It took a good deal of motivation to leave the sweet comforts of our La Paz apartment, but after a week of hanging out it was high time we pushed on out of town.
We had several equally inconvenient methods to get to our next destination of Uyuni. 1) Direct overnight bus in the worst seats possible (all nicer ones were sold out). 2) Bus to train (which would mean sticking around another day as they only depart on Fridays). 3) Bus to Potosi, transfer at 6am with connection to Uyuni. The third choice would provide paved roads the entire way, plus the much sought after "comfy seats". It appeared to us as a no-brainer. Plus, I've heard Potosi is glorious this time of year.
The bus ride though restless and awful as always was relatively uneventful. We arrived to a huge and brand new looking bus terminal at the promised hour of 6am. After a quick bathroom break Adrian was off to score us some connecting tickets to Uyuni. He returned within minutes with news that we were to grab a cab to the "external terminal", whatever that was. And so we did.
A five minute shared cab ride and we pulled up to a run down shack with a couple busses parked outside. With thoughts of "please don't let this be it. Please don't let this be it", running through our heads, the cab driver came to a halt and notified us that we had arrived at our destination.
We grabbed our bags and approached the building, only to find it closed and locked up tight. Greeeeeeaaaaatt!
We sat outside on our bags, exhausted and defeated with the half dozen others waiting for the station to open. After apprx. 20 minutes of unhopeful waiting an officer of some capacity came out and notified us that because of the holiday, Dia de las Muertas, the bus station would not be opening. Greeeeeeaaaaattt!!!
He gave us direction to try sitting on the side of the road opposite the bus station, there was a chance we could get a lift from there. Without any other option, we did as we were instructed. We asked a small tienda owner what our chances were for getting to Uyuni today, and with an irritating smirk replied, "No, not today".
Feeling defeated and utterly exhausted we simply sat on the side of the road hoping our luck would somehow magically change. The only thing that kept us even slightly hopeful was that the same half dozen locals from earlier were also waiting for a ride to Uyuni. We weren't the only ones sitting pathetically and likely futilely on the side of a dusty road in no-where Bolivia.
Just as we were giving up hope and discussing finding a hostel in this dry, dirty town, a man with a van yelled out "UYUNI". Oh Thank Heavens, we're getting out of here! The eight of us rushed over to the van to claim our seats. We all piled in and it was then that the driver told us what I feared he would, we wouldn't be moving an inch until each and every seat (and then some) were full. By this point, Adrian and I were offering to buy the rest of the vacant seats just to get out of this godforsaken town, but on cue, the remaining passengers showed up and piled in.
Tucked away in the back corner (our typical positions in these crammed vans) we were ready for the three hour ride to finish off the travel bender from hell. But no travel bender from hell is complete without a puking and sh*tting child in the car, a totally unnecessary 30 minute stop at a random backwater town, and worst of all (as a side note) Bolivians have this amazing immunity to heat. Literally every other passenger had multiple, thick layers of jackets, sweaters, you name it, and would refuse to crack the window even an inch despite the blistering heat. And I'm not even joking when I say this, the guy next to me was literally wearing snow pants... insullated snow pant, in Bolivia, seriously go figure.
Eventually though we rolled into town, and typically the end of these bruiser travel days end with sweet relief, eh not so much this time around. Maybe we're getting burnt out, or maybe, just maybe... This town a piece of sh*t.
Of course to make it worse on ourselves we hadn't reserved a hostel for the night. We had hoped to stay at a recommended hostel and had emailed with no response, but after arriving at the hostel we learned they wanted to charge us $60 USD per night for a BASIC, at best, hostel room. And while, this sounds reasonable for US or AU standards, this is seriously highway robbery in Uyuni, Bolivia, especially considering the three bedroom apartment in La Paz, that by this time was a faint memory, cost apprx. $30/night. Suffice to say, we gave the uninspired hostel attendant a good ole fashioned, GFY as Adrian took to the streets of Uyuni to find something more reasonable. I will mention, what he found was more reasonable financially at a whopping $14/night, but let's just say I'm happy I have not contracted any dermal infections or scoliosis from the state of the mattress.
The one redeeming event of the day was, due to Adrian's admirable level of energy and desire to get the hell out of town, he organized our Salt Flat tour for the following day as I lay uncomfortably on the joke of a bed with a mattress in the shape of the letter C.
In the morning we were up early, mostly because of the springy sloping horrible excuse for a mattress. We decided to head out for a walk in the cool desert morning. You can easily walk the length of the city in little time, so we gave it a go. After 45 minutes or so we deserted our expedition for a $5 breakfast buffet at a neighboring hostel.
We filled up on organic coffee, museli and yogurt with fruit, pancakes, eggs, and potatoes.
By our 4th cup of coffee, we had definitely our fill and were ready to pack up our bags and head over to our tour agency. We had an initial scare, as we were greeted at the agency with news of the tour not going due to petrol drought. Luckily for us it only effected the 2 day tours, not us. We, however, were going to be delayed by an hour, no biggie.
