Uyuni and its surrounds is a place on earth so unique nothing else can quite compare! It was from this small town that we ventured off on a three day trip through the desert, where we would see surreal salts flats and endless picturesque landscapes more beautiful than we could ever have imagined. Along with four other travellers, our elderly driver, a boot full of food and water and our camera batteries fully charged, we set off on what was to be three of the most memorable days we were to experience!
Early in the morning we met our driver and fellow travellers in town and like Bolivian times, we eventually get going after an hour or two if waiting. Our route had been explained to us and we would be driving roughly 800km over the journey, heading far south down though the country close to the border of Chile. All of our meals and accommodation are provided in the cost of our trip, and with our driver in control we trust and hope he will show us a comfortable and rewarding experience. This did happen however we were driving painfully slow at some points, although I do prefer this speed over how some people drive in this country.
Within an hour or so after visiting a few less interesting attractions along the way, we could see the stark white surface of this corner of the earth in the distance. We were approaching Salar de Uyuni and already it was looking amazing. Winding down the windows we look out and take in the scenery, eyes wide open and eager to see more. Within minutes we are driving over what was once an enormous salt lake known as Lago Minchin. What is now a dried up lake has left a remarkable surface of blinding bright white, speckled with a few puddles and stretching as far as the eye can see. This area is used to extract salt from the earth where we saw men digging up the ground leaving pyramids of this mineral scattered around.
The time of year was coming to end of the rainy season which meant we had hoped to see magical reflections of this landscape at Isla del Pescado. Unfortunately we were not able to get here because the area was too flooded and within an hour or so we were back in the jeep heading to the dry desert, a completely different landscape. It had been explained to us we couldn't visit this island however we had still hoped to see some reflections and spend a little more time in this magical place. Still it was absolutely amazing and appreciated.
The rest of the day was pretty much spent in the jeep travelling further down south and towards our accommodation for the night. Well this was a whole other experience again! We were staying at a salt hotel run by a family in a small village. It was getting quite dark and chilly at the same time. We have all our faith in our driver to get us around safely and at some points we were not so sure if we had that faith! Driving so slowly and with no signs of any civilization around us, we are beginning to wonder where we really will be spending the night. Our driver speaks Spanish and we are lucky to have one traveller on board who speaks fluent Spanish and English, so the translations are luckily clear for everyone. However at this point there was nothing that could be said at all the ease our nerves. The sun has now gone down and we are left with the lights of the jeep and the desert around us. Earlier on in the day our travel buddies had told us about a group that had recently booked a one day trip through the salt flats. Their one day trip turned into a three day trip because their driver got them lost, were we to be a statistic too? No, we weren't but it did feel like we were going to be sleeping in the jeep and pulling out the supplies in the boot for quite some time. It wasn't until we arrived at a remote rundown village that we received some hope. What appeared like a ghost town, we were lucky to spot two people out the front of their basic little house and they kindly gave our driver some direction.
So off we go down through the middle of nowhere and soon with our driver in tune with the land again we arrive at a road that runs through a big lake. Driving so ever slowly we so eagerly wish he would step on the accelerator, but with any suggestion of this we are given a very clear refusal. However given the slow pace, we can only praise him for his precise manoeuvring though what could have been a terrible placed to be bogged! Eventually we arrive at small village where we parked in the comfort of our hosts' driveway. Hooray, we have found our home for the night!
We step inside and our feet walk across the salt floor that lies under the salt roof, walls, tables, chairs and beds… all made from salt! Traditional woven fabrics bring colour into the room amongst the white salt everywhere. The family who lives here are friendly and prepare our meals. Some of the cost of our ticket goes back to the community to people just like this family. After a bowl of soup, meat and vegies and a few sips of mint flavoured liquor we get some rest in preparation for another day in the great outdoors.
A new day beings and with sunblock, water, snacks and cameras on hand we jump in the jeep and off we go. This next phase of the journey was a great contrast to where we had just been. We drove through deserts so big that all we could see was the dusty burnt orange surface below us, stretching for miles out to the mountains along the horizon. A land of contrast so vast that with the high altitude we can see snow on top of some mountains!
