Salt Flat Tours - Our Amazing journey to Bolivia
Jun 26, 2015
|We had an early morning wake up call to be picked up for our 3 days salt flat tour, which takes us from Chile into Bolivia. The minibus picked us up at half 7 and we were joined by Tom and Tom, 2 English guys from Sheffield and Stephan from California. We would now be together for the next few days everyone seemed really nice. We drove to immigration and then the Bolivian boarder. At the Bolivian boarder we were met by a Bolivian guy, Nefi in a 4x4. As we went to get stamped into Bolivia, he set up breakfast for us and it was so nice. We all got to know each other and after a little while we headed off on the tour. I was actually asked to get into the back as I was the smallest (very flattered) and Sophie came too. The group seemed to gel really quickly and our driver was so lovely.
I had heard a few horror stories about the drivers and tours but Nefi reassured us and was so kind, he had two children and originally from La Paz but had been with the tour company 8 years! We headed first to a couple of Lagoons in the desert called Blanco and Verde, they were incredible, they were frozen over so we were able to walk on them but it was a bit scary as you could hear the ice cracking beneath you! In the car we were having a good laugh and the driver playing some tunes, lots of Coldplay. We went saw a lonely fox in which we fed him some bread and a weird rabbit with a long tail. We also came across some Trekkers they must be bonkers as we were literally in the middle of a desert with nothing around for hours. Overlooking the desert is a Volcano, Licancabur staring at 5930m. There wasn't one cloud in the sky but when we got up to 5000 metres, we all got very out of breath, it took me back to my Everest days of 10 steps then having to stop.
We all brought come coca toffees, they are made from the same plant as cocaine, obvs don't have any strength to them but helps to prevent altitude sickness.
Afterwards we headed to a natural hot springs, Termas de Polques, it felt so cold outside but we all got into our swimming stuff and got into this pool in the middle of the desert. It was pretty surreal, made even more so by the fact an old man got in naked with a bottle of Grants Whiskey - yuk! Until this point we had such a lovely time and the water was so warm at 30 degrees and at 4200m, it was difficult to get out.
The desert is absolutely incredible I couldn't even describe to you where we have been for the last few days but this blog is just a snapshot!
We had some lunch which was really lovely, Nefi had done well planning all of our meals! After we headed to the Sol de Mañana Geysers, boiling mud baths, they were so stinky - naturally occurring, churning sulphur and up to 300 degrees. We also visited Laguna Colorada bright red lake fringed with white minerals and home of many llamas and three types of flamingos, who would of thought they'd be in desert - very bizzare.
Later that day we arrived at our 'hostel'. It was certainly up there with the strangest places I have stayed in the middle of a desert nothing else around, our beds made of concrete and run by a Bolivian couple in matching outfits. We had such a lovely dinner of soup and spaghetti Bolognese. That evening we had a beer and played some cards before being told to go to bed at half 9!! They only had 1 hour of electricity and we had used that for dinner!
We had been warned that the temperature would likely be minus 15 but could hit minus 25 during the night and our breathing may be effected by the attitude, sleeping at 4700m.
So I went to bed in my thermals, pjs, a jumpers, 3 pairs of socks, a sleeping bag liner, sleep bag, 3 blankets, a duvet and another sleeping bag on top. And could I sleep ... no and why not cos I was sweating buckets and concentrating on my breathing! I think we were all spooked so much by the temp and breathing, no one sleep well! The following morning I honestly thought I hadn't actually been to sleep and woke with a headache, similar to the ones I got up Everest.
Waking at 7am to scrambled eggs and toast was yummy - such appreciated after a bad night sleep. We loaded the car up and the music of choice this morning was some ballards. We headed to a volcanic rock that looked like a tree due to the wind over the years. Here we climbed up rocks they were pretty high, Sophie was like a monkey. It was so amazing to have a 360 degree view of the desert and mountains. Desperate for a wee I used the banos or toilets in English, everytime you go here you have to pay and it's mounting up 20 to 40p Im paying for nature.
