Salt For Days – Bolivia: Salar de Uyuni

October 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Word on the street was that a couple of inches of snow had fallen over night and now lay on the route to Bolivia. As a result, everyone had erupted into a Britain-esque panic. The ‘extreme’ weather conditions had caused numerous roads to close, and border control had consequently relocated. What was originally meant to be a one hour journey turned into a frozen four hour yawn fest.

At the faux border, our passports were stamped by a somber-looking individual in a lonely, gloomy room. At the edge of no man’s land, our 4x4s awaited. Our driver, Browley, gave us an incredibly toothless grin, before exhibiting his giant coca leaf stash and enthusiastically waving a stereo jack for our listening pleasure.

4x4 bolivia

To get to our first stop – an electricity deficient, glacial ‘eco’ hotel which we were all very excited about – we had to do three hours of off-roading in the 4x4s. After an especially bumpy journey over some very high, rocky hills and with an abundance of mountainous landscapes, we arrived, famished, at World’s Worst Hotel.

To make matters even worse, World’s Worst Hotel was located next to the aptly named ‘Stinky Lake’, which permeated the freezing air with the delightful stench of old shit. There were some flamingos balancing on the edge of the lake, however, so that was something, at least.

eco hotel

Some beautiful bus window, Iphone photography!

flamingoss

Some distant flamingos…

Shaking, we sat down to have lunch. After travelling for over seven hours, you can imagine the delight experienced by our grumbling stomachs when we were restricted to one piece of chicken and one potato each. Those unfortunate enough to be at the very back of the lunch queue had to share a potato. The plethora of green beans did nothing to soothe the hunger cramps.

I completely gave up on my minuscule piece of chicken after noticing it was still bleeding, as did the others at the table. When I complained, the woman in the kitchen brandished the empty pot in my face, insisting: “¡Esta cocinada, Señorita, mira! ¡Esta cocinada!”. No one was sufficiently convinced, however.

After over-dosing on Immodium instants to hopefully combat any chances of the bloody lunchtime chicken making a swift break for freedom, we got back in our 4×4 with Browley to be given a tour of the surrounding area. Due to border patrol’s relocation earlier in the day, we were unfortunately unable to visit the Red Lagoon and the hot springs, which was slightly disappointing. We were, however, promised many other beautiful views on this round trip… Many a bumpy road later and having stopped at lake and mountain combination number 77, many of us had turned blue and one girl was vomiting up her uncooked chicken behind the queue of 4x4s.

one big mountain

me kim nick cold

By the time we returned to World’s Worst Hotel, the cold had seeped into my bones and several pairs of llama socks were failing to resolve this. The toilets were definitely worth a mention. Ours was an ensuite, which makes it sound misleadingly luxurious. It was designed in the regular toilet shape, but there was no water; there was only sand. The guys toilet was similar, but out in the corridor. It had no door. So aside from the bone-penetrating cold, our ‘ensuite’ also made our room stink of piss.

Over the course of the evening, and after another meal of yet more green beans and meat/potato restrictions, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the so-called Eco Hotel. It seemed rather inconvenient that we were being forced to contract severe pneumonia and attempt to sleep in a urine-infused bedroom. The green bean starvation diet wasn’t helping either.

We spent the rest of the evening with five of us piled into one bed, desperately attempting to distract ourselves from the sub zero temperatures. There was a collective sigh of relief when, in the morning, we all got back in the 4x4s and drove away forever!

Day 2 turned out to be much more positive. We crossed some more bumpy land for an hour or so, listening to some extreme rap and looking like a giant bunch of idiots in our 4×4, windows rolled down, arms out and heads bopping involuntarily as we bounced over yet more rocks.

After lunch in a tiny town, (more green beans, this time with tuna, and enough for everyone!), we finally reached the Salt Flats in the afternoon. They were great fun, and we did, of course, get the typical perspective photos:

me nick amy salt flats salt flats 1 salt flats 2

In a desperate attempt to come up with a Salt Flats perspective picture that hasn’t already been seen a thousand times via Google, we bought a small llama who subsequently became our mascot for the rest of the trip.

hans hans hans

Just casually riding a llama.

We arrived at the evening’s accommodation around 4.30pm, and another collective sigh of relief was exhaled on the realisation that it was much better than the previous night. We were split into small salt houses, where even the walls and the beds were made of salt! The sand toilet also existed here, but the fact that it was much warmer and there was electricity so we weren’t just struggling blindly through the darkness put everyone in a much better, sand-toilet tolerant, mood.

salt hotel

In the evening, and after a thankfully filling dinner of spaghetti bolognaise, we got to witness the most beautiful sunset across the Salt Flats, though the following photo does it absolutely no justice.

sunset salt flats

Some more tragic Iphone photography.

The rest of the evening was spent in a happy, warm vodka-filled haze, in the middle of which I managed to fall directly into a cactus. I limped back inside resembling something from a cartoon as I tried to slowly but surely extract the needles from my bum, arms, legs and back!

The following morning, we drove the final length to Uyuni, stopping at a train cemetery along the way. The cemetery was encouraged by then Bolivian president Aniceto Arce, who was determined that the construction of a good transport system would enable Bolivia to flourish. It was constantly sabotaged by the local indigenous people, however, who viewed it as an intrusion into their lives. These rusty, abandoned trains are all that remain.

on the train tracks

train cemetery 2 train cemetery 3train cemetery

And just like that, our beautiful journey across the Salt Flats came to an end. After two days with no showers, and having barely changed our clothes, it was an absolute delight to arrive in the town of Uyuni and discover that the showers had NO HOT WATER! To be continued…

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