Within time we arrived at a lake where we saw our first mirror image of the mountain in the lake complete with snow-capped peaks. We saw many lakes like this throughout the day and the task of deciding which photos to keep and which ones to delete is still yet to be decided. One place that we especially liked was Vallee des roches, a desert with intriguing rock formations. We explore the area on foot and here you feel completely isolated from civilisation. It is a refreshing place so open as far as the eye can see. The only downside is that we are not free to spend much time here and must jump back into the jeep and continue our journey. (Sometimes I make a 360° video of amazing places and here I did this, but I am having trouble uploading all my videos to this blog. I will keep on trying… )
Our day is planned to end at Laguna Colorada inside a national park where we will also spend the night. Well this moment had many hiccups and again we thought we would be sleeping in the jeep! We pay our entry fee for the park and arrive at our accommodation, a basic but decent set up. It turns out that all the rooms are booked and there is no room for us. Our driver is talking to another driver about the situation and apparently we all took too long taking photos and now miss out on a room. Something doesn't add up though considering we had booked the trip a few days ago which includes accommodation here, so regardless of what time we arrive we should have our reservation. This is Bolivia and there are many loop holes here and there obviously has been a lack of communication in this situation. Our driver explains to us he knows of somewhere else nearby but first we visit Laguna Colorado. This lagoon is home to thousands of flamingos and so many colours due to the magnificent scenery, it is explained to us that at sunset it is absolutely beautiful. We are unable to stay until sunset because we need to find accommodation still so our time here is cut short. Regardless of how long we spent here, this will be a place I will never forget…..
Feeling a little hesitated by the fact we have paid our entry fee to the park and can only stay here for fifteen minutes with nowhere to sleep, we arrive at the lagoon and jump out of the jeep and these feelings are let go when we see the view. Wow this is incredible! Mountains in the distance curve around the brightly coloured lagoon home to flamingos and llamas. Speckled with splashes of red, orange, pink and white the lagoon is full of life. This lagoon is a salt lake that also has red sediments coming through it caused by the pigments in the algae. Mixed with some reflections of the blue and white in the sky, the colours are purely amazing. To see this as sunset would have been amazing, but was still incredible for the time we were there and an experience we were lucky to have.
Jumping back into the jeep our driver takes as on a short journey in search of accommodation. Within a short time he brings us relief and with smiles all round we have found a room. There is another group of travellers staying here too and we all feel comfort staying here. We have an early night as we have a 4.30am start the next day.
After a cold nights sleep we wake up in a dark cold room and fiddle around with our torches until the power comes on. Breakfast is generous and just as the sun is rising we set off down the road. Bleary eyed we make our way to the smouldering land of the Geysers sol de Manana. A surface of the earth where volcanic activity below brings steam up through the ground creating an eerie yet fascinating transformation. We carefully walk through this mystical activity and given that we have pretty just woken up, all adds to the surreal moment in time.
Feeling even more dazed we are soon to be refreshed as our next destination is the mineral hot springs where we can take a dip. The water is warm and the surrounding scenery makes for a naturally relaxing experience. Feeling more awake we hit the road again and make our way further west of the country. We come very close to the border of Chile as our driver points out the mountains which divide the countries. The remaining of the day was long and much of it was spent in the jeep. We drove past the Dali Desert but didn't have time to explore here. The ride home is long and tiring and our legs and back where tired of sitting up in the jeep. We make a stop along the way for lunch where a family provide facilities for us to eat. In their front yard is a line with llama meat hanging on it drying in the sun. This meat is supposed to taste amazing but this didn't appear on our plates, which I was not regretting. Instead we ate a simple salad and a can of tuna. By this stage we are all feeling tired yet had just experienced a once in a lifetime experience over the past three days.
The road home felt like with drove mile after mile after mile, which I guess we literally did do. The road is bumpy and only a jeep could have got us through this wild adventure. At the end of the road we have a bus booked to take us to La Paz, however we can't even imagine catching another trip just yet. We arrive back in town and say farewell to the group and give our driver a deserved tip. Feeling somewhat broken from the 800km journey yet full of joy from the landscapes we have visited, we use what energy we have to collect our packs and jump on the overnight bus to La Paz.
Travelling to the salt flats was on the top of our list for things to do in Bolivia. What we saw here was amazing yet time on the salt flats was limited. What happened though the trip bought me to places that I thought I would never visit in my lifetime and could never have imagined. Sometimes you never really know what the day can bring, and life has many moments that surprise us and reward us with its natural beauty.