadol with dinner. Dinner was served and the headache eased straight away when I took one tablet. We were also given a bottle of red with dinner. Coz I don't really drink red wine and I wasn't feeling well I only had a sip but it was a good way to finish the night with our group. It was supposed to be a really cold night so we layered up to go to bed and the beds had three blankets on them which was good so we were actually toasty warm all night until our 4am wake up to start the next day.
 
Day 3
I was feeling much better today. A slight headache but nothing like yesterday and I seemed to have more energy again. We had breakfast, this time I could have to dulce de leche pancakes! I had some more coca tea just in case, then we gave the packet to the tour company to use because I'm not sure if you can get them through to Chile or if we would be able to get them in back in Australia. Plus we didn't have any more high altitude after this so wouldn't really need them any more. We were the first car to leave again and at 5am when we went to the car it was dark and freezing outside! I think it was -10degrees. Our driver said one of the water bottles left in the car had frozen overnight but had melted again this morning. We left early to get the sunrise. On our way our driver pointed to a car in a ditch next to the side of the road. The car had its headlights off but you could see a faint light of where he was talking about and apparently were drug dealers. Next minute a police car was in front of us and pulled us over to search our car for drugs. A little scary when you hear the stories of Bolivian police and they had massive machine guns/assault rifles in their belts. But as the driver said this is a main road for drug trafficking I'm sure plenty of cars are pulled over and searched all the time. 
We neared the mountain where the sunrise was happening but beforehand we came across these awesome geysers which we stopped to take a closer look and take photos. They were really awesome. There was one artificial one which had so much steam coming from the earth and was shooting straight up in the air. The full moon shine brightly behind it. There were real ones a bit further along which weren't as powerful but more misty and lots of it, coming from craters on the ground and the sun was rising up behind them. It was absolutely freezing cold outside the car as it was still dark outside. I don't think I've ever been that cold before so after we took photos we quickly jumped back in the car. We continued along in the 4WD up the mountain as the sun was coming up. I looked behind us and I saw the most picturesque scenery I have ever seen in my life. Snow capped mountains rose up with the sky a beautiful blue/purple horizon, the mountains almost looked a moody purple because of the morning light with the contrasting white snow on top. The full moon shone brightly just sitting above the shoulder of one of the mountains. This is stunning scenery, surely we'll stop for a photo of this at the height of the mountain we were driving up. You couldn't really get a good photo from the car window and usually I doubt the driver but he ends up stopping in the best spot to get out and take photos. Unfortunately this time he kept driving. I was a bit bummed I missed a photo of probably the most picture perfect landscape I think I'll ever see. It was even this magnificent full moon which doesn't happen every morning! Coz I can't speak Spanish and I thought he might have just been driving to a good location, I didn't ask him to stop either. Oh well as Matt said don't be disappointed you missed a photo of it, just appreciate that you saw it. I think I've learnt on this trip that you can't capture everything. 
We came over the other side of the mountain and the sun was bright and rising. It wasn't much of a sun rise because there were no clouds around to make it colourful but at least it was warming the earth up from the freezing morning it was. We soon arrived at the hot springs and we were the first car to get there. Because it was so cold outside, we weren't sure wether stripping off our clothes would be a good idea but we were glad we did because the hot springs were so hot (30-35degrees), it actually burned when you first got in because of the differing temperatures from outside to in, but so so nice to sit and relax in with steam floating up beside us. We thought it would be freezing hopping back out but it actually wasn't too bad coz we were so warmed up by the springs, we got changed and continued driving in the 4WD. Passing through more incredible landscapes and mountains etc. we headed towards our last site of the tour. It was called Laguna Verde known for its beautiful blue/green colour but when we arrived it just looked like another lagoon. Unfortunately because it was still and not windy it was giving off the incredible colour. The mountains surrounding were quite spectacular though. More snow capped peaks but all around. From this point we were standing in Bolivia and you could see the Andes mountains to the left where lies Argentina and to the right was Chile! Pretty cool being at the standing point of three different countries all in sight! We then drove a bit further to the Chilean border where our tour ended and we stamped our passport and got on to another bus to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. 
This was a really good way to see the salt flats and the impressive landscapes and scenery of Bolivia. And to transit to our next destination in Chile. It probably would have been better with an English speaking guide, but it probably would have been better if I didn't get sick too. Everything isn't always ideal. We saved money and we still saw all the incredible sights. The landscapes were expanse and arid. They seemed quite harsh with jagged mountain terrains, rock formations and flat, hard desert. Peculiar and otherworldly but also very interesting. Over the 3 days we passed through many diverse landscapes of white salt flats which were never ending, red earth and rocks, rolling mountains and snow capped glaziers, volcanoes, dry sandy desert, green shrubbery at the base of huge mountains, jagged rocks, dry cactus, glistening and rich coloured lagoons and mythical like birds and animals. A very amazing part of the world with some of the most magnificent scenery!
 

Tags: bolivia, desert, flamingoes, lagoons, landscapes, llamas, mountains, salt flats, train tracks, volcanoes

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