Anyhow, Afterwards we drove past rainbow mountain which was really pretty so many colours! We ate lunch at a lagoon called 'stinky lagoon' - just where you wanna eat your dinner and for lunch was Tuna yum yum. Actually it was really nice and there was lots of flamingos in the lagoon and llamas about and it was a really hot day and super cool so I can't actually complain.
In the afternoon we drove through some not so nice salt flats to get to the salt hotel where we would be staying the night. I thought the hotel would be glamorous almost like an ice hotel for some reason. When we got there is was like a tiny box made of salt and when you went in the floor was made with loose salt so it was actually really annoying as you couldn't take your shoes off. Our beds were made of salt which was pretty cool and we all licked the walls to make sure they weren't fobbing us off and sure enough it was salty.
Later that evening we had Bottle of wine, Stephan is really polite and every time he asked for the bottle he would say 'pardon my reach' we would all be in stitches poor bloke. It was a lovely end to a nice day and this time I was perfect temperature and slept well until we were woken at 4am to see the sunrise over the much awaited salt flats.
As we were leaving at 5 there was another group staying at the hotel, there driver had gone out for the night and not returned. We left them at the hotel and actually they didn't turn up at the salt flats until 10am and there driver was still a bit drunk. I was so thankful to have Nefi!
So it took an hour to get to the salt flats in which everyone slept. When we arrived it was pitch black but within minutes it started to lighten. When I looked around all you could see was nothing. It was amazing the White salt floor against the sunrise was incredible. I can't even describe it and I don't think the pictures even do it any justice but it was truly sensational. It went on for miles and as the sun rose on the salt it was just beautiful. We had a few silly
Photos and then headed to an island in the middle of the salt flats. The island is actually made from coral as once upon a time this was a huge lake and now dried up it is dead coral and massive caticus up to 10 metres, they were mental. In fact everything I was seeing was crazy - the largest salt flats in the world. We enjoyed a good brekkie in the sun.
We then drove with some tunes on to the middle of nowhere you could see nothing around just a horizon of salt and sky! This is where we did the crazy perspective photos, we had such a giggle - I really have no idea how I am gonna go to a city after being in such beautiful open space. The perspective photos make you look like you are borrowers and we climbed out of a Pringles tube and a stroked a llama and then we tight rope walked along a shoe lace. The videos are awesome. I really didn't want to leave! Again we drove along the salt flats with some tunes playing and this time Nefi gave us a lolly, which I was really chuffed about!
That afternoon we visited a village which has the oldest salt hotel and I was thinking it would be like centuries old and igloo shaped. Nope it was just a normal hotel and built 25 years ago so that was a bit strange. The locals in the village had a market on for the tourists, trying to sell us goods they had made. It was getting towards the end of our tour but not before we visited a train cemetery. Yup so random after seeing such beauty over the last few days we end up in the middle of rusty trains, these were the ones that ran on coal and had now been replaced. I was gobsmacked they've even made it an attraction!
Unfortunately after 3 days amazing days the tour was over. We were dropped off in a town called Uyuni. It was sad saying goodbye to Nefi but we have him a good tip and he was overwhelmed. Uyuni is a very undeveloped town of dirty streets and dusty roads. The Bolivian people have a certain look to them especially the woman who wear long puffy skirts, an apron and a top hat, which no joke doesn't fit their head just literally sits on their head. We got lots of looks being so blonde and looking like backpackers but it's not intimidating, it appears they are more curious! We had dinner at a pizza restaurants and some beers with the boys from the tour, randomly the pizza place was run by an america guy who married a Bolivian lady. The pizza was so good, Sophie and I shared a large!
At 7pm it was time to say goodbye to the boys and get on our overnight bus. This is the bus that everyone said you won't get any sleep due to uneven roads well I was thrown about abit and watched some Big Bang theory but then at 10pm I fell asleep and woke when we arrived in La Paz at 6.30am feeling surprisingly refreshed.