By 11:30 we were finally rolling out of town. It was Adrian and I, and four other young girls, 2 Danish, 1 German, and 1 Canadian... Poor Adrian!! We started down the dusty road, making our first stop right out of town. It was a rusted train graveyard and made an ideal photo opp stop.
We took various photos, some of the train and some on the seesaw made of train parts, which was obviously really awesome, and after 20 minutes or so we were back in the truck and heading to our next stop at a salt flat artesian market.
We have been to endless artesian markets on this trip, but were still amused by the various sweaters, hats, scarfs, and dice made entirely of salt. After another 20-30 which included a stop to see a massive llama made of salt, we were once again back in the truck heading for our lunch spot at the salt hotel and restaurant. On the way we stopped for photos on the salt mounds and enjoyed the views of the vast salt desert.
Our lunch of veggies and quinoa and beef for everyone else was very welcomed as we took more and more photos in the blindingly, white landscape. We spent an hour there, eating, relaxing, and snapping photos before we got back in the truck heading for Cactus Island, an Island-mountain in the middle of the sea of desert salt that is chalk-full of cactus of every size and shape. The landscape is entirely unique to anything either of us had ever seen before, and therefore enjoyed taking it all in with a walk around the island.
The stop there was over an hour, and we got back to the truck with our last destination ahead of us, the Salt Inn where we would be staying for the night. Before stopping at what was to be the more luxurious accommodation of the two nights, we stopped at a completely obscure point to take the very mandatory perspective photos, that I have posted to our blog.
After we got our fill of all imaginable photos, we were back in the car for another 15 minutes for our ride to the hotel. Now, as the name would have you believe, the hotel was entirely made of salt. And as you can probably imagine, the place certain wasn't as luxurious as they would have us believe. Middle of nowhere, VERY basic rooms, ice cold showers, and disgusting toilets, but there was some novelty to it, and after a small and late dinner, we hit the hay, and slept surprisingly well given the circumstances.
In the morning, after a meager breakfast, we were off away from the flats headed towards the various lakes of southern Bolivia.
The scenery all day, is what you would imagine... Utterly stunning. Drastic landscapes of flat valley, dramatic volcanos, sprawling lakes of various colors with flocks of flamingos of every shade of pink.
The final couple stops included a collection of unique sandblasted boulders, the most interesting of which forms a smooth giant tree. And finally a stop at Laguna Colorada. It really was a breathtaking sight. The deep red hue of the lake set against the green rolling hills that surround it, is certainly not something you see everyday.
With that, we paid our national park entrance fee, entered the park and quickly found our accommodation for the night, just as a chilling wind storm began kicking up.
The inn we were booked in for the evening was promised to be less luxurious then the previous night, which I found almost impossible. When we arrived, however, I understood. Though the place resembled the inside of an ancient barn, we found it much more pleasant than our previous night's digs. For one, they had three toilets instead of one clogged one. Secondly, an actual functioning and warm shower. And best of all, it had a dark, dirty, but properly stocked closet with beer, biscuits, and even wine... Now this is living!!
We pulled up a couple of seats at the long wooden table, purchased beers all around, and settled in for a few games of cards with the Danish, German, and Canadian girls. While discussing all sorts of fun cultural differences between us all, we discovered another difference... It seems the game of "Assh*ole" has not only regional differences, but some serious international differences as well. We enjoyed endless games, as some subbed in and out for shower breaks, until finally our pasta dinner was prepared and served. As a very special surprise, we were served one bottle of red to share with the 6 of us in our group. We were really splashing out on this night.
It wasn't until 10 o'clock when we were in our single beds, 6 side-by-side, tucked under our suffocatingly-heavy blankets, for our 6 hours of sleep before our 4:30 am wake up call. Unfortunately, the group of Polish along had other plans. Theirs included staying up well past midnight, talking loudly, laughing, and drinking. I nearly lost it, as I spent a cold and uncomfortable 2+ hours tossing and turning, unable to find sleep. Eventually though, the noise quieted down and I slipped into a restful 3.5 hours of sleep.
In the cold, blackness of morning we woke up slowly and began quietly packing up our things. We had a breakfast of instant coffee and cold pancakes, and by 5:30 we were packing up the truck while viewing the beauty of the sun rising over the plains.
In the truck once again, we rode for nearly an hour before finding our way to geysers of the Andina Eduardo Avaroa National Park. With the strong smell of sulfur in the air we explored the blasting and bubbling geysers. We took photos and enjoyed the crisp, coolness of the southern Bolivian morning.
After we got our fill, we were off to our final destination of our salt flat trip, the Aguas Calientes. The setting was stunning and the waters immensely inviting, however, we only had 30 minutes there as we were heading further south to the border and continuing on to Chile, while the rest of the group would be taking the 8 hour drive back to Uyuni.
So for us, it was time to say goodbye. We had another 45 minutes to the border, where we would await our 45 minute bus to San Pedro de Atacama. Our trip, though certainly rustic, was beautiful beyond words. Bolivia has certainly been good to us, but a little Chilean hospitality will not go unnoticed for these two weary travelers.