After our long journey from Mendoza we pulled into La Quiaca and crossed the border over to Villazon, Bolivia.We made our way to Tupiza to pick up a missed tour of the Salar de Uyuni.A few months ago, on our initial journey southward, the rainy season had prompted us to postpone the tour due to the fact the Salar was almost 80% inundated with water, leaving many parts unreachable.
The four-day tour commenced in Tupiza, a small town a couple of hours north of the Argentinean border.The first day was a relatively short eight-hour day, which took us on kilometer after kilometer of bumpy dirt track road through the altiplano landscape.Looking out over the vast expanse of nothingness, minus the hundreds of grazing llamas, out would pop a colorful outcropping of heavily eroded hills ranging from a light pink to a deep purple.
That night we landed at our hostel, shivering, in a small town of two hundred called San Antonio de Lipez.While unpacking our bags, we were welcomed by the host family's daughter who didn't seem to want to leave us alone.After a couple minutes of awkward conversation about the life of an eight-year-old girl, our traveling companion, Lynn, asked her if she had any animals.The girl replied, yes, she had llamas.When questioned further as to how many llamas she had, she very casually replied, "dos cientos." (200)Our only response to her innocent reply was, "we have one cat."
Day two started out with a 4am wakeup call and a two-hour drive in the bone-chillingly cold jeep.Once the sun rose, things started to warm up a bit.One of our first stops was a picture perfect pond, filled with glowing yellow-green moss and lined with wispy grasses blowing in the cool breeze.To top it all off, the opposite shore was a grazing ground for a pack of vicuñas.For lunch, we stopped at the Sol de Mañana thermals where Aaron enjoyed a quick dip to warm the bones.After lunch, we headed out to Laguna Verde, a milky green lake that looked like it had a white sand beach due to the salt deposits on the shore.Someone could have easily convinced me that we were looking out over a Caribbean beach had it not been for the cold winds gusting.On the way to our second night's cold accommodations, we drove past the "Damas del Desierto" (ladies of the desert), a collection of randomly shaped and seemingly out of place rock formations.These rocks, in a sea of sand, were renamed "Rocas de Dali" for all of the tourists.Our hostel this time was so chilly that the water in the toilet tanks froze…a real treat when there are 25 tourists sharing one bathroom!
A little less enthusiastic to enter the jeep for the third full day in a row, we headed off to see Laguna Colorada.Steam rose from the mossy banks of the lake.A perfect reflection of the neighboring mountain glimmered in the serene waters.It was a beautiful way to start our day.From there we stopped briefly at the Arbol de Piedra, a site reminiscent of Joshua Tree, and then it was on to the highlight of the day, Laguna Hedionda.Here we encountered yet another breathtakingly beautiful lake with salt "islands" and glowing green-blue waters, but the difference was the number of lunching flamingos.After a group a bumbling, loud tourists chased all of the flamingos away at Laguna Colorada, we thought we had missed our chance to see them.So, we were like kids in a candy store, when we saw we were the first tour group to spot them this time!So elegant, so graceful, so beautiful…we could have watched them for hours, but we were being called for our winter picnic lunch (are you sensing a theme here?!).The remainder of the day was relatively uneventful and after contracting a debilitating altitude-related headache, I was definitely ready for the day's ride to end.Here we stayed in a salt hostel - the beds were created out of salt and the floors were covered in salt crystals.Sounds cool, but in reality it was just a way to suck in a mouthful of salty dust with each movement you made.
Our final day we headed out to the "main attraction": the Salar de Uyuni.The largest salt flat on Earth, the Salar de Uyuni covers 12000 square kilometers and is 30 meters deep.An hour into the ride for the day, our guide stopped the jeep for some photos of the sunrise.Because it was still dark out and the windows were frosted over, we had no idea that we had entered the Salar.So when we opened the door of the jeep to witness a gorgeous sunrise rising over a stark plain of salt as far as the eye could see, the beauty silenced us.The geometric shapes of the Salar extended for miles.We roamed around the jeep with the salt crackling under our feet, snapping pictures and trying to get our heads around such a bizarre environment.As the sun rose, we had some fun playing with our shadows, which seemed to go on forever without interruption.
Giddy, we hopped back into the jeep to have some breakfast at the Isla del Pescado.I cannot even begin to describe the oddity of this island.In a sea of white nothingness, is this island covered in cacti.As the sun climbed higher in the sky, the orange spines of the cacti glowed off their stumpy green trunks and the Salar started to shine a blinding white, swallowing this tiny "island" in it's salty nothingness.After tooling around the short trail up to the summit and taking in the birds-eye view over the Salar, we returned back down to the row of jeeps for some breakfast and a little more roaming around on the strange flat and crunchy surface of the Salar before continuing onwards.
One of our final stops before the end of our tour was to see the Ojos de Sal.These were salty pools of water cut into the flat expanse of the salt plains.Inside these pools were beautiful salt crystals of varying colors, depending on their mineral content.Back into the jeep, we took another quick break at the Hotel del Sal…this hotel built entirely of salt, inside and out.However, this was not the highlight of the stop.Here we were witness to the filming of the Bolivian singer David Perez's music video…what a treat to be able to witness!The final stop was to see the Montañas de Sal.These tiny salt "mountains" were the result of the hard work of the residents of the pueblo Colchani.The community's main source of income, aside from tourism, is harvesting salt from the Salar and exporting it throughout Bolivia and even parts of Brazil.
Here marked the conclusion of our tour and we were happy to have some relief from the days of bouncing around the crowded jeep.What we saw and experienced, cannot be expressed accurately in words.The scope of the Salar can only be grasped by visiting there in person.We are now awaiting our night bus to La Paz, where we will celebrate Aaron's 31st birthday on solid ground.After which we will be on the fast track to Quito to catch our flight to Medellin, Colombia on May 22.