After an all day bus we arrived in Uyuni without a tour booked and plans to leave the following day. To make things more complicated the tour agencies all shut within an hour of our arrival and if we didn't get out the next day we would be stuck for two more days in Uyuni as it was a public holiday and no tours were departing. We found ourselves a hostel where we all dumped our bags before splitting off in to three couples to try and shop around as best we could. We eventually settled on the cheapest tour we could find but decided to pay US$20 for an English speaking tour guide. We booked our tour in the nick of time and then headed out for some dinner and actually found a really good pizzeria. We headed back to our hostel to have a shower before bed but we soon discovered that the hot water we had been promised wasn't available, not that we had cold water instead, the pumps had been turned off for the night and we had no option other than to go to bed and hope for better news in the morning. Thankfully when we got up the next day the water had been turned on and we all had a chance to grab a decent shower. I had to then run around the tourist shops desperately trying to find a pair of sunglasses that didn't make me look like Dame Edna as the brightness of the salt plains requires some sort of eye wear.
Once we had all run our errands we gathered outside our agency to begin our tour. We were introduced to our driver who spoke no English and his sister Marta, our English speaking tour, who spoke next to no English. Once all crammed in to jeep we got moving, our first stop was a train graveyard, a couple of scrapped trains in the middle of the desert. After that our next stop was to a museum, unfortunately Marta had to explain to us that the museum was closed. In fact museum closed where two words of the 20 words in her English vocabulary. After the closed museum we headed to a tourist village where there was the option to buy many different souvenirs all made out of salt. It was also a chance to use the bathroom before heading off for another hour or so to the edge of the salt plains to another museum, unfortunately "museum closed'. Still, we didn't book the tour for the museums; we were most excited about seeing the world largest dry lake. Once on the salt plains it is hard to describe the vast expanse of whiteness that goes on forever in front of you. We drove for hours seeing nothing but salt as far as the eye could see. Halfway through the day we came across an island which was decorated with hundreds of Cactus. There was an option to walk to the top of the hill which would give spectacular views of the salt plains. The climb up was on uneven and sometimes sharp rocks so you can imagine my delight when I lost the flip of my flip flops when the straps snapped as I slipped. I had to walk the rest of the way and the whole way down with one bare foot. Once back down I was lucky enough to have packed a spare pair of shoes in to my day pack so I was able to wear them for the rest of the tour. They were however not the cleanest smelling shoes as they had been worn without socks on sweaty hikes a few times before. To be fair to the rest of the group nobody minded too much about the smell of my shoes, not with Maarten suffering with a bad stomach anyway. After lunch we were given an hour or so to take some photos and everybody tried to get very inventive with the shots they took. The completely white background meant it was easy to play with perspective so that in the photo it looked like you were standing next to a guidebook which is as big as you, along with many other different ideas. After the photo's we headed off to the other side of the plains to a salt hotel. This journey took a couple of hours but as we were learning very quickly, everything for Marta was just one hour away, whether it be ten minutes or two hours. When we arrived at the salt hotel nobody was there to let us in, it appears that we had arrived too early and that the owners were down at the shops buying supplies. After about an hour the owners eventually arrived with the key, as they went to unlock the door it appeared to be a little bit stiff and with all the forcing the key snapped in the lock. The owners began contemplating breaking a window to gain access as we walked around the building trying to find an open window where we could take advantage of Maeve's daintiness and push her through to save the day. At the back of the building we found a small window leading to one of the bathrooms. We squeezed her through and she ran to the front door to save the day and received no thanks whatsoever. For some reason this really annoyed us as we had spent all of our first day on a tour without the English speaking guide we had paid for, been cheated out of the museums, arrived an hour early at the hotel and then saved them breaking a window. To add to our upset they told us that if we wanted to have a hot shower it would cost us ten Bolivianos each. I asked how much a cold shower was and was told that it wasn't an option. When we booked our tour we were aware that on the second night we wouldn't have the option of a shower so tonight was the only chance we had. We were also told that everything was included in the price apart from two national park entry fees. As you can imagine we were all starting to get to the end of our tether. To ease our tension he asked the driver to take us to the local shop so we could grab some wine and beer to drink whilst playing cards in the evening. After dinner that evening we played Uno for a few hours before someone realised the showers were on and that nobody was their collecting money. Maeve and Linda snuck in first to be followed by Sue. When Sue was in the shower somebody started banging on the door, she ignored it and finished the shower but it would some back to haunt her the next day. The following morning as we were happily getting ready to leave the owners of the hotel came out trying to collect money from us for the showers. We all played dumb and claimed not to have showered (to be fair I was telling the truth). Having Linda with us who is practically fluent in Spanish was a big help as she was able to understand what they were saying although they didn't know she spoke Spanish. One translation she gave us was that Sue had been caught, in their words they said to Sue "we know you had a shower, somebody was watching you!" We stood our ground and told them we weren't going to pay, eventually it was decided that we would leave and that the tour company would somehow compensate them for the showers we had.
After the drama of the morning we headed off in to the desert where we had the opportunity to take a few photos at the stops along the way to the Red Lagoon. One of the stops on the way was 'Tree Rock' which is a rock in the shape of a tree. At tree rock we were very confused as we had expected to see three rocks due to a language mix up with Marta. The Red Lagoon as you can imagine is a lagoon which is very red in colour. We were unable to get an explanation as to why this is (the twenty word vocabulary didn't stretch that far, it was only one hour away though). At the lagoon were hundreds of Flamingo birds which was great to see as way back in the Galapagos we didn't get as close to them as we would have liked. After the lagoon we were taken to our accommodation where he had to all share a dormitory room. We had our dinner and again played some more Uno before having an early night as the following morning we had to be up way before sunset as we were being taken in to the desert to watch the sunset. The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn scrambling around in the dark trying to get ready to leave before sunset. We were all ready in plenty of time, unfortunately the car wasn't so we had to hang around for half an hour more waiting to leave. Our car struggled slowly uphill as other cars went flying past us. We arrived at the Giza's where we were going to watch the sunrise about half an hour after sunrise. It was a bit of a pain in the neck getting up so early to miss the sunrise but the annoyance was only temporary as it was great to walk around the boiling hot Giza's in the freezing cold air. After the Gizas we were driven (I hour) to the hot pools where we were able to relax for half an hour so whilst dinner was prepared. The only downside to the hot pools was the lack of changing facilities so getting in and out of my bathing suit was a bit of a challenge. After breakfast we moved on to first the blue then green lagoons. The reason for the colours again was unexplained but the views themselves were quite spectacular. After the lagoons we drove the final stint of the tour to the border where we eventually got to San Pedro de Atacama in the Chilean desert. I will update you soon on our time in San Pedro.